Rensselaer County High Point Trip Report

Berlin Mtn (859 meters, 2,818 ft)

Date: November 7, 2001
Author: Dan Case

In addition to being the county highpoint, this is the highest peak in New York outside of the Adirondacks and Catskills.

I took the Thruway up to I-787 south of Albany, then that to 23rd Street in Watervliet where I was able to pick up NY 2 east to cross the Hudson to Troy, then out into the countryside of the western Berkshires past Grafton Lakes State Park to Petersburg. (If coming up via the Taconic Parkway, you might want to exit just before the Thruway's Berkshire/Mass Pike extension at NY 295 and take that east to New Lebanon, where you can pick up NY 22 north to Petersburg.) Coming off the Grafton plateau, you get a nice, dramatic view of the ridge ahead, capped by the peak, which looks a lot higher than its height would suggest.

Several miles past the NY 22 overpass, after a lengthy climb, the road reaches Petersburg Pass before descending into MA. The Taconic Crest Trail crosses at height of land in the pass, at an elevation of roughly 2,200 feet. This is marked by the dramatic, windswept trailhead lot on the south side of the road. I am happy to report that the Department of Environmental Conservation has bought a lot of land here in the last couple of years to create Taconic Ridge State Forest and has begun to do some work, so the trailhead confusion reported in Gary Fallesen's book and other trip reports is no more. The misleading "Taconic Crest Trail" painted on a rock next to a ski trail is gone, and official blue DEC disks point you to the actual starting point at the lot's right rear, where the old jeep road to the fire tower, formerly on the mountain, begins. The HP is 2.7 miles from here, a distance made easier by a total gross vertical gain along the ridge of around a thousand feet or so.

You immediately pass a view over the Dayfoot Brook valley you climbed up, courtesy of what looks like an old downhill ski trail. Then another such clearing with no view and the register pops up. After some slight undulation, a sharply eroded section of road begins the hike's steepest climb, to a shoulder of Mt Raimer.

Once atop it, the trail leaves state land after a brief drop and the blue discs end, replaced by less frequent white plastic diamonds. While it always remains obvious, there is one confusing moment right where it begins to descend into Berlin Pass. I had the fortune of having leaves down and tracks to follow, but several other people have reported getting misdirected at this junction, so when you come to it remember to take the right fork which goes downhill. This shortly leads you into open areas from which the entire rest of the route will become visible, and also on a day like this the wind is relentless. The blazing is practically nonexistent through here. This becomes a little problematic at the pass, where puddles that in some cases look well on their way to becoming permanent ponds have forced the ATVers and other users of this trail to create multiple forks. If you don't mind getting nice cement-colored mud on your boots, these can, for the most part, be gotten around easily.

At the pass, a state land corridor comes in on one side, obvious from the line of yellow blazes in the nearby woods, although the trail is not yet within it. That comes about halfway up the ensuing climb, after some more huge muddy puddles. Along this part I met a group from the Taconic Hiking Club coming the other way. One of them had a GPS on a stick and they were doing a shuttle trip up from Southeast Hollow with a trace to better depict the trail on a forthcoming map. I explained during the attendant conversation that I was headed for Berlin as it was the high point of the county, and one fellow got curious and asked me about some of the other counties in the state. Namely, Long Island. He didn't imagine there being much elevation down there, and was surprised when I told him the high points of all four counties on the island (only one of which I've done so far) are between 220 and 400 feet. I explained the concept of a terminal moraine in case he wasn't aware of it.

Light snow cover became uniform in the woods, a northern hardwood forest which pleasantly evoked the Catskills (save for the slippery Taconic conglomerate in the deeply eroded roadbed), a reminder that fall runs a month ahead of schedule in this area of the country at this elevation. The hike began to climb steadily but moderately as I began the final slope up the mountain. Red spruce began to appear quite a bit in the surrounding woods, though never enough to sufficiently borealize the forest although the trees were beginning to get a little shorter and more stunted. As the road finally leveled out to reach the summit, the spruce became higher and almost dominated the forest around it (they can be seen doing so from a long way off, so I wasn't quite surprised). Then I reached the clearing and old fire tower foundations. Highest ground here is one of several bumps to the east. I also dropped slightly off the summit in that direction, down the less-used, narrower Williams Trail (again unsigned, other a DEC reminder that motorized vehicles are prohibited) a couple of hundred feet to the state line, marked only by DEC's yellow blazes. Walking this back to the southwest to where it sort of crests the mountain will put you on the highest point on the NY- MA state line, and indeed any of NY's boundaries, if you're interested.

After doing that, I returned to the summit for lunch. The view here is indeed fantastic. I looked at Greylock sprawled out to the east, which I haven't yet climbed, and immediately wanted to (or at least write a lengthy novel about someone with a mad obsession who drags a whole bunch of others to their deaths trying to satisfy it). The panorama also yields much of nearby regions of Vermont and NY state, despite that day's rather low cloud ceiling. I could easily imagine that on a good enough day the Catskills would be visible to the southwest. I think this would be an interesting exercise, to list all the other HPs one could see from here. I'm not sure if the view south extends as far as Brace and Alander.