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Christmas (and Math) on Ashokan High Point
And George forgot to carry the "1." So a planned 7 mile annual outing (well, actually 7.5) turned into an 8.9 mile close call.
Ashokan High Point has been our Christmas hike for years. That probably has a lot to do with its being a relatively easy hike even in snowy season, following the Kanape Brook up the remains of the Freeman Avery Road, which was the necessary connection between the logging, mining, and trapping territory of the Catskills and the fertile farms of the Roundout Valley. Or, it could be the allure of mysterious manmade formations with no known origin along the way. Or it might have something to do with the liturgical/penitential significance of the 7 headwalls you have to surmount once you turn off the old road and start to head for the actual peak. That's enough to inspire anyone (myself included) to come up with new, scatological lyrics for that old Christmas carol, "The Seven Joys of Mary":
The first great joy Ashokan has, it is the joy of one.
To see a rock face rising up, when you thought that you were done.
When you thought that you were done, oh, Lord, and blessed may you be...
The next great joy Ashokan has, it is the joy of two.
To see another rock face rising up, and never come unglued...
The next great joy Ashokan has, it is the joy of three.
To see a rock face rising up, and never shout 'Why me?' Etc.
All right, not scatological yet. But give me time. Or, better yet, make one up for yourself.
This year, we didn't even make the trip up Ashokan High Point on Christmas Day. Heavy rains made that, as well as St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26), far too soupy. But I was certainly feeling like an Early Christian Martyr on Dec. 27, when we turned off the peak to follow the lollipop variation down from the summit, in an effort to take on the Catskill Mountain Club's challenge to completely hike all 87 of the DEC's designated trails. Only a 1/2 mile extra, George claimed.
The additional trail runs over a subsidiary double peak of Ashokan High Point, known as Hoop Pole Mountain, named for the saplings that covered its summit. Their use and value were described in a fire damage assessment in the 1891 Annual Report of the Forest Commission of the State of New York:
The destruction of hoop poles affects mostly the poorer class. Probably one third of the people residing in this section make a good living during the winter season by cutting these poles and shaving them into hoops which are used in large quantities all over the State and at the cement works in particular for which Ulster County is noted. The area burned over is about a square mile and the money value of the property destroyed is probably four or five hundred dollars when the location is taken into consideration but would be worth more than twice that amount were it not for the loss of time and labor in climbing the mountains to obtain them.
The trail continues down through Kanape Hollow, which despite the irresistible Native American sound of the name (or any untoward thoughts about pigs in a blanket), is actually named for John Jones Canape, who was one of the first farmers of the area. In fact, one of Canape's remaining apple trees can still be found at the 1.5 mile point of the hike, in a clearing with a trout stream where we often eat lunch before taking on the last mile up to the saddle.
Ashokan High Point is a lovely trail, one of our favorites in almost any season. The variation was not - even if George had remembered to carry the 1. Lots of loose rock and slippery leaves. Despite my arguably obsessive caution, I had at least one hard fall. One hiker out there claims this condition is post-Irene. I don't know. But it's an ugly trail now. And not one I intend to seek any sentimental reunion with any time soon. We originally got to the saddle at 1:30 and took 45 minutes from there to reach the summit via the headwalls. Plenty of time to get down before sundown. Unless, of course, you choose the route that adds 1 1/2 annoying, slippery miles, instead of the promised easy additional 1/2 mile. We got back to the saddle at 3:35, with 2 1/2 miles remaining to the trailhead, and sundown in just over an hour. Yes, apparently, when it matters, we can still beat feet. We were out at 4:41 and Merry Christmas to all. Even to those who forget to carry the 1...