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Over the River and Through the Woods: Conquering Kaaterskill

I would love to immediately grip your attention dear reader, as follows: The crisp winter air nipped at our cheeks. We let the frost penetrate our lungs, setting our hearts ablaze with the promise of adventure. And so it was we set out on a daring adventure to conquer Kaaterskill Falls.


This... is not what happened.


We started the morning beautifully - bathed in dreamy sunlight, still nestled in our bed at the local mountain lodge (not enough nice things to say about Wylder Windham - stay tuned for that gushing post later this week) we had escaped to this weekend. The cozy town still waking up around us, we wandered downstairs for a steaming cup of coffee, pie (one slice for now, another slice for later) and to plan our day. Kaaterskill had been on our radar for a while, but we had yet to find an excuse to get up there. Excuses no longer stood in our way as we headed out to the trail head.


About half an hour later, we parked in an unassuming lot at the end of an unassuming street. We were so young then, so full of hope, of vigor. Excitedly, we made our way to the edge of the parking lot and... oh, right, ice. We saw the trail head just yards ahead of us; it was calling out, enticing us with possibility. It was also making fun of these two schmucks who came woefully unprepared.


We slipped and slid and fell like Bambi. We couldn't even get out of the parking lot. We left.


Dejected, I demanded a swift return to the hotel to collect our things, check out and spend the otherwise gorgeous day feeling sorry for myself for the balance of the drive home. My partner, a burgeoning adventurous soul in her own right, would not abide this. She infomed me we would be doing that hike, that we would not back down because of a little treachery. We were going to gear up and ship out (again).


When we got back to town, she had me pull off at the local ski supply. I thought it ridiculous that a ski shop would have anything to help us in our despair. Well, she found two sets of fantastic crampons at reasonable prices in about 4 seconds. With that, we deja vu-ed our way back to the Laurel House Road Trailhead.


A note on our determination: Kaaterskill Falls is a mesmerizing cascade nestled within the (currently frigid and hopefully frozen) embrace of the Catskill Mountains. The relatively short out-and-back hike of 1.5 miles promises breathtaking views year round. The winter views are said to be particularly striking, as the falls - the tallest in New York State - appear unmoving in time, a brilliant canvas of Mother Nature's master brush strokes.


So we embarked upon a journey that promised not only incredible views but also the thrill of overcoming nature's wintry challenges with each step crunching beneath our crampons. The trail ahead was blanketed in a precarious layer of ice, offering a deliciously challenging stage for our expedition.


As we descended the path, the sounds of the human world receded into those of the natural one. The rustling of needles on trees, the soft pitter-patter of ice cracking under foot, the excitedly exchanged glances and grins of anticipation. We followed the well marked trail over a picturesque bridge, paused for a moment to admire the slow moving stream (odd, we thought, to see it melted this time of year) and continued on.



I want to give a tip for folks looking for the Falls hike. Though the trails are well marked, the markings themselves may lead you astray. There are several signposts marking various trails and trailheads and parking lots and whatnot. Follow the yellow trail markers until you get to the ascent and pay attention to the signposts. Once you see the sign for "Lower Falls 0.4mi" you are on the path! It's easy to find if you're keeping an eye out and easy to miss if you aren't.


We reached what looked to be the start in earnest of the trail. The rocky steps were completely iced over, presenting a unique challenge. My partner decided to slowly, deliberately, gracefully ascend to level ground, planting one crampon-laden boot firmly in front of the other. Me? I scrambled up on the side of that sucker on all fours, grabbing trees and limbs and rocks with reckless abandoned. My advice to you: do not do this.


Once we hit the flatter trail, the landscape transformed into a winter wonderland of frosted pines and in the distance, glistening icicles clinging to rocky outcrops. The frigid air carried whispers of encouragement echoing the allure of Kaaterskill Falls. With every bend in the trail, our excitement grew, fueled by the anticipation of witnessing the falls in their frozen splendor.



As we approached what we thought would be the cascading veil of ice, we heard an unexpected noise: running water. The path was getting colder, icier. The rockwalls thicker with glistening sheets of blue-white ice. But the rush of water was growing louder, stronger. A hushed reverence fell upon us. We heard it before we saw it and still what we saw left us breathless and slack-jawed. The falls were a roaring torrent of water, a majestic example of nature's endless wonder. The sheer magnitude of this masterpiece left us spellbound, as if stepping into a scene from a winter fairy tale. Against the backdrop of snow-dusted cliffs and soaring columns of ice, Kaaterskill Falls revealed itself as a timeless masterpiece, its icy frame and rush of water testaments to the enduring power of the natural world.


As we lingered at the foot of the falls, enveloped in the tranquility of the winter wilderness, I couldn't help but marvel at the resilience of nature and the indomitable spirit of exploration. The contradiction felt entirely whole: The vigorous life of the falls was of course the only conclusion to the the stillness of our frozen journey.


Our frozen hike to Kaaterskill Falls had not only tested our physical endurance and mental fortitude, but had also awakened within us a profound sense of wonder and awe. Seldom do I feel so alive. In the heart of winter's icy grip, we had again fallen in love with beauty and adventure—a testament to the enduring allure of the great outdoors.



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