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Here’s a secret about hiking: more often than not, the best views aren’t at the top of the mountain, they’re right under your nose — or, more accurately, right next to your feet.
Recently, a friend and I decided to tackle Ashokan High Point in The Catskills. We were keen for a challenging climb and some sweet summit scenery.
But the weather had other plans: a thick fog and rain rolled in, reducing visibility to just a few feet. We never made it to the top. But, honestly, we didn’t miss it a bit.
As John Muir said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.”
For me, whenever the fog rolls in, it’s never a cause for concern. I love a foggy forest. Not just because it makes such a Big Mood, but because moisture brings out so much extra detail in a woods; the rocks and plants look richer, more detailed, somehow clearer and crisper. It’s almost psychedelic.
And the rain brings out extra creatures, too.
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Take Kanape Brook, for instance. Nothing dramatic but, in the silence of the fog, the murmuring brook was like music.
And there were the stone walls: old, mossy, full of stories.
An old Norway Spruce Plantation.
An excellent beaver dam.
Fern groves galore. We spotted a new fern species for the first time — the cinnamon fern — which is something we might have missed if we were just focused on peakbagging a summit.
And you wouldn’t believe the number of chipmunks and red efts we came across.
The mountain laurel flowers were beginning to bloom, too, adding color to the mountain.
We even stumbled upon some black bear poop with a fuzzy mold. Sounds weird, but in the middle of nature, it was oddly fascinating.
We passed American chestnut trees (growing from old rootstock that has not yet succumbed to the dreaded blight), tulip trees, and found hemlock wooly adelgid in the col between Ashokan High Point and Mombaccus Mountain.
Navigating the stream crossings kept us on our toes. And we found a couple of really nice campsites too, perfect spots if you’re into overnight hikes and camping.
Gaston Rebuffat, a mountaineer, said it best: “In the mountains, the smallest things have such a grandeur, a charm and a brilliance of their own.”
This hike was all about the small things, the details you’d overlook if you were focused only on the summit.
The Best Views Gallery
I sometimes wonder if learning to hike in the Catskills hasn’t been particularly formative for me precisely because, in these less-travelled hills, we don’t have the big scenic views of more heavily-trekked ranges like the Adirondacks.
Have the Catskills coached me to appreciate the trail more deeply than a more impressive range might have? I suppose I’ll never know.
Here are 12 photos that prove that hikes with no views have the best views…
In another week or so, these Mountain Laurel buds will be in their full glory. Amazing flowers.
We are trained to look at, and express joy for, the big scenic views and the dramatic vistas. But nobody trains us to look down at our feet. When we pay attention to the lower-down, every hike becomes a new experience, even if we’ve walked that trail a hundred times before.
One of my favorite topics ever is when to turn around on a hike — a hugely underrated hiking skill.
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