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Monday, September 18, 2017

Blackhead Mountain Bushwhack to Arizona Mountain(Catskills)

Met up with my buddy Jim to do an interesting traverse bushwhack/ trail hike to a familiar mountain, but with a different twist.   We both thought it would be interesting to bushwhack up the long southern ridge line of Blackhead from the Colgate Lake area and then head up and over Arizona Mountain, before dropping down to Dutcher Notch and eventually down the eastern escarpment to a spotted car.  We left my car at the end of Storks Nest Road and then drove Jim's car over to Colgate Lake's second parking area to get the day started.  The hike started on the yellow blazed trail through open fields with views of the surrounding peaks, at a fairly high elevation of about 2160 feet.
After about a third of a mile,  at a bend in the trail, we began the bushwhack, entering the wide open hardwood forest.
There were several steep grades we had to negotiate but nothing terribly difficult.  We took our time and really enjoyed the gorgeous late summer conditions. 
We were both quite astonished by the open woods that we were climbing with very little dead fall or anything to slow us down.
Fall colors are really starting to show up, with the best still yet to come!
 We found lots of berries still on the vine, making the many animals that call these mountains home quite happy.
 
As we climbed, we hit several classic Catskill stair-steps, which took turns with the steeper sections until we emerged at a large area of witch hobble and berries around 3600 feet.  The trees began to grow shorter in stature as well, allowing us to catch occasional glimpses towards the valley and neighboring Black Dome.
After fighting and clawing through a stretch of thicker witch hobble we emerged at a clearing with beautiful rock ledges above, just calling our names!
Jim arriving at the top of the clearing, scoping things out.
From our rocky perch, we enjoyed a magnificent vista back over the long ridgeline we had just climbed.  Lake Capra(L) and Colgate Lake(R) sit down in the valley with the long ridge of West Stoppel Point above.
Jim really soaking in the views.  This made a perfect lunch spot with a gentle breeze to keep us cool.
A view to the southwest into the East Kill Valley with a drainage sandwiched between the lower slopes of Blackhead(L) and Black Dome(R). 
Early fall colors on Blackhead's southern ridge.
Hard to beat this view!  The Devils Path peaks can be seen rising beyond in the distance.
Turning left provided a view back towards Arizona Mountain and Stoppel Point beyond.
The wide open meadow like area above the ledges.  Hard to believe we were over 3700 feet here.
We found our way down to a nice view towards 3450 foot Arizona Mountain, our next peak(not enough prominence to count officially as its own separate peak).
Stumbled across this conifer, which looks like it has succumbed to an unfortunate fate.
After a very short area of dense conifers, we suddenly emerged at the blue marked escarpment trail.  From here it would be an easy day.  We continued over to hit the 3940 foot summit, which we have both hit on multiple occasions, before heading south towards Arizona.
The drop off Blackhead is pretty steep, losing 500 feet in less than half a mile.  At the base of the drop is a nice view towards Acra Point and the valley below.
Arizona's summit bump ahead.
Swirling clouds over the valley quickly breaking up as they hit the escarpment.
More vibrant colors of fall.
Emerging at a large clearing on the summit of Arizona.  A really nice spot.
 From the meadow like summit of Arizona is a nice little view back towards Blackhead, which rises 500 vertical feet above.
Continuing south along the trail, we found another view spot over the valley with clouds casting shadows far below.
As we lost a little more elevation the trail passes through a beautiful, dark coniferous forest before arriving at an informal path that leads several yards away to an incredible view spot.
The views from this location, while not open or unobstructed are great nonetheless.  Here is a look down towards Lake Capra and the East Kill Valley, framed beautifully with the surrounding foliage.
A few feet away is a view down over Dutcher Notch and across to Stoppel Point.  The long ridge of North Mountain can be seen beyond.
Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop can be seen just beyond the col between Stoppel Point and West Stoppel Point.
A zoom loo at the imposing eastern escarpment.
A very cool rock formation forms a natural tunnel that you can pass through.
After a very steep descent off Arizona, we arrived at 2550 foot Dutcher Notch.  This is a four way trail intersection in a small level clearing at a low point between the peaks.  We turned left here, heading east down towards our first spotted car.
The yellow blazed Dutcher Notch Trail loses 1400 feet in less than 2 miles on an old, rocky road that was used as a farm to market passage in the nineteenth century.  This was one of the more pleasant stretches as the trail drops off the eastern escarpment down to Storks Nest Road.
Arrived back at the car feeling great.  A little over 7 miles RT with about 2200 feet elevation gain(mostly on the bushwhack).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Burnt Knob to Windham High Peak back to Acra Point via Big Holow(Catskills)

Got out of work early Saturday afternoon and headed south to enjoy a beautiful section of the northeast Catskills that I haven't hiked in a couple of years.  My game plan was to park at the trailhead at the end of Big Hollow Road and hike up the Black Dome Trail north to the Escarpment Trail.  Wasn't sure how much time I'd have, but wanted to head west over Burnt Knob to Windham High Peak and then back east over to Acra Point.  On the drive down along Route 23(near the WHP trailhead), I pulled over to the side of the road to capture some of the early fall color.
Arrived at the parking area at the end of Big Hollow Road at about 2:30pm and quickly set out on my way. The red blazed DEC trail enters the woods on the north side of the road and immediately comes to a footbridge crossing the Batavia Kill.
Paused for a few moments to enjoy the peaceful stream, where low water is typical during the late summer.
Rocks help keep your feet dry at a smaller stream crossing.
The initial part of the hike passes through a dark, conifer forest before emerging into a deciduous forest.
After a touch over 1 mile and a barely noticeable 700 foot acent, the red trail meets up with the blue blazed Escarpment Trail.  This is located in the col between Burnt Knob and Acra Point.  I turned left(west) here, heading up towards Burnt Knob.
After a couple of steeper stretches, a side path leaves the trail, dropping down to an open ledge.  This ledge provides an up close view of the Blackhead Range, towering directly above the valley.
3940 foot Blackhead Mountain with 3400 foot sub summit Arizona Mountain, peaking out beyond to the south.
A zoom look at Black Dome, the highest of the three main peaks at 3990 feet.
Acra Point's long ridge directly to the east.
Continuing north along the Escarpment Trail leads a short distance on to another side path to a viewpoint.
This vista is sweeping and visually stunning, with the broad valley stretching out all the way norht towards the Adirondacks.
The Mohawk Valley.
A slight turn to the left, provides a great shot of Windham High Peak, hovering over the valley.
After a few minutes soaking in the views, I continued west along the trail.
After a couple of small ups and downs another side path emerges at a southwest view point.
This ledge provides a spectacular view out over the Black Dome Valley.
Windham High Peak looks awfully impressive just to the west. 
After dropping down into the col at about 2900 feet, I began a steady climb up towards Windham High Peak.
Early fall colors.
Catskill sandstone.
Ascending up and over 3500 feet.
Just below the summit is a large, protruding rock ledge that provides even broader valley views to the north than those enjoyed on Burnt Knob.
The view northwest.
The views go on forever from up here.  This is the northern most 3500+ foot peak with nothing but the broad valley stretching out in front of you.
Continued on a scant .15 mile further up to the 3524 foot summit of Windham High Peak.
The summit cone on Windham High Peak.
After hitting the summit of Windham High Peak, I turned around, retracing my steps back off the mountain, towards Burnt Knob.  Such a gorgeous afternoon. 
While looking at my maps, I realized that I had not hit the true summit in my other visits here.  The trail actually crosses a shoulder of the 3180 foot summit, so I bushwhacked a short distance uphill(N-NE) until I arrived at a high point.  Wooded and unremarkable, but pretty easy going.
A few minutes later I was back on the trail and with a little time left, I decided I'd head the short distance beyond the col towards Acra Point.  The trail up to Acra Point is fairly easy with only a couple of steeper grades.
A side path on the Acra Point ridge provides great views from a large rock ledge to the south and west. Unfortunately, the late afternoon sun obscured the view towards Burnt Knob, which is quite spectacular under normal conditions.
The ridge line towards Blackhead Mountain, cloaked in fall color.
The trail continues east to an overgrown north facing viewspot, before finally beginning a descent down off the summit.  Just before the descent, a high point can be found only a few yards off the trail.  This is the 3100 foot summit of Acra Point.
Turned around here, heading back down to the red blazed Black Dome Trail.  Arrived back at the car with about 20 minutes to spare before sunset.  Hiked about 8.8 miles RT.