Father, daughter, and grandkids explore Castle Rock and Blue Mountain Lake in adventure for all ages
By Leigh Hornbeck
It was a family hike, and I was behind my father on the trail. I am faster and I could’ve passed him, but I didn’t. What if he fell, and I wasn’t there to help him up?
It was like a switch had been flipped. I was the child looking after the parent, instead of the other way around. It was something I’d never felt before.
It should be said that my father, despite his age (seventy-five) and two knee replacements, doesn’t need looking after. He will be annoyed when he finds out the thought even crossed my mind. There’s nothing fragile about my dad. On the day of the hike, he had dried blood on one hand from a dog bite and hadn’t bothered to wash it off.
The hike, up Castle Rock in Blue Mountain Lake in July, was a big deal for us. Dad was an avid hiker for years until his knees deteriorated and the pain forced him to stop. He still did a lot of things—biking, paddling, fishing, and camping—but hiking was off limits. Last fall, he had his second knee replaced, and by spring he was ready to hike with two bionic knees. He was on the trail with me and my sons, Rushton, who is eight, and Devlin, who is six, for the first time.
We chose Castle Rock from the book Kids on the Trail, a guide for hiking with children in the Adirondacks. The description promised a great view of my favorite water body, Blue Mountain Lake, as well as caves to explore. There are two routes to the summit: one is only a mile one way, but steep; the other is four miles round-trip. We chose the shorter route. The elevation gain is 640 feet, so although it is tiring for little legs, it’s not an overly tough climb. The trail is well-marked and popular. We went in the afternoon and passed many hiking parties coming down, including a group of twenty-eight from two nearby summer camps, Baco and Che-Na-Wah. There were other families on the trail, including a heavily pregnant woman and a man who was carrying a toddler on his shoulders and a child on his back. I told them they were tough parents. I didn’t start hiking with my children until they could walk the trails themselves.
The caves are near the top, formed by falling boulders that crashed together in just the right way to create cool, dark recesses where my children imagined bears sleep in the winter. All of us, my dad included, wriggled up and over and through crevices to explore the caves on the way up and then revisited them on the way down.
The view from the top is gorgeous, especially on a clear day. Blue Mountain Lake is dotted with islands and surrounded by dense forest. But the summit is a small clearing on a cliff. I was nervous the whole time that my children were going to trip and roll off the edge to their deaths. We didn’t stick around long. I knew the trail had one more gift for us.
It was hot the day of our hike, and I was determined to swim. On our way down, we took a spur trail marked with “LAKE” painted on a tree alongside an arrow. It’s hard to miss, so I was surprised we had a tiny beach all to ourselves, still on state land. Along the way, the boys and I discussed the merits of swimming in freshwater (my preference) as opposed to a chlorinated backyard pool.
“But Mommy, fish poop in there.”
“Of course they do. They live there. Lots of animals poop and pee in the water. It’s a big lake, and the water dilutes the poop and pee.”
“OK, but what if a fish swam over your head and pooped?”
“I doubt that would happen, buddy, but if it does, I’m OK with it.”
My father rested on shore while my boys and I changed into swimwear and went into the shallow water. There were slippery rocks on the bottom; we would have been better off with water shoes on, but I hadn’t wanted to carry them.
Swimming is glorious following a sweaty hike. My boys decided they wanted to live there, on that very spot, and devised a plan for the shelter they would build and told me I’d have to hike out for the mail each day.
My father was tired and sore the next day, but he’s looking forward to another hike with us, and I’m looking forward to having three generations on the trail once again.