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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Balsam Lake Mountain(Catskills)

Blue skies and bright sunshine had me itching to get out of work today to do some exploring, so as soon as I was out, I picked up my nephew Holden and we headed to the Catskills.  Our destination today would be 3730 foot Balsam Lake Mountain and its fire tower.  Drove west on Route 28 towards Belle Ayre Mountain, then south along Ulster County Route 49A to its end. We then took a left onto Dry Brook Road for about a mile and a half before turning right onto Mill Brook Road.  The trail head is located on the right at the Dry Brook Ridge parking lot, roughly 2.5 miles down the Mill Brook Road.  Ample Parking is available.
The trail to Balsam Lake Mountain begins across the road and is marked with blue discs.  The trail is actually a wide old woods road and makes for pleasant walking.  A short distance along the trail, we began to see a smattering of snow amongst the trees.
 Winter still has a grip on these north facing rocks.
 The woods road climbs gradually, but never steeply.  Total elevation gain is a bit over 1120 feet over the course of 3 miles.  It is imperative to stay on the trail as the land on both sides is posted until much higher on the Fire Tower trail.
Muddy conditions persisted through much of the hike.
 After about 2.2 miles of climbing, we arrived at the trail junction, where a right took us onto the red marked fire tower trail.
 The Fire Tower trail continues past a gate, which is there to keep motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles out.
 There are screened views through the bare trees as the trail begins to climb towards the summit.
Snow became more and more prevalent as we gained elevation. 
 Passing the 3500 foot sign, an important number in the Catskills.
 Climbing up the snowy slopes.
 Near the summit, the trail reaches a long, level plateau area where balsam becomes very thick.
The air temperature became noticeably cooler as we neared the summit.  Holden strolling through the balsam.
 Although we are only a week away from May, the scene up here looked much more like mid winter.
 After 3 miles, we arrived at the summit fire tower, which stands proudly in a large clearing.  The fire tower was renovated and reopened to the public in 2000.
 Although the cab at the top of the fire tower was locked, the views were still incredible.  Many of the surrounding Catskill peaks are clearly visible from the 360 degree views.  Here is a view north beyond the ranger cabin and tree tops.
 Rolling blue mountains the south.
 A cold wind was battering us from this exposed area, but the views made it hard to tear ourselves way.
Catskill panorama from Balsam's 3730 foot summit and fore tower. 
A temperature gauge was nailed to the ranger's cabin at the summit and as we had surmised, the temperature was only in the upper 30s, a full 15 degrees colder than the Esopsus Valley on Route 28.
 We saw several other parties out enjoying the sunny weekend day.  Everyone seemed in good spirits and our hike back was very pleasant.
 Any clouds seemed to give way to the sun on the return.  We stopped for a few minutes to soak in our surroundings.
Hiked a total of 6 miles RT on a cool, but beautiful, sunny spring day.  Not a difficult hike at all, but many nice views and scenic woods along the way made for a very nice day hike.

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