A Week in the Wilderness

Spotting a porcupine Saturday afternoon was just one of the highlights of the long weekend at Mongaup Campground. Other highlights included a beef free menu, wildflowers peeking from every corner, a hike to a waterfall and some leisurely paddling on Sunday.

Waterfall at Mongaup Pond

As the first overnight trip I’ve ever led for the Appalachian Mountain Club, it was a success. The Independence Day celebration gave way to my three day trek in an unmentionable part of the Catskills. “It’s God’s country up there,” said the woman who gave us directions and a strawberry milkshake. Sure enough, it was. Open sky, green pastures, blue lakes and stands of fern over five feet tall marked each mile. The trail, overgrown and barely visible at times made the 24 miles more interesting with every step. Every summit view was accompanied by the classic I’m-lucky-to-be-alive feeling that no thunderstorm could derail and on the second day, there were three. Can you figure out where my maps took me from the photos below?

Running out of time (aren’t we all?) to get to the trail head I had originally planned on starting out from, I asked a friend to drop me off at a campground, about an hour and a half away from my initial starting point. Being nearly eight at night, I camped out and mapped a new route. In the morning, I savored the view and blueberry oatmeal before reading at the pond.

View from campsite

By mid noon, it was too hot for even the page turner that Omnivore’s Dilemma is, so I put on my boots and got to walking.  I didn’t get far as I stopped to take a closer look at the wildflowers all around! The flowers were blooming or turning into berries, bees and other pollinators were buzzin’, birds were hunting them down and the forest was just full of life!

Pollinator

The 970′ ascent passed through miraculously beautiful pine stands. Pine stands are my hands down favorite. I love walking on the floor of soft, dense pine needles, the scent, the shadows and and light pouring through, just magical!

Pine stands

Climbing to the top, I spotted flowers I’d never seen before, including the Common Wood Sorrel (below).

Common wood sorrel

A sweaty thousand feet later, I came to view the pond where I camped the night before.  At first, I couldn’t believe it – doesn’t it just seem so impossibly far away?

Later that day I came across a larger pond and then the lake below.

Second day

A day of clear skies on Monday invited a night of rain and thunder but fortunately I was cozy in a clean (but buggy) shelter. After sleeping nearly 12 hours, I woke up around 7AM and read till I was ready to go at 9AM. The rain started soon after. One, two, three, thunder! This thunderstorm sounded ferocious! I was hiking on a covered ridge at about 3,400 feet and wasn’t expecting to reach the look out when I did!

Climbing up

Great fortune distracted the thunder storm in a different direction and allowed me to enjoy the inspiring view below from a fire tower built in 1919. But not until I started descending. Three more thunderstormrs followed! My boots, wet and heavy, covinced me to just try it in my Teva flip flops. And I did, for three miles! I did fall, twice but just from sliding on mud. The following day I made it out to town in what had become a portable foot spa. This was by far one of the most beautiful and tranquil trails I had ever ventured out upon in the Northeast. So… can you guess where?

View from the top

2 responses to “A Week in the Wilderness

  1. Looks like a beautiful hike. Can you do these trails from Mongump Pond? Is there decent swimming? You never mentioned jumping in those pristine lakes to cool off!

    • Len, it was a truly beautiful hike, especially because so many of the trails are minimally maintained. Yes, you can do these trails from Mongaup Pond. You’d have to hike west to Big Pond and take off from there to Balsam Lake and the fire tower and further north to Margaretville. You can also hike west to Little Pond, another campground. I did not jump in because the water was still a bit cold and I didn’t have a bathing suit and there were usually a few people around. I didn’t want to bank on my stuff drying overnight (we know that never happens!) Let me know if you have any other questions. You already might have them but I live by these Catskills maps.

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