As I discovered on a recent weekend while trying to park at Lake Minnewaska, it’s hard to call the Gunks hiking scene “overlooked.”
Granted it may seem that way to obsessed rock climbers and skiers who drive by searching for taller mountains. Still, after being pleasantly surprised by the in-lot snack shack, it was nice to see how empty the trails were once you got past the Minne swimming area.
I was on my way to rediscover a seminal Gunks hike, venturing out for a loop from the lake to Gertrude’s Nose, and then up to Millbrook Mountain.
The unbelievable weather this year continues, after a great cold winter and a perfect spring, August has been excellent for hiking. The sweltering heat in the city subsides by the time you hit exit 15 on the Thruway, leaving only refreshing and cool trails.
It was apparent from the beginning that we had made the right choice on this day. As we headed out, the crowd noise died while the blueberry patches started to envelop us. Before we knew it we were gorging on berries and drinking in the views of the Palmagatt Ravine that separates Hamilton Point from Gertrude’s Nose.
The first of several interesting landmarks one sees on the GT trail is Patterson’s Pellet, a boulder perched on the cliffs edge made of the same quartzite that makes up the cliff bands. It’s striking as you leave the canopy of the forest. The trail wanders consistently along the edge of the cliff, but the durable surfaces invite you to make your own trail, on of the greatest pleasures you can find in hiking.
Glide cracks stretch across the cliff, and jumping over 30-foot drops between boulders is not for the faint of heart. Watching my friend jump I was reminded of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. After I stumbled, she was reminded of 127 Hours, but fortunately, the hike continued, uneventful, in comparison to that tale.
Although I know the area well, it’s impossible to gaze at such a stunning landscape with jaded eyes. The Gertrude’s Nose hike is always a pleasure as Gertrude accesses 270 degrees of sweeping views. There are also always new treasures to be discovered.
After wandering off the path again, just up the hill from Gertrude’s Nose to Millbrook, we came across a deep cave that billowed out cold air, fogging our glasses instantly. The natural AC was appreciated even on a cool August day, with a few miles left to go.
The summit of Millbrook Mountain makes up for any lack of height that it may possess. The Catskills beckon to the north, and the Hudson Highlands are visible to the south and east. If you care to learn about glacial history, the valley below is a minefield of kettle lakes and drumlins.
At this point though, learning time was over and the only thing we cared about was running through one last ravine to get back to Minnewaska. It was late in the day, the crowds had thinned, and we wanted to share the water with an acceptable level of company.
It’s hard not to be a champion for this powerful underdog of a park. If you ever feel the need to impress an out of town guest, you can Minne-mize your driving and still be sure to convert another person to the magnificence of New York State.