I was driving down a stretch of road in Columbia County when I went into Hudson Valley tour guide mode and decided to point out to my down-state passenger the Catskill Mountains to our west and the Taconic Mountains to our east.
“Taconic Mountains?” the other passenger in the car snootily quipped, “…more like hills.”
There are four mountain formations in the Hudson Valley: the Catskills, the Shawangunk Ridge, the Hudson Highlands and the Taconics, though the latter two are geologically related. The Taconics, it turns out, is actually the second-highest range in the Hudson Valley (take that, other passenger), with Brace Mountain, its highest peak, stretching 2,311 feet into the sky.
Repeat Other Hudson Valley Hiking Partner Michael Hollis and I arrived at the Brace Mountain Trail’s parking lot in the Taconic State Park one Tuesday morning in late April and found ourselves the only ones there. The lot, which is on the side of Quarry Hill Road in the northeast corner of Dutchess County, only had room for about four cars, so we counted ourselves lucky. However, we only saw one other person the three-plus hours we were on the trail, which points to the obscurity of the hike, even though the parking lot is in what looks like a suburban neighborhood.
The beginning of the trail took us alongside the property of what looks like a brand-new mini-apartment building situated in a very overgrown plot of land.
After the incongruous building shrunk out of sight, we came to a somewhat confusing sign, but we correctly interpreted it as stating there was a “hard ¼ mile” in .2 miles.
And hard it was. It involved a fair amount of rock scrambling and hand-over-hand clambering, as well as Hollis violently leaping back into me when he saw a large garter snake sunning itself on the path.
The Hard ¼ mile brought us up a ridge about 1000 feet tall and, from that point, the trail’s pace slackens. The final 400-foot ascent is completed over the next 1.2 miles.
Once we got over the ridge, the flora shortens to avoid being toppled by the brisk winds and consists mostly of short trees and bush.
There are two peaks on the trail: South Brace Mountain and Brace Mountain. As we came up to South Brace Mountain, Riga Lake and South Lake in Connecticut shone in the sun to our south, but the view on the peak is muted, and is probably not visible when the trees are in leaf.
Hollis and I pressed on to Brace Mountain, about a 20-minute hike from South Brace Mountain. THERE was the view.
The acme of Brace Mountain is wide and swept bare by the winds, the grasses baked into yellow hay by the glaring sun. There were still pockets of snow in the rock depressions.
Some maniac had carried up a Gadsden Flag and mounted it amoungst a pile of boulders. It was torn by the rapid winds, which made the day feel significantly cooler than it was.
The Berkshires were visible to the east, and the line of the Catskill high peaks could be seen in the other direction, a good 50 miles away.
So don’t bash the Taconics. At least until you’ve tried them.
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