Mohonk Preserve - Sky Top Climb
November 18, 2006

by Papa Bear

(Photo of Tower)
The Stone Tower atop Sky Top
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Mohonk: Climb to Sky Top

(Photo of Mohonk)
Mohonk Mountain Lodge
from across Mohonk Lake
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W

e spent a lovely weekend in November at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. Mohonk, as it is affectionatelly called, is a world renowned resort nestled in an area of ridge tops, lakes and forests (and yes gardens and a golf course) in the northern Shawangunks of New York. The area was bought in 1869 by the Smiley brothers from local farmers - who considered the steep rocky land worthless - for $10 an acre. Much of the land is now a wildlife preserve, and the lodge, dating from the 1870s, is now a national landmark. It is still owned by the Smiley family and is one of the best and last of its type still in existance in the mid Hudson and Catskill region.

Our weekend was primarily to celebrate our 40th anniversary, which we did with great enjoyment, but I managed to take Saturday afternoon off for a climb to Sky Top, a prominent ridge surrounded on 2 sides by sheer 100 foot cliffs. A tower (built in the 1920s) sits on top of Sky Top and it is a landmark visible for miles around.

The preserve has 85 miles of hiking and carriage trails. These are mostly graded for tourists and older patrons and are wide, flat cinder covered paths with very easy grades. But there are a few of what we would call "real trails" and the most "interesting" is the climb from the lodge to Sky Top.

(Photo of Crevice)
Sky Top with it's tower
The trail goes along the base and up through the Crevice at the far right.
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I would divide the trail into two sections: the first section - called "The Labyrinth" - follows the base of the cliff for about 3/4 of a mile through a boulder field of large, very angular rocks which have fallen from the cliff face over the millenia. I would compare this section to Mahoosuc Notch but with two major differences: 1) the route is intentionally laid out for maximum "fun" in the sense that it goes over, under and around every possible rock along the route (as opposed the the "best" shortest route) and 2) in "tough" spots, wooden ladders and bridges are in place to make life a bit easier. This is not to say it's not a tough and rugged route - it is, and probably only a small percentage of the clientele from the lodge are likely to be up to its rigors. But somehow that small percentage, including families with small children, were all out there that Saturday afternoon.

(Photo of Boulders)
Boulders and a bridge
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The second section is even more "interesting". It's called "The Crevice" and takes the climber up through a crevice in the cliff face with about 100 feet of elevation gain. The crevice is roughly 6-8 feet wide at it's widest near the bottom, and it closes to probably 2 feet or less in width at the very top, at a spot known as the "Lemon Squeeze". This is the crux of the route and most folks (including myself) have to turn sideways to get through.

But the climb up has been made rather straightforward by 3 long sections of wooden ladders which turn this potentially class 4 or 5 climb into a class 2 ladder climb. If you are not claustrophobic (I'm not) and if you aren't afraid of climbing nor prone to falling off ladders, you'll be fine. There is no exposure to speak of since you are at all times in a dimly lit, narrow crevice.

(Photo of Crevice)
The entrance to "The Crevice"
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My own ascent was relatively uneventful. On the advice of some hikers who were in front of me, I passed my pack up the last ladder section since I would not have fit through the Lemon Squeeze with the pack on. When I got there, I had a little problem getting my foot up to a rock step so I had to "kneel" up two steps. Ouch, that hurt! Oh, for some long lost flexibility! The other problem is that when I was half way through the Lemon Squeeze, I decided I wanted to be facing left rather than right. But I couldn't make the turn since my hips were too wide. So I had to drop down and squirm around and then make the push up through again - this time successfully.

Once out of the crevice, I found myself on the top of a wide ledge where a few othere hikers were absorbing some sun rays and generally resting from the climb. This ledge is actually undercut and from across the lake it looks like an extremely precarious spot. But it isn't.
(Photo of View)
The view of the lake, the lodge and the Catskills
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But this wasn't the top yet. I took a route over to the left along the top of the ledge, past a relatively narrow spot and finally climbed up to the carriage road that went to the top. Oh, did I mention there's a road to the top? Sorry.

A 10 minute road walk brought me to the tower and about another 100 steps brought me to the observation platform. The 360 degree views were magnificent. Mohonk Lake lay below with the lodge at the north end and on the horizon were Hunter Mountain snd the surrounding peaks of the southern Catskills.

(Photo of Lily Pond)
Lily Pond, on the road down
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But it was 3:30 and it would be dark in a little over an hour, so it was time to go down. The trail I had taken up was marked as one way, up only, so I took the easy way down along the road. I went through lovely woods, past an equally lovely pond and got back to the lodge in time for a leasurely shower, a nap and a four course dinner followed by dancing to the music of a very mellow band. Life was really good that day.



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