Friday morning hike: Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack, New York

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My wife Sarah and child Genevieve are in Texas for a few days because of a family emergency. Last night, while talking on the phone, Sarah said since spring was finally showing up Friday, I should go hiking. I thought about it. I kind of forgot about it.

Then I woke up at 7 a.m., earlier than usual when I’m alone, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I tried, but no, I wasn’t sleeping. “Alright,” I said, “I’m hiking.”

I drove 18 minutes from home to Nyack Beach State Park to summit Hook Mountain, a peak I hadn’t yet tackled but certainly see all the time. Hook juts out into the Hudson River, causing the tidal estuary to curve northwesterly as it continues toward the highlands. The original name for the mountain was Verdrietige Hook, which in Dutch means “tedious point,” a worrisome obstacle for sailors attempting to navigate northward. Thus it’s an important piece of the Hudson Valley landscape, both aesthetically and historically. And thanks to the hard work of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Hook Mountain is navigable for hikers via an easy-to-moderate trail that quickly ascends the sometimes rocky slope.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference suggests blocking off three-and-a-half hours for this six-mile hike that begins at the parking area of Nyack Beach State Park; I knocked it out in two. Your time may vary.

The hike began with one of the most annoying things about a hike: having to walk more than a few feet to the trailhead. Yes, that’s not really a big deal, but it’s always nice to be able to park your car close to the trailhead. Moreover, once I met up with the white blazes of this entry trail, I had to walk through a residential neighborhood for about 10 minutes. Again, not a big deal, but it’s slightly weird to walk past two-level Cape Cods in order to get to the woods.

But once I reached the woods, I felt entirely more at home as I absorbed the first true spring day of the year. The temperature in New York was finally rising over 50 degrees on this Friday, and by late afternoon we’d reach the 70s. It was incredible. But this morning it was still slightly brisk, though I didn’t care, even if I was wearing just a t-shirt and shorts (I really can’t negotiate my clothing choices once I know the 70s are ahead). As I wound through the woods behind rural residences, and found myself eye to eye with a trashed television (come on, humanity), I started to remember why I love the Hudson Valley so much. Winter can really pester me, but once the sun emerges and the days grow longer, this hilly wonderland sings.

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After a brief ascent the trail ran into the teal-blazed Long Path, which crosses through southeastern New York like a miniature Appalachian Trail. I turned right to take the Long Path uphill on a slightly more arduous dirt climb. It was fine. Nice to get in shape again. About 45 minutes after starting the hike I climbed a couple more times on rocks to reach the summit of Hook Mountain. With trees still relatively bare I could see way out to the Tappan Zee Bridge and beyond. To the north was Rockland Lake and the Hudson Highands. I ate some grapes. I texted my wife: “I went hiking!” I meditated. Felt good.

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From there the Long Path continued down the mountain, and all the way down, until I got confused by switchbacks and nearly ran myself off the mountain. Two hours into the hike the Long Path reached the floor, a street where I turned right to take a paved road way back to the parking lot.

And this is where the Hook Mountain hike shines. The paved road descended a bit more until it reached water level, and soon I found myself against the Hudson River. To the right were the high cliffs of the Hook ridge, colored in bronze and burgundy, silver and mud thanks to its former life as a quarry site. To the left was the river, wide and still gray, but shimmering in the cold morning light. A few joggers and dog walkers passed and exchanged greetings. All of us seemed elated that spring had arrived.

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The paved walk lasted for close to two miles. I wasn’t sure when it would end, as it curves just slightly around rocks so I couldn’t tell what was ahead. Just more open space. More river views. More people. More happiness.

After two-and-a-half hours I reached the car once again. Women were readying a big dog walk. Cars were parking for daytime activities. I would head back home for a few hours of work. It was Friday morning. I got to hike. I felt great.

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