I won’t deny the chilliness of sleeping on top of an Ulster County mountain at the end of September. But I was comfortable enough in my mummy bag within my tent. If I had slept in any clothing that was slightly damp, or if I didn’t use the air mattress that insulated me from the ground, I would have been cold.
Since I had gone to sleep when it was overcast, my view of the evening stars was disappointing. Around 2 AM, I woke and discovered that the clouds had cleared to reveal a sky with stars I was curious to identify. Standing just outside of my tent and facing East, I directed my stargazing smartphone app toward the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt. It was fun to discover that Jupiter was present in the sky close to that constellation. I went back to bed soon after capturing a screen-shot of what I viewed in the starry sky. I wondered how much the missing blanket of clouds would allow my campsite to cool before sunrise.
Thankfully, I was able to stay warm until daylight. In fact, I was cozy enough to consider dozing for a while and giving the sun some time to dry off the dew on the outside of my tent. But I heard occasional buzzing from outside…and then, a light tapping of flying insects as they bumped my tent. The wasps were waking up.
I had read about wasps being a problem on Ashokan High Point during some times of the year. But I hadn’t encountered any on my way up the mountain. Regardless, I was encountering them now. And I realized that I’d rather be around slower moving chilly wasps than more active wasps; warmed by the sun I had planned to let dry my tent. With that conclusion, I became very much awake. I quickly dressed and packed my gear, using my zippered tent as my shield from the wasps.
Once on the other side of that barrier, I was able to bundle and buckle my shelter to the outside of my pack without getting stung. I checked my site for items potentially forgotten in my haste. Then, I left my flying camp-mates behind.
Soon ahead, the trail took me through the fields of the Ashokan High Point peak. The last and largest field contained a semicircle of slate high-backed chairs near a fire ring. I imagined my friends and I setting up camp by this fire ring and roasting hot dogs from the stone chairs. Maybe we would eat our dinner as the sun set, planning our morning hunt for the remains of the downed plane I’ve heard can still be found on the mountain.
I didn’t look for the remains of the plane. Instead, I decided to leave that adventure for next time and just continue in the same direction I had been going on the trail. This way of return added an extra hour compared to retracing my steps. Although the trail wasn’t as steep, navigation was slower than I anticipated due to the continuous rocky nature of the path. The loop took me back around the other side of the mountain where I joined the previous day’s trail above the beginning of the Kanape Brook. During my next hour of hiking, I passed the first human I had seen since yesterday. He carried a pack basket with camping gear for the night, but said he planned to leave the trail for some bushwhacking back to his home.
As I continued down to my car, I wondered what it would be like to carry 35+ pounds of gear on my back in one of those baskets. I wondered why I saw so many white asters and none that were purple. I remembered that a friend of mine remarked on how goldenrod flower tastes peppery. What other trail-side plants could I nibble on? Would I see a bear? How would I have felt if I came across the old remains of the plane wreck by surprise.
Soon, I was back in my car, back home, and hanging all of my gear around my yard to dry thoroughly before repacking it for storage. When I opened up the plastic tarp that I used as a drop cloth under my tent, I discovered that I had brought back a stowaway from the top of the mountain! I stood and turned to look at Ashokan High Point through the trees of my back yard. “I did it, little slug! We were up there last night!”