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Poet’s Ledge, Hillyer Ravines

Poet’s Ledge is a very unique area. Not many hikers do it because it’s not one of the high peaks and because it’s off the beaten path. Finding the beginning of the trail is really difficult. The one thing that stands out in this area is……bears. Lots of bears like to roam around in the Kaaterskill Mountain Range. There is a lot of water and a lot of sources of food for them like blueberries and grub. Blueberries like to grow at the higher elevations in the Catskills and the bears love them. I’ve had a bear encounter before. Would I have another on this hike? We shall see!!

The start of the hike is different. Instead of parking at a trailhead, I parked on state property right off of the street. Kind of like in a little cubby really. I could have parked at a trailhead, but that would have added almost a half a mile to the hike. This hike is also part of the Long Path in the Catskills. The Long Path is a hiking trail that is 358 miles long. Extending from New York City all the way up to the south of Albany at the John Boyd Thatcher State Park. More of the trail is being connected to the Adirondacks, making even longer.

The first part of the trail went over public roads, some private property and along Kaaterskill Creek. The locals don’t like it because some hikers are disrespectful and some aren’t even hikers at all and just roam around being idiots. There’s a lot of no parking, no trespassing signs, blockades and gates to deter people away. Nice waterfalls flow along the creek and this brings in people who don’t know the area and eventually trespass onto private property. This has caused tension between the locals and hikers. But, the public roads also offer the hikers a sort of ‘right of way’ and the locals can also be good people, offering great info like this, so the hikers can respect the area and their private property:

Looks pretty easy right? Well, not really. Following the instructions on the sign, I wound up getting lost anyway, missing the trail by at least a hundred feet. The start of the trail is tucked behind two houses and a restaurant and the trailhead sign is very small. I definitely understand why people get confused in this area. This small trail sign was a couple hundred feet from the road, making it difficult to see, but I found it!!

After the road walking, the gain in elevation began quickly and it kept the same grade almost all the way up to Poet’s Ledge. This was basically 2 miles of straight up gain in elevation. Think of it as walking up stairs, without the stairs, for two miles. All the leaves were off the trees and this area had probably been undisturbed for quite some time, making the hike up peaceful, quiet and beautiful.

After some good, steady climbing for almost 2 miles, I finally got to catch a breath at this view overlooking part of the eastern escarpment and the Hudson Valley.

In the photo, you can see the rocky areas on the mountain, which are called Indian Head Overlook to the left and the Palenville Overlook to the right.

Shortly after the view, I came upon this:

Why? Why the hell would you spray paint this on a rock in the middle of state land? Do you think you’re going to get popular with this hashtag crap? I was very, very upset about this. I took this picture and later on, I sent it to the New York State DEC, so maybe they could find out who did this and punish them for ruining this protected area. I know what people are saying: It’s just a rock. No. This is a state forest where stuff should be kept the way they were. Left alone and let mother nature do whatever it wants. Graffiti is not allowed here, nor really anywhere. Leave No Trace is the principle we hikers follow and everyone should do the same.

Not too far after the graffiti rock, the trail finally started to level off and I came upon the trail junction of the Long Path and Poet’s Ledge. I took a right and then started to descend into the beautiful pine forest that led me to Poet’s Ledge. I saw an opening in the forest and boom, there was Poets Ledge!!

This view was beautiful and it overlooked the massive Kaaterskill Clove. To be honest, I heard that it is one of the best views in the Catskills but it didn’t really impress me. Maybe it was because the leaves were off the trees? Or maybe the position of the sun wasn’t hitting the mountains right? I don’t know why, but I know that I’ll be back again and see if it gives off a little more the next time I visit.

Now all throughout Kaaterskill Clove are massive ravines that support huge, dangerous waterfalls. Some of these ravines have 60-200ft falls that are unreachable, unless you have climbing gear and are a very, very experienced climber. Beside Poet’s Ledge is the East Hillyer Ravine. I could hear the rushing water below and I knew there was a waterfall down there. I went to the left of Poet’s Ledge to check it out. The climb down was pretty risky. The rocks were wet and there were ledges all over the place, making it very tricky to climb down. I finally got close to one of the falls, but because of the angle of the falls and how steep it was, I decided to not pursue it any further and to take a picture from here. Trust me, I didn’t feel like dying today.

As you can see, It was really, really steep!! There was no way I was going to the base of that waterfall. Too risky. I would say that this waterfall was a good 50-60 feet. While I was examining the fall, I saw a little movement on the other side. I immediately knew it was a black bear!! Now, this was across the falls, about 300ft away and I could still see him/her, so it must have been a pretty good size bear. I got pictures, not the greatest, but you can definitely tell that a bear in the picture.

Massive!! I was so excited to see a black bear. Most people are scared and think that they’re going to be attacked, but I was super excited. It’s part of the mountains. This is their home and I was roaming around the property. I got a video of it on my GoPro. You can see the video HERE.

After the awesome bear encounter, I climbed further above the falls to see if there was anything else to explore and there was.

A far away view of Hillyer Falls. There are many falls along this hike, 30 or more, so the names can get confused from time to time.

A close-up view of Hillyer Falls.

After the East Hillyer Ravine, came the West Hillyer Ravine. I went from bushwhacking from the falls up to the trail that followed along the Kaaterskill Ravine. The next area to explore was the West Hillyer Ravine. I ventured on down to the first set of falls which I believe is called Viola Falls. There are more to the falls up further, but I didn’t want to pursue that today. I decided to go north and take on the lower part of the ravine. Boy, was it steep!! I can see why they urge hikers to stay away from this area. Slippery rock, crevices that can’t be seen, steep sections. Stuff that you want to stay away from, but because I love waterfalls, I kept going on.

A photo at the base of Viola Falls below.

I went to the left of Viola Falls to go on to Middle Viola Falls. Boy, was it a challenge. The climb down was super slippery, the rocks and the ledges were difficult to navigate. But I made it down alive. Would I do it again? Yes, but only with a fellow hiker. I finally got to middle Viola Falls, and it was very unique.

It is what they called a ‘flume’ waterfall. The water, over hundreds of thousands of years, has created an erosion in the rock, creating a flume for the water to shoot through. Very unique indeed. After middle Viola Falls, I decided not to approach the next set of falls any further. As you can see from the photo below, it would have been a very difficult challenge and one that could risk a life. Maybe some other time when I was with a fellow hiker.

Wow! Just look at how steep that is!! I’m guessing that that cascading fall was at least a hundred feet, maybe even more. Like I said before, I wasn’t ready to take on this today. After climbing back up the steep areas beside the waterfalls, I got back onto the trail and headed back down to where I parked. It was a great hike today. Waterfalls, a beautiful view, and a bear!!

*Originally Published on November 15, 2016 – by Stash Rusin

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