86′ Honda Shadow VT700C

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Taking the Plunge

Did my first cliff jump of the season a few hours ago, and DAMN…it was really cold! I came back and hopped on the USGS website and found the average regional river temperature for today was 46 degrees. That is definitely the coldest water I’ve ever jumped in.

The other guys I was with were on the fence about jumping and my reaction to the water after I went in certainly didn’t help. Despite the frigid waters however, I had a blast and the whole thing was such a rush of adrenaline when I hit the water. It was wild.

I really can’t wait until the weather (and more importantly the water) get warmer and it actually becomes worth it to drive out to our favorite spot that has a 50ft jump.

Soon hopefully…but for now, this was enough!

Rondout Creek at High Falls, NY

Rondout Creek at High Falls, NY

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A Nocturnal Tradition

The Lemon Squeeze at night is a classic hike that I discovered towards the end of my Freshman year. Myself and a couple friends would start hiking from the West Trapps parking lot in the late afternoon to reach the tower by sunset. At this point, the 4 mile walk back to the car would be mostly in the dark.

On clear nights the stars are absolutely amazing, and one night we decided to just do the whole thing in the dark. I haven’t done it any other way since. It’s probably been 2 years since I’ve been to the top of the tower during the day. I’ve gone with small groups of three, large groups of 10-12, and sometimes just my roommate and I. Every time the dynamic changes as the group changes, and sometimes a thunderstorm or moon phase can add new challenges that we’ve never faced before. It is the type of activity that really requires dedication to participate, thus you only have people that are truly excited about getting out there.

Emerging from the "Lemon Squeeze."

Emerging from the “Lemon Squeeze.”

This time we had a group of nine and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire night. I wore shorts and a flannel and we could see miles from the top. We had the waxing crescent moon peeking over the cliffs at us for most of the night until it set over the Catskills. I couldn’t have been happier with the conditions, and it seemed that the wildlife agreed with me. All night we came across wandering porcupines and all sorts of other things that make sound in the night.

Light trails as we ascend the tower.

Light trails as we ascend the tower.

The tower was well lit by the moon by the time we reached the top. Headlights were completely unnecessary until we reached the lemon squeeze, and then only again in the tower after that. We spent at least half of an hour at the top of the tower enjoying the view. It was quite breezy at the top of the tower, but then again, it always is. The hotel was brightly reflected in the lake, and soon we would leave the tower behind for it.

Smiley tower under the stars.

Smiley tower under the stars.

The walk down is quite dark, but the hotel in front of you is quite a large beacon. We passed many of the little gazebos that overlook the hotel and Lake Mohonk from the cliffs above. The walk down is short, but we took our time, and slowly made our way to the bend that takes us back away from the hotel towards our path to the cars.

My favorite gazebo is one that lies just after this bend on a huge boulder sitting in the lake. The reflection of the hotel in the lake is overwhelming from here, and we spent several minutes just taking it in before we began our walk out.

Mohonk Mountain house.

Mohonk Mountain house.

The walk back isn’t always the best part of the trip. We’ve been out for 2 hours by now, it’s 1 AM, and there isn’t much to look forward to anymore except for our cars and, more importantly, eventually our beds. The mood mellows a bit from excitement and anticipation to boredom and longing. Time moves slowly but it remains in motion nevertheless, so we too continue on. We check landmarks off as we return, reveling in the progress towards our beds. Soon we’re back in the cars, and sitting hasn’t felt so great in a long time. We drive back on empty roads weaving around bends and seeing even more varieties of wildlife.

15 minutes and we’re back on campus. It still blows my mind how close these wild places are to our everyday lives and how few people take advantage of them. Whatever the case, I will forever enjoy them myself and sharing them with anyone who cares enough to come along.

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Bonticou Crag and Table Rock

Today was absolutely gorgeous, so myself and a couple of guys from New Paltz decided to hike out to Bonticou Crag and then over to Table Rock in the Mohonk Preserve. Couldn’t have asked for better weather and we had a great time! We weren’t really in any hurry, and we spent all the time we wanted relaxing at both spots. Bonticou was especially impressive under cobalt skies and a bright sun.

Bontique Crag from the bottom of the Rock Scramble.

Bonticou Crag from the bottom of the Rock Scramble.

Table rock gave us incredible views of the Catskills and we spoke of tentative plans to do a Devils Path traverse in the fall.

Jon and James enjoying the view from Table Rock.

Jon and James enjoying the view from Table Rock.

Once again, a beautiful day to be in the mountains.

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A Night in the Sky

My campsite situated at the edge of the Trapps.

My campsite situated at the edge of the Trapps.

I have been fantasizing about this trip all winter and I must say that it far exceeded even my wildest expectations. I have spent many nights hiking in the Shawangunk range overlooking the Wallkill valley and have been dazzled time and again by the magic of this place at night, but I have never spent an entire evening in the presence of it’s power.

Although camping is almost always an amazing experience despite where you are, location can sometimes push a simple camping trip into something much more than that, as is the case in this outing.

Throughout my 4 years of studying at SUNY New Paltz, I have had many opportunities to explore the Mohonk preserve, and witness a large variety of the beautiful places it has to offer, but I had somehow failed to find my way to the top of the Trapps in my explorations. That is, until now.

The Trapps are a long band of exposed quartzite cliffs that run a little over a mile along the Shawangunk range facing East. From 50-200 feet base-to-crest, the cliffs are world renown for their rock climbing routes and draw climbers from around the globe to experience the high quality rock. There is a carriage road that traverses the base of the cliffs (Under Cliff Road) that I have walked along several dozen times on my way to the timeless ‘Lemon-Squeeze,’ and each time I am taken by the enormity of the cliffs towering overhead. All this time however, I have ignored the alternative route that runs behind the cliffs (Over Cliff Road) that provides easy access to the crest of these enormous outcrops.

On this occasion, I packed up my camping gear and headed into unknown territory with only a map, a vague plan of attack, and the general goal of finding a nice spot to camp somewhere along the nearly mile and a half of cliffs (My own experiences have shown me that an open mind is less easily disappointed). There are several small notches along the trail before you reach the ‘true’ Trapps ridge, so there was a certain point that I had to pass before I could turn off the trail and find myself on top of the correct ridge. Once I passed this point however, the forest quickly became a shamble of impassible cripple-brush. I was becoming nervous about being able to bushwhack through the impenetrable scrub, and scolded myself for not scouting the area beforehand. About a half-mile along the ridge however, there was an opening the the scrub and I could make out a small herd path that was headed in the direction of the ridge, so I hopped on it and began ascending towards the ridge instantaneously.

Over Cliff Road.

Over Cliff Road.

Within minutes I had reached the rocky ridge, and I could see the crest of the cliffs several yards through the trees. A few hops and a skip brought me right to the place I wanted to be. I didn’t even need to look any further. I knew this was where I wanted to set up camp and it had a perfect spot to set up my tent within feet of the cliffs. To top it off, there was a beautiful framed view of the Mohonk tower to the North. I was sold on this spot and started setting up camp immediately.

My camp with the Mohonk tower in the background.

My camp with the Mohonk tower in the background.

Once everything was set up, I grabbed a little snack and headed out to my ‘throne’ in the sky. There were a couple climbers still getting in as many climbs as possible before the sun went down and I just took it all in with only their distant voices as company. I always prefer partly cloudy evenings for sunsets due to the wild hues cast across the sky by the setting sun, and this is exactly what I was given.

By now, the climbers were beginning to walk out, and far below I watched as they passed along the road towards their cars. I stayed. It was quite surreal to watch the world settle into the night from this vantage point while I myself had nothing left to do but observe. Cars creeped quietly along the roads below and the earth was lighting up below me as the night crept in.

I sat for a long while and lost track of time as my thoughts wandered aimlessly between fantasy and reality. From where I was sitting, I could truly witness the world as a collective organism made up of co-dependent parts. Nothing was separate, and nothing was isolated. I saw thousands of people inhabiting thousands of buildings, roads, and cars that were built and designed by thousands more. Somewhere in that concentration of lights was Main Street New Paltz, bustling in its Saturday night fervor. My friends, classmates, professors, and many more were dancing, eating, walking, laughing, drinking, crying, sleeping, studying (probably not), or any combination of other activities with each other; reveling in, but ignorant to, their connectivity. It was a beautiful vision of life here on earth (or at least of life here in the Wallkill valley).

Dusk over the Wallkill valley.

Dusk over the Wallkill valley.

Slowly, but surely, exhaustion overcame me and I retired reluctantly to my tent. This was not the end of my night however, and I set my alarm for 5:00AM the next morning.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

When morning came, I caught a whole new vision of life that wasn’t available the night before. It was a vision of serenity and solace. A sleeping world lay below me that was very different from the bustling world I witnessed several hours before. Where parties and bars and restaurants had occupied the valley the night before, the valley was now empty. All except for a few lonely individuals were somewhere far away in dreaming, forgetful of the empty valley they had left behind.

The sun soon came and filled the empty valley with life and cars slowly began inching along the dark roads below. I had breakfast on my ‘throne’ in the sky and was soon pleased to see a runner passing below me on the carriage road, followed shortly by another.

It was a brisk morning, and in my shivering I grew impatient for my cozy bed on campus. I packed too quickly and stood for a last short moment to take in the valley once more. Even in my impatience I couldn’t fail to appreciate this place and the visions it gave me. I may never go back, but the experiences I had there will always be with me. As it goes with all things in life.

**Short video coming soon!!**

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Shanti Mandir Ashram

Located just outside the village of Wallkill on a beautiful 300 acre plot of land sits the Shanti Mandir Ashram. Home to about a dozen practicing residents, the complex is part of a worldwide network of Ashrams who follow a particular line of enlightened Yogis and their practices.

The enlightened Yogi, Swami "Baba" Muktananda, who was the Guru for Shanti Mandir from the 60's to the early 80's.

The enlightened Yogi, Swami “Baba” Muktananda, who was the Guru for Shanti Mandir from the 60’s to the early 80’s.

On a trip organized by the New Paltz Anthropology club, I had the great pleasure of visiting this wonderful place and meeting the incredible people that live and practice here year round. In an art history class on India, I had learned a lot about Hinduism and it’s rich visual history, but I had never actually experienced or witnessed it firsthand.

We arrived sometime a little before noon and were greeted at the front door by a brightly dressed woman in a pink gown and were asked to remove our shoes before entering the temple. Despite the buildings ‘Western’ architecture, the decor was rich in statues and paintings of Hindu deities. One side of the room however, was dominated by a larger-than-life bronze statue of Shanti Mandir’s original Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda.

Large bronze statue of Shanti Mandir's original Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda.

Large bronze statue of Shanti Mandir’s original Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda.

The whole place seemed meticulously cared for and each object was placed with reverence and intention. The same woman who greeted us at the door, Deviana, invited us to sit and proceeded to tell us more about the day to day going ons of the Ashram, including a daily bathing of the Bhagavan Nityananda statue and three daily chant sessions, one of which we were about to participate in.

By the time Deviana had finished her introduction, the room was filled with residents preparing for their mid-day chant. Deviana sat down behind a harmonium, and beside her was a young man who would accompany her on drums. Once everyone was situated, we quickly jumped into a call and response chant, “Om-nama-shivaya.”

The whole experience of the next hour was really fun and everybody in the group was participating to the best of their ability. The chant eventually turned into a ritual called “throwing of the lights,” that blesses all who are present with warmth and light.

Throwing of the lights.

Throwing of the lights.

After the ceremony, we quickly retired to the dining area for some of the best Indian food I have ever had. I went up at least three times for more! This was followed by a small tour of the grounds and a visit to the gift shop (I wish I had brought more money).

I’m so grateful that I decided to go on this trip. I would have never thought that I could experience such a different culture right around the corner from my own daily life. The people were world class, and I can honestly say that I would return just to spend more time with them. It turns out that their current Guru, Swami Nityananda, will be visiting from India between July and November of this year, and I know for sure that myself and some others that were on the trip with me would love to meet him.

It’s amazing how small the world has become how easy it is these days to find diversity right around the corner!

The New Paltz Anthropology club with some of the residents at Shanti Mandir.

The New Paltz Anthropology club with some of the residents at Shanti Mandir.

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Spring in the Shawangunk Range

Looking North towards the Trapps.

Looking North towards the Trapps.

I’m so glad that the weather has finally begun to turn after a long and bipolar winter. It’s been a solid week and a half of 50+ degree highs and a majority of it has been quite sunny. It is finally that time of year when getting outside is a lot easier and less logistically challenging. A time when spontaneous trips to the mountain are more common and a time that marks a major step in the progression towards cliff jumping season and eventually summer!

This summer is going to be somewhat of a new experience for me and I’m incredibly excited about it. I’ve gotten a job at a summer camp as an ‘Adventure Trip Leader’ **thats my official title** where I get to take teenagers out on any variety of adventure trips for one or several weeks at a time in the Adirondacks or elsewhere in the Northeast. On top of this, my family is fully relocating to Albuquerque, NM during the summer where my dad was hired by the University of New Mexico. I, on the other hand, am staying here in the New York highlands to finish off my degrees before I find myself further West.

The picture above is from a recent hike I took with my girlfriend Julie in the Mohonk Preserve. It’s looking North from the beginning of the Millbrook Ridge towards Route 44 and the Trapps. It was one of those early days in spring where the temperature rises above 50 for the first time since November. Those are some of my favorite days of the entire year!

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