Back to the Shawangunks and Minnewaska-Winter hike

Getting ready to hit the trail

Getting ready to hit the trail

As planned we headed back to the Hudson valley for our anniversary weekend so we could finally visit Hyde Park on Hudson and do more hiking in Minnewaska State Park. We visited here back in January, right when the Government shut down went into effect and effectively shut down our visit to the home of President Franklin Roosevelt. We are big history buffs, and also fans of the wonderful things his New Deal created such as the Civil Conservation Corps. Not only did the CCC help stabilize the economy after the great depression by providing thousands of jobs, but it also created some of our favorite state and national park buildings and roads. The more parks I visit, the more I see their handiwork and am grateful!

At the trail junction

At the trail junction

We had a great visit to the home on Friday and very much enjoyed our tour. These guides have a passion for their subject; I think I would love a job like that! We enjoyed a great lunch and dinner in Poughkeepsie as part of Hudson Valley restaurant week, and hope to get back in the fall to visit Eleanor’s house, Valkill, a few miles east of the main house.

The next morning we went back to New Paltz on our way to hike. We called Mohonk preserve from the hotel before we left as we were going to try and hike there but they said they only had snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and no hiking. By that I deduced they just meant guided outings. This is a place where the very wealthy play and are pampered so I imagine this type of guided activity is the norm for their guests. I later realized as we passed one of their gates while entering Minnewaska S.P. that you can hike their trails if you so desire, you just won’t have a guide. No problem. No guide needed. That parking area had lots of outdoorsy folk getting out into the snowy wonderland and no sign of a guard station or entrance fee.

Fielden Stream

Fielden Stream

We stopped into the outfitter in New Paltz called Rock and Snow to look at maps of the rest of Minnewaska S.P. and see if they had any idea on the trail conditions. Given all the recent snow, we didn’t want to be postholing and didn’t have deep snow gear. We did have our microspikes (I recently picked up a used pair for Fielden Stream on a used hiking gear forum) and so as long as the trails were not knee deep in snow we wouldn’t need more than those. They didn’t have a lot of information on trail conditions and I found the map a little too minimal, so I checked my trusty AllTrails app and found many short loop options. As we drove west to the park, we could see that most of the mountainsides were snowless give or take a few spots. Of course this doesn’t always mean there’s not snow on top or on the trails. But it didn’t look too foreboding.

High Peter's Kill /SRT

High Peter’s Kill /SRT

We picked a loop in the Peter’s Kill (the Dutch word for a river) area that circled the rocky craggs of Compass Rock and then followed Peter’s Kill back to the park office. I didn’t realize this area had a park office/ranger’s station until we got there so while we did have to pay a $10 parking fee, I am always fine with giving my money to support these parks. Plus, they had information, detailed maps of the area’s trails, a nature exhibit, bathrooms, and snowshoe rentals should we have needed them. The ranger was also able to tell us the trail conditions and that spikes were fine for the conditions. We saw many people out there with no spikes who said ‘we should get those’ when they saw ours, but they all managed without. We like the extra security knowing we wouldn’t slip on icy spots and had traction in the snow on the climbs and descents.

Classic Gunks rocks

Classic Gunks rocks

We got our spikes on and headed up the Bullwheel trail to start our loop. The climb from here was easy and not much of a grade. To the east, several rock climbing and bouldering trails branched off the main trail but you need permits for those and no one was out rock climbing considering the snow was 3-4 inches deep everywhere. These were indicated by blue/yellow blazes, though I didn’t figure that out till later.

Linus playing beneath the boulders

Linus playing beneath the boulders

We reached an old concrete foundation which we learned from the ranger was part of an old ski resort up the side of this hill back in the day. There were several runs, one of which we hiked up at the end of the loop. This was likely the support for the lift tower. At this point we were skirting the eastern edge of the rocky summit, and in better weather with a bouldering permit you can scramble up to the top. I was enticed for a second but without a permit, I don’t really believe in breaking rules. Especially when I ask others to follow and respect these kinds of rules as a ridge runner. I also wouldn’t want to have my wife deal with a fall! I will come back later when its dry and warm and with a permit.

Incredible view of the Catskills

Incredible view of the Catskills

The trail intersected here with the High Peter’s Kill trail. It is part of the longer Shawangunk Ridge Trail which follows the ridge lines for the length of the park. The trail continued east to the Mohonk Preserve but we continued west on the High Peter’s Kill portion around the summit of Compass rock. There were amazing views from its western slope to the high peaks of the Catskills just to the west. It descended sometimes steeply for a snowy trail to the banks of Peter’s Kill, a beautiful river nestled between the two mountains. It was wide and deep and had watering holes and a nice waterfall we passed. In the summer this would be an ideal place to cool off.

After following the river for a bit we opted for the shorter (but we would learn steeper) route up the red trail back to the parking area. This took us up the side of an old ski slope to where it met the Bullwheel trail we climbed earlier. A family with young kids was descending this trail and slipping all over the place because it was steep. So we were again glad to have our traction devices. We got a nice workout climbing up the hill and then enjoyed the gentle decline back to the trailhead.

Peter's Kill

Peter’s Kill

It was a short loop but very scenic, with all the typical flora and rocky crags you expect in the Gunks. With the snow, it was much more of a workout than in normal conditions. It wasn’t too cold and we had a great time. We then made our way to our friends’ beautiful home in nearby Cragsmoor, where we enjoyed a roaring campfire before a great dinner together. One day we will live that mountain and country life full time. For now, it’s always a pleasure to be in the mountains and the woods

More Shawangunk Ridges

More Shawangunk Ridges

Tomorrow I will be joining our overseer of trails with my Connecticut AMC chapter to inspect a section of our portion of the Appalachian trail and report back to the crews what work needed to be done. We will cut small blowdowns and clear what we can but we have larger work parties to do the heavy lifting, as well as sawyers to cut the big trees. It will be good to see the condition of the trail in Northern Connecticut as Fielden Stream and I will be out doing a section hike in Northern Massachusetts in 2 weeks and I was a bit anxious of the snow depths having just had our fourth Nor’Easter in a row. Last I read someone had to be assisted off the A.T. in that area of the Berkshires due to deep snow he wasn’t prepared for. Temperatures look like they will be in the 40s-50s until then so I’m hoping we will need nothing more than spikes. I will also check before we go with my contacts that maintain the Massachusetts section as they will know better than anyone.

We were planning to overnight it on that trip but it depends on if there’s snow up there as we don’t have much overnight winter gear. I know many thru’s are making the trek in deep snow in the Smokies right now with not much more than normal hiking gear, but there are shelters there. This section would only have a primitive campsite. If there’s a bunch of snow up there we will do it as a day hike, and this hike in Minnewaska was a good intro for Fielden to using her microspikes should we need them. I will do an entry on tomorrow’s trail maintenance hike as soon as I am able.

Miles: 2

– Linus

Sam’s Point Preserve, Minnewaska S.P., New York

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Yesterday we were up in the Hudson valley to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We like to mix it up with a few different activities… a nice stay in an inn, a dinner somewhere nice, some history, and of course, some hiking!

The area has all that and more. There’s a booming winery and cidery business all over the county, as well as plenty of historical sites and outdoor activities. There’s no shortage of nice inns and hotels as well as restaurants and great towns to visit and explore.

Sam's Point from the parking area

Sam’s Point from the parking area

Despite a warmer spell we weren’t quite ready to backpack as there was still almost a foot of snow on the ground in many places we would go. But we wanted to keep in shape and do some hiking so we are ready for the season. Also, because we love being outdoors.

Various hike options

Various hike options

Our hike this time was in the dramatic Shawangunk mountains of New York. Just west of the Hudson river the range stretches from west of New Paltz (a great town!) south to Cragmoor about 15-20 miles south.

Fielden Stream below the Crags

Fielden Stream below the Crags

The northern end holds the famous Mohonk Mountain House and preserve, a dramatic Victorian era castle resort hotel towering high on a rocky peak and surrounding a sky lake.

They have many trails there as well as other activities. It is however quite a bit expensive with its award-winning farm-to-table dining, epic views and fancy spa, and if you are not staying there you have to pay a hefty $22 to park in their lot and enjoy their grounds. It was started as a retreat to enjoy nature and study ecology by a pair of Quaker brothers and has grown in size and popularity ever since. They have dedicated time and money throughout the generations to help with local stewardship and to improve the conditions of native peoples. So at least some of that money goes to good causes.  I have to say we’re curious and as we are going back here in March for our anniversary because the F.D.R home we planned to visit was closed from the government shutdown, and so we may also visit here to check it out. I’m afraid the cost is likely too prohibitive for an overnight stay for our current budget. But we will see if there’s any deals to be had at the time!

Couple selfie

Couple selfie

The rest of the Shawangunk range comprises what is known as Minnewaska State Park. It contains a large trail system, a sky lake of its own, the highest dwarf pine habitat in the region, ice caves, a dramatic waterfall and sweeping views from steep cliffs of stone all along its perimeter.  There is a visitor center at the southernmost end known as Sam’s Point.

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

They have a small exhibit on flora and fauna and geology in the area, guided tours with local naturalists and you can rent snowshoes. We really should have on this day but didn’t realize until after. Fielden Stream has always wanted to try them and I didn’t bring my microspikes and the snow was 6″ deep, though there was a trodden path about a foot wide which helped.  Being only .6 up to the viewpoint, and on a gravel road covered in snow, we managed…

A good view of the cliff edges

A good view of the cliff edges

There isn’t a tremendous vertical gain, maybe a few hundred feet. My phone was on the fritz so I could not use my tracking app to get that information. The only real steep angle was at the end, and it wasn’t bad, again because it was really just a gravel road.

On the western-facing ledge

On the western-facing ledge

The views to the south and then to the west from the second viewpoint were amazing. And our car did all the real climbing on this day. The elevation at the southern point is about 2,200 ft. The dramatic drop-offs and long views were well worth the minimal effort. I highly recommend it. When we go back in March we also hope to do one of the guided tours here on the native peoples, landscape and wildlife and check out the ice caves and the falls as well.

Miles: 1.2

– Linus