If one is on the lookout for moderate to challenging outdoor recreation, and I am, there is an embarrassment of riches on the Shawangunk Ridge. There are plenty of hikes to keep a girl busy between Minnewaska and Sam’s Point State Park Preserves, Mohonk Preserve (a private not-for-profit nature preserve) and and Mohonk Mountain House (a private for-profit mountain resort). The last weekend in April I made use of my Healthy Ulster one-month pass to the Mohonk Preserve to check out a few less-traveled trails.
For a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) wanting to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast with my sweetie, I got a very late start on Saturday. I didn’t make it up to the ridge until after 2:30 pm. The trailhead I had in mind–Coxing–happens to be near a popular local swimming hole and on a quite warm day like Saturday I worried that the little parking lot would be full. I was right two worry; there were indeed no spaces in the lot for me. I could either call it a day, head back down to New Paltz and maybe enjoy a late lunch and some shopping; or park at the Visitor Center and walk/hike the two-odd miles back to the Coxing trailhead along the Undercliff Carriageway and Shongum Path.
I decided, what the heck, I was on a free pass so no loss if I had to cut my hike short because of impending darkness. I parked at the Visitor Center and headed up to the Undercliff Carriageway via the yellow-blazed East Trapps Connector Trail, which is really just a bunch of stone steps that rise from the north end of the Visitor Center parking lot to meet the cliff base. The Undercliff Carraigeway is a wide, level road with views straight up of the famous Trapps cliff, one of four cliff faces that make the Gunks (as the Shawangunk Ridge is known among climbers and locals) one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country. In my opinion, watching people scale the sheer cliff face high above is the only attraction of this otherwise completely boring carriage road.
I walked along and ogled the climbers for about a mile, then turned left onto the yellow-blazed West Trapps Connector Trail and shortly thereafter turned right onto red-blazed Shongum Path. Half a mile in on the Shongum Path I noticed the yellow-blazed Enderly trail departing on the left (named for the family that farmed this part of the ridge back in the day) and somehow got it into my head that it might be a shortcut to Coxing. Sadly, it was not. After 10 minutes or so I remembered to consult the map I had in my pocket all along, reversed course and hurried back to the Shongum Path. Then it was a nearly straight shot (with a right-hand jag onto Old Minnewaska Trail) to the Coxing trailhead, where the light blue-blazed High Peters Kill trail starts and where I really wished I’d been able to park all along. I was pretty sweaty at this point. I considered a quick dunk in the Coxing Kill, but it was awfully crowded so I gave it a pass.
It was now after 3:00. I’ve got a healthy phobia of getting caught out in the woods after dark (too much Stephen King, probably) so I figured there was no way I’d be able to do the whole 8-mile loop through the Preserve and Minnewaska that I’d planned. I gave myself an hour and a half on the trail, then would turn around so I’d have plenty of time to get back to my car before the sun went down. With that in mind, up the trail I went.
The flat, wide route up to this point had utterly spoiled me. All Trails rates the High Peters Kill trail “hard” and that definitely goes too far, but it is steep and it is rugged as it makes its way across the boundary between Mohonk Preserve into Minnewaska State Park Preserve. And it is beautiful. Right around my one and a half hour cutoff time the trail dumped me out onto an exposed rock overlook studded with pitch pines that actually took my breath away, and not just because the wind was super intense. My sweetie and I happened to have crossed paths with some cookie-slinging Girl Scouts earlier in the day, so I happened to have some sweet treats in my pack. I popped a squat and enjoyed a snack of Trefoils while I soaked in the awesome view and let the wind dry my sweaty body. Then it was time to turn around and head back the way I came.
The walk back took much less time than I thought it would. I moved faster because, of course, the High Peters Kill trail was mostly downhill in this direction, but also because I was kind of bored. I’m not sure what, if anything, the desire for novelty and variety on my hikes says about my character. I do know I strongly prefer loop and lollipop routes to out-and-back hikes. With the increased pace, I made it back to my car by 6:00. I had more time than I thought before sundown.
At the end of the day, this outing was a bit of a bust. The weather forecast for the following day called for cloudy skies with rain in the late afternoon. I figured I’d just get an early start then and give myself a do-over.
Length: ~5 miles + short unplanned detour
Elevation change: ~700 ft
Hiking Time: 3 hours? (I once again didn’t track this very well.)
Training Grade: D
Enjoyment Grade: C