Starbuck and Harris Rift Mountains
Arriving about a week and a half later to the same region, we found ourselves attracted to Starbuck and Harris Rift mountains. Some of this would tread through the woods and bring us over new additions to the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area — a bit in the beginning, middle, and end.
A nice new access point
We met up at the OK Slip Falls trail once again since it was an easy enough place for everyone to converge, then we caravanned it south down state Route 28 to the new access point for the primitive area. This access is a tough one to find in the winter as the sign for the boys camp has been removed, but if you can locate the gated road with an empty sign post you got it made. It would have been smart for me to take a picture of it to share, but I didn't.
Parking along the road, we decided to don our snowshoes for better traction and to relieve any issue of postholing for the nearly 10-mile hike. We jumped up on the ridge pretty early and started our steep ascent of Starbuck Mountain, named after the large caffeine company that can be found on each roadside in America. Not really — I just made that up — but I know you were thinking about it.
This aspect of the mountain was littered with small rocky edges and snow nearly as solid. As we climbed high up on the ridge, we did enjoy a more relaxed slope and views that started to open up our surroundings. We started with slightly filtered views through the trees and then much more open ones. Then around the corner we had a flat viewing platform that offered us some jaw dropping views to the east and south, and we were not yet on the summit. The summit was about a quarter of a mile away through slightly thicker spruce and balsam stands, which conveniently covered several small rocky seams in the landscape. It was a unique layout, for sure.
The Summit of Starbuck
The actual summit of Starbuck was wooded, but we were quite appreciative of the prior views along the lower slopes of this peak. Now we would be off to Harris Rift Mountain, which was off of the far end of Starbuck Mountain — 1.8 as-the-crow-flies miles away. That essentially meant more than 2 miles of solid bushwhacking through unknown terrain. Starbuck is one of the largest expanses of mountain I can think of at this very moment. She was also made up of several smaller high and low points, which combined added many more feet of elevation change.
The forest, fortunately for us, was open and welcoming up to the final climb along the ridge to the shoulder of her final summit. It was steep, on the lee side of the wind, and she was damaged. The heavy winds and harsh winters had left a portion of this slope littered like pickup sticks, and with the lack of snow and the snowshoes strapped to our feet it was hard to maneuver. Above the field of deceased trees was a thick stand of spruce, also fighting for harsh weather survival. We would now start our descent to the deep saddle with Harris Rift Mountain. We would need to descend nearly 500 feet in just over a quarter of a mile, a feat we feared might include dead-end cliffs.
To the summit of Harris Rift
We started out heading through thick growth balsams; soft to the touch but dense and difficult to wallow through. Eventually it opened up, and the steepness of the North side got much more intense. We now were to contend with very slippery terrain and snow that was not impenetrable with snowshoes. We used bare ground when we could but that too was solid, so we used a couple of dead and downed trees. A couple standing trees gave us something to aim for as we glissaded down, nearly uncontrollably at times. And then at the end we stopped at the scattered boulders in the deep cleft of the mountain range.
Next we would go up, and this would be an adventure in itself. This side of Harris Rift is steep and guarded by some serious cliffs. Where we came down wasn't all that bad of a location to start up. While the traction was below par, we did manage to reach the base of the bluff. I continued up a small ravine to check out the safety of the climb in this area but I felt it was too risky, so we ended up heading down a bit and to the left. The next location wasn't as bad but still a bit clenching, if you know what I mean. If it were not for ice and the awkwardness of snowshoes it would have been an easy scramble. The three of us pushed on and one went for the easier path, which come to find out was right around the next band.
Atop here the views started to appear, but it also seemed as though we had dead-ended ourselves. The route I saw from below looked great from below, but once upon it it was not a valid avenue of ascent. However, with some more poking around, we eventually found a rather easy route up a steep embankment of frozen mosses and open rock. Upon the ridge we had an easy walk to the open summit and some outstanding views, nearly 180 degrees of them.
The Old trail — does it remain or is it a myth?
After a lengthy break in the sun enjoying some hot tea, we started our exit back to the trailhead. Depending on which map you look at there is a trail that runs or used to run through the valley between P Gay and Starbuck Mountains. We would aim for that. To do so, we needed to descend the long narrow ridge toward that valley. The ridgeline was quite impressive, with continual views along most of its expanse. A couple of steep sections along the way exited us into a secondary valley, which we then needed to climb out of to reach the one we wanted to be in. It wasn't as bad as you may be thinking because we essentially had to climb up the main valley.
Moving swiftly through the open forest and scattered deer yards, we made very good time on the ascent. The top of the valley was where the old trail or forest road resided, we hoped. Then, to our surprise, we actually walked right upon it. About wide enough for an old carriage, it was starting to get grown in and in some areas had pretty much disappeared. Whenever we lost it, it didn't take much distance before we stood atop it again. As it led us through a frozen wetland and along the pond of another we had additional mountain views as the steep slopes of the foothills came down to meet us.
Eventually we were back on the access road we started on earlier that day and happy to be so, something I made apparent under my breath. It was now time to start the long trip back home, but not before real nourishment was found and dealt with properly. I had some ideas where that would be possible.