Climbing Sleeping Beauty with a Russian beauty

by Sonja Stark on May 27, 2015

Lidiia Kashintceva

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Mention the words “Sleeping Beauty” to a Russian and thoughts jump to the world famous ballet with music composed by Peter Tchaikovsky. Rather, the music that filled our ears today was that of bird calls, croaking frogs and the rustle of leaves stirred by playful chipmunks.

On Saturday, I introduced the world of Adirondack hiking to a premed student from Tula, Russia, Albany’s sister-city, attending SUNY Albany through a study-abroad program.

“Does Russia have sign-in registries?” I ask Lidiia. She returned an acerbic smile in response. Based on her reaction, I gathered that hiking enthusiasts in the Ural, Caucasus, or any mountain range in Russia, might just hike at their own risk.

Never fear. We would not risk it. We would sign the registry and climb at whatever pace my young, vibrant neophyte felt comfortable with, breaking often if the heat became excessive.

Reviewing other entries in the log book, it was exciting to think that Lidiia might be the first hiker from Russia to ever climb Sleeping Beauty.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning and we ascended the easy climb in advance of hundreds of hikers that would compete to find parking at the Hogtown trailhead. The gate to Dacy Clearing was locked adding another 1.6 miles of a gravel road to the destination.

But Sleeping Beauty lives up to it’s name in that it can be climbed quite comfortably, almost in your sleep. The total distance amounts to only 7-miles (roundtrip) culminating with an endless horizon in many directions.

While walking the winding road, Lidiia pointed to tents propped open at one of four authorized tenting sites. Unlike the Catskill range, overnighting is allowed in the ‘daks but hungry black bears like to feast at night so campers are encouraged to hoist their food into the trees in buckets and resistant bags. Not far from site #4 was a tempting blackberry patch, not yet ripe (end of summer) but a wild fruit that bears love. Lidiia’s eyes widened at the thought.

After Dacy Clearing, the trail narrowed and became a triumph of soft pine needles and huge slabs of flat rock. At certain points, it zig-zagged up a very short incline reminding me of small California switchbacks.

Among the pines and hemlock, a patch of blooming Lady Slippers caught our sight. The rare orchid wildflower should never be picked as it propagates very poorly and takes years to mature. As a child, I remember seeing the yellow and white variety in the woods and being told that the native species is endangered or threatened. I believe the same still applies today.

Lidiia’s breathed a sigh of relief at the top followed by an exasperated expression of joy. “Удивительно!” which translates into “Amazing!” The unexpected tableau of mountains, lakes, ponds and conifer forests endless in the distance was absolutely magical.

We sought out a peaceful spot to enjoy cold sandwiches and dry carrots. I cursed that I didn’t know how to prepare Piroshki and forgot the flask of vodka. Even a dollop of sour cream would have added that much-needed Russian flair for celebrating this incredible moment.

To see more photos, click my FLICKR ALBUM.

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Bluestone heaven atop Plattekill mountain

by Sonja Stark on May 20, 2015

Bluestone Plattekill Mountain

Bluestone is heavy. I know because I tried to budge a small layer while hiking Plattekill mountain. The smooth, flat, enormous slabs of scrap rock tempt hikers who envision their own backyards looking like the photo above.

But no amount of muscle and might (for me, that is) can move these relics of American history. Still, wanna-be geologists will especially delight in finding so much sedimentary sandstone in one gentle ascent.

Bluestone is closely intertwined with the economic history of the Empire State. The beautiful spoils of a bygone construction industry now litter once-profitable quarries throughout the Platte Cove Preserve. Valued for it’s use in streets, sidewalks and curbs in NYC, it fell out of fashion by the mid 20th-century. Today, it’s prized for upscale patio projects, gardens and counter tops.

George and I stopped repeatedly to lounge in abandoned quarries made attractive by makeshift furniture warmed in the sun. Bluestone benches, chairs, couches, end tables, even fire pits, provided us comfort while enjoying sweeping views of the Hudson Valley and Kaaterskill High Peak.

Two short spurs off the main trail felt like we were walking into the beginning stages of Opus 40. (FYI: the sculpture park and museum in Saugerties, NY reopens this Memorial Day weekend!)

One of the quarries we stopped to have lunch abuts a scenic ledge historically referred to as Codfish Point. Quarrymen used to break from mining and nourish themselves with codfish sandwiches. We brought tuna instead. The summit yielded even more discarded concentrations.

Wrapping up our hike in bluestone heaven, the question remains: How in the world did quarrymen remove this weighty strata from steep cols without mechanical equipment? Horses, chains, carts and pulleys? Hurling it would splinter and damage the cut. Carrying it would be impossible.

If anyone can chime in with an answer, we’d appreciate the history lesson.

Bluestone Plattekill Mountain

Bluestone Plattekill Mountain

Plattekill Mountain

Bluestone Plattekill mountain

Plattekill mountain waterfalls

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Thomas Cole (1801- 1848), founder of Hudson River School of Art, is buried very close to his home/studio in Catskill, NY.

Thomas Cole (1801- 1848), founder of Hudson River School of Art, is buried very close to his home/studio in Catskill, NY.

Painter Thomas Cole traveled up the Hudson River in 1825 and quickly found his inspiration in the Catskill mountains.

Moved by the beauty of the region, he started the nation’s first bona fide arts movement, the Hudson River School.

He’s buried only 4 blocks from his Cedar Grove estate with sweeping views of Kaaterskill Clove in the distance.

On Saturday, I enjoyed an enlightening haunt at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site followed by a drive through the Catskill Village cemetery.

When you visit, be sure to follow the progress of the construction of the New Studio. Thomas Cole enjoyed the Italianate-style building for less than two years before his death in 1848.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

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Friend Tess and homeowner Bernie of Twilight Park

Evading bumps, bruises and lost blood (whew!), I made it to the top of KHP much to my relief. I relaxed with a quick lunch near the skeletal remains of a small aircraft that crashed here in 1987. My stale sandwich tasted like a sirloin steak after my formidable bushwhack.

I let my thoughts drift between Thomas Cole, the lost dog in the poster and the fixed wing that sat before me – a structural frame heavily chewed up by time. Contemplation comes easy in the silence of a lonesome mountain. It felt oddly liberating being the only human on a normally popular Catskill High peak.

After lunch, I descended the traces of a dry foot path made slippery by patches of hardened snow. Ironically, the plunge proved more difficult than the ascent requiring perpetual concentration.

I slithered through cracks in the rocks, lower myself down steep crags and polished slabs of boulders with my butt. Still, I was eternally grateful to be coupled with a bonafide trail again.

When I reached the snowmobile junction, I let out a loud sigh of disappointment. Here again was that heavily-trodden, sloppy, miserable UTV road circumnavigating the mountain. I wore durable plastic storage bags over my socks to keep my toes dry but the mud was like quicksand – it sucked my left shoe off not once, but twice!

In my frustration, I made the mistake of going left and not right. For the next couple of hours I lost precious time and elevation. Somewhere in my thoughts, I heard Jack Kerouac’s famous words: “What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?”

Turns out the answer was Twilight Park or given my frame of mind I called it the Land of Oz.

Perched on the northwestern end of KHP at 2600 feet, the resort started as a community of rustic summer cottages and camps founded in 1883. It has since morphed into a gated community of awe-inspiring estates with scenic views of the Catskills made famous by a series of painting pioneers from the Hudson River School.

Did I deign to bushwhack for a second time to find this National Register of Historic Places? Taking heed of critics everywhere, you bet I did! And upon greeting homeowner Bernie and his artist friend Tess with hosannas, I realized my tales of woe and intrigue paled in comparison to the history of this area.

Have you ever heard of the Hardenbergh Patent? Bernie was quick to mention this gem shortly after I declared myself rescued. He pointed to the site of a nondescript survey marker dotted with orange flags not far from the driveway. The find was equivalent to the secret USGS benchmark that I looked for atop KHP but to no avail.

Hardenbergh Patent Marker

Turns out the Hardenbergh Patent was a deed between one Sir Johannes Hardenbergh of Albany and a tribe of Indians in an exchange for two million acres of land. The year was 1708. Queen Anne reigned over England while Benjamin Franklin had just been born a few years earlier.

“This stone defined the boundaries written in the patent,” explained Bernie.

Odds were good that this marker was the last of dozens that once stretched between Ulster, Greene, Orange, Sullivan and Delaware Counties. And to think that I thought my solitary exploits were daunting. Imagine the inner strength needed of surveyors in the 18th century?

I brushed away the leaves and earth to validate the dates but they hid below the surface.

“You’ll have to come back and help me dig that thing up so we can see what’s written,” invited Bernie. I concluded that I would call myself Dorothy for the rest of the day and my little camera, Toto.

I pinched myself as Tess finished her Owl sculpture painting in the front yard and offered to drive me back to my vehicle.

And so, with many thanks to my rescuers, a great adventure begets another with surprises and discoveries lurking at the most inauspicious moments. Life is truly amazing!

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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

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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

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