At the end of August I accompanied some of my hiking friends to the Catskills to hike the Red Hill Fire Tower. They had all committed to completing the #firetowerchallenge, I just wanted to hike on a gorgeous day in the Catskills..
I journal every hike, a glimpse at my notes reveal: beautiful day, perfect temperatures, 2990 elevation, a bit challenging, steady incline up to some gorgeous view. Fabulous time, great conversation, laughter and love.. feeling the urge to do this Fire Tower Challenge.. A week later we were at it again slightly different group of people, this time we tackled the Balsam Fire Tower, #2 in my challenge. After following a long and questionable back road we found ourselves at the trailhead. It was a foggy day, cloud cover followed us along the mostly wooded, rocky climb, more intense than the previous climb, higher elevation, 3990. As we approached the summit, the skies began to clear, we climbed the tower and were greeted with sun and clouds, darkness and light high atop the amazing ever green trees. This was a loop trail so the return trip was less steep but added some mileage. A fantastic day of exploring and friendship.
Hike number 3 was to Overlook Mountain Fire Tower in the town of Woodstock NY. Awesome, artsy town, must go back and spend some quality time there. This time, it was just hubby and me. He really wanted to experience part of this with me and due to some physical limitations, scaling rocks and steep ledges would not work for him. This trail was a wide former carriage path that included ruins of an abandoned hotel and promised rattlesnake dens at the top. Perfect temperatures and a mix of sun and clouds led us up the winding path. I am not a fast hiker by any means, but we took this at a very easy pace, and I really noticed some of the tiny elements. I climbed to the cab and had it all to myself (hubby hung out by the snakes) it was glorious and exhilarating. We headed to the overlook together and enjoyed our lunch, a few minutes of alone time until the crowds began to show up.
The following day back to the Catskills to Mt Tremper. I went with the same crew that I hiked Balsam Fire Tower. A gorgeous day. A strenuous climb. 90% sheltered from the heat of the day by the forest. Great conversations, from light to heavy to truly introspective. You really develop a bond and a level of trust when you take on challenges and try new sometimes scary and exciting things with others. Once again we were rewarded with beautiful views and a sense of peace and tranquility. Each tower climb and cab experience helped a friend in her quest to conquer fears. From there we took the ride to the visitor center, for Fire Tower 4, The Upper Esopus Fire Tower. No hike involved, just a walk across the field and into a clearing in the forest to a very high, steep tower. We climbed to the top and could see for miles.. We looked up on the mountain we had just conquered a sense of pride and joy washed over us as we gingerly avoided the swarm of bees that were hanging out at the top.
The 6th and final tower was indeed the most challenging hike of all, Hunter Mountain. Monday, was the last day that the cabs were going to be open for the season, so I took the day off from work as I really wanted to get to experience that view. The coolest temperatures for a start of a hike so far. Bundled up a bit to start, we went up what turns out to be the most difficult path, Becker Hollow Trail. An uphill, steep, non-stop, rocky climb. It was relentless, we were struggling, it kicked our butts.. and then we emerged at the top and unlike the prior weeks 20 mile mammoth march hike, instant relief and the difficulty was but a memory. The sky was a mix of sun and clouds, we climbed the tower and boy was it cold up there. But the views, spectacular, amazing, breath taking. Upon the suggestion of some other hikers, rather than go back down the incredibly steep rocky path, we opted for the longer trail which we were told comes out at the lower parking lot approx. 1/2 mile away. This pathway had more flat spots, which was a welcome relief and more of the red leaves intertwined with the golds and oranges we had been experiencing on the way up. There were some steep parts on this path as well, but nowhere near as challenging as the way up. We were a bit pressed for time as we were due at a wake later that afternoon/evening so we were feeling a bit of pressure. We arrived at the alternate parking lot and began to walk.. thinking half mile and we’re on our way.. but we walked and we walked and it turned out to be closer to 2 miles, which now added a whole extra level of stress about arriving home in time. Our scheduled 5 mile hike turned into 10. Thankfully, we did make it in time. I must admit, when we kept walking and walking I began to get stressed out, but I refused to let it cloud the overall experience and the joy this hike brought. So I took a deep breath, pulled up my big girl pants and trudged on snapping pictures along the way. As we walked, the sky and the light and the colors of the trees became magnified. Truth be told some of my most favorite pictures of the day, were in fact taken from that walk back to the car, my cover photo included. Although this hike was the most strenuous of all the fire towers, and as we continued hiking up and up beyond that 3500 elevation marker sign; it took every ounce of determination I had to continue. I must say, it was my absolute favorite hike of the challenge.
As I sat here this morning, reading my journal and the descriptions of difficulty and views, I realize now, having very little similar experiences to compare it to, my perception of difficulty was perhaps slightly exaggerated. Or perhaps I have grown substantially in my physical and mental strength over these past few weeks. Also very important to note, on every hike single hike I take, these towers especially, whenever I seemed to be needing encouragement one of many heart rocks appeared before me on my path to remind me of why I hike.
One thing I do know for certain, every hike I take brings me a deeper appreciation and love for nature and leaves me filled with joy and wanting even more.