A hike up Brace Mountain
Nikita and I left New York City on a quiet Saturday morning for the two and a half hour drive up to Brace Mountain, on the Tristate border of New York state, Massachusetts and Connecticut. We left before 7am, so most of the city was still sleeping (it goes without saying that New York is never THAT quiet, particularly on the FDR drive). Brace Mountain is a 704m / 2,304 foot peak on the South Taconic range, an isolated mountain range east of the larger Catskills and Adirondacks, and much less popular.
We drove up on the Taconic State Parkway, which I thought was a pretty safe bet, given that we were heading for the South Taconics. It became apparent after two hours, however, that the Parkway was some distance from the mountain, and we needed to cut across country roads to get there. These roads went from highway to two way roads to single tracks through farmland and herds of cows eating from troughs alongside the side of the road. Nikita, who grew up in the big cities of Bombay and Toronto, looked a little shocked by our sudden change in fortunes. Rule number 1 – don’t trust the Satnav.
We arrived at the Alander Brook trailhead on Under Mountain Road and parked a little further along in the small hiker’s car park. The first part of the hike, up along the Alander Brook trail and then right onto the red-blazed Robert Brook trail was strenuous and steep. The trail climbs over 1,000 feet in just over a mile, and was a definite wakeup call after the quiet car ride in. It had been raining for a few days, and, although the trail was damp, at least the rain had stopped. As we approached the ridge, we passed the NY/MA state marker (stopping to pose for photos) before turning right onto the South Taconic Trail.
Once up on the ridge, the hike along is an easy-moderate walk, following a stone wall and then a more defined ridge line along and up to the summit. It wasn’t especially steep, but the distance was deceiving, and it took us an hour and a half to hike up. The trail was in pretty poor condition, and was frequency waterlogged and muddy. Much of the path was running with water, and we had to bushwack off the trail at one point as the path was more like a pond, and deep.
The summit of Brace Mountain is “bald” – that is, there aren’t any trees and the top is covered in a low scrub instead, which is a refreshing change for this part of the North East. I always find it a little frustrating in the Catskills and Hudson Highlands to hike up to the summit and not see anything but trees! Brace’s summit is marked with a gigantic cairn (which you can see as you hike up) and a windsock. There is also a cleared slope which is used by paragliders to take off from. It was a little windy and cloudy but there were great views over to the Catskills and we hung around for a little while whilst eating lunch.
We took a quick 30 minute detour to the Tristate NY/MA/CT marker, which is down a separate trail towards Mount Frissell, and then came back up and rejoined the South Taconic Trail. On our way down, we saw two hikers hiking towards Brace, the only other people we saw the whole day. They looked like they were backpacking and had been out for a few days. One moment of confusion arose when we realized we had clearly missed the left turn onto the Robert Brook trail some time before. Instead of retracing our steps, we took the Alander Brook trail, which was even steeper than the trail we had taken up. This looped back around and out to where we started.
We enjoyed the trip out to Brace – it isn’t a glamorous peak, but is steep and challenging in places and lightly travelled. There isn’t a huge amount of information online about it, but I recommend the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference description if you are thinking of taking it on. I have also posted a few photos at my blog www.philflynn.co.uk.