It’s April. In years past, I would be spending the afternoon outside in a t shirt and jeans, enjoying the sunshine and looking forward to the summer. But it’s barely above fifty degrees out and it has been grey and rainy for months on months and anyone who says they aren’t going a little stir crazy is lying.
After snow on Saturday, Sunday dawned bright and clear – if not warm – and was inviting enough to get us out of the house. I opted to go wander through the land that makes up the Minnewaska State Park preseve. Specifically, I decided to revisit Shaft IIA, a local hike that was one of my very first when I moved to area years ago.
Shaft IIA is the perfect hike for beginners, or for those who are simply looking for the best return on their time. It was my son’s very first hike ever – I brought him along at three years old, and it remains an important memory for both of us. If you’re looking for a beautiful walk with great nature, and an outstanding waterfall, Shaft IIA won’t disappoint.
This is a quick hike that doesn’t require much from you physically, especially if you choose to embark when the ground isn’t covered in snow. In my quest to hike 500 miles this year, this one only clocks in around 2, but it makes up for it with a waterfall and birch trees.
Even in this lingering winter, the waterfall was what motivated me. I was hoping that it would be just as ice covered and frosty as everything else around it. That would mean the opportunity for some awesome photographs, and a different look at an already impressive waterfall.
I had figured we wouldn’t need microspikes for the trail. We didn’t, but they certainly only would have helped. The intermittent thaws had caused the trail to be slick and slippery. By the time I got there, the slickness was giving way to slush, but there were still patches that were more skating that hiking.
Before we even made it to the falls, the quest for ice was met with success. Huge sheets of frozen water lined the rock walls of the cut out that makes up the area around Shaft IIA. It looked almost like water moving super fast over the edge, but was totally still.
The desire to get closer and get better shots lead to me siding up the incline off the trail, and that was when spikes would have been most helpful. Using trees and three points of contact, I got closer to the ice and got out the camera.
With the temperatures finally above freezing, the forest was full of the sound of melting and run off. It was loud enough that it sounded like it was raining at times. Water dripped off of ever icicle. The weight of some of the large slabs of frozen water was too much for the thaw, and occasionally chunks came tumbling off the wall with the crash of small glaciers.
I considered the relative damage falling ice could cause, and looking at how many more shots I could just get if I got a little closer. Every time the ice cracked, all I could think of was watching an actual glacier calve in Patagonia, and being in total awe of the destruction. And the noise.
After watching a slab tumble and crack down the side of the rock and slide a hundred feet down the hill, I stepped back. By that point I had trekked out to the actual falls, where the sound of running water drowned out the melt.
The falls themselves were gorgeous, with frozen water cascading down to piles of snow that smothered the moving river underneath. It looked both peaceful and deadly, the line between frozen earth and frozen water completely obscured from view. Tracks lined the ground and traversed across the more frozen strips of water. Clearly, some people had gotten better shots than I was willing to attempt.
The afternoon was in full swing and the sun danced through the woods. It cast light across all the rock walls, lighting up the striations and layers throughout. It was peaceful and serene, and felt like a front row seat to the changing of the season.
After enjoying the fall and listening to some more tumbling ice, it was time to trek back to the parking area and the car. I took a leisurely route, stopping to shoot photos of the trees and the little places where the stream was visible through the snow. Once I was back in the open fields, I found myself preoccupied with snapping shots of White Birch trees, my absolute favorite tree.
An easy hike with only a few moments of balance required, Shaft IIA didn’t disappoint for an easy way to bust out of the house and get a cure for cabin fever. With sunnier days and longer hikes on the horizon, this was perfect for my weekend. If you’re in the area and want a beautiful walk in the woods with a great waterfall year around – Shaft IIA should be on your list.
Coming up later in the week, I will recap my recent visit to the coast. Cape Cod in the off season might even be more fun than during the height of the summer. Not many mountains, but there was still good hiking to be had, and great photographs.