Hiking in the Catskills / Hunter Mountain, NY / September 17, 2016
Back in New York after a week away, we decided it was time to branch out of the Adirondack Mountains and try something new – the Catskills! The Catskills are further South of us and take a bit more driving to reach. To be honest, we sort of planned this weekend adventure as an afterthought. We knew we would need to hike all 5 of the firetowers in the Catskills at some point to meet the Firetower Challenge requirements, so we figured, why not. Curtis picked the closest peak, found a route to the top that wouldn’t be too steep and that was that. We didn’t even bother to look at weather, and fortunately we lucked out in having a very mild, if overcast, day.
We left pretty early in the morning and made one important stop on the way — to buy Curtis a new metal detector. He has been so patient using his old cheap detector for over 2 years now, and has slowly saved up his coin finds in order to by a newer and stronger one. He was finally able to find a good deal on Craigslist and went for it.
Anyway, on to the main highlight (at least for me 😉 ) we continued South and enjoyed the lovely drive up the wide valley of Schoharie Creek. After almost two hours, we finally made it to our trailhead for Hunter Mountain. The other trailheads down the road were completely packed, but this one had only one car in it. That’s always a good sign! We were planning to make this a loop hike, taking a service road up and regular trails back down. Because of this, the hike up was easy, just a gradual steady climb that gave our legs a great workout. The hike up was around 4 miles and along the way we were able to be first finder on a letterbox that was planted here several years ago. We also saw a very clear bear paw print in the mud. No big wildlife sightings yet…
We made it to the top and met two other guys up there. They had hiked up the night before and were there volunteering, repairing some steps on the fire tower. We were still able to climb — though I didn’t go all the way up because it was super windy and cold up there! We had lunch and listened to other hikers that arrived after us talk about the hiking challenges and which hikes they had done. We felt cool knowing exactly what hikes they were talking about and knowing that even though we had lived here less than a month, we could still compete with how many they’d hiked!
We eventually made our way back down the other side of the mountain taking real trails back. It was a longer route (6 miles) but still very peaceful and not too rocky or steep. We passed a couple hiking groups going up as we went down, but not so many so as to make the trail feel busy. But to our surprise, when we reached the end of the trail, both the lot we had parked in and the lot at the end of the road were packed full of cars! We have no idea where these people were going to, whether just playing in the creek or hiking the peak, but it sure does pay to hike early.
On the way back home, we made for one historic stop along Schoharie Creek in the town of Schoharie to see the “Old Stone Fort”. Curtis will fill you in on that now!
During the colonial period, Central New York was both a wilderness and yet an integral part of the Colony. Albany itself is located at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, both of which act as highways to the interior of the Colony and to the all important portages to Lake Ontario and Lake George. Furthermore, the valleys and their tributaries (Schoharie Creek inclusive) were wide fertile lands forming a “Bread Basket” to be shipped down the rivers towards the city.
As such, during the Revolution, Albany and the outlying regions were perpetual targets of the English the primary example of which was General Burgoyne’s invasion and ultimate defeat at Saratoga in 1777. But even when the British regulars moved South to the Carolinas and those British who stayed in New York stayed near the coast, the Capital Region was still victim to the war.
Specifically the residents of the New York Backcountry fell victim to incessant raids by Loyalists and their Indian Allies supplied by the Canadian Governor General in Quebec. The most notorious among these were the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant and the Loyalist Sir John Johnston.
In October 1780, Johnston, leading the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and other smaller companies numbering about 600 men and Brant with around 200 Indians flew down the Schoharie Creek and Upper Mohawk River burning buildings, mills, barns, and, most importantly, warehouses. During this raid, Johnston clashed with rebel forces along the Schoharie at all three Forts (Upper, Middle, and Lower). The Lower Fort (the Old Stone Fort, really a stone church with a wooden stockade) was briefly assaulted by Johnston and even took a cannon ball to the wall (still visible today). But rather than linger and be trapped by a larger force, Johnston quickly continued on.
Johnston beat his way west along the Mohawk in a running battle against American Brig. General Van Rensselaer eventually making it to Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario.
Although hardly a significant occurrence in the grand scheme of the war, the residents of Schoharie really play up this “claim to fame” and have a yearly Veterans/Memorial/Patriotic Extravaganza thing with tanks, re-enactors…re-enactors fighting tanks? Regardless, its nice to learn more of our local history. Just as when we were in Charleston and visited obscure battlefields and forts, so too will we here.
We walked around the Church/Fort, did some letterboxing and then walked down the road to a covered bridge (seriously they’re everywhere). Then we called it a day and drove home for some pizza and homemade ice cream!