The Jewish Outdoors Club offered two hikes on this day, and I registered for the strenuous one. I drove and gave a lift to three other men from my neighborhood. As we crossed the Whitestone bridge into the Bronx, Nachi, who had organized the hike, received a call from one of the registered hikers. His ride had canceled at the last minute, claiming illness. Rather than call to try to find someone else to pick up the stranded hiker, we detoured west on the Cross Bronx into Washington Heights to collect him, then crossed the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey, took the Palisades north back into New York, and then took the Bear Mountain bridge back to the east side of the Hudson. We then followed Route 9D into Beacon and residential streets to the trailhead in Fishkill.
We arrived around 9:35 a.m., the second car there. Nachi had told the hikers to arrive at 9:45 a.m. to sign in, and that the hike would begin promptly at 10:00 a.m., but as usually happens, some people were late. At 10:20 a.m., we began to climb the red-blazed Overlook trail, toward the south.We had a total off 11 hikers, which was a nice-sized group.
10:40 a.m.: To the right side of the trail was an area that appeared to have suffered a mudslide.
11:06 a.m.: As we climbed higher, we began to enjoy nice views of the Hudson. This shot shows the area to the northwest of Beacon.
At one point on the hike, when I was hiking with two others at the front, Michael said that he thought he heard a rattle. I didn’t hear anything over people talking. We continued on, and Lissa whispered that she had seen a rattlesnake off to the side of the trail, but didn’t want to announce it because one of the hikers was afraid of all snakes.
After about 1.8 miles on the red trail, we had reached the end of the red trail. We had also gained 1000′ in elevation, from the parking lot at 400′ up to 1400′. We turned left (east) onto the white-blazed Fishkill Ridge trail, and after another 0.4 miles reached a scenic view on the peak of Lamb’s Hill, at 1477′.
12:09 p.m.: We took a snack break there, and in addition to the snacks that we brought with us, some of us enjoyed blueberries growing wild. They weren’t at maximum ripeness, but a few were very sweet.
12:30 p.m.: We continued on the white trail for another 0.2 miles and reached the intersection with the blue-blazed trail, just north of Dozer Junction. I have been to that spot twice before, doing the big loop from Mount Beacon/South Beacon Mountain/Wilkinson Memorial Trail/Fishkill Ridge Trail/Casino Trail, in May 2010 and August 2010.
The photo below shows an unblazed woods road that is a continuation of the blue trail. You can see a white blaze there, but it is important to note that there are two blazes, indicating that the white trail (going west, the direction from which we had just come) turns left (west) here, cutting up a hill to the left of the photo. In May 2010, coming from the blue trail at Dozer Junction, I missed the turn to the west and instead continued straight north on the woods road for a few minutes, before realizing it wasn’t blazed and backtracking to find the white trail. We made a similar mistake this time. We intended to continue east on the white trail (which cuts across this road and continues to the right of the photo), but we had stopped on the blue trail for a moment to admire the bulldozer, and then continued north on the woods road for a few minutes, before backtracking to find the white trail going east.
12:50 p.m.: The white trail turned northeast, and we were approaching the first scenic view shown on the map. Lissa and I were in the front, and I started to say, “So you did see a rattlesnake on the climb?” As soon as I said “rattlesnake” she jumped back, and I thought she had misunderstood my question as a warning that I had seen something. But then I realized that there was a second rattlesnake just in front of us on the trail. It was remarkable timing, to see it just as I was asking her about her sighting of the first one. We backtracked and told the rest of the group that we needed to take a detour around the trail at that spot. Most timber rattlesnakes prefer shaded areas, but pregnant ones enjoy sunning on rocks. This isn’t the best photo, but you can see part of her body, and her head is somewhat visible toward the upper right.
It was a cloudy day, which made it difficult at times for me to capture shots with my camera. I had set my camera to an ISO speed of 400, so that photos would not be overly grainy. Unfortunately, that resulted in many photos being shot at a slow shutter speed, so that they were blurred, or being shot at a wide open aperture, so that the depth of field was shallow. (At the end of the hike, I struggled in a shaded area to photograph an orange salamander, with a wide open aperture and slow shutter speed. My wide-angle lens is short enough that I can usually hold my hands steady at slow speeds, but the salamander was crawling away and none of my shots were sharp.)
12:53 p.m.: We were afraid that the short detour around the snake would cause us to miss a scenic view that was indicated on the map, but we soon arrived at a spot that provided a good view:
12:56 p.m.: A few minutes later another view came into sight:
Around 1:01 p.m., I mentioned to Lissa that perhaps it was time to stop for lunch. She answered that she wasn’t planning to eat lunch. Maybe we should have put a hungry person in the lead of the hike.
1:10 p.m.: In a few places we had to hop over fallen trees, but here the path led through a gap between the tree and its stump:
1:15 p.m.: About 1.2 miles past Dozer Junction, we reached a beautiful lookout on the top of Bald Hill, and finally stopped for lunch. Whereas the red trail had given us views toward the northwest, we now had a view to the southeast:
2:01 p.m.: We found a rocking chair that someone had either brought up here or else constructed on site, and one of our group tried it out:
2:22 p.m.: A reference mark atop Bald Hill, which has a peak of around 1500′. We found an azimuth marker as well, not far away.
2:35 p.m.: We began descending, dropping from 1500′ down to 1200′ over a 0.4 mile distance. The white trail, which had been moving in the northeastern direction, made a sharp turn and continued moving southwest, forming a loop. The descent continued, and we dropped down to 1000′.
3:06 p.m.: The descent continued, and we dropped down to 1000′. The map showed that we were following an old woods road, but portions appeared too narrow to be an old road.
After 1.2 miles, the white trail came to an end, and we continued to the west on the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial trail. A part of the trail was not blazed very well, leading to a bit of confusion as to whether we were on the yellow trail or on what the map showed as a parallel woods road. After a short 0.1 miles, we again began seeing yellow blazes, and after another 0.2 miles, we left the yellow trail for the blue trail, which led us 0.25 miles back to Dozer Junction and the white trail. We now began to retrace our steps.
3:43 p.m.: Back at Lamb’s Hill, where we had stopped for blueberries earlier, I photographed the scenic view to the southwest, where we could see the Beacon Reservoir, which was about 3/4 miles away from us:
Several of the hikers were feeling tired.
4:11 p.m.: Descending on the red trail:
4:21 p.m.: The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge:
4:28 p.m.: Another timber rattlesnake. This was probably the same one that Lissa had spotted on the way up. She and two others were in front of me, and pointed it out and skirted it. I held up my hand to stop those behind me, and pointed it out to them, to make sure that people would stick to the trail and not step off in that direction.
Fishkill Ridge is apparently the place to go to see rattlesnakes, and I later read that hikers on earlier hikes on that ridge have seen them. The timber rattlesnake is timid and does not seek confrontation with humans. It usually will only strike if someone steps on them, and if it is feeling threatened it will usually rattle a great deal before it strikes. They can live 16-22 years. They were once widespread in New York, but people killed many under a bounty that was not lifted until 1971. In 1983, New York State designated the timber rattlesnake as a threatened species. Many people have hiked for years and never seen one, so I now have something to brag about!
We returned to our cars at 5:19 p.m., having enjoyed a 7-hour hike that covered about 8.4 miles. My last-minute passenger from Washington Heights found a ride home with someone else, so I was able to drive directly back to Queens with my original three passengers.