In 1866, fine arts landscape painter Asher Brown Durand stood in this exact location to create his legendary Kaaterskill Clove oil painting.  The original now hangs in the Century Association building in NYC.

In 1866, fine arts landscape painter Asher Brown Durand stood in this exact location to create his lengendary Kaaterskill Clove oil painting. The original now hangs in the Century Association building in NYC.

As I scribbled the words Kaaterskill High Peak (KHP for short) into the registry book at the Platte Cove parking lot, I noticed that very few others (that day or that week) had done the same. Rather, Huckleberry Point was proving to be the more customary destination than the rocky, muddy beast I was about to tackle.

KHP is not to be confused with Kaaterskill Falls, both in the Great Northern Catskill region of Greene County. The first is a rugged, challenging climb bounded between two scenic gorges (Platte Clove and Kaaterskill Clove) rushing with cold streams to the north and south.

The latter is an epic waterfalls made famous by the earliest disciples of the Hudson River Art School and easily accessible if you can find parking at the lot off Route 23A.

Lost Miniature Schnauzer at KHP

At the registry and again taped to a tree along the trailhead, I noticed a poster for a missing dog, an adorable-looking Miniature Schnauzer. I hoped that the small pup hadn’t become prey to coyote, black bear or bobcat, a species of wildlife common for roaming these parts. Thoughts of the lost mongrel would stay with me as I too got turned around a few hours into my hike.

There’s a reason that literary and artist giants like Thomas Cole, Asher Durand and Frederick Church found their inspiration here.

Among the sweeping views of the majestic mountains are ridges of lofty overhangs and dramatic conglomerate rock beckoning to be explored. The smell of fresh humid earthiness rises from the shrubbery and random ponds. Croaking frogs and singing warblers echo through the maple and oak-dominated wild forest.

Before I knew it, my insatiable curiosity to wander like Rip Van Winkle took me away from the foot paths and into isolated areas that required bushwhacking.

At 3655 ft. KHP is one of the 35 peaks that rise above 3500 ft. in the Catskills. If you approach the climb from the north, near Palenville, there is a 3000′ ft. gain in elevation and considered the steepest in the Catskills. As mentioned, I started my climb from the easier yet far more neglected trailhead from the south.

In my periphery, I could see and sense an expanding amphitheater of escarpments and small valleys. I was ascending a solid ridgeline not far from Hurricane Ledge, a lookout about a quarter-mile south of the KHP summit facing the Hudson Valley and the Indian Head Mountain Range.

In the event that this captivating climb turned into a follow-up of Rip Van Winkle’s 20-year ordeal (minus the beard), I stopped to text a friend with my latitude and longitude coordinates.

I maneuvered slowly and carefully around several various rock formations sometimes taking to the ground on all fours to ensure stability. My Microspikes gripped the leafy terrain as I sandwiched myself between tight crevasses aided by leafless tree branches and strong roots.

I stopped to take photos of giant boulders that could easily double as a safe refuge for small critters and bears alike. A hungry hawk squawked at my audacity to ascend into his territory.

Wildlife experts (that I’ve spoken to) agree that the odds of confronting a bear in the Catskills is incredibly low. Yes, bear scat or droppings alongside giant paw prints abound, but, many experienced hikers have never even glimpsed a bear sighting. That fact quickly eased my mind during the ascent.

Bracing myself to take photos of views of the Hudson Valley facing south while ascending near Hurricane Ledge near the summit of KHP.

Bracing myself to take photos of views of the Hudson Valley facing south while ascending near Hurricane Ledge near the summit of KHP.

Plane Crashing atop KHP

It was a relief to finally find the official path at the summit. I stopped for lunch at a small clearing. The remains of a single engine plane that crashed here in the 1980s lay in the dirt beside me. Nobody but maybe the haunting spirits of those that died here whistled through the conifers.

My return adventure back to my car is deserving of a separate blog that I’ll continue in a few days.

KHP Parking Lot sign

KHP trail sign

Words of advice, do the necessary planning and prep work the night before this climb. Organize topographic maps, load apps onto your fully-charged cell and review guidebooks and Catskill forums because unexpected details can easily throw you off your game.

It’s easy to get lost when the DEC trail signs at the parking lot and on the blue foot paths fail to mention the direction you need to take to ascend KHP. I like the following websites: the Catskill Mountaineer, Catskill Hiker and Catskill 3500 Club.

Also, KHP has a heavily chewed-up snowmobile path (doubles as part of the Long Path) that can easily dupe you into circling the mountain for over seven miles.

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Hunting for sweet stouts at TAP New York

by Sonja Stark on April 27, 2015

Hunter Mountain TAP 1

Hunter Mountain TAP 2

Hunter Mountain TAP 3

Fowl smelling beer waste, cigarette smoke poisoning the air, and frenetic beer tents with muddy grounds; okay, I get it, craft beer festivals (no matter how exalted the flavors) haven’t exactly reached the dignified heights of a wine and food show.

But beer tourism is big business and several breweries that skirt the Hudson Valley are touted as the finest in the country. If you can get past the initial ick-factor, attending one is a great way to sample suds without spending a fortune or, worse yet, passing out.

The game plan was to climb a Catskill High Peak in the morning and refuel in the afternoon at the 18th annual TAP New York at Hunter Mountain. However, having run a 10K race the day before my calves were begging for mercy. So, we skipped bushwhacking and drove directly to the party grounds.

Since 1998, TAP NYS attendance at this communal, snowcapped resort has skyrocketed. The festival footprint sets new records every year expanding the drinking zones and the time spent in a porta-potty queue.

But what I love about Hunter is the preserved history. Inside the homey, old-fashioned main lodge, taps flow freely under the watchful eye of fading photos of ski pioneers memorialized on Ski School Hall of Fame wall. The complex satisfies a craving for nostalgia and I think it’s largely the reason why it’s so crowded today.

For under $75, we have access to over 120 familiar and fresh faces from award-winning breweries pouring upwards of 350 samples. Belgians, saisons, ciders, sours and pale ales – the beer culture meme is made up of all shapes, sizes and flavors. But we like our crafts sweet so we hunt for creamy stouts with the occasional pumpkin ale tossed in.

If you like restrained roasts, low hops, an ABV hovering around 7.5%, IBU under 50, here are 10 worth noting:

1. Spicy God Complex at The North Brewery (Endicott)
2. Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout at Spider Bite Beer Company (Holbrook)
3. Coffee and Cream Stout at Kuka Andean Brewing Company – 2015 John Calen Memorial Award winner (Blauvelt)
4. Chai Milk Stout at Cave Mountain Brewing Company (Windham)
5. Black Rock Stout at Crossroads Brewing Company (Athens)
6. Stone House at Gilded Otter (New Paltz)
7. Big Head Stout at Three Heads Brewing (Haneoye Falls)
8. Panda-Monium Russian Imperial Stout at Mill House (Poughkeepsie)
9. Old Bourbon Oak at Bull & Barrel Brewery (Brewster)
10. Broken Heart Stout at Broken Bow Brewery (Tuckahoe)

For more photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pilotgirl/sets/72157651784996389/

Hunter Mountain TAP 4

Hunter Mountain TAP 5

Hunter Mountain TAP 6

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Beer hiking at Hunter Mountain

by Sonja Stark on April 23, 2015

Hunter Mountain TAP 2015 Festival

Hunter Mountain TAP Festival

Last weekend, I hiked part of the spine of a Catskill mountain range unwinding at the top with bottles of tasteless, lukewarm water. This weekend, I aim not to make the same mistake. I’ll bushwhack Rusk Mountain (Hunter’s neighbor) and then safely descent to quench my thirst with swigs of the best beer in New York State.

Rather than backpack with booze I’m pacing my outdoor fetish to coincide with the 18th annual NYS TAP℠ Festival at the base of Hunter Mountain ski resort. The simplicity of exploring nature with the joy of kicking back with a beer is an essential pairing.

New York’s largest and long-running craft beer festival takes place both Saturday and Sunday (April 25 & 26, 2015) with over 350 samples poured freely from over 100 New York State breweries.

Exhausted hikers can rehydrate with theme-driven first-timers (many found along the Hudson Valley Beer Trail) like “Devil’s Path” from the Catskill Brewery (Livingston Manor) or “Climb High” from 2 Way Brewing Company (Beacon) or “Higher Standard,” a TAP NY Governor’s Cup Winner from The Peekskill Brewery.

Hikers have appetites too and after a day at 3500 feet, there’s no need to limit yourself to salad. The festival will focus on The History of the Great American Sandwich with signature classics, sumptuous wraps and spicy mouthwatering subs.

Speak with knowledgeable brewers, reflect on your climb and kick back with fabulous drinks and food. To purchase tickets for one or both days visit www.TAP-NY.com.

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Hunter Mountain: it’s not just for skiing

by Sonja Stark on April 22, 2015

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Hunter Mountain Spruceton Trail

HUNTER, NEW YORK: Hunter Mountain is best know for it’s advanced snowmaking technology with dozens of guns blanketing the mountain during the ski season making the resort one of the best in the East. But, snow reputation aside, Hunter is also the second highest peak in the Catskills and ideal for a day hike on a beautiful spring morning.

Incidentally, Sunday was one of those days and, especially for the masochists who like snow, there’s still plenty of it at higher elevations. A foot and a half of the slippery, crusty stuff turned my trek into a bit of an embarrassment when I tumbled twice onto my kneecaps, spilling my water, and nearly damaging my camera, all because I scoffed at the idea that my Kahtoola MICROspikes were needed this late in April.

The door hatch to the cabin atop the Fire Ladder was locked but the last perch still provided fantastic views of the Blackhead Range and Windham High Peak. Below me, a group of Japanese hikers arrived via a steep trailhead called Stony Clove Notch. They spread out their blankets on the dry, warm earth for a much-deserved lunch.

A picnic table next to the Ranger Station afforded me a place to munch my own sandwich and kick back with the Sunday New Times travel section. The wet splotches on my pants from where I fell in the snow dried fast in the direct sunshine.

I returned to the car the same way I came up; along a well-established jeep road called Spruceton trail dotted with blue tree markers and used for horse travel.

My journey was a fairly easy ascend/descent of seven miles made just slightly more challenging when I detoured for a 2.2 side trip on Colonel’s Chair. The rocky 500-foot descent and ascent is not worth the effort, in my opinion. If you like scenics of the Hunter Ski Bowl, take a ride atop the ski lift anytime during the summer.

Hunter Mountain

Hunter Mountain

Hunter Mountain

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Spring into hiking with French Mountain

by Sonja Stark on April 16, 2015

Seeing double atop French Mountain in the Lake George region on a balmy April morning.

Seeing double atop French Mountain in the Lake George region on a balmy April morning.

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. – The remaining pockets of snow in Lake George glitter like forgotten tinsel in the bright sunlight. Our red Microspikes cradle our hiking boots for (hopefully) the last time this season, gripping at thin slabs of ice between glacier-scoured stone and crunchy, dead leaves.

Leftover piles of cold melt fast when it’s this balmy and, at this rate, all should disappear by days end. It’s my Mom’s first time hiking in the Adirondacks since her surgery a month ago so we’re pacing this climb slowly, breaking often for electrolytes.

This short vertical climb of 1.2 miles or 2.4 roundtrip is French Mountain, a notable region ravaged by three bloody campaigns fought during the French and Indian War of 1755. A monument at the head of the footpath marks the site where British American Colonel Ephraim Williams (benefactor of Williams College) was killed. I’ve driven past this camels hump of a mountain dozens of times and never thought it hike-able, until now.

After the short history lesson offered up by the plaques, we sidestep down and off the trail and onto the Warren County bike path. Despite the slippery snow that has yet to melt on the paved surface one lone biker with fat wheels pedals past while we trek north looking for a trail marked with blue triangles and painted trees. It’s discovered shortly after a large boulder graffitied with flag art. We let Renee – Mutti’s precocious black poodle – lead the pack.

There are traces of narrow snowmobile paths and old logging routes branching and forking off the trail, but – no worries – it’s easy to keep your internal compass oriented; just look up.

Every 10 minutes, we peel off layers of outerwear and admire the improving views. The gurgling water runoff echoes through the bare tree branches giving returning migrating birds a refreshing drink.

Mutti decides not to push her luck and fashions a footrest out of a downed log to take a breather while George and I head to the top. Despite the partially-posted gravel road, which, admittedly, spoils the serenity and solitude of being alone at the top, the panoramic views are surprising stellar from this small height. Follow the trail further, skipping over the bald precipice and mindful not to trespass, and you’ll see hints of the southern tip of Lake George as well.

Williams Monument Lake George French Mountain

French Mountain Lake George blue trail

French Mountain Lake George

French Mountain Lake George

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Saving money on travel with P2P

by Sonja Stark on April 10, 2015

Who wants to borrow my  lightweight, 2-person, Wenonah Minnesota II racing canoe?   If you like it, it's yours for 25% less than what I paid.

Who wants to borrow my lightweight, 2-person, Wenonah Minnesota II racing canoe? If you like it, it’s yours for 25% less than what I paid.

Want to save a ton of money on travel in 2015? I’ve been doing a lot of research about the peer-to-peer marketplace (P2P), or sharing economy and though I have yet to use any of the services mentioned (because nearly all are available in cities other than Albany), it sounds like they will do just that – save you money.

For the uninitiated, P2P is a business model that challenges the traditional way capitalism and regulation work by giving individuals a say in how they share or rent out their underutilized goods and services.

Especially popular with millennials right now, the P2P marketplace lets you eat a home-cooked meal with a budding chef: Feasty, or place your pup with a sitter: DogVacay, or bum a ride with a stranger: Lyft (the cars with the furry pink mustaches or carstache), Getaround or SideCar, if not for free then at a price considerably lower than standard resources.

Instant gratification for hundreds of services are available at the click of an app. Need or want to share your tuxedo, power tool or food blender – things that would otherwise gather dust – with someone who needs them? Go to Streetbank or peerby (only available in the Netherlands right now).

Need or want a boat, scooter, canoe or bike for the day? There’s an app for that too.

Why buy when you can borrow, right?

How about getting some help with a task around the house, maybe cleaning your stove oven or removing debris from your gutters? Try TaskRabbit.

One that I’d love to try the next time I fly out of JFK is JustPark – a driveway with my name on it.

Collaborative consumption in the hospitality industry is especially hot as well as hotly debated right now. Airbnb has been the poster child of this model for quite some time. The short-term house/bedroom sharing service allows tourists to avoid modest hotel charges by staying in a spare room rented out by the renter, in essence becoming a sublet for a few nights. Its controversy stems from users not needing to charge or pay hotel taxes and/or not following through with state occupancy red tape. Yet, that has stopped travelers from around the world, including homeowners in Cuba who now list their tropical beach shacks, to the masses on Airbnb. Many agree it’s a welcome alternative to the island’s outdated and fully-booked state-run hotels.

Criticism for this sharing economy is nothing new. Naturally, there are dark sides to sharing stuff with strangers but from the stories I’m hearing the net result sounds promising. Should anyone experience first hand any of the sites I listed, I’d love to hear how it went.

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