As usual in the Hudson Valley our spring weather has attempted to confuse us all about what month it actually is. April wore out its welcome by hanging around for a few extra weeks, with lots of April showers and April drizzles and April downpours persevering well into the month of May. I’ve been patient and, I think, fairly dedicated to getting out on the trail during this dismal time even though I really hate hiking in cold and/or rainy conditions, so I was delighted when the middle of the third week of May finally brought me some spectacular hot and dry training conditions. Time for a Wednesday afternoon jaunt up Shaupeneak Ridge!
In the lower lot I changed into my hiking socks and boots, and got my pack ready. My normal day pack includes 3.5 L of water, first aid kit, bug stuff, flashlight, sandwich, snacks, wallet and keys, and weighs in at about nine pounds. My pack in the Grand Canyon will be three times heavier than that. With two months left, I reckoned it’s time to start weighting my pack. My boss is heavy into adventure and obstacle course racing and recommended sand bags for this purpose, but I’m too anxious about the risk of sand spilling in my backpack. I opted for old magazines instead. I planned to bump the weight up to 20 pounds, but I could only fit eight pounds of old magazines in with my other stuff, so I set off up the trail with about 17 lbs of weight on my shoulders.
My route was a simple one. I would follow the White Trail up the ridge (with a little sideways jag onto the Purple Trail to see the waterfall and eat my sandwich), continue onto the Red Trail and follow that to the Blue Trail around Louisa Pond, then hop back onto the Red for the last quarter of the lollipop before heading back down the White “stick” to my car. Like all Scenic Hudson parks, Shaupeneak Ridge features a nice kiosk at the trailhead with a map and other info about the area. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to go wrong here so I didn’t grab a paper map to bring along on the trail (spoiler: it would have come in handy).
The White Trail starts off with a wooded half mile along the base of the ridge at a gentle uphill slope (the trail only gains 100 feet of its total 700 feet of elevation gain during this part of the route), occasionally following a sweet little brook. I used my hat as a bucket and scooped up some water to dump over my head in a nod to the heat of the day (my phone told me later it was 93°F). After roughly 15 minutes I started to scrutinize the trees on the right of the trail for purple markers. I was starved! I’d skipped breakfast before work that morning, so the sandwich I planned to chow down on during waterfall appreciation would be my first food of the day. When the Purple Trail departed (finally!) I hung a grateful right and followed it along an old stone wall toward the sound of falling water.
When I reached the end of the 0.2 mile spur trail I was sorely disappointed. Not by the waterfall–it was very pretty–but by the hordes of bloodsucking insects, obviously as hungry as I was. Adding danger to discomfort, the only place to sit was the old stone wall and that gave off a distinctly snakey feel. This was no place to enjoy a delicious sandwich! I was devastated, but at least I had a charming enchanted-forest style waterfall to buoy my spirits, hereafter styled (by me) Mosquitosnake Falls. I followed my footsteps back to the White Trail.
Looking at the map at the trailhead I had the impression that the waterfall was halfway up the 1.6 mile trail. I figured I’d eat my sandwich at the “Hudson River Overlook” where the White Trail and the Red Trail meet. This plan presented two problems: I was about to climb the only steep section of this route without having eaten anything all day, and Mosquitosnake Falls isn’t really halfway to the top of the ridge, it’s more like a third of the way there. A quarter mile up the trail from the waterfall I began to feel unwell in a way I knew wasn’t normal cardio exhaustion. I was sort of sweaty and shaky, and my head hurt, and I started to panic because I thought at first the heat was getting to me which would be awful while training to do a strenuous hike in even hotter conditions. I calmed down a bit when I realized the symptoms were more likely related to hunger or low blood sugar.
I made the bad and dangerous decision to push through, stick to my plan, and eat at the top of the hill. Then, another quarter mile or so on, when my head started to really pound, my boots felt like they were stuck to the trail, and the top was still nowhere in sight, I made the good and safe decision to plop down on the ground and eat right then and there. I dug the sandwich out of my backpack and realized I was too nauseated to eat it. Luckily, I also had a banana, which I scarfed right down. It broke while I was eating it, of course, and the last inch and a half of the banana fell in the dirt, but what I did manage to get into my mouth did its job well. I sat there for ten minutes and powered up like Super Mario.
About fifteen minutes after my banana break I got to the top of the ridge, hung a right onto the Red Trail, and caught a honking eyeful of spectacular Hudson River view. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the river appear that blue before, and thanks to the cool, wet weather I was just whining about, we’ve got Ireland-level verdancy here. I sat on a rock and admired it for a bit, munched on half of my sandwich, and set off down the Red Trail which just couldn’t offer anything like what I’d just seen in the entertainment department. Eventually, the Red Trail crosses a paved road and dead ends into the Blue Trail. I jumped on that for a lovely one-mile ramble around Louisa Pond. The pond itself becomes visible about halfway around and the trail pulls quite close to the water on the southeast side. The southeastern “corner” of the lake also sports a reasonably impressive beaver dam. On the east side of the pond I found a few nice benches, where I stopped to enjoy the second half of my sandwich before moving on to the other leg of the Red Trail . From there, it was just a straight, flat shot back to the top of the White Trail and a downhill jog back to my car.
I learned a lot on this little hike. Lesson number one: Be honest about and listen to my body. Nausea, headache and the shakes are not something to push through. Not in the Hudson Valley, and definitely not in the Grand Canyon. Lesson number two: my strength training is paying off. The 17 lb in my pack did not impair my enjoyment at all. I think foot fatigue set in a mile sooner than it would have, but otherwise the weight was fine. Lesson number three: 93°F temperatures are A-OK with me. Once I got it together in the calorie department, I just sort of forgot how hot it was. Of course, I spent most of the day in the shade of green trees, a scarce luxury in the Grand Canyon. I’ll have to snoop out some unshaded long hikes to try out once we get some more hot weather around here.
Difficulty: Moderate (only because of the steepness of the White Trail. If one were to park in the upper lot and do the Red and Blue Trails only this would be very easy.)
Length: 5.5 miles
Elevation change: ~700 ft
Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
Training Grade: B
Enjoyment Grade: A-