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FBON 2012: Hiking to Split Rock Lookout

Split Rock Lookout

The second and only full day of the Frostbite Overnight (FBON) is where the bulk of the adventuring occurs. Typically, in the past, we rise early and summit a mountain, or at least make a worthy attempt, but anything that takes some physical effort is game, just to get our blood circulating. Last year, we only hiked over a ridge to a pond, while this year we plan to hike along a ridge to a lookout to the north.

Since it is usually the first (and only for many) hike of the year, it is never meant to be too overly strenuous, but often due to events somewhat beyond our control it proves otherwise. Despite the effort involved, a planned Happy Hour later in the afternoon, complete with munchies and beer, acts as an incentive to complete the hike in a timely manner.

Neither the hike nor Happy Hour fills my thoughts when I awake to a frosty first morning of 2012 FBON at the Pelnor Hollow lean-to in the Catskill State Park. A quick check of my thermometer yields a rather frigid 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The low temperatures, combined with today’s rather short day hike, stifles any hurried thoughts an early start despite the clear and sunny skies.

Climbing ridge along Pelnor Hollow Trail

Finally, the blue sky inspires us to leave the relative comfortable sleeping bags and set about getting ready for the day. Coincidently, we all take the time to cook a hearty oatmeal breakfast, before braving the cold temperatures. The hot meal, combined with a warm beverage, rejuvenates us as we swiftly put together our daypacks for today’s hike.

Our day’s hike follows the ridge behind the lean-to to the north along the Pelnor Hollow Trail, just passed the intersection with the Mary Smith Trail, to the Split Rock Lookout, where we anticipate a nice view. Unfortunately, we need to double back on the trail, as there are no loops available this year, except for those with extensive road sections. Retracing our steps along a forested ridge trail is vastly superior to spending miles walking along the side of the road, and all that road walking would subtract from Happy Hour.

By a little after nine in the morning, we start north along the trail. The blue-marked trail immediately climbs up onto the ridge, not even providing a moment to stretch out our still sleep-weary legs before putting them to work. As a consolation prize, the physical intensity provides instant warmth from the early morning chill. So, there is that.

Dave complains of a sore knee, while my ankle becomes sore soon after beginning our hike. The suddenness of the climb probably contributes to our pain, but our advancing age is the more distressing cause. Hiking through middle age is not as easy as I hoped; obviously more stretching is going to be required, especially for these early season adventures.

After leaving the Rubus behind at the lean-to, the surrounding forest opens up with little understory. The openness allows for extensive views of the surrounding forest, but unfortunately, there is scarce wildlife to observe. Only a short distance further, the Rubus returns in earnest, the serpentine trail weaving through the threatening thorns as it continues its way up to the height of land before us to the north.

As we draw closer to the top of the ridge, the climbing subsides, but the undergrowth of Rubus increases in thickness, as well as aggressiveness with which it overhangs into the trail. Like the highwaymen of old, it extracts a toll, as it grabs and tears at our poor clothing. Large boulders lie interspersed within the cruel brambles, not the rounded glacial erratics of the Adirondacks though, as these are flat and layered slabs of rock. Scattered amongst the rocks and brambles remain a few small snow mounds, stubborn remnanets of the winter now passed.

Surrounding open forest

Bramble-choked forest

The nasty thorns do not stop us from seeking out views where possible along the ridge top. Each detour requires meticulously picking our way through the dense brambles; there is more than an occasional curse word breaking the otherwise silent morning now. Most of the detours prove unfruitful, with the suggested views from the trail never materializing.

At one such false view, I spot what appears to be snow at the base of a slab of rock. Upon closer inspection, the snow turns out to be the remains of a large piece of clear plastic. The plastic’s original purpose remains unknown; perhaps it was used as a makeshift shelter or a ground cloth. I contemplate taking it with me to dispose of it properly, but exposure to the elements has left it incredibly brittle, as it crumbles into many smaller pieces with my attempt pull it up. Without a garbage bag, and patient companions, I decide to leave it to perplex the next overly curious adventurer that may pass this way.

As we continue north along the trail, Dave declares height of land repeatedly, only having to declare it once again when the trail resumes its climb. The trail continues to undulate, with a little climbing, followed by a slight descent, and a good measure of level stretches thrown in occasionally.

Plastic sheet hiding under rock

Snow pile clinging to life

The sky remains a bright blue, with nary a cloud in the sky. Despite the sunny conditions, a steady cool breeze suppresses the temperatures, preventing the day from becoming completely pleasant. Regardless, for early April, one could not wish for anything more. The sunny sky is highly preferably to the gray skies from last year’s visit to Mud Pond.

Numerous times while traversing the ridge top, a putrid stench envelops us, nauseating to the point of gagging. Finger pointing ensues immediately, and consequently, some feelings get hurt. During a break, I note the distinctive aroma of half-digested Dinty More stew, resulting in all eyes fixating on a sheepish-looking Tom.

Just as we start a lively discussion (i.e. argument) about the location of the Mary Smith Trail, a low trail sign appears before us. The sign indicates we hiked 2.3 miles from the lean-to in just about 2 hours, an easy pace despite the early steep climbing. The lookout is just a little further northwest along the Pelnor Hollow Trail, but unfortunately, it is downhill from here. Although it is nice to descend to the lookout, it means a sudden climb to start our hike back.

Hiking ridge along Pelnor Hollow Trail

Trail sign at Mary Smith Intersection

Soon after the sign, we begin the steep descent. A view of the next ridge over to the west appears through the trees ahead of us, portending the view in our near future at the lookout. At the bottom of the steep descent a large rock surrounded by grass, indicates the possible location of our final destination for today, the Split Rock Lookout.

When first approaching, it appears as if beyond the large slanted rock lies a rock cliff. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as Dave warns of a deep crevasse, complete with human remains at its bottom. Although the remains are a hoax (of course!), the crevasse is not. It is just wide enough to give us pause before leaping across, so we search, and find, an easier approach onto the cliff on the other side of the slanted rock.

Descending to Split Rock Lookout

With Dave and I safely on the lookout rock, we notice Tom has vanished. Almost simultaneously, we both peer into the crevasse, fearing the human remains hoax foreshadowed the worst. Thankfully, there is still no body down below, and after a few minutes, Tom returns from a bathroom break. Hopefully, this means no Dinty More stew stench during lunch on this rock.

The view is westward, with the Pelnor Hollow Trail avoiding the rock cliff as it continues a short ways north before heading west and undulate beneath the cliff as it approaches an intersection with the Little Spring Brook and Campbell Mountain Trails in the valley below.

Brock Mountain lies in the distance as the view looks over the valley containing the Little Spring Brook below. Evergreen trees streak through the brown, leafless hardwoods trees, mostly through the valley, although one such strip sits atop a shallow ridge separating us from the mountain beyond.

Along a ridge, between our location and Brock Mountain, is a line to houses, or other structures. From my map, it appears they must lie along School House Road; perhaps erected well after my rather dated map was printed (copyrighted 1996). Then again, without using my compass, my interpretation of the landscape could be entirely wrong. However, let us not even think that.

Looking down the crevasse at Split Rock

Enjoying the view at Split Rock

Despite it being forty-five minutes until noon, we decide to eat lunch early while enjoying the beautiful view before us. Dave and I each enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (and no, we did not coordinate out lunches!), while to our dismay Tom eats a rather unappetizing looking chicken salad sandwich. I hope that he is not replacing one sickening stench with another.

Although much of our time spent at the lookout is in silence, we occasionally pepper it with a little discussion. Dave tells us about his new philosophy of finding reasons to stay and linger at nice places. I point out the irony of his new thinking, given how our hiking clique used to refer to him as the Kommandant, due to his punctuality and regimented obsession with scheduling. How times have changed!

By a quarter to noon, we pack up and leave the lookout to head back to the Pelnor Hollow lean-to for the remainder of the day. I take one last look before leaving the cliff, wanting to drink in the scenery for just a moment more. Finally, I force myself off the rock and back to the trail for the hike back to the lean-to, and in a few hours, the traditional Happy Hour celebration.

View from Split Rock

Boulders along Pelnor Hollow Trail

The trip back is the morning’s journey to the lookout in reverse, but without the terrible smell and no detours in search of views that never materialize. With the lack of detours, rest stops and talking, it only takes us slightly more than an hour to make the return trip, less than half the time of our earlier hike.

As we descend the ridge top, the sight of the lean-to is a welcome one, as if returning home after a long trip. And like after returning from a trip, we perform a combination of chores and goofing off until the arrival of Happy Hour later in the afternoon.

Tom takes a solo trip around the beaver meadow again, whether due to the shortness of our hike to the lookout or to spare us the after-effects of his chicken salad sandwich, I cannot be sure.

With Tom’s disappearance, Dave and I set about treating some water. Dave attempts to use his Steripen (demonstrated for the first time on last year’s FBON), but finds out the batteries are not up to the task. Instead, while using Aquamira to chemically treat the spring water, he spills it on himself thus bleaching his pants. Frustration building, he treats himself to sitting shirtless in the warm sunshine underneath a tree in front of the lean-to, thus calming himself down.

Pelnor Hollow spring

After a couple hours, we reconvene at the lean-to for an early Happy Hour, a FBON tradition. An ample amount of chips and bean dip join the beer for several hours of feasting and revelry. A horde of flying gnats disrupts the festivities for a short while, necessitating an effort to build a small fire to thwart them.

With the completion of Happy Hour, the remainder of the day passes largely uneventfully. Despite all the snacking earlier, we all prepare dinner, although mine consists of a single cup of soup. After dinner, as the sun falls below the horizon, we hike the short distance up the ridge right behind the lean-to, despite its lack of any significant view. We retire early, listening to the radio as we struggle to get a sound sleep.

Tom makes Breathe Right strips available to ease the snoring problem from the previous night. Despite the valiant effort, they are not up to the task, as both my companions’ snoring keeps me up at different times during the night. With the short hike out tomorrow, followed by breakfast and a long ride home, the lack of a restful night of sleep is of no little concern.

Plus, it gives me plenty of time to think about breakfast tomorrow morning at the legendary Roscoe Diner.

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