Putnam County Highpoint Trip Report

four areas on Scofield Ridge (1,540+ ft)

Date: May 31, 2000
Author: Dan Case

Mike Schwartz used the more convenient approach, from the east. This western approach is a candidate for those of you who've expressed an interest in doing a CHP starting at sea level (and, I also think, a little bit more scenic yet more complicated). In this case that would be the Beacon Metro North station, right on the Hudson River. I suppose you could go down to it and dunk a boot in it to be positive -- tides don't make it anymore than 5' at best. From there, you would walk up Ferry Street to NY 9D, then cross at the nearby traffic light to walk Main Street across downtown Beacon. At Fishkill Creek it curves to the north a bit, then crosses railroad tracks and then the creek itself, above some lovely waterfalls. It becomes East Main Street and the neighborhood becomes more residential as it climbs slowly, North Beacon Mountain and its towers getting more prominent in the eastern sky. After DePuyster Avenue it climbs a bit more seriously, and a short ways thereafter unpaved Pocket Road forks off to the right. You can legally drive it to the red gate near the city water tank, where I managed to park. Three white dots on a nearby tree mark one end of the Fishkill Ridge Trail. This is a 1.5 mile walk from the train station (according to the New York Walk Book) and approximately 600' above sea level.

It goes into the woods along Dry Brook (which wasn't and never will be, since it drains Beacon Reservoir higher up) and climbs along it, through a very diverse forest marked by many hemlocks blown down or dying from adelgid infestation. After 0.7 mile, it crosses the brook below a series of steep cascades, then follows (still using either white blazes or plastic disks) a tributary for a few hundred feet, crosses it, and ascends viaswitchbacks into a tall hemlock grove, well-trashed because here it crosses the well-used main road to Beacon Reservoir. Officially, it's closed and Scenic Hudson, the environmental group which owns most of this land, forbids motorized use, but ATV tracks were much in evidence. I chose to leave the trail at this point and follow the road up to the reservoir. When its dam came into view, I found a rockier, older-looking road to the north that I figured was the unmarked trail shown going around the reservoir on New York/New Jersey Trail Conference East of Hudson Map #3.

It did indeed follow the shoreline, resulting in some nice vistas of North and South Beacon reflecting on its waters, and there were some pink flowers on the mountain laurel. However, I followed the route I thought I remembered, not the one actually shown on the map (which continues to bend around the lake until it meets up with my next goal, the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail across the ridge, at about the county line). This led to me following a faint herd path and stream bed until I realized I'd made a mistake, then bushwhacking to meet the trail on its way up one of the bumps. If it weren't for the blazes, I would have missed it, really. Scofield Ridge tends to get bypassed by day hikers in favor of the more accessible Breakneck, Taurus and the Beacons, and so the trail was very light. The cairns on the open rock stretches were in disrepair, too. But they were enough to guide me up to the top of the third area from the south (which, following the example of Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire, I will refer to as C). The cross Michael found is too obvious to miss, yet curiously it isn't on the actual high point of the bump, which offered an OK view to the A and B bump and South Beacon.

I checked the map, ate most of an old Power Bar and wanted to kick myself for not consulting the former beforehand, as I would have organized my loop so no retraversing would be necessary. Now I would have to go back across this bump, which didn't seem like a fun prospect as I descended quite a few open-rock slopes right down from C. The trail then leveled out for a hundred yards or so, but then dropped into the muddy low point of the col, and then began climbing seriously.

From C, I could see that B had an expansive open area at the top and when I reached it I knew I had to have lunch. Its large yellow cross isn't on the exact highest ground either. But oh the view -- everything to the south and west (i.e., the rest of Putnam County) is below you, with Taurus, Breakneck and Sunset Point slowly dropping down to the Hudson where, despite the haze, Storm King rose right up again on the other side, with Schunemunk and the Black Rock Forest beyond. Closer, of course, was the lookout tower on the highest point in the Hudson Highlands (at least on this side of the river) South Beacon (actually, since Schunemunk is distinct from the Highlands geologically, South Beacon is probably the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands), the radio towers and other paraphernalia on North Beacon (fun to see from this rear angle when I have so often looked up from the streets of Newburgh, across the river) and Fishkill and Downstate prisons nestled next to the Hudson River in a gap between them and the other bumps of the ridge. It was too hazy for anything but the dimmest view of the Shawangunks, though, and the Catskills were out of the question.

This sure feels like a highpoint should, and may well be. Looking around from the top of the highest rock, I confirmed my guess from C: A doesn't measure up. Mike said he couldn't really find it; I think it doesn't exist. In any case B is definitely higher -- I think, in fact, that a more accurate survey of this area would establish B as closer to 1,555' due to the rocks sticking up. I heard a fire horn blow 6 p.m. in the valley on the east, so it was time to go (yes, this was an afternoon trip). Back at C I eyeballed the highest rock on B and I think it is higher, but had no level to back that up with. Nor time -- D is a bit of a haul, requiring some short rock face scrambles as the trail veers over to the other side of the ridge and its steep drop-off. After that, the trail drew up alongside it for a while so I picked the highest points I could see in its southern half and went up to them, not that far off the trail. There were no views available and I did not find Mike's third yellow cross.

However, I'd also like to be sure that it's in Putnam County. The line would be easy to spot, as the Putnam side is privately owned while Scenic Hudson (which posts vigorously near the trailhead) owns the Dutchess side. Had there been posting I would have worked up along the line. But there wasn't, so there was no way to be sure.

I passed a few more viewpoints as I worked my way on down, through areas where even the Walk Book admits the trail gets confusing. I reached an old woods road, finally, in the col with Lambs Hill (a cairn marks the junction). The trail goes right there to where Mike started up; I went left, without any markers, eventually coming back after half a mile to the junction of the reservoir road and the Fishkill Ridge Trail, which led 1.1 mile back to my car. (I don't recommend using the woods road to start the trip to the ridge, even though it is easy to follow and on the map, as it's muddy and the trail sections in question are steep and rutted by frequent illegal ATV use and don't offer much in the way of views. You'll feel more rewarded by getting to B or C first and hitting D on the way back.)

This can (and should) be done without the bushwhack, by paying closer attention to the map than I did, but you might want to do it anyway just for fun. Also, round it out by going to the South Beacon observation tower (which I might have done had I more time -- you can see all three bumps on Scofield right in front of you).