Chapter 13 - Wonders of Nature
They are not as famous as Whiteface Mountain, but more people see the Noses in one day than see Whiteface in a year.These highland landmarks have loomed over the Mohawk Valley ever sincethey were separated by a glacial torrent that erupted from the collapse of a colossal natural dam 25 miles upstream. For some 9,000 years the Noses have overlooked the travels of the valley's earliest inhabitants, invading war parties, armies, settlers . . . and a nation moving west.
Funny thing, except for the few people who live nearby and some students of Mohawk Valley history, hardly anyone knows the Noses. Yet, every day New Yorkers and cross-state travelers pass between the Noses when they: drive the NYS Thruway, Route5 or Route5S, ride the railroad, or boat down the Mohawk River and ErieCanal. All of these routes of travel pass through this impressive valley constriction just east of Canajoharie and west of Fonda.
The Mohawk River/Erie Canal, railroad, NewYork State Thruway, and Routes 5 and 5S all pass through the gap betweenthe Noses. Looking west, Little Nose is on the left, Big Nose on the right.
Discovery: We Climbed to the Top of Little Nose
April 20, 2000 - Partly Sunny, 55 degrees
I wanted to discover the Noses the way many of the valley's early visitors discovered them; by climbing up from the valley floor. Considering all the rain (and snow) we had in the Spring of 2000, April 20 wasa spectacular day. About 55 degrees and partly sunny. Ideal climbing weather.I had read that there were rattlesnakes among the rocks, so it seemed likea good idea to visit the area on a cool day when snakes are inactive. I didn't tell my daughter, Bridget about the snakes when we drove down Route 5S. After all, no self-respecting snake would be out and about in this kind of weather.
It was 10:30 a.m. when I parked the car east of Little Nose, near the recycle center, and crossed Lasher Creek on the oldrailroad bridge. My plan was to hike up the valley of the little stream that flows from the ridgetop into Lasher. On the topo map it looked like the easiest route to the top. Unfortunately, topo maps don't show such obstacles as fallen trees, vines and other impassable undergrowth of which there were plenty, so I chose the path of least obstruction but with considerably more incline.We walked west on the railroad bed to a road that led into the woods to an old dump where we started the 400-foot climb to the top.
There were no leaves on the trees, but skunk cabbage grew profusely near the bottom, and rocks and logs were covered with dark green moss, emphasizing the dampness of this north-facing slope. Most ofthe trees in this area were maple and hemlock.
It was 11 a.m. when we stopped for a much needed rest about halfway up. I'm used to walking up hills but this almost-straight-up climb took my 60+ year old breath away. I was breathing so hard and the "look on my face" so intense that Bridget thought she was going to have to give me mouth to mouth.
As we sat on a couple of comfortable rocks, we could hear a train on the other side of the valley and traffic on the Thruway. The valley below was starting to stretch out before us, so after a 10-minute rest, I was anxious to get to the top.
We found an old log road angling up and followed it. White and purple flowers that grew among the rocks and fallen logs trembled in the slight breeze that came up from the valley below. These anemones were the only flowers we saw that morning.
We reached the top at 11:30. After a much-needed breather, we explored Little Nose. Panoramic views of the valley were obstructed by trees, but we could see the river, railroad, Thruway and Routes 5 and 5S. Following a well-traveled deer trail, we walked among maple, oak, whitepine,cherry and birch, noting deer tracks and a few buck rubs along the way. We were surprised to discover stone fence-rows running to the edgeof the Nose; evidence that this wooded area was farmland years ago. Along the edge of the precipice, turkey vultures soared on updrafts at tree top level.
From the west end of Little Nose we could see the Mohawk Indian settlement, Kanatsiohareke on the other side of the valley. Three hundred years ago all of this was Mohawk territory.
Although there was much more to see, thickening clouds and colder temperatures, limited our exploration to about an hour.As we descended the Nose, I told Bridget that this area was noted for its resident population of rattlesnakes, but that it was so cool, it wasn't likely we would see any. Bridget wasn't convinced and when she almost stepped on a garter snake, her yell echoed through the woods and lifted the hair on the back of my neck.
When we stopped at Sister's Diner in Fort Plain for lunch, I asked Bridget what she thought about our discovery trip.
"Neat. I liked the idea that we didn't have a trail to follow and had to find our own way climbing up. When we were on the top I was impressed by the stone fences right to the edge of the cliff and the turkey vultures soaring along the edge of the cliff rightnext to wherewe were standing."
Next spring we plan to climb Big Nose.
Discovery: Big Nose - The Adventure Continues
April 28, 2001 - Sunny, breezy, 50 degrees
True to my plan of discovery, I had no idea where to start. The topo map didn't help much, indicating a 500-foot, nearly vertical rise with no indication of a trail. So, I drove along Route 5 until we found a pull-off near the sharpest bend in the road and across from the "peak" of Big Nose. Daypacks loaded with cameras, water and snacks, we crossed the road and started up. It was quarter past eleven.
When we climbed up to the first rocky shelf and encountered a stiff breeze, Bridget put on her wind pants. We thought the column of rocks marked the beginning of a trail to the top. That's Little Nose on the other side of the river.
A year or so ago we had climbed Little Nose . There was method to our madness. The Noses are so heavily wooded, it's impossible to see and photograph the valley through leafed trees. Another incentive to make the climb in early spring; rattlesnakes are not active at low temperatures.
After an easy ascent to the first rocky shelf, we stopped near a recently stacked column of rocks to photograph the valley. Could this mark the start of a trail? We walked along the ledge which, despite a thick growth of briars and second-growth oak, looked like an old roadbed. The only trail we found was a deer trail, but nothing going up.
An abundance of small trees made much of the ascent relatively safe, if you didn't count the falling rocks.
How do we get over the ledge? Heh, what's this shiny stuff embedded in the rock?
Hand over hand, we zigzagged up the steep, wooded slope, resting often so my breath could catch up. Bridget had breath to spare. She let me lead the way, perhaps figuring she could somehow catch me if I unexpectedly reversed direction.
As near as I could tell most of the trees---big and small---were oak with a few white pines mixed in. Here and there white trilliums and blue violets dotted the hillside. At noon we reached a sheer rock ledge, and had to work our way along the bottom until we located a place to climb over the edge.
Man had visited this ledge, as indicated by the chips of stone and excavations near the bottom. Some of the cuttings revealed cavities in the stone. Was this dolostone? Were these cavities the vugs that held quartz crystals? I could see something shiny in one of the vugs and started to poke my finger into the hole, but the thought of waking up a rattlesnake changed my mind. I tried to pry the "diamond" loose with a branch. It popped loose, flew out of the hole and disappeared into the leaves. We found other vugs, a few whitish crystals and a variety of glistening bits imbedded in chunks of rock, but no clear quartz crystals.
A small crevice, a fallen rock, a half-dozen handholds and a sapling provided what we needed. As Bridget watched me pull, push, claw and scramble over the top of the ledge, she said, "Dad, I hope I can do that when I'm 64."
Actually, it's a few months before my 64th birthday, but I took her comment a compliment . . . and took a deep breath.
From the bottom of the ledge I thought we were near the top of Big Nose. Wishful thinking. We had at least a couple hundred feet of rock-strewn slope to go. Fortunately there were plenty of trees to grab on to. Along the way we stopped to view and photograph the valley floor. There was a constant flow of traffic on the Thruway and an occasional vehicle passed along Route 5 and 5S. At 12:20 a freight train snaked around the curve between The Noses.
In addition to shiny rocks we found an abundance of bleached snail shells among decaying oak leaves. Fifty feet from the top I was surprised to find last year's buck rub on a small tree. Mountain whitetails no doubt.
When I reached the top at 12:40 and started laughing, Bridget guessed correctly, "There's a road up there. Right?" Indeed there was. A gravel road came from the north to three "Radio Frequency Antenna" sites.
The views from the top were spectacular. On the left is a view of the Mohawk Valley to the east, towards Fonda. On the right, Bridget photographs the valley to the west, towards Canajoharie.
Not too far from the antennas we discovered a stone fence row running right up to the edge of the Nose. This area, like that at Little Nose, had been cleared and farmed from the early 1700s. Today it's mostly wooded. We also located a depression lined with large stones; no doubt the foundation of a small cabin. Must have been a beautiful view from that long ago abode. Despite the abundance of trees, we photographed the valley in both directions. Spectacular!
After exploring the area for a half-hour or so, discovering deer trails, rubs and droppings, we walked along the road until we found another stone fence and a dry streambed. We followed the streambed to the bottom. Not an easy descent, but it offered a wide cut through the rock ledge.
The most significant danger on this rock-strewn slope was dislodging stones that tumbled down to the hiker below. Sometimes that hiker was me, sometimes Bridget. We had a couple of close calls but no serious collisions.
We were half way down when Bridget saw a stream to our left. Investigation revealed a path of water tumbling over moss-covered rocks. It seemed to be coming from the base of a huge rock, so we climbed back up to verify its origin. The rock was a section of the ledge we had climbed over earlier and a spring did indeed exit from beneath it. In addition to the green moss that covered stream rocks, there was an abundance of moisture-loving white trilliums in this area. We, of course, stopped to exercise our cameras.
At 2 p.m. we crossed Route 5 and walked to the Jeep. We had parked a hundred yards from the easiest ascent to the top . . . and were delighted we didn't find it earlier.
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