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Overlook Mountain 1.11.19

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  • Overlook Mountain 1.11.19

    A hike in the Catskill Mountains was a good decision considering the forecast for the Adirondacks predicted a high temperature in the teens with potential wind chills in single digits. A warmer location was sensible, plus a post-hike visit to the village of Woodstock sweetened the pot. However, the incentive that sealed the deal was an opportunity to hike with a wonderful hiking partner. We have not shared a trail since early August so we decided to revisit Overlook Mountain which has been aptly described as “perhaps the easiest hike with a remarkable scenic payoff in all the Catskills”.

    Moments after our 11 AM arrival at the trailhead, we noticed a group of three who had just finished. They confirmed with us that micro spikes would be absolutely necessary for the hike. Unfortunately, during the 15-minute; bare-handed; pre-hike prep; my old, arthritic fingers went numb. Even with hot chemical hand warmers tucked in wool glove liners then buried inside boiled wool mittens, my fingers needed a painful 45 minutes to defrost before I was able to use my trekking poles. So I started the hike with both poles tucked under one arm which allowed me to retract my fingers and thumbs so I could make direct contact with the hand warmer in the middle of each palm. Without the two extra points of surface contact from my trekking poles, the first part of the hike was tentative and uneasy. The trail is an old gravel carriage path that was completely encased in boilerplate ice for the entire 2.5-mile route.

    In spite of the early challenges, it was a sunny, exhilarating day. We made the most of our time catching up with each other while taking in the beauty of the winter woods. Early on we noticed that the wind was not going to be as compromising as expected. In the lower sections of the route, there are magnificent stands of Mountain Laurel all decked out in their dark green attire indifferent to the harsh winter climate. At several points along the way, striated rock formations created fascinating geological stage props. A bluebird sky, gnarly hardwoods and a white carpet of snow completed the striking landscape.

    At 1.7 miles we approached the historic, ghostly ruins of the Overlook Mountain House. The first small lodge was built in 1833 and closed shortly thereafter. A 300-room hotel was built in 1871 and destroyed by fire three years later. The next was completed in 1878 and burned to the ground in 1924. The current skeletal remains were left unfinished due to the effects of the 1929 stock market crash. Our brief look into the empty shell was an interesting and somewhat disarming experience that resulted in cautious curiosity even though no one was home.

    With the summit now only .8-mile away, the road continued to ascend more gradually. We were walking in an easterly direction until the route abruptly turned south bypassing the clearly visible high point. It wasn’t long before we leveled off and reached the 3136’ summit through the back door. Fair warning for summertime hikers, the final approach passed quite close to impressive rock crags and ledges reported to be rattlesnake territory. We were relieved not to encounter any on this day.

    The observation cab atop the 60-foot tower was closed so we climbed the stairs until the power of the frigid wind suggested otherwise. Although difficult to pinpoint most of the specific peaks on the distant western horizon, we could clearly locate all of the major summits to the north in the Indian Head and Kaaterskill ranges as well as the Blackhead Mountains.

    We had a delicious hot chocolate break thoughtfully shared by my partner before exploring past the Observer’s Cabin to a wide open rock ledge that offered breathtaking views south as good as any from the tower. This was certainly an added bonus that anyone on Overlook should see.

    Filled with the benefits of our exceptional day, we reluctantly decided it was time to return to the trailhead. On summit days like this, there is a moment of sadness that doesn’t want the experience to end. Thankfully though, there is also a measure of hope and anticipation for the next adventure.

    We enthusiastically chatted all the way back to the car and during our late lunch in Woodstock and all the way back home. Even now, I can feel the energy of the journey. I continue to be uplifted by the unforgettable memories of a great hike with a great friend.