Day 16: PAYING NOW FOR A PAYOFF LATER
It was 5:30am when we awoke. Julie had been up before me at this hour, which was unusual. And I guess our body clocks were definitely getting used to the early wake-ups since the back-to-back days of getting up this early didn’t seem to be an issue.
It kind of paid off for us because we were in the car by 6:55am with it all loaded up and ready to go. However, there was a little bit of a complication in that the car park for the Capital Hill Room & Suites in Ottawa had very limited parking and so we were stacked in.
It took some time to get out of the car park so to make things efficient, Julie ran over to the Tim Horton’s at a street corner nearby the accommodation while Tahia and I were getting help from the parking attendant to guide me on how to squeeze my way out of the car park.
But with all the hoops and hurdles out of the way, we were quickly onto the autoroute on the way out of Ottawa and towards Cornwall while we also got breakfast on the go to boot.
By about 8:40am, we had passed through the Cornwall station where we paid some kind of cash toll of over $3.60 CAD to cross the bridge over the watercourse marking the US-Canada border, and then we were asked the usual probing questions by the border officer on the US side as we entered into New York.
The officer also searched our trunk, but with all the formalities out of the way, we were now back on the familiar English measurement system (for speeds), and we were also passing through some quiet towns that seemed to have a bit of an Amish flavor to it (as evidenced by people on horse and carriage as well as some clothing that seemed as if time stood still two centuries ago).
Much of the drive was on rural highways flanked by numerous farms, which caught Tahia’s eye as she wanted to identify each barn she saw or say “moo!” for each cow that she saw.
After parking the car in the wide open area fronting the main reception building with large letters on its tin roof saying “High Falls Park”, we paid the $2 per adult admission, and promptly walked towards the long the RV park before going down steps leading to the base of High Falls.
Since we decided not to take Tahia down in a child carrier, we really had to watch what she was touching, especially since there was some overgrowth onto the narrow trail where we were afraid she might touch poison ivy and then put her fingers in her mouth.
But whatever the fears we had, we made it to the bottom so we could finally take some family photos in front of this waterfall with the tripod that we lugged along.
While the waterfall was pretty impressive, we were a little put off by the dam infrastructure that was above the falls and seemed to control its flow. This little development kind of dampened our perception of the falls which would’ve been better off natural. Thus, we’d probably knock down the score of this falls from a 2.5 to a 2 because of it.
I managed to use some of this alone time to take a few photos myself of the falls from the viewing spot in as many configurations that I could think of.
After having my fill of the falls, I walked up towards the RV park then cut right through it. It looked like some of the RV stations had permanent-looking structures, which made me wonder how long these people stayed here. I even saw some signs indicating Electric Bills were due at the end of the month. Very interesting.
By 10:35am, I was back at the car. Julie and Tahia followed suit a few minutes later as the time to play in the swings and the slides (which was near the entrance to the RV section of the park) was over.
The drive continued further west on the US-11 before heading south on the I-87 somewhere near the city of Plattsburg. It must’ve been a pretty big city in the Lake Placid area because it seemed like the AM Radio reception was stronger here (though I still had trouble finding Jim Rome or Colin Cowherd or other talking heads about sports).
Once we were on the interstate, the driving was pretty smooth though it didn’t take long before I started to realize that there were state troopers looking to nab someone and issue a ticket for speeding.
I had read on the internet literature that the falls was probably best seen from the road bridge crossing over the chasm. We were also told that paying for the tour for a better view of the falls (and only a marginal one at that it seemed), was a waste of time and money.
The view from the road bridge was definitely valid. And from surveying where the view of the falls that might have been available from the paid tour, it appeared that it would be directly above the falls instead of closeby and across it! It didn’t seem like it would be worth spending extra time and money so those reviews and blogs were probably spot on.
So at 11:40am, I got out of the car and walked over to the bridge spanning the ausable chasm. I could see from the bridge a pair of powerful lower tiers, which threw up mist that was starting to be lit by the sun’s rays.
Then, I also noticed there were upper tiers, but they definitely looked like they could be regulated.
From observing that the reception here sold various tours, including a waterfall walking tour, I definitely came away with the impression that this was really more of a thrill-seekers place than a waterfallers place. Of course, the man-influenced interventions definitely messed with the falls itself. It had the makings of a 3 or 3.5, but in the end, I might give it a rating score of around 2.5.
Finally at 12pm, we were ready to wake up Tahia and eat at the cafe that was here. Julie wasn’t interested in going without lunch again like what happened on a couple of occasions during this long road trip.
During the lunch, we evaluated whether to continue waterfalling or visiting that natural stone bridge and caverns of the Adirondacks. However, we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should squeeze in a visit to Kaaterskill Falls (which was actually a little south of Albany) so the return drive to New York City at the very end of this trip could be done while allowing us more time to see the city along with the logistical hurdles required to take all our stuff and Tahia on the subway from White Plains to Penn Station.
Thus, it was decided to execute on yet another revised plan, but this time, it was intentional so we’d have that payoff in the end. Of course, we’d have to pay for it now as this meant we’d have to drive three hours just to get into the Catskills and the falls in there before driving another hour back up to Albany, where we would be spending the night. And there’d be no rest for weary as we’d have to drive all the way across the state to Niagara Falls tomorrow!
So it wasn’t until 1pm that we were back in the car and ready to execute on that revised plan for today. But I knew that we would be running out of daylight as we knew this was a pretty ambitious plan.
The drive south on the I-87 was mostly uneventful. At least I was fortunate to get decent reception while listening to the entertaining Jim Rome show, which I almost never get to listen to given how it would be during the hours when I was at work and therefore unable to listen to the sports talk unless there was some unusual errand that had to be done during the day. I had kind of got sick of listening to the music on the iPod shuffle via the auxiliary jack at this point so the new content from the sports talk was welcome.
What made me nervous was that there were at least three or four instances of NY State Troopers looking to nab speeding motorists. I was trying to cruise at a comfortably high speed (slightly over the limit) without succumbing to road fatigue from the 65mph speed limit (and 55mph in many spots).
I didn’t recall seeing that many cops on the road in all the other days of this trip combined! It made me wonder whether New York’s greater public infrastructure and programs needed increased revenue, which might be helped along by writing speeding tickets.
Fortunately, we weren’t caught speeding (I think), but we did notice that the clouds were darkening the further south we went. This kind of threw me off guard because I knew the forecast in Canada called for several consecutive days of sun. But it looked like we were heading to where the clouds were the further south we went.
Another thing that wasn’t lost on me was the prospect of deer crossing the road since we were driving through what seemed to be many mountains and forests with beautiful Fall colors. Having already hit a deer a decade ago, it would certainly put a damper on this trip if it were to happen, so that was another check on the speed besides the state trooper presence motivation.
Finally at 4:15pm, the long drive was mercifully ended momentarily as we were at the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls. However, there seemed to be practically little to no parking space for it other than for two or three cars.
So we stopped the car here and I got out. There was an attractive cascade right beneath the road bridge, which I gladly took pictures of. But just as I was getting ready to start hiking, there was a man and two teens with him who told me that there was parking further up the road. The spot we were at was subject to a $200 fine if a cop saw us.
I thanked him for the info and proceeded to drive up the road where sure enough, there was the official car park for the trail. Thus, it wasn’t until about 4:25pm when I started hiking. Julie and Tahia stayed behind because from the initial survey of the trail, it was going to be rough. Plus, we were running out of daylight.
As I walked along the road, I saw the man again and thanked him. He then told me that when I get to the end of the trail, I should keep going to the top of the lower waterfall (base of the upper waterfall). He did warn me that the path was steep and slippery, but he saw that I was in my hiking attire and said I definitely looked prepared.
So with that, I finally got to the trail, and then proceeded to climb the rock steps going up past the initial waterfall and then continue on a pretty uneven dirt and rocky trail that flanked the Kaaterskill Creek.
Probably about 30 minutes or so later, I finally made it to the impressive Kaaterskill Falls. And just like a website contributor showed in his pictures on our website, I got similar shots except during my visit, there were some Fall colors flanking the two-tiered sheer drops of the 260ft falls (or so it was stated).
There were only so many ways to photo the falls from such a limited viewing area on the rocks besides the stream. However, I then decided to go up and see what the family guy was talking about.
And so I went up the steep trail that was quite doable at first as it reminded me of the steep trail that hooked up the Bemis Brook Trail to the Arethusa Falls Trail in New Hampshire earlier on in this trip.
But after the initial climb up, I then reached a spot where there was a rope tied across a pair of trees. I was certain this wasn’t official as there’d be no way the Forest Service would endorse this. But I sure was glad it was there when I realized that trying to cross the exposed eroded section was way too slippery when I attemped to cross above the rope.
All it took was the first step and the slip of that step (without me losing my balance fortunately) to make me realize that the initial approach was too risky. However, when I held onto the rope and crossed the exposed eroded part while holding the rope beneath it, that was when I able to get past this rather hairy obstacle. Without that rope, I probably would’ve turned back as a slip and fall here could easily result in broken bones or death given the steepness of the ascent it took to get here.
And when I got to the last corner to go around, that was when I saw that the ledge was a little muddy (i.e. slippery) plus it was exposed to those same sheer drop offs. This was probably the most dangerous part of the unofficial scramble to get here. And it was at this point that I realized that I was taking a pretty big risk even though I knew I could do it.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone to do it unless they really knew what they were doing or they simply didn’t care.
Nonetheless, I made it to the end of this scramble where I was on the shelf responsible for the lower tier of Kaaterskill Falls. Meanwhile, I was in the spray zone of the base of the upper tier. So that made photography here rather difficult. I’m sure I could’ve lingered here longer, but I just didn’t feel comfortable being here in the first place.
So barely less than five minutes into arriving at this spot, I turned around and headed back. Once again, I had to negotiate the dangerous ledges and dropoff hazards. And then, I was back at the rope section where I actually went backwards while holding the rope (almost like a rappeling motion).
And once I was back at the official part of the trail, I then quickly made my way all the way back to the car park arriving there at 5:35pm. Julie and Tahia were wide awake, and Julie told me that both of them walked along the road to get all the way to the lower cascade of Kaaterskill Clove (or what I think the sign said this part was).
Now with the waterfall accomplishment, it was time to drive to Albany to finally check into our hotel room. We’d ultimately get there by 6:55pm (though I did see a state trooper nab someone on the I-87 going north).
Thus, the long driving of this day was finally over.
At 7:25pm, we drove less than a mile down the street to this Japanese restaurant called Hana. It was actually a combination sushi bar, hibachi (i.e. Benihana style), and standard sit-down table restaurant. We only picked this spot because it was close to our hotel, but it turned out to be one of the better meals we had on this trip that totally exceeded our lowered expectations.
I was never really a big fan of Benihana (a hibachi-style restaurant chain), but watching the chef do tricks with the knife and fork while entertaining the table of mostly college students (I think) sitting with us seemed to be the right form of dining for the moment. Even Tahia was amused as she never fussed, and if anything, she was mesmerized by the spectacle.
Oh, and she also enjoyed her salad (with miso dressing), white rice, and chicken.
Meanwhile, Julie and I shared my hibachi filet mignon while Julie shared one of the “signature” hand rolls which was something called First Day of Spring or something like that.
All in all, we left the place pretty satisfied, and it wasn’t like we broke the bank doing it either.
At 9pm, we were finally back at the room. And we could finally call it a day. Though as anticipated when we had put this ambitious plan in place, there was still the long drive ahead of us tomorrow to Niagara Falls, and that meant we would be in for yet another early wake-up…