Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bear Mountain Redux

Two days after I returned from the West Coast, JSH, ZH, and I headed north to hike Bear Mountain. JSH wrote and photographed a great account of our day trip, so I'll leave the record of that day to her, except to say that I was inspired to return and find a better hiking route from Bear Mountain to Peekskill than the one we undertook. Enter my and JSH's colleague Dr. Salmon, who with his wife has covered most of the trails in the tri-state area, and who as a result provided me with an accessible, relatively safe, and gorgeous alternative: the Camp Smith Trail.

Armed with this new intelligence, LVT, JC, J2, JFV, and I hopped on a train for Manitou--or in my case, literally sprinted through Grand Central with seconds to spare--and disembarked at the tiny hamlet with its small Hudson beach and cattail-covered flats. As we hiked up to Route 9 and the Bear Mountain Bridge, which was the world's largest suspension bridge when it was built in 1924, we encountered a species that is seen more frequently in the suburban Northeast than other American regions: the suspicious property owner. While I recognize and respect the need of property owners to ensure that their homes and lands are safe and unmolested, I fail to see how five respectful and peaceful hikers walking down the short road from the train station to the trail pose such a threat to the houses on either side that they literally need to be driven off said road and verbally admonished by one of these property owners (complete with Land Rover and riding boots). And while this may seem, and was, a minor blip in the experience of that day, the incident provided much conversational fodder as we hiked for the next several hours.
Bear Mountain Bridge and Adams Nose, over which the Camp Smith Trail lies, as seen from Bear Mountain
From Manitou and Route 9 we crossed the Bridge, passed through the Trailside Zoo (a memorable moment occurred when both LVT and JFV covering their faces with their hands as they saw a river otter in a disturbingly tiny cage neurotically swim in a circle over and over again), rounded Hessian Lake, (the site of FDR's polio contraction?), and ascended Bear Mountain on the Major Welch Trail. We then descended along the Appalachian Trail--on which we witnessed part of this restoration project--and emerged into the middle of an African drum and dance concert on the broad fields next to the Bear Mountain Inn. With our cultural needs sated, I insisted we stopped at the Hiker's Stand so I could eat a hot dog and thus ingest the holy trinity of hiking fuel--fats, protein, and sodium nitrates. Yum. JFV followed suit, although he didn't consider it such a wise choice about three miles (and 1500 hot, sweaty vertical feet) later on the Camp Smith Trail.
In order to reach this virgin hiking route, we crossed back over the Hudson, partially retraced our steps on Route 9, and then ducked up through the trees and east along the AT, towards the Taconic Mountains. The trail was relentlessly steep and rocky for a good mile, although it did switchback and occasionally provided actual steps. Still, the steep rockiness was much more welcome than the sticky, still heat and oddly dull and oppressive sunlight that--to me, at least--characterizes summer on the Eastern Seaboard. I could feel sweat lying on my skin in a slick sheen, and its stubborn refusal to evaporate was only made more perturbing by the tiny flies that became entrapped in the yucky sweat-sunscreen layer on my exposed epidermis.
Bear Mountain Inn, as seen from the Camp Smith Trail
The beauty of the Camp Smith Trail, however, more than made up for this annoyance; once we followed the blue blazes off of the AT and headed south, the trail opened into high meadows, long and lush groves of trees, and tall, rocky hillsides that provided sweeping vistas of Bear Mountain, Indian Point, and the Hudson. After this hike, I can say with some confidence that Camp Smith is now my favorite trail in the New York area (although I do really like Breakneck Ridge as well). That said, the next time I undertake its rambling trail, especially in combination with a Bear Mountain loop, I'll bring more water--three large bottles was barely adequate--and try not to go on a day so bright and warm. By the time we five were seated at the Peekskill Brewery, the majority of us had lost our stomachs to the appetite-killing combination of heat and physical exhaustion that is the enemy of yummy food and delicious microbrews. Also, in hindsight, mussels steamed in cream sauce might not be the best recovery meal. Now that I possess this valuable knowledge, however, I think a third trip lies in the near future!

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