By Malachy Cleary, Breakneck Ridge trail steward
The Hudson Highlands are steeped in as much mystery as they are in history. It was in these hills that the Lenape hunted and fished the Muhheakantuck—“the river that flows both ways.” It was here that the Headless Horseman terrorized Ichabod Crane, years after some of the most important battles of the American Revolutionary War were fought on both sides of the mighty river’s shores.
Now, it is in Hudson Highlands State Park that nearly 2,000 adventurers come to answer the call of the wild every weekend. Breakneck Ridge has become a pilgrimage of sorts for those looking for an escape from the overwhelming modernity of urban life. Only 60 miles north of New York City, Breakneck is now one of the most popular day hikes in North America, outfitted with its own train station and parking lot to accommodate visitors. With its dramatic escarpments, stunning mountain vistas, and breathtaking panoramas of the river valley, the mountain is considered by many to be the most beautiful hike in the Hudson Valley.
There is no denying that Breakneck Ridge is a special place, home to incredible natural splendor. But visitors must not forget that the aptly named Breakneck is an extremely challenging hike. As a Breakneck Ridge trail steward, it is my duty to stress preparedness.
Being prepared means that you have:
1. Proper footwear
2. Plenty of water
3. Adequate means of navigation (i.e. map, GPS, sextant, etc.)
The stewards acknowledge that Breakneck possesses immense beauty while also presenting an immense challenge. Typically, hikers who are lacking in one of these areas are more at risk of injury or getting lost, but Breakneck has a way of humbling even the most seasoned climbers. Our job as stewards is to equip the ill-equipped to the best of our abilities. Informed hikers are happy hikers, and if the mountain sees that its visitors have taken the time to educate and prepare themselves, then it will shine favorably upon them.
“To respect the mountain, one must acknowledge its ability to destroy you.”*
Perhaps part of the mountain’s allure is the danger associated with climbing it. But Breakneck is only as dangerous as you make it. At first glance, Breakneck Ridge is simply a mountain to be climbed; at closer inspection, it is an awesome entity to be reckoned with. Stewards serve as intermediaries between the mountain and the people who climb it. We can communicate the respect Breakneck demands, but we cannot enforce it—that is the mountain’s job.
As a Breakneck Ridge trail steward, I have had the honor of serving the mountain and the joy of helping people discover it in a safe and rewarding way. Do not let the mountain’s intensity discourage you from exploring this jewel of the Hudson—Breakneck is a challenge, not an adversary. The stewards are always happy to give advice and answer any questions that you might have; just don’t ask us where the bathrooms are located.
*These words came to me in a moment of lucidity as I sat stationed in the Breakneck Ridge parking lot. Breakneck spoke to me not in English, but in the deliberate quiet of its ancient stone. With the delicate hush of the wind in the leaves and the creaking limbs of the boughs in the trees I could decipher a kind of symphony of silence unique only to a voice so eternal that it does not speak in mortal tongue.
You, too, can help improve the hiking experience on Breakneck Ridge and in Hudson Highlands State Park. Find out how to join our Taconic Crew for a work trip or workshop.