Scouting Photo Scenes in the Catskills

On one of those crisp autumn cloudy/sunny days with a bit of wind, I drove to the Catskills to hang out.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t to play.  If I’d bagged a huge run, you’d be seeing the photos and the story on Oxygen Fed Sport. Instead, yesterday was a work day.  I’ve written an article for Trail Runner magazine about the Catskills.  I sent them my revision the day before Hurricane Irene pummeled the region.  Now, I’m writing a sidebar about how the area is recovering from Irene’s aftermath.  Yesterday, my plan was to interview local people about how they’re recovering from the hurricane, and to scout photo locations.

My running miles in the Catskills have all been to the north or west recently.  But although I haven’t driven up Route 28 past the turnoff for Woodstock in a few years, the damage was obvious.  Tree trunks lay atop huge piles of stones in the middle of the turgid Esopus.  Running high, brown and fast, the river had plainly re-routed itself during the madness of the hurricane.

I snuck past a “Road Closed” sign on to County Road 47, to see if I could get to the Slide Mountain trail head.  This road is a mess:  parts of it are untouched, then you’re driving past collapsed houses and piles of river stone left on the banks.  One bridge has been replaced.  When I encountered caution tape strung across the road, I gave up and turned around.

In Phoenicia, I stopped in at a couple of hotels and at Sweet Sue’s restaurant to interview local people about how the economy is doing. The funky main street looked no different than any other day, but one look in back yards, covered with mud and detritus, told another story.

The Spruceton trail head was another destination, which would have afforded a couple of great scenes:  the grassy fire roads of the Spruceton Trail and the Diamond Notch Falls.  Spruceton Road, one of the most beautiful valleys in the Catskills, was also damaged.  While the houses looked OK from the outside, the road took a beating.  The further into the valley I went, the more beat up the road became.  I gave up trying to get to the Spruceton trail head at the end of the road.  My short run on the west side of West Kill Mountain – the western terminus of the Devil’s Path – was obscured by blowdown.  Never having been on this trail before, I don’t know if it’s always this wet or if this was a result of the hurricane and all the other rain we’ve had.

In the end, I drove 287 miles, spending most of my day on my backside in the car, with one hour speaking to various people and another spent running uphill.

The day before the photo shoot, today, Sunday.  Again, I drove to the Catskills, hoping to meet a group of runners at Diamond Notch off Route 214 to get photographs.  If you told me that Diamond Notch was the least used trail head in the Catskills, I’d believe it.  The paved road turns into dirt.  All the property at the end of the dirt road is posted.  So you have to drive a narrow, stony, miserable path that is so badly rutted it feels like you’re driving your car to its grave.

Fortunately, the run up to Diamond Notch is beautiful.  Alongside the Hollow Tree brook, you gradually ascend a clove that becomes narrower and narrower.  What starts as an old road gradually devolves into singletrack.  At the saddle, the clove ends.  There’s an awesome photo opportunity there:  the light coming down, dappled by autumn trees, and an intimate view of mountains to the south.  However, the magazine wants only pictures with runners in it.  It’s the occupational hazard of being a lone wolf.

The people I was chasing had written down both Hunter and West Kill Mountains in the trail register.  A flip of the coin, I chose to run West Kill and didn’t find them.

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