Day Hiking Sam's Point Preserve

About a month ago, E and I head out on our first hiking expedition in the western Shawangunk Ridge. We were headed for Lake Awosting, because word on the street is that you can swim there - and the day was disgustingly humid, projected to reach something like 99 degrees. So I checked online for a parking area, decided on a general route of travel (for the 1½  hour trip), stopped to buy a trail map at REI, and off we went. Only, I didn't check the elevation between the trailhead (Aumick Rd) and the lake.

We had to ascend 1400' over the course of less than 2 miles. Turns out the little trail I'd scoped was a horribly steep switchback route up the ridge. Did I mention it was hot and humid? Woof, was it humid. So we climbed and climbed, chasing trees through the woods - no view to be had. Less than a half mile (and a solid hour into the trek) from where we assumed the lake would be, there was thunder.. and then there was more thunder. We're at nearly 2000' elevation, headed to a rock lined lake, there's electricity in the air and rain starting to fall. At this point we turned back for the car, embraced refreshing pouring rain, and chalked it up as a loss and a workout.

Wouldn't you know, by the time we reached the car it'd stopped raining and the car's temperature gauge read 70° (as opposed to the previous 92°). So instead of heading straight back home, we decided to check out Sam's Point Preserve about a half hour away.

The above pictures come from our initial trip to the preserve. I'm so thrilled we found the energy that day for more exploring! We made it to Sam's Point and the Ice Caves that day on super easy (some even paved) trails. Far too exhausted after our morning incline & storm to even think about attempting anything more, we passed on the chance to trek the Verkeerderkill Falls trail. And in fear of losing my footing or dropping my camera,  I didn't take a single picture in the caves. A return trip was in the making.

After talking to my friend Michelle (who hosted my Nashville adventure in January) about the awesome upstate findwe decided to head back to the preserve a few weeks later. This time, in addition to what E & I'd seen the first time, we'd also hike to the falls (nearly 2 mile trail starting between Sam's Point and the Ice Caves).

After a "parking lot full" sign that could have thwarted the whole trip, we paid our $10, were granted one of the last 4 spots in the lot, hit the trail, took view from Sam's Point, and continued onto the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail. The hike out descends slightly - which sounds awesome - but it's littered with rocks which make for sketchy footing. We saw one girl carrying her 40lb pup past us on her return - that must have sucked. Needless to say, we were on a mission, so I didn't stop for long enough to look up and take a picture. Because you literally couldn't look up from your course and keep moving forward - even to take in the view - or you'd roll an ankle. Serious. One huge plus, however, is that 80% of the trail is lined with wild huckleberries(again, no picture)

When we finally made it to the falls, I was somewhat surprised at their lack of grandeur. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I guess I figured that (as the highest falls in the range) there would be more water, a better view, and less of a foreign tourist crowd. Though I did love the rainbows in the mist! We waited for about 5 minutes for the crowd to disperse, took some pictures, then back tracked to explore some more of the stream. It was beautiful, peaceful, and much cooler under the forest canopy than out in the sun on the ridge. 

We left the falls, and hiked back along the rocky ascending trail, hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun on the exposed ridge. The best antidote would have been some air conditioning. The most immediate possibility of relief was a trip to the ice caves loop. Guys, I can't even explain how cool this place is. 

The Ellenville Fault Ice Caves is the largest known open geologic fault in the country. I could explain to you what I understand about how all that works, but all you really need to know is that it's like walking into a refrigerator. The walls of the cave seem to sweat cold water, streams running from the caves feel like the chilliest ever, and drafts of crisp air cool your legs as you climb through and around these magnificent cave formations. 

When I get back there - because it will happen. I'd like to spend a good part of the day exploring the area around the ice caves specifically, or perhaps I'll just scramble up Shingle Gully (a few more miles west) and explore new caves instead... I love having the Shawankgunks nearby. They're no Rockies, but I'll take 'em - for now...

Have you been exploring lately?