Monday, August 24, 2015

Trip Report: Stoppel Point Airplane Crash Site 8/22/15 – 8/23/15

For my trip this past weekend I decided to go look for another one of the airplane crash sites that litter the Catskill Mountains. According to my research, there would be two crash sites located near Stoppel Point in the Windham Blackhead Range Wilderness in the Catskills. I did some research on the crash sites. It indicated that one of the sites would be easy to reach. It would be easily accessible from the trail which I could follow up North Mountain. The second crash site is supposed to be near the same location but at about 2800 feet down the north side of the east side of the ridge between North Mountain and Stoppel Point. I was able to find only one report confirming the existence of this second site, and it was reached following the recovery route from the base of the mountain. I figured that I would aim for the easily accessible first site, and then I would try to descend down the mountain to look for the second one. I simply wouldn’t have time to attempt the second site from the base of the mountain.

Stoppel Point

In the above map the blue line indicates my approximate path up the mountain. The two Xs show the approximate locations of the two crash sites. The yellow line is the path of my attempted descend to the second crash site.

So, I started out fairly early in the morning. It would be approximately five to six miles to reach the first crash site, and I wanted to have enough time for an attempt on the second one. Parts of the scent are very steep, so I wanted to leave a good margin.

I found the trail and started following it up the mountain.


With the heavy rain we have been getting on and off the past few weeks, the mushrooms were out.





So when I was done with the mushroom photo shoot, I got to some of the tougher sections of the trail. Right before reaching the rock outcrop known as North Point, I stopped for lunch.


From there it was a short push up to North Point, which marks the beginning of the ridge to Stoppel Point. It also gives a very good view of the Hudson River as well as North and South Lakes.


I continued to follow the trail along the ridge. It was easier going because the elevation changes were minor, but the trail itself was very rocky and a real ankle twister.

After making steady progress for another hour or two, I reached the area around Stoppel Point.


From there it was a short distance to the first crash site. The airplane was largely intact. I couldn’t locate the engine, but the fuselage and wings were intact.




Now it was time for the hard part of the trip. It was nearing 3 o’clock, and I had just enough time to trace back along the trail to the approximate location of the second crash site, and try to descend down the mountain in search for it.

There are two challenges in attempting to find the second crash site from the top of the ridge. The first is the extremely steep slope; the second is the extremely dense ferns. The combination is particularly tough because it makes it impossible to find a good line down the slope. I spent nearly two hours trying to make my way down. I would descend twenty to thirty feet, reach a sheer drop off, then have to trace back, try another approach, go down a bit further, and repeat. After two hours of trying, I had managed to descend only about a quarter of the way to the supposed crash location. This is what I saw the whole way:




As you guys know, I’m not opposed to doing stupid things, but this got too dangerous even for my liking. It became clear to me that even if I managed to make it down, I would not be able to climb back up. I would have to then descend all the way down the mountain and then make my way around it. That wasn’t in the plans, so I turned back. Now, I’m sure there is a route down, it’s just that it’s impossible to see. It’s hard to know if a particular route would lead all the way down, or if it will dead end at a vertical cliff fifty feet further down. Any way, it took me another hour to climb back up, and another half an hour to find the trail because I was so turned around. This boys and girls is what defeat looks like:


Any way, I got back up and traced my way along the ridge for a bit, and then set up camp for the night.


I still had an hour or so to kill before sunset, so I made myself a pine resin candle from some dead moss and well, pine resin. That got my spirits up.


After that it was off to bed. I got up before sunrise and quickly packed up. My goal was to get back to North Point to catch the sunrise.



From there I made my way down the mountain, looking for water sources. I had finished the last bit of my water in the morning. I eventually found a small seep not too far from the top of the mountain, and stopped to fill up one of my bottles.


Nothing to do after that, but make my way out. It was very disappointing that I wasn’t able to reach the second crash site, but I still feel that the risk would have been too great if I had kept going. I think it will have to be the subject of another trip where I give it a try from the base of the east side of the ridge.

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