Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kaaterskill Falls

In 1998, two friends who’d been dating since college got married, the first among my college crowd to take the plunge. In the next few years that followed, we’d all follow suit. But this wedding was the first among our collective, and in turn, it spurred our first bachelor party.

The groom was (and still is) an outdoor enthusiast so we broke from common convention and took him camping for the bachelor party. It was a big crowd of us, maybe a dozen. We ended up lucking upon a series of sites that could accommodate us all at North-South Lake in Haines Falls, NY.

Since that first trip, a dwindling number of us have been making a return trek each summer. I’ve missed two years (the summers our kids were born) and last year we took the year off as that aforementioned outdoor enthusiast was living in France and another in the crew was getting married.

Though the numbers have dwindled down from that first year, a core group has made what are now ten returns. Some don’t return as they’ve moved away. One hasn’t returned as he finds the event against his newly adopted religion. But for those of us who do return (and some among the faithful don’t even like camping) a love of camaraderie takes over and propels us.

It would be enough for me if the weekend consisted merely of sitting in folding chairs, sipping beer after beer as we rehash the same stories from years past – the ones I hope we’ll all be regaling till I’m a corpse.

But North-South Lake has the added bonus of its proximity to Kaaterskill Falls. Kaaterskill has been immortalized by many of the Hudson River School painters, most notably Asher Durant in Kindred Spirits.

In the summer of 1998, that first trip, we hiked to this spot not knowing what we’d find. As you can imagine from this photo (courtesy of Northeast Waterfalls), it was a pretty spellbinding experience. The more adventurous of the group hike up to that middle tier and do what we call ‘the soul cleanser’. As you might imagine, that consists of standing under the waterfall, a visceral icy experience. During years of drought, this waterfall trails off to a trickle. This year, however, with all the rain we’ve had, Kaaterskill was absolutely raging. As I attempted to get just ten feet within the foot of the falls I was absolutely soaked and a blasting wind off the water pushed me back. All year long I sit at a desk, accounting, thinking of that moment.

There have been a lot of changes since those early camping trips. The once regular naked midnight plunge into North Lake has been suspended. (A final unsuccessful attempt found us all quickly apprehended by park rangers. Most of the guys at least made it into the water while I, clutching my bits and bobs in my hands, was featured by the ranger’s jeep spotlight).

Our first year, I’m fairly certain that our provisions consisted of eight cases of beer and a few bags of potato chips. Now we always have leftover beer while enjoying meals that involve statements such as: “I added a little cumin and a special paprika from Hungary”.

I can’t help but to think that the days are numbered on this trip. As we get older, I can sense some frustrations with the inconveniences of sleeping on the ground or when, at times, we must weather rain of biblical consistency.

I can let go of some of the rituals but The Soul Cleanser is one I need desperately. And if this annual summer ritual goes by the wayside, I desperately hope something takes its place.

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