With a need for new ground under my feet, I stuck a pin in a map and headed North.
The Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Tower beckoned me to stand on it's legs and view the Catskills from a new perspective.
What was planned as a two/three day trip was cut short due to the threat of hazardous weather. I decided to head for the historic summit of Balsam Lake Mountain. Balsam Lake Mountain in and of itself is not that historic, the Fire Tower on it's summit however is.
It was the very first Fire Watch Tower ever erected in New York State. Placed on it's lofty perch in 1887 (then made of local wood) the watch tower was the high ground for as far as the eye could see. It still is, oh there are higher peaks in this region to be sure but all within eye shot of the tower. President Grover Cleveland was in office then (his first term, Cleveland being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms) in England 1887, Conan Doyle saw his first Sherlock Holmes story published. In Punxsutawney Pennsylvania the very first Ground Hog Day took place on Gobblers Knob. In the Catskills, sweaty men were building a tower.
The tower was the only man made structure visible in a sea of rolling green. The first tower burned after being hit by lightning and was rebuilt, in fact the tower has seen many incarnations over the years. Wood gave way to steel and that gave way to new steel. Five or six towers have occupied the mountain top as well as a cabin for use by the "Ranger" watch person. It is more of a hiking curiosity now and a historical way point. Whatever it is, it's on my visit list.
The relatively short hike would take less time to do then the drive from my home but it seemed worth while.
Being a Fly fisher, I was also looking forward to spending time along the Beaver kill River. This fishing Mecca of clear running Catskill water is a Trout fisher's Paradise. Reminders of who waded these waters and who still does can be found if you know where to look.
The trail starts out like many at an isolated parking area off a back road. This trail was one of the narrowest I have ever encountered in the Catskills, I took it to mean the area was lightly visited but latter decided it was just caused by pigeon toed hikers.
The Beaver Kill is a River not unlike my beloved Neversink. Mountain fed and cold, running through small communities and attracting people here and there. Sport fishers and sight seers as well as photographers and lowly hikers. It's beauty is undeniable.
The cool, moist forest warmed slowly as the sun moved over the hills. I find it strange how ferns and other forest greenery will at times take on the scent of Peaches as the dew evaporates from their leaves. I find it intoxicating and always stop for a deep breath.
At some point the random setting on my MP3 suddenly changed from Beethoven's sixth to Herb Alpert.
That's all I needed, my mood changed a bit.
Horse hoof fungus and wild mushrooms abound. The trail twisted and turned ever climbing as the forest heated up. The soft spongy ground under foot was evidence of the rain the region had experienced in the past month. Prints left from creatures that had gone on ahead were all over the trail. Only one set of Human prints were visible to me, and I was hunting for them. Even these didn't go all the way to the top, they cut off trail to a shelter .25 miles away. I planned to visit the shelter on my way down.....now, the tower was calling me.
Black Bear prints were fresh just ahead of me, I turned up the MP3 and whistled so I would not surprise him.
Then just as I was concentrating on small things a big thing revealed itself. Like something out of an H.G. Wells novel, the leg of some giant unnatural thing could be seen in the clearing ahead.
The views from the tower were as expected, impressive. Just the right amount of drifting clouds scraping the green rolling mountain tops to make even a casual observer stop and be thankful for the privilege of bipedal cross country travel.
With Warren Zevon in my ears, a freshening breeze in my face and a show only nature could provide, I was unaware of the attempted larceny taking place forty seven feet below me. I had placed my day pack on the picnic table while I climbed the tower for some video. From out of the dark woods came a ravenous creature hell bent on exploiting my ignorance.
Thief! I felt violated. I rushed back down to earth to defend my possibles from further larcenous Lepus looting. Foul and awful beast! I yelled as it ran for the safety of the evergreen. Later I felt sorry for the furry thing and left a hand full of trail mix for him. I hope he likes chocolate covered coffee beans.
I've always liked Rabbits but prefer them at dinner time battered and deep fried. I guess he was just trying to get even.
I checked out the Ranger's cabin before starting back down the mountain.
I had one more stop before starting for the car, I wanted to see the shelter just off the spring trail that I had passed on my way up.
Just a quick check in with the SPOT unit and I was on my way back down to the parking lot.
I liked my hike to Balsam Lake Mountain, the Tower was wonderful and I sure had a great day for it. Next time I'm bringing the kids.