Breakneck Ridge speaks for itself. If you like a nice, challenging rock scramble that might more honestly be described as a climb (and I do!) and you’re anywhere near New York you’ve probably hiked Breakneck. On Sunday, the weather forecast said sunny and warm, so I grabbed a buddy, laced up my boots and headed down to Cold Spring to do some scrambling.
After a bit of GPS-related run-around, we started our day at about 10 am. I thought for sure all of the parking spaces even remotely close to the trailhead would be taken by the time we got there, but I lucked into an amazing space right across the street. Breakneck Ridge is a crazy popular hiking destination. In fact Metro North makes a special stop there on weekends. For those of us who didn’t take the train, there are two small parking areas on Route 9D (the busy road that passes under/by the ridge). Anyone who doesn’t fit into those lots parallel parks along the side of the road. Some early riser had already been up and back, and we got her space. I was glad not to have to walk along the road for goodness-knows how far just to get to the trail.
All Trails describes this loop as “moderately trafficked.” This may be true on weekdays. On the weekends, though, for all its challenging reputation, it is objectively heavily trafficked. The white-blazed Breakneck Ridge (BR) trail starts by crossing over the 9D tunnel from west to east. (If you’re not sure where the trailhead is just follow everybody else–that’s where they’re going.) Then the climb begins. Unlike the Gertrude’s Nose hike in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, where the hike starts near the top of the ridge, all of the altitude needed for the payoff views on Breakneck is gained by good old fashioned climbing. I’m not sure how many “peaks” there are between the first and the last, but I do know it’s important to keep some fuel in the tank to get there.
It takes about 20 – 30 minutes to climb to the first
overlook, where there’s a big flat area and a flagpole. It’s where everybody looks up at the next cliff face and thinks, “That’s not so bad!” because they can’t see the cliff faces hiding behind that one. (Spoiler: there are more cliff faces hiding behind that one.)
Overall, the 1 mile climb up on the white trail is a great cardio and strength training workout. We used our upper bodies almost as much as our legs to get to the top, and there were definitely places where we didn’t do much talking. We got to observe some wildlife up close when a circling group of vultures (Wikipedia tells me I should say “kettle, venue, or volt” ) spotted something tasty near the ridge. I love to watch vultures fly but I don’t often get the chance to observe from above.
From the very tippy-top of the ridge, the white trail continues into the woods and winds its way down a slope where it crosses the yellow-blazed Undercliff trail (which we briefly explored by mistake). The loop back to where we were parked continues straight on the white BN trail for about another flat mile, then hangs an incredibly well-marked left onto the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass (BB) trail. The red trail starts a stomping two mile-long steep downhill dive that continues when the BB dead-ends into the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial (WM) trail.
This part of the hike, while way less fun than the climb up (by a factor of about a million), was awesome downhill/negative training for my rim-to-rim hike. My knees and Achilles tendons got quite a workout as we made our way endlessly down toward the end of the WM at Route 9D. From there it was just a short walk along the road to our car.
When all is said and done I think I prefer Bonticou Crag to Breakneck Ridge for a challenging rock scramble in a beautiful setting, but the downhill part of the Breakneck loop is unbeatable for the type of training I really need this spring and summer. I will probably revisit this hike in the course of my training.
Length: 3.5 miles
Elevation change: ~1,400 feet
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Training Grade: A
Enjoyment Grade: A