Adventure at Mohonk Preserve


As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been sulking around these past few weeks.  Daylight Savings is one of the toughest transition times for me.  I love to get outside for a short hike right after work to decompress and gather my thoughts for the day, but as the sun is now set and the parks are officially closed, I haven’t been able to stretch my legs and get in that moving meditation that my sanity relishes.  I sorely miss being able to get on the trails without my headlamp, and being able to hike well past 8:00pm!

Thankfully, the weekends provide plenty of time for me to get to my outdoor adventures.

Sunday morning rituals are my favorite.  I make it a point of getting out of the house bright and early so we can get as much time on the trails before the sun sets.  This past Sunday was no different, as we were preparing to hike in the expansive Mohonk Preserve.

Jack had been to Mohonk when he was in Boy Scouts; he had often gone on training hikes here in preparation for major treks. Our seven mile sojourn took us along massive ridges, past quiet mountain brooks, and culminated in a climb through the Giant’s Workshop, a labyrinthine scramble through the inside of a granite cliff face peppered with glacial boulders. We braced ourselves to climb up rocks, through caves, and using bouldering techniques to make it to the top.  Even though I have a mild fear of caves, I thought it would be quite the adventure.  We got our gear together and drove the two hours to New Paltz, NY.

We parked off the Coxing Trailhead and started up the Old Minnewaska Trail.  The trail itself was wide and well maintained, with very little in the way of loose large rocks.  About a half mile into the trail we came to what used to be a bridge.  The foundations were still neatly in place, but the bridge itself was now non-existent.  The trail averted down to the now-dry riverbank before heading back up a gentle slope.

The higher we got on the ridgeline, the more beautiful the hike became.  The adjacent ridge eventually came to an end and revealed the Catskills in the distance.  I was all too eager to sit on the rock slabs that dotted the ridgeline to point out Slide Mountain (4190′) which I summited last year!

View of the Catskill Mountains from Mohonk Preserve. Stunning!

Hiking further along the ridge, we finally reached the trailhead for Giant’s Workshop.  It was much, much more intimidating than anticipated.  Initially, I stood at the entrance and refused to enter, terrified as I looked up and noticed the rock fall.  How could it be safe to climb through a gnarled network of boulders precariously balanced on other boulders, wedged inside and packed against a  granite cliff?

Jack went ahead first, thankfully, and spurred me on to make it through.  Climbing through the rock fall was proving to be a challenge. A two foot wide diagonal notch market the entryway into the workshop.  We were welcomed by a cathedral-like ceiling of cold granite hanging overhead, and uncharacteristically warm November light which filtered in through the cracks in the firmament. The ground was damp, and the path rambled up a series of rocks next to a ten-foot-deep chasm. To my astonishment, a blue blaze confirmed that yes, this indeed was the trail.  Thankfully, my knees weren’t shaking too badly.

Squeezing through and climbing up Giant’s Workshop.

As we stepped back into partial light, the path grew steeper and more foreboding. We had to use our hands and feet to traverse along a slab. We edged and sidestepped our way to an opening in the rock formation, where we found a precipitous wooden plank that claimed to be a bridge. Below the plank was a twenty foot drop and jagged rocks.

The bridge though, unfortunately, led to a cave.

See that opening? That’s where we had to squeeze through. Cue panic attack.

After a few deep breaths, I squeezed through the small opening to the cave, careful of my steps.  The opening was less than two feet wide, and neither of us could get through with our packs on. This was a true cave, much darker than the preceding chambers. Blue blazes were barely discernable in the low light, and the route instructed us to climb a steep slab. In near total darkness. The rocks got trickier but eventually, sunlight began to return. The boulders got smaller, the holds became more secure, and as climbing became scrambling and scrambling became hiking, I reached the top of Giant’s Workshop.  We were treated with a beautiful view, but decided to keep moving as we didn’t want to run out of daylight.

Of course, to continue the trail, you have to pass over a gap in the cliff-top with a narrow plank of wood as the bridge.  My legs, still unsteady with nerves, almost gave out on me.  I had to sit down for a minute and honestly wanted to call it quits.  The idea of passing back down Giant’s Workshop without daylight had knots in my stomach.  Begrudgingly, we continued up the trail – even though I wasn’t thrilled at the notion of hiking past the sunset.

The view from the top was absolutely worth the weak knees.  There were a series of precariously perched gazebos along Humpty Dumpty Road, offering magnificent views of the Shawangunk Range and Catskill Mountains.  The sun was still bright in the sky, illuminating what still remained of the autumn foliage on the trees in the valley.

Beautiful view of the Catskills and foliage from the Mohonk Preserve.

We decided to take a different route back, much to my delight, as Giant’s Workshop proved to kick my ass more than anticipated.  We followed the Humpty Dumpty Road to Laurel Ledge Road. The packed gravel path was a welcome contrast to the jagged boulder scramble.

Shortly after, we came to a trail marker… and a ladder leading to the trail beneath, called the Fern Ledge.  We decided to take the ladder down and continue along the path until we reached the Laurel Ledge Path, which would lead us back to the Old Minnewaska Trail.  If one was to misstep, or if the ladder was to break, a two hundred foot tumble was assured. The Fern Ledge Path looked more like a precariously steep deer trail, but thankfully, it was short.

We made our way back to the Old Minnewaska trail and were treated with the most magnificent views of the sun setting on the Catskills.  The mountains took on such an incredible hue of purples and greys as the sun illuminated the ridge as we traversed.

Jack remarked that the hike hadn’t changed much over the ten years gap since he’d been there last with his Boy Scouts troop.  He still remembered the wonderful challenge that was Giant’s  Workshop, and, above all, he remembered the beautiful hike along the ridge back to the car as the sun was setting over the landscape.

Have you ever gone on a hike to revisit it years later?  Did the trek change any?  Was it as beautiful as you remembered?  I’d love to hear from you below!


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