Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Trail, Old Legs

Today was damp and grey but mild, a good day to get out there and work up a little sweat.  I've gotten a bit out of shape and really NEED to challenge my muscles a bit, including my heart muscle.  Where could I go that I hadn't been before?  I decided to try the Cottage Park Trail in Moreau Lake State Park, accessed from Spier Falls Road near the Sherman Island Boat Launch.  I hadn't walked this trail before, but I could tell from the map that it would take me up a mountainside to intersect with the Western Ridge Trail in about a mile and a half.  I should be able to do that, I thought, so I grabbed my hiking pole and Yaktrax and headed to Moreau.

The stone walls that mark the Cottage Park trailhead are all that's left of a small community of cottages and a hotel that were built in the early years of the 20th century to accommodate employees and visitors who came to witness the building of the Spier Falls Dam on the Hudson River, just across the road.   That this is a popular trail was evident from the packed ice that covered it, making me glad that I'd worn those Yaktrax grippers on my feet.

After passing through a mixed hardwood forest for a while, the trail emerged onto a flat grassy area kept open by the company that maintains the power lines carrying electricity generated by the Spier Falls Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the country.  Although the walking had been easy so far, I could see the mountain ahead of me through the trees, so the challenge was about to begin.

At least my muscles had had a chance to warm up, before being put to the test by some unrelentingly steep parts of the trail.  I was grateful that the beauty of the woods and the curvaceous landscape offered compensation for my efforts.  Except for the sound of my labored breathing, the forest was amazingly quiet, no chirps or flutters or rustles, not even a chickadee in all those hemlocks.  I did see one chipmunk, however, and was quite surprised to see one so early.  Maybe he came up from his den to see what had happened to winter.

Up and up I went, to where the bedrock emerged dramatically, like bones protruding through the earth's thin skin.

Some of the hemlocks up here are huge, and as tall and straight as pines.  I doubt very much, though,  that they could be old growth, since the presence of stumps everywhere attests to the area having been lumbered over.   This stump must have been a very big tree.  It now provides a nursery for that little baby hemlock at its center.

I was fascinated by the complex burls the bark of this stump had made, even after the tree had been felled.

When I entered an area populated by Big-tooth Aspens, the forest floor became quite colorful.  It's amazing how these leaves hang on to their autumn ruddiness throughout the winter.

Well, I didn't make it all the way up to the trail intersection, since when I was about two-thirds of the distance, it started to rain a little.  I had my raincoat, so I wasn't worried about getting wet, but I did think that those icy trails might become even slipperier when wet with rain.  Also, I was bushed.  Going down steep icy trails is even harder then going up, so my legs were pretty shaky when I reached my car.   But I didn't hurry home just yet.  The rain had stopped and the river was running calm and serene and just begging me to sit for a while and enjoy its beauty.  Which I did.


catharus said...

It's always a unique aspect of outdoor hiking when encountering aspects of history; 'adds another dimension. If you're interested, Tom Wessels' book on Forest Forensics is a good read.

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful winter forest scenes. I saw a chipmunk yesterday, too -- maybe they're as eager for spring to get started as I am!

Ellen Rathbone said...

You go, girl! :D

asita said...

Do you have any Hemlock Wooly Adelgid where you live? here in Eastern Mass it is quite devastating. The biggest hemlocks are now on their last legs, and many smaller ones are gone as well. In parks and gardens they are being treated, but in the woods they're left to die. It is very sad.

Raining Iguanas said...

I have wanted to try that trail since last spring. I was a bit hesitant because of the steepness of that trail on the map. Your photos have convinced me to give it a shot. It's like sending out a scouting party to see what lies ahead. Thank you as always for sharing your great woods walks with us.

hikeagiant2 said...

Oh, how jealous I am of your hemlock trees! Like asita said - here in southern CT our former hemlock groves are like boneyards - occasionally there are a few trees that have not been infected, but oh so sad to see the devastation - and that just opens the areas for invasive plants.
And you KNOW how much I love the history of a place ;-)
Thanks for the visit!

laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

beautiful pictures...hiking the snowy trail...

i especially love ROCK and i really like the stone wall...and the scattered rock...

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

catharus, I know that book. It's fun to use his techniques to try to figure out the history of a place long grown over.

Thanks, Elizabeth. Actually, it's hard for me to get excited about spring when we haven't yet had any winter.

Hi Ellen, good to hear from you. Thanks for the encouragement, but this old girl is going kind of slow these days. I gotta work a little harder to get back in shape.

Hi asita. At last report, in NY, infestations of Wooly Adelgid are at present clustered along the Hudson Valley further south, as well as around the Finger Lakes in western NY. But these warmer temperatures spell disaster for Adirondack hemlocks, since cold weather is what's kept them at bay so far.

Raining Iguanas, that trail IS steep! But I managed what I think was the worst part by taking it slow. At least it's not that far to the top and the going is lovely, following a tumbling stream for part of the way.

Yes, hikeagiant, I feel very lucky that we still have hemlocks, although they are under threat as climate change progresses. If we lose our hemlocks, we lose our porcupines and chickadees, too, unless these creatures can adapt very quickly. A hemlock forest is unlike any other, dark and quiet with hardly any understory trees and very few wildflowers beneath. Only moss seems to grow there.

Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment, laura. Glad you like photos of rocks, because I love them, too, especially when they are covered with all kinds of mosses and lichens.