Monday, March 05, 2012

Trail Running the Highlands Trail : Cornwall Landing to Mineral Springs Road

The Lower Hudson Valley provides an array of challenging trail running options, Many of which consist of navigating the rugged terrain of the Hudson Highlands.

I've always been driven by athletic challenges and one of my more recent challenges under consideration is to run the entire length of The Highlands Trail (obviously not in one day or one weekend).

The Highlands Trail Head
This particular idea/challenge developed rather naturally as The Highlands Trail happens to start by the Hudson River in the town in which I live and it traverses many of the area hiking trails.

As part of my training for the North Face Endurance Challenge I decided that this weekend I would run a local extension of the Highlands Trail from the start of the trail at the Cornwall waterfront to Mineral Springs Road (also in Cornwall).

The run would traverse Storm King State Park and Black Rock Forest and cross over Storm King Mountain, Mount Misery and Black Rock.

Cornwall Landing
The plan was to park my car at the Black Rock Forest trail head on Mineral Springs Road which is at at the western edge of Black Rock Forest. My wife would drop me and my dog Milo off at Cornwall Landing and Milo and I would run a point to point from the Landing to Mineral Springs

The morning was overcast with thin steely grey clouds with a damp chill in the air. The temperatures were expected to warm into the 40s with partly sunny skies.

Hudson River view
I started my Garmin and Milo and I followed the aqua blazes of the Highland Trail up  Dock Hill Road and across Route 218. The trail meanders by a trail head  maintained by Scenic Hudson and a lazy meadow before it begins the ascent up Storm King Mountain.

The path follows a stream and up to lovely views of the Hudson and Cornwall.  About 1.5 miles into the run the Highland Trail merges with the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail.

Icy Storm King climb
The trail quickly moves into the chilly northern shadows of Storm King and up a narrow goat-path traversing the edge of the mountain. Today the goat-path was glazed in a sheet of ice.

My trail shoes are great in the mud and for a solid grip on larger boulders but as I found out today, they're a bit sketchy on icy paths. I did all I could to resist the natural foot plants because that's where the ice had collected. I was safer stepping in the softer granulated snow or directly on the rocks that jutted out above the treacherously icy path.
Northern View

I repeatedly found myself relying on the thinnest of scrub Mountain Laurel branches to help keep me on the path as it wound it's way up the formidable Storm King.

The effort to stay on the trail did little to diminish the spectacular views of the Hudson, Bannerman's Island and Denning's Point below.

The ice and snow disappear as the trail emerges from the shadows of the north side as it turns inward across a plateau of soft copper-colored needles under a grove of White Pines.
Breakneck Ridge
As we crossed to the south end of the mountain we're presented with even more impressive views of the Hudson River and the Highlands. To the south Crows Nest and the town of Cold Spring can be seen in the distance. To the west the strikingly rugged beauty of Breakneck Ridge.

Still climbing
The path continues, meandering along, circling and climbing upward to yet another set of northern views. As I reached the top of Storm King out of breath and my heart pounding from the climb, the clouds were burning away (at least temporarily) providing what seemed like an entirely different view.

The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, The Shawungunk Ridge and the Catskills were now all visible from where I stood.

Northern view from the top
I took a few sips from my bottle and gave Milo some treats to keep up his energy and we continued on with our journey. We have quite a distance to go.

The path makes it way west winding through rocky paths surrounded by scruffy winter Mountain Laurel and up some milder climbs and down into softer ground still wet with puddles from yesterday's rains.
Western Ridge

We eventually found our way to the far west ridge of Storm King and stopped for a moment to take in the view before we began our descent. We would be heading down to Mountain Road in Cornwall, just across from The Storm King School. There we would cross under Route 9W and head into Black Rock Forrest, leaving Storm King behind us.

At just about 5 miles Milo and I reached the main parking lot at Black Rock. Rather than taking the Reservoir Road on a gentle incline into the forest, the HT heads aggressively up the hill to the left. The trail winds it's way up through rock fields and chest thumping inclines.

With some concern, I thought about a recent run in Black Rock that had ridiculous amounts of climbing and led to a bonking experience deep in the woods. I didn't want to repeat that experience. With that in mind Milo and I pushed on to the top of this steep hill without a name (that I know of) and sat on a log to address our nutrition.

I experimented with a new sandwich idea; Nutella and Peanut Butter on a waffle. It wasn't until we were sitting in the woods that I realized that I couldn't share with Milo (because chocolate isn't good for dogs). I adjusted by giving him some more of his treats and a peanut butter and jelly cracker sandwich. He loved that!

Icy path on Mount Misery
We finished our snacks and started moving again, We passed down this unnamed hill to the Upper Reservoir and onto Reservoir Road for just a brief period before taking the trail up the aptly named Mount Misery.

Mount Misery is a steep and rugged climb that makes you hear your heart beating in your ears. And that's on a good day. I tried to keep moving as best I could but once again I was hindered by the glare ice on the trail. Again the natural place to step was the place with the worst footing. I continued on without incident picking my step carefully treading on ice-free rocks or corn snow along the edges of the path.

Descending Mount Misery
Milo and I reached the top and really didn't stop to enjoy the views here, I wanted to get more miles behind us.

We continued on to the next descent. As most runners know, running downhill is not as easy as it sounds, and this downhill is pretty tough. It's steep enough to thrust you forward against your will and technical enough that a fall here would be pretty painful. I negotiated the boulder strewn trail and hit the bottom for only a moment before a brief climb.

Aleck Meadow Reservoir
From here the HT would take some pity on us with a series of nice gentle turns and undulations taking us to the northern edge of the scenic Aleck Meadow Reservoir.

We traced the edge of the reservoir and up a sloppy grade to one of the fire roads in Black Rock. We were only here for but a few minutes as the HT took a right and started yet another climb. This one was going to take us to the top of Black Rock.

The climb to the top of Black Rock isn't as steep as the Mount Misery or the Storm King climbs, but it's climb is challenging none the less. The the grade is such that it appears you can run it, but as you approach the top, it continues to get steeper until it brings you to a crawl. Relentless Forward Progress gets you to the top.

View from Black Rock
The summit of Black Rock is beautiful. The view to the west overlooks Schunnemunk Mountain, The Moodna Viaduct and Storm King Arts Center. In the distance The Shawungunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains can be seen.

Milo and I stopped to enjoy the view for a moment and to have something more to eat. Milo had a few handfuls of his treats and I had a stroopwafel.

I also took a look at my map to get a perspective on how far along the journey we were. It appeared that we were maybe a little more than half way done, but the rest of the way wouldn't be as intense.

Trail Markings
I was looking forward to less scrambling and more trail running. We climbed down the steeper western side of Black Rock and headed out for the remainder of the trek to Mineral Springs.

As expected the terrain treated us relatively well. There were climbs and there were descents but nothing that compared to the challenges in the first half of the run. We started to make what felt like really good time. It certainly wasn't easy, but we were doing well.


Jupiter's Boulder
We stopped a time or two to check the map and have a drink. I was running low (again), but I was being careful and rationing my supply.

When we arrived at Jupiter's Boulder I dug into my pack and pulled out a bag of Sports Beans. This is the second time in two long runs that these "magic beans" have come to my rescue. They're so great in that they aren't dry and get my glands working and they're sweet... just like magic when you need them. I tried not to let Milo see I was eating (I wanted them all for myself).

We continued along on a slight downgrade for about another mile when I could hear water running. I knew this to be a good thing because I knew of the waterfall at the end at Mineral Springs. I said out loud "Milo, we did it, we're almost home".

Manayunk Bridge
We entered an evergreen forest as the trail ran alongside a running stream with a series of small waterfalls. There were a couple of stream crossing that were easily managed. We did come across a very neat hand-made bridge which was remarkably stable.

The path got a little steeper, a little more uncomfortable and technical, but being so close to the end it was certainly nothing to complain about.
Mineral Springs
We passed the final and probably the largest of the waterfalls and I knew we were just about finished.

A gentle fire road exited on Old Mineral Springs Road. To continue on the Long Path you would take the right to Mineral Springs Road and down to Angola Road, but we parked just up the road to the left.

Together Milo and I ran 11.53 miles in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Our total elevation gain was 3,277 feet

I put Milo on the leash and we proudly ran back to the car.


The Route
Elevation Profile
The Highlands Trail Overview


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