HIKE: Storm King (The Howell Trail)

11 Jan

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On Saturday we made our way to Storm King State Park for a challenging winter hike.   I’ve done this 9.6 mile loop many times and I consider it one of the toughest day hikes in the Hudson Highlands.   Storm King Mountain lies on the west side of the Hudson River, just across the river from the far more famous and busier Breakneck Ridge hike.   Storm King is blessed in that unlike Breakneck Ridge, it doesn’t have a convenient train stop from NYC near the trailhead, and therefore, far less traffic.     For whatever reason, trail guide books never include the Howell Trail in their suggested hikes for Storm King.  I don’t know why.  The trail starts about 5.5 miles into the hike at a mere 200 feet above sea level and quickly ascends to 1200 feet.  Along the way, the views of the Hudson River are spectacular.  It eventually drops back down to 520 feet before rising back to 1100, all of this in just a couple of miles.  If you think the elevation gains are paltry, you are wrong.  This stretch is tough and the terrain can be unforgiving.  I’m not going to compare it to difficult stretches of Devil’s Path in the Catskills, but it isn’t Bear Mountain either.  I’ve never encountered another hiker on the Howell Trail. It is the road less travelled.

We set off around 11:30am.  It was crisp, cold day, but perfect for a hike.  We expected snow on the ground, but not as nearly as much as we encountered.   For most of the first 5.5 miles the snow had been packed down by previous hikers.  I always find hiking in New York to be deceptively hard as most trails have a myriad of rocks, roots, fallen trees, and rarely if ever, a switchback.  You tend to go straight up and straight down.   This day we were making great time as the packed snow created a sometimes slick, but mostly an easy path to travel on.  The Red Headed Stranger, a veteran of this hike, led the way and pushed the pace.  Blue Bin had no idea what was ahead.

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Then it all changed.    We arrived at the Howell trail.  We were the first to venture up it since the last snow fall over a week ago.    The snow had become hard and very slippery.  We made the careless mistake of not having Microspikes or Yaktrax.  Only the Red Headed Stranger could traverse the steep icy trail.  Every step we took we needed to pound our heel or toe into the snow to break through to gain traction.  After several minutes and only about half way up the first climb we realized we were in big trouble.  Going back down was not an option.
An injury from a fall would be catastrophic.  Our only option was one careful step at a time, often leaving the trail for less dangerous footing.   I thought we might lose Blue Bin on the last climb.  Her silence was occasionally interrupted by expletive.  Of course, never at me.

Eventually, we would find our way to the end feeling absolutely exhausted.  The last few miles were grueling and nerve racking.  After a similar experience last winter on Slide Mountain in the Catskills we’ve now conceded that we can’t keep winter hiking without spikes. It’s time to be prudent.  YakTrax Spikes purchased, lesson learned for next time.

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One Response to “HIKE: Storm King (The Howell Trail)”

  1. bluebinbarbie January 12, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    From what I heard, Blue Bin more than held her own. 🙂

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