Frogs, deer, porcupine, hedgehogs, butterflies, salamanders and snakes: fauna was out in wild abandon on Vly and Bearpen mountains in May. Wild critters are always present in the Catskill mountains but, based on my experience, you watch them, they don’t watch you. This was not the case hiking with my friend Eve in late Spring.
With temperatures hovering in the mid 90s and no wind, the day was unusual from the start. Before stepping out of our cars, Eve coming from New Jersey and me from Albany, both of us carried books and maps that took us to the wrong trailhead. Fortunately, an older backwoods women living bravely on a secluded farm, minus her two jump-happy labs with nails that tore up my arms, helped redirect us to the right road.
We arrived and hiked a remote road to a scary, dilapidated hunting camp. The windows were hidden by creepy black insulation board. Still, something felt like it was watching us.
We made a right at the fork in the road and veered onto a well-traveled herd path, trees coated with blue paint. So much for a bushwhack. The trail was dotted with blossoming red trillium and littered by toads. We found the canister without incident and proceeded back to the black-draped cabin.
We proceeded to slog up a messy snowmobile trail to the top of the second peak, Bearpen, sweat dripping like a small faucet from our foreheads. I was already almost out of my second bottle of water. We kept our sights glued downward as to prevent squashing the many snakes and amphibians that sat motionless in our path.
I looked up only once to catch a curious white-tail staring in our direction. It stood in a bed of young, green twigs with a brown body blending well with the exposed rock and fallen debris.
Her eyes locked with mine as I slowly lifted my phone camera to capture the moment. Surprisingly, she didn’t scamper off into the woods but resumed munching on her favorite tree shoots as we tiptoed past quietly.
Needless to say, it was hot at the top. We found shade and ate our remaining grub near a rusty ski rope tow. In the 1950’s, Bearpen entertained beginner skiers with a single chairlift and platterpull. Most of the ski trails are no longer noticeable though.
On the return trip past the ominous hunting camp, indeed we saw eyes staring at us! It turned out not to be the gun-toting, deranged madman that I constantly fear. Instead, a plump, furry groundhog burrowed under the deck floorboards and watched us pass. It appeared to shake its’ snout back and forth at us as if waving goodbye as we dragged our limp legs back to our cars.