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Monday, September 20, 2021

Hiking to the Mt. Tremper Fire Tower

The Mount Tremper Fire Tower is a 47 foot-tall steel frame lookout tower erected in 1917.  Historically, a jeep trail extended from the base of the mountain to a point below its summit where the fire tower sits.  Today, that jeep trail forms most of the hiking trail used to reach the tower.

Tremper was one of only two Catskills fire towers we have not hiked to, so we decided to climb to it today.  Here we are at the trailhead:

The trail started dramatically enough, with a simple wooden bridge crossing a small cascade, then the trail working its way steeply up the side of a hill toward the main trail:

At the main trail, the jeep road that originally led to the summit, we found a trail register, where we signed in.  As we started our climb up the main trail, we found that this section also forms part of the Long Path, a 357-mile long-distance hiking trail beginning in New York City, at the West 175th Street subway station near the George Washington Bridge and ending at Altamont, New York, in the Albany area. While not yet a continuous trail, relying on road walks in some areas, it nevertheless takes in many of the popular hiking attractions west of the Hudson River, such as the New Jersey Palisades, Harriman State Park, the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains.

In several places along the trail, we found small cascades flowing across our path:

Check out this video of one of them.

Our cat Ruby would have loved this trail, because the forest on either side boasted innumerable chipmunks, some of whom sat silently, watching us pass --

-- while other sat safely in tree branches, chirping at us to warn of invaders.  In several places along the trail, we spotted trees and fallen logs serving as chipmunk condos:

Some of the fallen logs have been drafted to serve as bases for trail markers, as Kathy shows in the photo below:

The sandstone ledges we have noted throughout our stay in the Catskills made themselves evident all along the trail.  This slab cohabits with an old tree, and we wondered whether it had fallen to this place on the slope, or whether it had been here since it was formed, with the surrounding ground eroded around it:

We found a number of large boulders that glowed white.  We could not determine whether the white was deposited as vegetative material or minerals, or whether the white material was inherent in the sandstone:

Like the Catskills as a whole, a dissected plateau, Tremper was formed not through the upthrust of rock layers but by the gradual erosion of stream valleys in an uplifted region about 350 million years ago. Its rock layers and bedrock are primarily Devonian and Silurian shale and sandstone. Bluestone is present in enough quantity that a quarry was once located on the south side of the mountain at an elevation of 1,495 feet, about 1.5 miles up the hike. Its remains are still visible today from the trail.

At about 2 miles into the 3 mile climb, we passed the Baldwin Memorial Lean-To, which commemorates one of the longest serving fire observers associated with Mt. Tremper.

Further up the trail, near the top, we encountered a second-lean-to, which appears to be more frequently used than the Baldwin Lean-to:

It was convenient in more than one way, as it was near the fire tower and the summit of our climb, and also had a formal privy nearby for our convenience.

Reaching the top, we took time to hydrate and peruse the trail signs to learn where we could hike from this junction should we be so inclined.  We were mainly inclined to hike back down the way we came.

The fire tower itself rises dramatically from the trail summit:

From the tower cabin, we got spectacular 360 degree views of the region, including this view of the Ashokan Reservoir to the east --

-- this view to the north, perhaps to North-South Lake where we paddled the other day --

-- and this view to the southwest toward Wittenberg Mountain, the glaciated peak pointing left in the photo below, and Slide Mountain, its neighbor, the slightly taller peak in the center of the photo:

As we noted in a prior blog entry, we backpacked those peaks about 20 years ago.  We have also tramped all over the mountains of this part of the Catskills with Appalachian Mountain Club groups led by our friends Lennie and Bill Steinmetz in January and February of each year.  In some years, our outings were hikes; in other years they were snowshoe treks.  But every year, they were convivial adventures with people who have become lifelong friends.

But enough with waxing nostalgic.  Back we hiked down the mountain.  While we had seen no one on our climb, we encountered three couples as we made our way down:  one young couple from Pennsylvania, another young couple from Brooklyn, a couple from France who could barely understand our English, and a local couple who were thinking of camping overnight in the fire tower cabin itself!  Well, we don't know if that is legally permitted, but we think it would be a great adventure in this beautiful early Fall weather, and we wished them well.

On down we hiked, returning to a fun guy we had met on the hike up.  But, this time, we found that he had two friends nearby, all quite impressive and colorful in earthly tones on this sunny day:

The hike was 6 miles, but was a stiff uphill and downhill climb, making it more strenuous than the mere mileage might suggest.  Most of the trail was loose stone, and some lengthy sections of it were effectively streambed.  Since it has not rained in some days, most of the trail was not slippery, but we had to be careful in the wet sections.

All in all, this was a satisfying, energetic hike, and the fire tower was a suitable reward for our efforts.  Only one more Catskill fire tower to conquer:  Balsam Lake Mountain!  Maybe on our next visit.

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