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!”
I’ve been haunted by a mountain. I can see it on the way to town. I can see it when I walk at the reservoir. And when the leaves are off the trees, I can see it from my back yard. I learned its name is Ashokan High Point, and I had been meaning to hike to its summit for years.
I finally did it! The last Sunday of September I gathered my camping gear and drove out to the Kanape Brook Parking Area. About 4 PM, after locking my car up for the night and hauling my 35 lb pack onto my shoulders, I crossed Rout 42 to find the trail head. I’d read the Catskill Mountaineers overview of this hike so I knew that I was looking for a bridge in the woods that spanned the Kanape Brook.
The registration book on the other side of the brook briefed me on the travels of recent hikers. I added my name, address, and phone number to the list, and indicated that I’d be camping over at the top of Ashokan High Point. According to the registration book, the only other people who I might encounter were day hikers coming back down.
Skimming through earlier entries, I noted endearing comments about the beauty of the Kanape Brook. As I hiked along the brook, I was also enchanted, stopping to take (many) pictures and to notice how the sound of its water changed from place to place.
Around 6:45 PM, I reached the summit. Since it was dusk, I set up camp right away. My plan was to fall asleep as early as possible and start hiking again just after sunrise.
While I could have camped in a field further along the trail and been a bit warmer, I decide to sleep at the absolute peak of Ashokan High Point…right next to its Geodetic Survey Marker. At home, I was able to get the current data for this marker through the National Geodetic Survey Data Explorer. If you scroll down on the data page for this marker, you can read logged station description narratives as well as information about its recovery in 1970. (TO BE CONTINUED)
This river otter greeted us to the mammal diorama section of the Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota Campus. The Bell Museum of Natural History contains over 50 dioramas, most of which depict animals of Minnesota in their natural habitat.
I later learned that the painted scenes within many of the dioramas were created by the same artist who painted for the NY City Museum of Natural History, Francis Lee Jaques. After checking out the animals on the lower floor, it was time for a bog walk. The squishy lumps under the “bog grass” rug brought back childhood memories of navigating across mounds of grass through wetlands in Dutchess County, NY. On the upper floor, we passed over a variety of live fig plants. These plants were part of an exhibit showcasing the ongoing tropical rainforest flora research at the Bell Museum. The collection of live fig plants are not the only organisms being researched in collaboration with this University of Minnesota museum. During our August 2013 visit, the results of the following research project were a highlighted museum presentation: Birds & DNA: Biodiversity and Mountain Islands.
Beyond the fig trees, we entered the Touch and See Room and played for over half an hour. We pet beaver, hugged a moose, and scolded a grizzly…’All stuffed, of course! Real skulls, mammal teeth, leg bones, antlers, and rocks were available for all to touch, arrange, identify an draw. We didn’t get a chance to hold a live snake or pet the turtle, but it seemed that every one enjoyed their experience in the “Biosphere for Two.” Everyone should have one of these terrariums so they can pop their head in for mini tropical vacation break.