MTHS Blog

The Direct path to South Mountain
Prepared for the Mountain Top Historical Society hike of June 8, 2019

The history of trails near the Catskill Mountain House is complex. The trails grew and changed over time, and over time some were forgotten. . Paths to new destinations were developed, and as tastes changed, some paths were abandoned. During the romantic era on the mid to late 19th century the quest for the picturesque made certain sites popular. Among the most liked were the second ledge on South Mountain, Puddingstone Hall, Druid Rocks, Fairy Spring and Elvin Pass all evocative of the myths and legends so popular in the literature of the day

None of those sites are now on marked trails, yet they are reasonably easy to get to, though not necessarily easy to find. Our goal is to go off-trail to some, perhaps all, of these sites as well as sites like The Sphinx, Eagle Rock, and Boulder Rock along the existing trail. At times we may experience a sense of the picturesque and perhaps the sublime. (see: https://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/19th-century-landscape-the-pastoral-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime)

From Pine Orchard, the site of the Catskill Mountain House, we will ascend through the woods, itself picturesque, to three picturesque highlights.

Right click on images enlarge them.

The Second Ledge which was called “The Lemon Squeezer” by stereographer J. Loeffler. We don’t know for sure whether the trail approached from the west requiring hikers to pass through one of two narrow passages, or from the east to a view emphasizing the path up the ledge they were about to climb. Most views are from the east. The 200 year history of the Kaaterskill region as a vacation destination has generated many names for area locations. The same location in different guidebooks, stereographs, souvenir booklets, and worse of all, postcards can have different names, and the same name can be given to different locations. The name Lemon Squeezer was used in guidebooks by Walton Van Loan and Samuel Rusk for a crevice near Fairy Spring at the top of South Mountain which they also called Elvin Pass.  Whatever it was called, the site is virtually unchanged. The imaginative hike can seem to be accompanied by 19th century Mountain House guests.

The foggy conditions on the day of this photograph taken in late May of 2019 may give us a sense of the picturesque. Climbing up what seems to be a natural route, we will have to exert a bit of effort to reach the top of the second ledge. From here, after fighting our way through a tangle of branches we will see what certainly was the original 19th century to the next ledge.

Here in front of us is Puddingstone Hall. Puddingstone is a colloquial name for conglomerate, a rock made of pebbles held together in a sandy matrix. The rock, and the others on South Mountain, are sedimentary this one formed in flowing water able to carry the larger pebbles which ultimately mixed with sand and minerals cementing them into rock.

This photo pf Puddingstone Hall, taken on the same day as the previous one is another reason to not let rain or fog keep you out of the woods. Before we come back and climb through this crevice,we will walk along the bottom of the ledge and explore our next stop.

Druid Rocks are a short distance west of Puddingstone Hall. An 1863 “Guide to Rambles from the Catskill Mountain House” makes no mention of this site, but by 1879 they are prominently mentioned in Van Loan’s Catskill Mountain Guide. Here Walton Van Loan tells us we will see “several detached rocks of conglomerate, one of which resembles a gigantic toad or rabbit, according to the position from which you observe it. The Harry Fenn illustration depicts the area.

The remainder of our hike will be on the state trail. We will see The Sphinx, a ledge on South Mountain, "Bowlder Rock" and imagine a time when there were steps that made climbing it easier, perhaps descend through Fat Man's Delight to The Natural Bridge, and consider the traces of a glacier that helped shape the area over 20,000 years ago.  Options to see Fairy Spring, Elvin Pass and Star Rock at the top of South Mountain are also possible.