Sometimes it is the feel of a place that makes it so special. It may be easy to appreciate waterfalls or vistas, but to explore a place few others have been and feel the cycles of life that it harbors is just as rewarding.
We returned to SGL 57, and this time the goal was an area north of Stony Brook where a prong of the plateau juts out, west of Flat Top. Since it doesn’t have a name, I’ll just call it Middle Top for the sake of reference. I first hiked this area almost two years ago when we traversed the eastern rim of Middle Top. There were no stand-out views, but even then I know it was special. The deep forests, pristine springs, carpets of moss, and countless caves and crevices along the rim of rock outcrops created a realm where nature seemed to take precedence over man. It felt primeval, silent.
On this hike we walked up along Stony Brook through a few inches of snow. We finally reached near the top and left the trail to begin the bushwhack. We were soon greeted by deep spruce and hemlock forests. While spruce is somewhat common up here, it was a pleasure to see so much hemlock. We spied what seemed to be an opening, but it was a bog. We continued south into a mysterious hemlock grove. The wildlife was amazing. We saw bear tracks and countless coyote tracks; in places they trampled the snow down with all their tracks. We felt as if we were being watched. But the snow revealed all that lived here.
Ahead were some ledges with deep cracks that we scaled to reach a bald surrounded by spruce and hemlock. Mountain laurel guarded the edges. Everything was dusted with snow or glazed with ice. As we hiked through the ice-covered laurel, it sounded as if we were crushing glass. The bald was beautiful. It was so isolated and quiet. Pebbles and rocks dotted the surface as the deep, green forest surrounded us. It was a hidden place, undisturbed by man. We felt as if were hundreds of miles from anywhere.
We hiked along the bald along groves of spruce and hemlock. Our hike soon returned us to the forest. We tried to cross a swamp, but it was impenetrable. The forests revealed another, smaller bald where we got a bite to eat. The sun began to fight through the clouds.
I decided we needed to head south to find the rim of the plateau, and we were treated to another hemlock forest. A rim of ledges soon came into view, accompanied by the sound of water. I was surprised that a creek would be flowing this far up the mountain, and it was a decent sized stream. I followed the creek into a beautiful grotto of boulders and hemlocks to see a ten foot cascade dressed with icicles. The forest revealed a long ledge wall with caves and crevices. I even walked up through one of the caves.
The sun finally broke through the clouds as we reached a cliff with deep crevices and a partial view through the trees. This is the point we reached on our last hike. Thick, stunted hemlock trees grew behind us.
We decided to return along the stream we had discovered. This unnamed creek descended steeply with many cascades. We crossed under a forest of bare hardwoods, with some very large trees. The creek became steeper as we inched our way down the steep slope. There were some larger falls that were over ten feet high. We soon retraced our steps at Stony Brook.
A walk back to the car followed. Unlike most of our hikes, we weren’t walking back in the dark. As we drove back home, the primeval forests of Middle Top were high above us, cast in the shadows of a winter afternoon.
Location of the bald.