Seeing white (or red) on top of Blackhead mountain

Blackhead Mountain

George morphs into a bellyaching curmudgeon when his "manly" abilities are put to the test.      "Come on kid, keep up with me!" I shout.  Empathy never is my strong suite on the mountain.

George morphs into a bellyaching curmudgeon when his “manly” abilities are put to the test. “Come on kid, keep up with me!” I shout. Empathy never is my strong suite on the mountain.

“If you win Powerball tonight, honey, you should buy this mountain and name it Dunbrook!” I told my exasperated friend as he took another hit from his inhaler. (Dunbrook is his last name). This was my attempt to boost his spirits.

“There’s already a mountain by the same name in the Adirondacks so why bother with this one!” he grumbled.

“And, besides, I’d rather buy an island than a mountain! Here’s a thought – how about we call this one ‘stupid!'”

And so goes my Saturday hiking with a normally quick-witted and light-hearted fellow who all but morphs into a tortured soul when he’s outside his comfort zone. And, I get that.

This particular mountain isn’t just any mountain. This is the yellow-blazed Batavia Kill trail up Blackhead mountain in the Catskills. For nearly a mile we ascend a super steep pitch smacking our noggins on rocks and scrambling over cold, exposed ledges.

I happen to call this sport ‘fun’ but given the amount of ice today, Dunbrook calls it ‘stupid.’ And, with a low-lying blanket of fog obscuring our views at the summit, it’s no wonder sarcasm and derision take over…

Still, it was memorable and I loved it! So here now are some photos that showcase that challenge. George puts on a good face through it all but now we all know better, right?

Blackhead Mountain with George Dunbrook

Bridge over troubled water when George hikes with me....

Bridge over troubled water when George hikes with me….

Blackhead Mountain

Blackhead mountain

Blackhead Mountain

Wow, check out these views!

Wow, check out these views!

The power of parks and nature centers in winter

Did you participate in a fifth annual New Year’s Day Hike at one of our 38 state parks or historic sites across New York last Friday? If not a park, maybe you took the dog for a walk through the woods or you donned a gift and found snow in higher elevations? I found my winter wonderland bushwhacking in the Catskill mountains.

“What you do the first day of the New Year will be what you do most of the year,” said my superstitious hiking buddy, Rick.

First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative to encourage people to get outdoors among the beauty of a state park even when the wind is howling on a chilly morning. Provided you bundle up right (layers, heavy hat) and keep your water bottle warm (dress it in a foam sleeve), you too can build character being in the cold. In fact, there’s even a hashtag for that: #coldweatherbuildscharacter.

Thatcher Park Nature Center

While some brag about the benefits of polar plunges in Lake George, tamer options exist, like moonlight snowshoe walks at John Boyd Thatcher State Park or ice-fishing on Thompson Lake. Get your heart pumping with a hike along the edge overlook followed by a visit to the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, just up the road.

Warm up inside while observing the live honeybee hive or reading about trilobites on display. Their January calendar is chock-full of fun weekend stuff like photography exhibits, bird counting, outdoor scavenger hunts, relay races and lectures on hibernating black bears.

Address: 87 Nature Center Way, Voorheesville, NY 12186
Phone: (518) 872-0800

For more information: New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation or I LOVE NY.

Lone & Rocky, where trees hug you back

For all you tree huggers out there, there’s a place in the Catskill Mountains that reciprocates that squeeze. I’m not talking about a smothering embrace from the thick branches of a deciduous tree like an ash or elm. I’m talking about the playful tug or pull of barren or dead bushes and dense conifers, not unlike a little kid yanking on their mom’s shirt from behind.

When navigating a pathless summit, thorny limbs snag loose clothing and hold onto you in a death grip. Given my reverence for what I consider sentient beings, I revel in the idea that a balsam fir or spruce likes me enough to hold me back or brush up again me. It’s kind-of sweet.

Well, it’s kind-of sweet until that initial touch turns into a stinging whack across the face. Hence the term bushwhack.

While bushwhacking up Rocky and Lone Mountains in the Catskills on New Years Day, Rick Shortt, my climbing companion, was savvy enough to remember his baseball cap. I remembered to duck and weave.

Shortt is a repository of clothing prowess and geographical knowledge. He and one of his best friends are the only people (that they know of) to have climbed all 97 of Virginia’s 4,000 foot peaks.

Shortt picked out the best routes to traverse hollows, creek beds and cols for the 13.1 mile roundtrip hike. And had it not been for his Garmin, I’m sure we would have ran into much higher concentrations of hemlocks, both going up and coming down.

Here now are some photographs of the experience, one that earned Shortt another peakbagging feather in his cap – an official Catskill 3500 footer completion.

Following Fishman's Path along Donavan's Creek, a tributary that flows into the East Branch of the Neversink River and overshadowed by Lone and Rocky mountains.  Fresh snow makes this lightly treaded trail especially picturesque.

Following Fishman’s Path along Donavan’s Creek, a tributary that flows into the East Branch of the Neversink River and overshadowed by Lone and Rocky mountains. Fresh snow makes this lightly treaded trail especially picturesque.

Scattered patches of firs and spruce largely dominate the top of Rocky mountain.  Be mindful to remove your sunglasses,  tuck loose scarfs into your pockets and hold your hands in front of you to catch branch 'boomerangs.'

Scattered patches of firs and spruce largely dominate the top of Rocky mountain. Be mindful to remove your sunglasses, tuck loose scarfs into your pockets and hold your hands in front of you to catch branch ‘boomerangs.’

Scrambling up a steep chute to the summit of Lone Mountain.  A good set of knee pads and a little arm strength go a long way here.   Photo by Rick Shortt.

Scrambling up a steep chute to the summit of Lone Mountain. A good set of knee pads and a little arm strength go a long way here. Photo by Rick Shortt.

A ledge on Rocky Mountain provides Rick with a southeastern view towards Ashokan High Point and beyond.

A ledge on Rocky Mountain provides Rick with a southeastern view towards Ashokan High Point and beyond.

Belize: Where termites are tasty and guano is good luck

Bat guano (poop) falling onto the shoulders of unsuspecting cave tubers is good luck…or so they say. Maybe, it’s just part of the creepy fun found floating down Herman’s Cave in mainland Belize. This wet adventure is even better when guide Omar Deras is at the helm. His tours include history lessons on the Mayan people and entomophagy — that’s eating insects like raw termites!

Check out my second article found online at GONOMAD called Belize: The jungle rhythms of Mayan country.”

And, enjoy this accompanying video: https://vimeo.com/150431694

Where you should go in 2016

Riga Latvia

Where are the best places to visit in the world right now? Well, based on where I went in 2015, I would encourage everyone to plan trips to these wonderful parts of the world:

Best Food Experience: Riga, Latvia
(Besides the amazing restaurants, three massive Zeppelin hangars declared UNESCO World Heritage sites offer one of Europe’s largest food markets. Go hungry, taste test everything and make sure your hotel room has a really big refrigerator. Click HERE to see more.)

Best Accommodations: Impossible to decide.
(Between the Tamarac Cottage in Saranac Lake, New York, the Ship’s Knees Inn in Orleans, Massachusetts and the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge in Central Belize, I seriously can’t decide.)

Best Family Festival: Wellfleet Oyster Festival, Cape Cod.
(You say you don’t like oysters? It’s because you haven’t had the pleasure of indulging from the winners of the annual Shuck-Off competition. BTW, Troy’s Chowder Fest comes in second.)

Best City for Allergy Sufferers: Temecula, California
(One of the only places in the world where I didn’t sniffle or sneeze for an entire week.)

Best Outdoor Experience: The Soomaa National Park
(READ MORE HERE about bog walking the soft spongy meadows of southern Estonia with local guides.)

Best Value: Stockholm, Sweden
(You can now buy more krona than ever in a city once considered the most expensive in Scandinavia. Use it to visit the best museum in the world: the Vasa Warship)

Best Animal Adventure: Central Belize
Go on a night hike in the Sibun National Forest Preserve to see sloths, spiders and snakes!

Best Underwater Adventure: Diving the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Ambergris Caye in Belize.
(Read my latest article HERE.)

Best Bike Trip: Cape Vincent to Kingston, Canada via a ferry ride to Wolfe Island.
(Go

Best Après-Ski Cocktail: St. Regis Hotel, Deer Valley, Utah.
(The most famous Bloody Mary in the world is found at nearly 8000 feet above sea level. Mixed with distilled vodka from the local High West Distillery, the signature drink is served with a touch of salt on the rim and finished with a Wasabi-Celery foam.)

Best Civil War Reenactment: Hermann, Missouri.
(Hermann Heritage Days in September enlists hundreds of volunteer Union and Confederate reenactors for battles, skirmishes and political debates of the day.)

Best Holiday Markets: Stockholm, Sweden.
(I had the muppets Swedish Chef theme running through my head the entire time I explored the Christmas markets of Old Town and Skansen.)

Best New York Park: Letchworth State Park.
(Renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” you can visit anytime of the year. Read MORE HERE.)

Belize: Trading Butter for Bathing Suits in San Pedro

Island girls have more fun and local pastry celebrity, Debbie Klauber, is living proof of that.  Here she soaks in the Caribbean Sea unconcerned that her winter world on Ambergris Caye doesn't carry the baking necessities she needs.   The cookies will just have to wait.

Island girls have more fun and local pastry celebrity, Debbie Klauber, is living proof of that. Here she soaks in the Caribbean Sea unconcerned that her winter world on Ambergris Caye doesn’t carry the baking necessities she needs. The cookies will just have to wait.

It’s the holiday season and one of the country’s most revered pie-making debutantes is feeling the heat. No, she’s not slaving away in the kitchen waiting for the dough to rise. She’s on a tropical island in the Caribbean basking in sunshine on a pristine beach. It’s a life swap that Debbie Klauber makes six months out of the year.

But, living in San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye is a mixed bag for Klauber. On one hand, she loves frolicking like a mermaid in the warm waters, on the other, she’s tortured by the lack of her favorite baking essentials.

“Oh, sure, they have butter in San Pedro but it costs seven dollars for a half pound!” exclaims the curly-haired castaway. Conch and ceviche are within her budget but not eggs and milk.

The endearing Capital Region personality declares Belize home six months a year, not exactly a full-fledged expat but close enough.

For a quarter of a century Klauber ran the beloved sandwich, soup and pastry shop known as Debbie’s Kitchen on Madison Avenue in Albany, NY. The eatery sat a few doors shy from George Dunbrook’s car repair business. When the city temps fell to a miserable minus zero last winter, George suggested that we escape to Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” to visit his favorite donut dame.

To continue reading our adventures visiting Klauber, CLICK HERE.

To watch the video montage diving the Great Blue Hole, click on the arrow below:

Amigos del Mar Dive Shop from PilotGirl Productions on Vimeo.