A Brisk Beautiful Hike
The fourth day of the New Year and its was a balmy 13ºF (-9ºC). Despite the cold, it was wonderful day to hike in the Catskills. New York is having an odd winter this year, recording record-low snowfall and unseasonably warm daytime temperatures thus far.
I arrived at the trailhead at 11am bundled up to brave the cold. There were two other vehicles in the trailhead lot. The occupants of the first car were two 20-25 year old males. The Iowa plates on their dirty, well-travelled car suggested they were first-timers on Overlook Mountain, like myself. I observed that they were carrying a guitar and were wearing external-frame packs with enough equipment to camp for several days. I thought perhaps they would be hiking over Overlook on through to Echo Lake for at least one overnight.
As I signed the register at the trailhead, I noticed I was the sixth person to climb the mountain this year. This gave me a bit of a motivation boost and so I was on my way. The trail was a seemingly well-maintained jeep trail, so the going was swift. I made my way up and up. Within the first quarter mile I began to heat up. Soon I had removed all but my base layer to avoid sweating and my head was steaming! I soon passed the occupants of the second vehicle, a man and his dog.
After 2 easy miles I reached the ruins on the Overlook Mountain House site and explored for a while. I thought about what life was like when President Grant used this site as a vacation getaway in the 1870s. I imagined soot covered cities and how the affluent would escape to the mountains for "fresh air." There seemed to be a large amount of ruinous foundations and various other structures around the back, further up the mountain. Perhaps these were the foundations of private mountain cabins from the 19th century. If it weren't so cold, one could spend countless hours exploring the ruins near the summit.
As I explored, I quickly became frozen again and slowly began reassembling my many layers into a formidable shell again. I hiked the last few hundred yards to the tower and slowly climbed it as it creaked and swayed in the upper-level winds. When I reached the top the trap door to the enclosed area was locked so I observed the panorama from the topmost landing. The windchill must have been well below zero and I slowly lost feeling in my nose and cheeks.
The frozen, relentless winds atop the tower ultimately drove me back down the icy, steel steps. I walked to the mountain's upper ridge and took in the vista from the overlook. Then I recalled reading that a plane had crashed into the mountain's ridge in Catskill Trails : Book Two, by Edward G. Henry. I remembered that the book said the plane's remains were located just below "the first open overlook." Let me tell you that determining which overlook was the "first open overlook" during the tree-less winter was difficult. I followed an entire open ridge line along a steep cliff back down the mountain until I spotted an odd blue color about 200 feet down the cliff, which stood in contrast to the whites and browns of the snow-dusted red oak forest. I managed to climb down and began exploring the debris field. I located at least one engine, parts of the wings and the tail. I searched for a tail number or the identifying plate located on the tail of every aircraft and I could not find anything to further research the plane's history. Regardless, it did not take long to realize the tremendous force that must have been associated with the impact of this crash. The debris were scattered over a thirty-yard area and the mangled aircraft alloys told the story of a twisted, fiery wreck. Opportunistic red oak saplings were growing through holes in the aircraft's skin, suggesting the crash had occurred some time ago.
The ReturnI eventually made my way back to the main trail after an hour of exploring the aircraft debris and I decided to head down. It was about 1:30pm by then and I wanted to get back in the car and go visit Kaaterskill Falls, the highest waterfall in New York. On my way down there were about six people making their way up the mountain. The temperature was near 20ºF now and it was evident more people were coming out to this popular mountain in the afternoon. I greeted each person on my way down and only elicited one response. In the Adirondacks, most folks are willing to converse for a while, or at least say "hello," but perhaps the cold had dampened their enthusiasm. When I reached the parking lot, I checked-out of the trail register and noticed that the Iowa boys did not sign in. I scratched in a line for them, "two males, 20-25 years old." As I was getting back in the car, I enjoyed the sight of tibetan prayer flags surrounding a nearby buddhist monastery.
This was a fun, easy, and interesting mountain to hike and I recommend it for anyone looking for a relaxing outing in any season. If so inclined, nearby Woodstock, NY offers many activities as well.