Sunday, January 29, 2017

Scouting Breakneck Ridge

Breakneck Ridge
Next week, I'm leading a hike for the Ramblers around Breakneck Ridge, so yesterday a few of us went out to test-drive the route. It's going to be a good hike, with quite a few tough hills. I'll save a longer writeup for after official outing, but here are a couple of pics of what people can expect.

Above is the hike along the top of Sugarloaf, with views of Storm King across the Hudson. Below is a hiker coming up to the top of Sugarloaf.
Breakneck Ridge

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hiking Eagle Mountain

Eagle MountainSince our first attempt to hike Eagle had been stymied by a deep stream crossing, we decided to try again. The Rider Hollow route, the shortest, was out, as the water would still be high. The Seager Road route is by far the longest, and it has several stream crossings. That left McKenley* Hollow, with a couple of easier stream crossings, a medium length - and a lot of elevation gain, about 1,000 feet more than Rider Hollow.

The warm weather meant that the lower slopes were almost totally bare of snow. It was well above freezing, so what was left continued to melt. We started off with bare boots, with no need for any kind of traction devices.

The 1.9 miles up the Oliverea-Mapledale trail to the junction with the Pine Hill-West Branch trail comprise the toughest part of this hike. It’s quite a steep slope as you follow the creek. Fortunately, the trail moderates at a little over 3,000 feet at the col between Eagle and Balsam Mountains. 

Eagle MountainThere, we put on our microspikes for the final 2.1 miles, since there were icy rocks and slushy snow. The trails follows a long ridge before heading up for a final climb to Eagle’s 3,600-foot summit. We were worried about time, and I was afraid we might have to turn around to avoid hiking in the dark. Fortunately, we met a group of hikers returning from the summit with a GPS, and they told us it was .75 miles to the top. We didn’t necessarily enjoy the last climb, but we made it.

Eagle’s summit doesn’t have a view. The summit itself is off the trail, although canister-less, and marked by a cairn. To get any views at all on this route, I recommend hiking when the leaves are off the trees; you’ll get glimpses of some mountains as you go. 

With Eagle down, I have only one peak left to complete my Catskills 3500. SW Hunter, here I come.

*The map shows it as McKinley, but the signs say McKenley. I’m not sure which is right. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hiking Slide Mountain

Slide Mountain
J has started working on her 3500 peaks, so for the Winter Weekend we decided to join a led club hike to Slide, one of the required winter peaks.

The weather had been rather warm for the previous week, with some rain and freezing rain, so there was as much ice as snow. It was going to be another weekend I couldn't use my new snowshoes, alas. Microspikes were a definite necessity - although we saw a few folks without them, I think that's just asking for trouble. I was the only one without poles, which I keep meaning to buy eventually, so it's safe to say most people would prefer them for a little extra stability.

We came up Slide from Frost Valley Road, taking the most direct route. Despite the icy trails, we were blessed with sunshine and relatively warm temperatures. Compared to two weeks earlier, it felt positively balmy.

Despite the ice, this hike is pretty non-technical. There are no rock scrambles, and the stream crossings were all easy. That makes it one of the easier winter peaks. And there is a nice view at the top, which always feels like a nice reward.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Diamond Notch falls

Diamond Notch
On Sunday, we did an easy hike, up from Spruceton Road to Diamond Notch Falls. The falls were frozen, which was cool, but it wasn't easy to get to a good vantage point. In summer, it's no big deal to walk down to the stream. In winter, you wouldn't want to go sliding into the icy water.

By comparison, here is what it looks like in summer:
Diamond Notch Falls

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hiking Eagle, er, Balsam

We had a variety of misadventures just getting to the Catskills this weekend (reminder: bring pants), but we made it safely and headed out on Saturday to do one of my two remaining 3500 peaks - Eagle. There are three approaches to Eagle, one of which has considerably more elevation gain, so we decided to begin from Rider Hollow Road. Along the way we had one further misadventure, which was that Siri didn't know a particular road was closed for the winter. It closes every winter, Siri! Don't steer me like that.

But we eventually made it, parked, and headed up the trail. About .3 miles in the trail splits, and we took the junction that leads south to Eagle. Or, well, we tried. There is a creek crossing that I had heard was dicey at times, although when I was there about two years ago it was nothing to worry about.

Not this time - there was no good way to cross without stepping in deep water or hoping an icy rock wouldn't be slippery. After hunting up and down for a crossing, we gave up and went back to the intersection. Luckily, J needs Balsam for her 3500, and we decided to give it a go.

Fortunately, the trail to Balsam was uneventful, although hardly dull. We used microspikes the entire way up - the trail was firmly packed but icy in places. Bare trees meant we enjoyed some nice winter-only views. The viewpoint near the top was spectacular as always - it was a clear, if not sunny, day.


Monday, January 2, 2017

The best books I read in 2016

Another year has gone, and this time I went through 16 non-fiction books and 61 fiction books. Some of them were forgettable brain candy, some were mediocre, and many were very good. But here are my favorites.

As always, these aren't the best books published in 2016, but the best books I read in 2016.

In the nonfiction category, there were several strong contenders, but the winner was The Lives of Campus Custodians by Peter Magolda. It's unusual for a book in my field to appear on my list, but this one was engaging to read, not to mention on a topic unusually explored. (Those of us who write about higher ed administration like to focus on the roles unique to higher ed, like the faculty, or on roles that are slightly different in higher ed than elsewhere, like fundraisers.)

A new category this year is graphic novel. I won't pretend for a moment to be well-versed in this area, so take my recommendation for what you will - although it did win a Hugo. But I really enjoyed Ursula Vernon's Digger. (I've linked to the online version, but you can also buy a print omnibus.) If you like her art, by the way, you can buy prints here.

Under fiction, I have a small handful to recommend. The first is a surprise only in that it took me this long to read it, but perhaps it's not a surprise after all, since The Arrival just came out. Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others is a slim volume of stories by a writer who take months or years on each one, and then each one wins the Hugo, Nebula, and Pulitzer. OK, I'm exaggerating, but only a little. And, yes, The Arrival is based on his "unfilmable" Stories of Your Life.

Also in the "no surprise" category, albeit more recent, is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. I'll be curious to see how my feeling about this one change over time - it was an immersive read but I haven't returned to thinking about it the way I have some of these others.

My favorites actually skew new this year - the next one is "old," but only 2015 - Infomocracy by Malka Older was a book I expected to find moderately enjoyable. Perhaps it was the timing - reading it right before the election - but I found it not only enjoyable, but thought-provoking, and I keep returning to its ideas as we ponder how to fix the American electoral system. If Anathem made you think about universities or monasteries as institutions, this will do the same for politics.

Another 2015 book was The Fifth Season by Nora K. Jemisin. The second volume came out this year, and like many trilogies, the second volume has to deal with the fact that the novelty of the world is gone - and the first book threw a lot of curves at the reader - but it is solid. The first book, however, managed to create a fantasy world that felt new, which is no small feat.

Last, but far from least, was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2015 novella, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. The story is interesting, but what is remarkable is the voice, the use of various vocabularies (particularly AAVE, which so rarely appears in high fantasy). A second novella in this world came out in 2016, and it is also strong.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in photos

Panther via Giant Ledge
Hemlock Falls
City life
SBM End-to-End
Hurricane Ledge
Puffer Shelter
Old hotel
Picnic tables