Monday, August 31, 2015

Balsam Lake and Phoencia

Fire tower views

I decided to hike Balsam Lake on Saturday, as it was the only fire tower Catskills 3500 peak I hadn't yet done, and on summer weekends the fire towers are staffed with volunteers and open to visit. Spoiler alert: There was no one at the tower. (Other hikers reported that the volunteers arrived shortly after.) You can still climb the tower stairs, though, and get essentially the same view, so that's what I did.

The hike up seemed relatively easy - mostly because I've been doing a lot of the trailless peaks that require bushwhacking as of late. Even compared to many of the peaks with trails Balsam Lake is somewhat easy, simply because most of it is an old road. There is no scrambling up ledges, for example.

After two miles of road, the trail splits. The left fork continues the road, going to a shelter, another trail, and eventually the tower. The right fork goes more directly to the tower. There is actually another fork a little before this one, an unmaintained trail on private property to Graham Mountain, but it's more obvious when coming downhill than when going up. I didn't do Graham, partially because I hadn't called and partially because I promised my PT I wouldn't push it too hard.

After coming down, I decided to ride the Catskill Mountain Railway. The route is short and not really that interesting, but the stop at the railway museum was interesting. The railway is on the outside of Phoenicia, which is a touristy little town.

Many of the towns in the Catskills are only a collection of houses at an intersection, plus maybe a post office. Others have a business or two, but still aren't draws in themselves. In the areas I've explored thus far, there are two principal towns of size. One is Tannersville (shading into Hunter), which I am quite fond of. It's cute, it has several decent restaurants, and reasonably interesting shopping. You can stay at nearby North-South Lake Campground or sleep indoors at the Snowed Inn for reasonable prices, or stay at one of several pricier B&Bs. I am not qualified to speak as to those, however. Eat breakfast at Maggie's before hiking and dinner after at the Last Chance.

Feta and watermelon salad

Phoenicia is the other town, and I just haven't been as fond of it. It's not as attractive; it is well-sited and has some historical buildings, but one side of the downtown strip is just boxes. There is a souvenir shop and an ice-cream-and-fudge shop; there is also a river tubing service ("Why not tube the Esopus?") and the railway. Its offerings seem to be aimed at families, and you could exhaust them in a day. It also has very little lodging and almost no decent food. Mama's Boy coffeeshop is good, but it's not an all-purpose restaurant. Brio's, which bills itself as a wood-fired pizza joint, is really a diner, and it's not bad but it's nothing special. There is an attached sports bar, and that's it.

However, there is the Phoenicia Diner, which isn't on the main strip but on the highway. I've seen it totally full up with bikes and pickups, but it's not always convenient eating for hikers - it's not open for dinner. But the railway ticket guy recommended it, so I tried it. You see that watermelon-feta salad above? That's from the diner. Apparently they hired all the chefs away from another former Phoenicia establishment. So, the diner in town is fancier than a diner, and the place that bills itself as a restaurant is actually a diner. Go figure.

There are a couple of other largish towns in the Catskills, such as Margaretville, but I haven't found their locations as convenient to explore, as they tend to be on the edge of or outside the "blue line" marking the park edge. But I readily confess there is a great deal I may be missing out on.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Halcott and Rusk

BushwhackingOn Sunday I knocked off two more Catskills peaks, the trailless Halcott and Rusk. Neither peak offers anything in the way of views (in winter, there may be glimpses of other mountain through the trees); aside from a brief bit of walking on a gravel road up to Rusk, they're both straight uphill through the brush.

I've noticed before how different the peaks are. Perhaps it has to do with their history, such as how recently they were logged, or whether the face I was on faced north or south. But each one has rather different plant growth. When we hiked The Six back in June, we fought our way through balsam trees. On Halcott, this was a non-issue, but there was a lot of vegetation in the 2-4 foot high range, some of it nettles (see photo above). And on Rusk the ground was much clearer.

LedgeFrankly, neither Rusk nor Halcott is particularly interesting. There is a waterfall on the route to Halcott, but it's perhaps 50 feet from the road. If they had trails, they would be more pleasurable, but they wouldn't have big payoffs - you wouldn't take a newbie to them to entice them to fall in love with hiking. These ledges on Rusk are kind of interesting, and I'd want to route a trail near them, but my understanding is that bushwhackers usually go around them. 

I'm now up to 23 of 39 required climbs. Next weekend, I'll head back up there for more bushwhacking on the nettlesome North Dome and Sherrill.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hiking Fire Island

While I was in Iceland, I didn't keep up with my usual workout routine. I did capoeira once and hit the gym not at all. There was plenty of walking - certainly hitting 10,000 steps a day - and quite a few hikes, including very strenuous ones. Our two weeks of trail volunteering were active; a friend said that thanks to "hauling rocks and digging weeds" I was "probably stronger than when [I] left," but that was an overoptimistic assessment. Frankly, none of the work left me sore, except for the first day with a lot of hammering, but that was specific, hammer-related muscles.

I went back to capoeira class Wednesday, which worked me over after less time than I usually put in. The next day at the gym nearly incapacitated me - although, to be fair, I went to two classes whereas one is my usual. So I was still sore when I woke up Saturday morning and had to hike because, you know, I was the leader.

"But that's okay," you're thinking. "The one thing you've said you kept in shape was your hiking muscles." Indeed, my body could have gallivanted up and down a few hills. But this hike was the only kind of hiking my body wasn't prepared for - is never prepared for: a beach hike. 12 miles of this:

Fire Island

Pretty, yes? But that's a lot of sand hiking. By the end, we were all glad to be done with this flat, only 13.2-mile hike, because it had taken its toll on us.

We did have a beautiful day for it, complete with "swimming" at Bellport Beach (in actuality, letting the waves knock us around). It looked very different than my scout of a few months ago, due to higher tides, better weather, and larger crowds.

Anyway, if you need me, I'll be at home, lying here helplessly.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Packing for a month, redux

I have a lot to process from my trip, but let's start with the easy stuff. How did my packing work?

There were a couple of items I didn't wear:
  • winter gloves
  • Uniqlo down jacket
The latter may have been a mistake, as it was packed tight all month, and I'm not sure it'll bounce back. If I had done any of the long treks, maybe I would have used them, but as it was they weren't necessary.

A couple of things I only wore so I didn't feel bad about packing them:
  • street shoes
  • skirt
Next time I'd leave them out, and probably replace the skirt with another pair of pants.

I lost a couple of items:
  • one sock (why is it always one!)
  • one SmartWool shirt (this made we very sad, as I was wearing it a lot)
I left out the following item, and I'm not sure why:
  • warm leggings
(OK, I know why. They were the wrong color.)

I bought a few items:
  • Icelandic sweater (sadly, not a hand-knit one)
  • wool leggings
  • two wool shirts
  • wool socks
Of these, I wore the first three a great deal; the leggings were really essential, and the sweater was great so I wasn't always wearing my hoodie. The two shirts I bought at the end of my trip.

But overall, I did a decent job of packing. Good job, me.
And the photo? The worksite supplied waterproof gear from 66° North, which really worked. Note that they don't sell it online/in their stores, just through professional marine supply type places. (And I checked; it doesn't come in black.)

P.S. The new bag liner and pillow were the bees' knees. The liner was so warm! And the pillow was as good as my memory foam at home. My camping kit has been taken up several notches.