Mohonk Preserve, the Hard Way

“There’s a trail around here somewhere,” said Gary as we plunged into the underbrush.  Having finished lunch, we resumed bushwhacking along a ridge, rambling towards Bonticou Crag in Mohonk Preserve.

Now spread out across the eastern seaboard, members of the old Flatland Posse convened at Gary’s place in New York for a day in the woods.  Andrey will be moving to Britain to assume a research position at the University of Leicester, so this was kind of a sendoff for him.

Making a dawn patrol run from NH, John had the longest drive.  He laced his hiking boots, and we set out.  No need to drive to a trail head: we walked into the woods from Gary’s back yard. We followed an unmarked trail to the dividing line between the Rondout and Wallkill valleys, and descended a logging road into a lush field with a yurt and a small pond.  This was a hidden section of Ulster County, NY, that I’d never seen.  Walking down a dirt road, past a couple of houses, the yurt, an open-air trapeze setup.  We crossed a field and walked over a brook, back in to the woods.

Gary has run, skied, and walked in Mohonk Preserve for 25 years.  As we wended our way through the woods, he pointed out various landmarks.  The “white chair” on an opposing ridge; a farm; a memorial spot for someone who died a tragic death.

The first few miles were easy.  We were mainly on trails or a woods road.  There was only the occasional bushwhack.  Trails created by humans disappeared, and we resorted to flowing animal paths or bushwhacking.  The closer we got to Bonticou, the more off-trail hiking we did.  None of the trails – where there were trails – were on the NY NJ Trail Conference maps.All I knew was that we were heading south.

In the end, we went into a swale and scrambled up to connect with the Northeast Trail.  Topping out on Bonticou was perfect: a clear sky, and winds gusting to 40 mph.  It doesn’t get much better.

After a well-earned break taking in the view, we hiked down to the Spring Farm trail head, where Gary and Andrey had spotted a car.  It wasn’t the most brutal day.  Maybe eight or nine miles and 2000 feet of vertical.  But with the route finding and bushwhacking, it took time.  And who cares.  It was great to be out in the woods with old friends on a beautiful day.