Dutchess County High Point Trip Report

Brace Mountain (2,311 ft)

Date: June 10, 2000
Author: Dan Case

Rather than start from the usual trailhead for Frissell, near the CT/MA line, I chose the South Taconic Trail, which has the advantage of beginning on a more accessible and paved road and having plenty of views on the way. It has the disadvantage, however, of going up a very steep section along a waterfall between 0.3-0.5 mile, then up some rocky switchbacks.

If you didn't go this way in doing the CT HP, or you just want to really challenge yourself, try this route. I must say that it was an interesting drive from where I live. Past Millbrook on US 44, Dutchess County seems to have only the name in common with the well-settled strip along the Hudson from Hyde Park to Beacon that I'm most familiar with. It becomes much more open and rolling, more like the rest of upstate New York, with vistas over valleys that could easily swallow up Poughkeepsie and its suburbs (such as they are) with room to spare. Not to mention the hazy sunlight which gave the landscape a slightly unreal quality.

The trailhead can be reached by following NY 22 north from Millerton to Dutchess County 62, White House Crossing Road. About a half-mile down, at a T-intersection, Dutchess 68, Rudd Pond Road, goes off to the left. From here the ridgeline can be seen and is somewhat intimidating, given its relatively low height.

It cuts a somewhat narrow, winding course about a mile or so up to Quarry Run road on the right. Just before a cul-de-sac, Deer Park Road leaves from the left. The trailhead is on the left a few bends up, just past a big field, opposite the house at No.102.

The trail itself starts off gently, along the edge of the field, but even there it was hot. It got a little better in the woods, but then the trail begins to climb, first gently but very soon steeply past a tumbling brook. At least the cascade at the top was worth the climb and made for some nice pictures. Then it begins to switch back across some exposed areas with views across the valley and down what you have just climbed. This was almost as taxing, and I stopped atop the ridge where a tributary stream crosses the trail and filtered some water and finished off an old PowerBar (In retrospect I should have had more).

A couple with a dog came by, and just ahead, it turned out, was a nice deep pool next to a very small but beautiful garden-size waterfall where the dog couldn't get enough of the water. This is an excellent place to stop and refill, but I'm not sure how reliable it is in very dry weather. (It certainly helps that we had record rainfall earlier in the week.)

I continued along the level ridge, still feeling the effects of the heat, especially when the trail took its many crossings of open rock areas, where you felt it coming both from above and below. The intervening forest patches were charming, but the lower trees within offered less effective shelter then the taller trees down below.

The toll it took on me was apparent as the ascent up South Brace began. Normally I wouldn't complain about a stair-step climb of about 500 vertical feet or so, but I began wishing every rock face I crossed would be the last, and stopping more and more frequently and sipping water. Perhaps people from the Southwest would feel at home ... I'm certainly not used to this.

Finally, I just had to take my pack off and imbibe more water, plus some of my diluted orange juice that I carry along on hot days as a cheaper alternative to sports drinks, and wash it off with peanuts and a Pop Tart. I seriously considered quitting as I saw a couple of other people go back down with considerably less gear than I was carrying. I haven't felt this bad since the first time I tried to climb Peekamoose Mountain, when the weather was similar, but then I was genuinely unprepared.

I did start to feel better, although I decided that if going from South Brace to Brace was anything like this (which I didn't expect it to be) I was going to call it a day.

Fortunately, the trail did begin to level, and soon enough I was atop South Brace with splendid views south to Riga Lake and Grass Pond. There were stronger breezes up here, but they were not persistent enough to mitigate the merciless heating element in the empty blue sky above.

Beginning to drop down, I could see the cairn on Brace. The col looked like I could take it, but I now wasn't so sure about going on to Frissell.

There were no surprises, and the climb up began almost as smoothly as the climb down had ended. Very soon I was again in the open, bald-like areas of low scrub oak and mountain laurel that top these mountains.

I left my pack a few hundred feet short of the summit in one of those areas, and indeed I made it to the cairn for more pictures, finishing the metropolitan counties of the Hudson Valley (although from here, looking over Dutchess County to the southeast, the idea of it being commuter country seemed absurd even though some people actually come from as far away as Great Barrington to catch trains).

The views to Frissell and Bear are impressive from here, and, inspecting the gentler gap between Round and Frissell, I resolved to come that way next time, where going to Alander wouldn't be quite as ambitious. Everett's towers were barely visible in the haze, and I caught no trace of the Catskills to the west for the same reason. (Would that I hiked there instead, into summits of shadier balsam fir, with parking lots at the elevation I was now at!)

Ron Tagliapietra, in his report, mentions a faint path to the true summit behind the cairn. I didn't see one, but he was there in November when it might be more easily glimpsed, much less followed, through the dense brush. In any event I was already too exhausted to really care.

I went back to my pack and had lunch, savoring the view over NW CT's wild corner. Descending was easier yet still somewhat arduous, and filling up with more water at the pool was not only welcome but necessary.

After getting back to the car I took the long way, through Copake Falls into MA then down into CT again, scouting out the long dirt road mentioned in so many CT HP reports. The hike may be easier, but the drive probably isn't.

How hot was it? When I reached Poughkeepsie again at dusk, some bank thermometers were still reading in the upper 80s.