Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunnyside Up

     Goose Egg State Forest is the poor stepchild of the five DEC units in southern Washington County. It's the smallest and it has no streams or wetlands. It's a little hard to find and there isn't really a trailhead - just a sign and enough space to park a couple of cars. Then you're on your own. Maybe that's why it's one of my favorite places. With a sense of adventure and a little effort you can have this island in the sky pretty much all to yourself.
     On a recent cold, clear February afternoon I spent a few hours exploring here and saw nary a sign of another person. There are several ways to access the forest but I like the approach from Cambridge Village out thru Ashgrove. The road twines with sparkling White Creek as it heads up valley. Just past the intersection with McKie Hollow Road you get your first look at Goose Egg Ridge, a striking wooded prow rising almost 1000 feet above the level of the stream. The road eventually crosses into Vermont and dead ends in Black Hole Hollow. I believe this is where the gravitational waves that have physicists in such a tizzy originate. Einstein would love it here.

     Fortunately you take a left onto Bates Road before disappearing into the Black Hole. Look for an impressive stone wall fronting a large white house, turn and head up the dirt road to its end. As you ascend look to your left to see your destination from a different angle. The ridge presents a steep side with the top looking like a camels back on steroids. There are four or five humps along its spine, the namesake goose eggs.

     After climbing Bates Road for a couple of miles you'll reach a snowplow turn around (don't even think of parking here!), several driveways (don't even consider blocking these!), a DEC sign and a woods road on the left. This is where you pull in and find a spot, ever thankful you spent those extra thousands for four wheel drive. Bates Road sort of continues on up the hill but any vehicle that doesn't want to end up in the emergency room should stop here.

     Writing a step by step trail guide is not on my "to do" list, so I'ld advise bringing a map and self-reliance. Since you'll probably want to get up on the ridge top, the trick is to find a route where the contour lines get a little breathing room between them, thus avoiding the wicked steepest slopes. I followed old skid roads up into a bowl, then climbed left for a mercifully short scramble to the first egg. On the way is an open hardwood forest laced with old stonewalls and sprinkled with gleaming chunks of quartz. Some of these white rocks are covered with dark green moss and the color contrast is striking. There are ledges of phyllite and a tiny trickle of cold water, one of many small headwater streams that feed White Creek.

     Once on top, take a minute to orient yourself. To the north and downslope a couple of hundred feet is the Folded Rock Trail. It starts from near the intersection of Rt. 313 and Eagleville Road. This is a longer, steeper alternative route with much more climbing. Some have suggested that the Folded Rock Trail be extended up and along Goose Egg Ridge. That would be OK, but really not necessary. The woods here are open and the walking easy with little chance of getting lost, trail or not.
     Turning south, you're looking down the length of the ridge. It's only a mile or so long and with all its eggs in a row there's a summit and dip pattern resembling a gentle roller coaster. You could think of the ridge as a canoe turned upside down, albeit one that has seen too much whitewater. Walk down the keel towards the narrowing bow at the far end. Don't go off either side or you'll tumblehome.
     There are low ledges exhibiting the typical, intensely folded pattern of Taconic rock. To the west is Snake Ridge, a little lower in elevation, and to the east are the higher peaks of Equinox, Red and Grass Mountains. The maple-ash-oak forest is pleasant if unspectacular. Surprisingly, when ecologist Neil Pederson cored  some of these trees he found individuals in the 200 to 300 year old range. They qualify as old growth, protected from logging by their inaccessibility.

Grass Mountain from Goose Egg Ridge

     Finally, there's a pleasing sense of anticipation and arrival as the ridge drops down to a crow's nest perched high above the White Creek valley. An attractive chunk of contorted ledge ceremoniously marks the spot. It's enough to give you goose bumps.  

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