Getting Lost to Find Myself - How I Stumbled upon the Magical Secret Land of Trout and Berries...


An Accidental Discovery

We’ve been visiting the “Secret Land of Trout and Berries” for years now, but the first time I found this magical place, like many great discoveries in history, it was an accident, in fact, the result of a mistake. 

I'd like to bring you along in the way (waaayyyy) back time machine, and introduce you to a younger me: a moderately experienced hiker, who, like many with the Y chromosome, believed my skills to be much more developed than was actually the case. My suit and tie were in long term storage, but I certainly wasn't a pro yet (except perhaps in my ego). Lucky for me, one of my more finely tuned skills was convincing my friends I was a lot more experienced than I was. 

The Story of Rit

I am lucky to have had a great (and patient) friend since college, my randomly assigned freshman roommate, Ritvik (aka Rit), who has become one of my best lifelong friends. He shares a love of the woods and while less experienced (marathon running leaves less time for hiking...,) he has always been down for an ambitious adventure. Which had proved to be his undoing on multiple occasions prior to this, as I had subjected him to a few trips that were much more difficult/uncomfortable/dangerous than planned, e.g. a 16 mile bushwhack along a steep riverside dense with spruce in the Adirondacks, high altitude ice and pack snow in Olympic Nat'l Park, etc. Somehow we've always had enough fun along the way that he still keeps joining in on my adventures and agreed to be one of my groomsmen next year.

 

The First Time

 

Despite (or perhaps because of) previous trips, Rit agreed to head out with me to travel off-trail in the Catskills, looking for a few high altitude ponds, including one named for the last Native American Chief in the Catskills. Of note, this was just as I was learning the joy of hiking and exploring for the sake of it, not with the ultimate goal of summiting a peak. So while my experience level was moderate, I was starting to shift from my peakbagging days, to seeing the forest. This time, the only goal was to have fun and fish and maybe find some berries. On the map, it looked like a short, easy bushwhack to the ponds...

Well, the ponds were in fact such a short distance off the trail that we blew right past the valley we were looking for, not expecting to see that turn until later in the hike. Instead, we wound up basically cliimbing a moutain, telling one another "it must be just up ahead" for hours on end. 

After staggering around in the woods for three hours we realized that we had just climbed most of Graham Mountain. Exhausted, we decided to head back to the main valley and find the trail to hunker down and camp and fish for two nights, abandoning the idea of finding the ponds. After hiking most of the way back down to the valley, we stumbled upon a series of huge, open meadows, which are incredibly rare in the Catskills. 

A gorgeous stream cut through meadows full of blueberries, the banks lined with blackberry and raspberry brambles. The stream was visibly full of trout and every few hundred yards the meadows were punctuated with beaver ponds of an acre or so size, which were also full of trout. We found prehistoric looking ferns as tall as people and wild bergamot (used to make Earl Grey tea). What we couldn't find was a single sign of any other humans in the area. 

At night, we saw the Milky Way over the river and feasted on fresh fish. Obviously, we had found the ponds, or so we thought...

It wasn't until we returned to civilization and checked our satellite beacons that we realized that we hadn't found the ponds we were looking for at all! Our beacon markers showed that we had camped in an area that, on the map, didn't show any ponds! Rather, beaver activity in the area had created the ponds after the last map survey. So we had found a secret place that was not on any map! 

 In Conclusion 

Am I happy that I got turned around that day? (And more importantly, was Rit?) Absolutely!! Sometimes the best adventures happen when you have no set plans in mind. All we wanted was to relax and fish and spend some quality time together. Not only did we find just that, I've been lucky enough to bring a handful of people to the same spot a few times each year for survival schools and yoga retreats and base camps to give them the same incredible experience. Sometimes you find the best places when you're not even looking for them.

David DiCerbo

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