July 4, 2019. Independence Day. For my friends and I, this would be the highlight of our week in the Catskill Mountains: the day we walked along the edge of the world.
The Fourth of July brought the best hike of the trip – the Escarpment Trail to Newman’s Ledge. This was Don’s “discovery” from the new trail book he’d bought the previous day. Never mind that I’d been agitating for this particular hike for weeks…
We drove to North-South Lake near Palenville and parked along the lakeshore. Beautiful scenery, a crystal blue lake with Kaaterskill High peak beyond, and I immediately wanted to go kayaking… These two are “kettle lakes.” When the glaciers receded, large blocks of ice were left behind embedded in glacial depressions, slowly melting. I tried to get a photograph of the scene, but I was being in danger of being left behind like the ice blocks. My friends were walking off without me, and I scrambled to catch up.
They didn’t get far though, before I proved my usefulness – we had to read MY trail book to find the trailhead.
The campground trail started through a hemlock stand. Quickly we turned onto the blue-blazed Escarpment Trail through a forest of mixed hardwoods. Pretty easy walking, no?
Mountain laurel were in bloom everywhere.
Pretty easy walking indeed, until we found ourselves at the base of a steep rock outcropping covered in people. Hmmm.
Don followed Robb up toward the outcropping, me trailing behind. I am always last, and if I want pictures looking forward, I get… well, you see what I get. If you ain’t the lead horse, the view never changes.
While I was taking photos, Don decided to go around the rocks to the right, under a 15’ cliff that leaned over a sheltered path. Look, something else to photograph!
But my companions continued ahead, and once again, I was left behind.
I’m always last, and always getting left behind.
Where are you going?!?
WAIT FOR ME!!!
By the way, Robb, did you know there’s an inchworm on your shirt collar?
The guys were headed up a narrow crevice, barely wide enough to pose in.
Somehow Don fit.
Two people could get in, but not three.
Looking up from the crevice offered an unusual viewpoint of ferns, rock tripe lichen and a gnarled tree.
The crevice was a dead end, not an easier way around the rock outcropping on the main path. So back we went, and up we climbed the proper way. Hands and knees were needed, but it was a fun scramble and we got to the top quickly.
I found myself thinking of Thomas Cole and other Hudson River school painters who climbed these same paths. My overactive imagination kept picturing painters in their heavy woolen clothes, schlepping paints, canvases and easels up the same trails we were hiking, over those same boulders. Yikes.
After the rock scramble, the walking was easy on bare sandstone amidst the hemlocks. The forest would switch between thick mixed hardwoods and open hemlock and mountain laurel many times on the hike. Anywhere the rock was bare of soil had hemlock trees.
The trail wound between these amazing boulders.
Don and Robb along the Escarpment Trail. Wikipedia defines an escarpment as:
… a steep slope or long cliff that forms as a result of faulting or erosion and separates two relatively level areas having different elevations.
The Catskills Escarpment stretches for 30 miles at the eastern edge of the Catskills, towering 2000′ above the valley below. Remember that the Catskills are a dissected plateau? Picture a plateau in the desert southwest, and the steep dramatic cliffs at its edge. That’s what the Catskill Escarpment is.
We began to get a feel for the steepness of the Escarpment here – look at the drop-off just to the right of the trail. It really is the edge of the world – gotta watch where you’re walking.
Don’t get distracted.
By the way, Robb, did you know that your inchworm friend is still tagging along, clinging now to the underside of your hat brim?
After a little bit we came to the first viewpoint – Artists Rock. Same type of bare sandstone rock we’d been walking on, but in this case devoid of trees and shrubs for some distance. Named in honor of the 19th century painters of the Hudson River School, Artists Rock served as a field studio. Thomas Cole sketched out studies for many of his Catskill and Hudson River paintings along the Escarpment.
The view was of the Hudson Valley, and it was beautiful, though the vista was blanketed in haze. The Hudson River lies 7 miles to the west, and many feet down.
Straight down, or so it felt standing at the edge. The Escarpment is also known as the Wall of Manitou, and standing there the name seemed wholly fitting.
As we left Artists Rock, I took one last look back. The coolness of the trees felt good after so long in the sun. Far below, a shining silver ribbon wound through the valley, the Hudson River barely visible near the horizon.
I could happily linger, there on the edge of the world – but I’d have been left behind again. The guys were leaving.
Where are you going?!?
WAIT FOR ME!