Recap: In the previous episode, our intrepid Expeditionary Team had scaled enormous boulders, braved overhanging cliffs, and fought off voracious wild beasts (inchworms) to reach Artists Rock in the Catskill Mountains. When we last saw them, they were perched precariously at the edge of the world.
What’s next for our wandering, wondering heroes?
After exploring Artists Rock and enjoying the view of the Hudson Valley, we retreated into the shaded woods along the Escarpment Trail. Artists Rock was not the end of the adventure; there was more to see, and so we moseyed on up the path. Pretty soon we came upon another big rock outcropping in the middle of the trail. No way around it but up.
We walked along the base of a towering rock wall that seemed to go on forever. Naturally, Robb wanted to climb it. Cooler heads prevailed, and he contented himself with a short scramble and a close examination of the rock.
It looked like really sloppy concrete, with huge pebbles in it. Known as puddingstone conglomerate, it’s an erosion-resistant hodgepodge of rounded quartz pebbles and gravel that often caps peaks in the Catskills.
After a short time, the trail curved away from the edge of the Escarpment. Now we were on the weathered top of that conglomerate rock wall we’d skirted the bottom of not too long before. It seems the puddingstone that caps the higher peaks is itself topped by sandstone. We crossed the worn surface, stepping very carefully across the deep fissures in the rock. Those cracks earned Sunset Rock its previous name – Bear’s Den.
And came to the view of the trip. Below us lay North-South Lake. Beyond is Kaaterskill High Peak (left) and Roundtop. The foreground peak at far left, a high plateau known as Pine Orchard, is where the famed Catskill Mountain House sat, once upon a time.
Like so. This is Thomas Coles’ A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning. It was painted in 1844, twenty years after Mountain House was built. Cole stayed at Mountain House, and hiked up here to Sunset Rock to sketch studies for this painting. Alas, Mountain House is no more.
In the other direction was a forest of stunted trees. Yup, these are pitch pines, the familiar tree from our beloved Jersey Pine Barrens. Anywhere we find barren soil or bare rock, we find pitch pines, reindeer lichen and heath plants like blueberries and laurels. Fire-adapted plants do well in the dry climate of the escarpment.
We spent a long time drinking in the view of the lakes, mountains and trees before retracing our steps back to the main Escarpment Trail. Onward to our final destination.
We didn’t see as many people on this stretch of the trail.
Newman’s Ledge was similar to Artists Rock, a sandstone rock outcropping with spectacular vistas of the Hudson Valley.
A couple of cool rocks added some panache to the view.
All too soon, it was time to turn back. All those boulders and rocky outcroppings we had climbed up? Now we needed to climb down. Some of the boulder-scrambling spots were a little tricky. The heat was building, too.
We were simultaneously relieved to reach the air-conditioned car, and sad to leave the wondrous Escarpment Trail behind.
No doubt about it, this hike was the highlight of our week in the Catskills: the day we walked along the edge of the world.