Hudson Valley Sunrise
I wanted to take the opportunity to share with everyone an experience that I feel very fortunate about having frequently. Breakneck Ridge, a small ridge in the Hudson Valley area, is certainly one of the most amazing hiking experiences anywhere within 150 miles of New York City. It is, in fact, only about 60 miles from Manhattan and, fortunately for me, about 24 miles from my house. The incredible views of the Hudson River, Storm King Mountain, Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle and the ridge itself are more than enough reason to make this the area’s most popular hike. It is so popular that it has its own train station on the Metro North commuter line.
There are two main parking areas for Breakneck Ridge, plus you can park along route 9D if you must. It gets very crowded there on the weekends and if you’re not early enough, parking can be difficult. For this reason, I tend to visit Breakneck during times when nobody else is around. Usually, I hike Breakneck Ridge at dusk or later, or in this case, I took the opportunity to catch the sunrise atop this Hudson Valley icon.
I started out at 5:45 AM, before sunrise. For purposes of this report, I will show photography taken on various parts of the ridge that were taken after sunrise. Due to the fact that I came here extremely early, I was able to park right at the trailhead. This trailhead gains only about 50 feet before you are at your first viewpoint:
From here, you can see that the trail begins at the Hudson River itself. You can see that the commuter train runs right along the river. Turning left, you will re-enter the woods and after less than a minute of hiking you will start to realize just how steep Breakneck is.
Breakneck has an easy to follow trail system, but it is very steep. The trail has white blazes going all the way up and there are two ways that people typically do this hike. First, you can follow the main trail for extremely dramatic views and exposed scrambling. Secondly, if you are a bit squeamish about the exposure, you can take certain bypass sections that aren’t quite as dramatic, but feel safer. Even though these bypasses aren’t quite as dramatic, you would not be disappointed with the views.
Personally, I prefer to take the more exposed route. In fact, I often go off trail a bit and scramble up rock that isn’t on-route, but offers an additional challenge and even more views. I would like to make it clear that I don’t feel that this is the safest option for most people. Being a rock climber, having hiked Breakneck in every season of the year, and so many times I’ve lost count, helps me skillfully negotiate the many sketchy and exposed sections up here.
There are a few places to stop, rest, and enjoy the view, but my favorite place to get a great first view is about 500 feet above the river. A series of scrambles up the rock will top out at a large, open area with a flagpole.
This area overlooks the Hudson River and offers an amazing view of Storm King Mountain to the west. If you look slightly north up the river you can see Pollepel Island. Looking closely at the island, you can see a small castle called Bannerman Castle.
Continuing along the trail, you will see an amazing cliff. I took the opportunity to hike down a bit and get a very dramatic view of this cliff as shown below.
The top of this cliff rises approximately 700 feet. I know this cliff very well since, back in March, 2009, I camped out 10 feet below the top of it on my portaledge. For those of you who do not know what a portaledge is, it is a portable ledge that can be suspended from a sheer cliff and is used by rock climbers for sleeping on multiple day climbs.
To view earlier photos of the portaledge and the view from it, click here.
Before reaching the top of the cliff, there are a series of tricky scrambles along the way. As I mentioned before, there are bypass sections to avoid these scrambles if you wish to use them. One of my favorites is a small scramble that offers a short traverse and begins to go back upwards shortly afterwards.
Once finished with the scramble mentioned above, a little steep hiking is necessary and then a scramble up a rocky section before the trail turns right and goes across a slab section. It is not usually recommended to hike past here if it is wet, snowy, or icy, but that never stopped me. Actually, as shown below, I tend to bypass the trail and climb straight up the slab.
The usual route goes across the bottom of the slab shown in the photo and on to less exposed rock, then turns left and tops out on a flat area with another great view. Once on top of the slab, I was able to get a pretty good photo of Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle:
The wind was picking up significantly this morning, but I continued onwards. From here, the trail leads back into the woods and finally I went to the right (this is another section that can be bypassed). Going this way, there is a very dramatic view. At times, this section can look quite scary for a lot of people because it is a narrower section of the trail and it drops off for a few hundred feet on your right.
Sometimes I will climb straight up the rock on the left side of the trail, but I decided to take the normal route this time. The normal route is also quite a steep scramble to the top as you can see in the photo below.
Upon finishing the last scramble, I was nearly at the top of Breakneck Ridge. Many people may consider the large, open area I was at to be the top of the Ridge. It is the last part of the trail that offers amazing 360-degree panoramic views, but the actual summit is a little further down the trail.
It was 6:10 AM and I had climbed over 1,000’ in only 25 minutes! The distance to here from the trailhead is only about a half-mile. So clearly this is a very steep hike and an excellent workout. Far too early in the morning for a sunrise shot, I waited here and enjoyed the views. There were several barges making their way upriver and you could see the trains pass on both sides of the Hudson.
As the time passed, I began to explore this general area near the summit. Usually, I sprint up Breakneck as fast as I can just to get a great cardio workout. So while I may have been here well over fifty times, I hadn’t explored every little nook and cranny. There are quite a few places up there to sit and get different views of the Hudson Valley.
I stayed up there until 7:00 AM. I was a bit discouraged unfortunately. The weather report stated that it was going to be sunny and windy. Indeed the winds were blowing at 20 to 30 mph, but it was cloudy and the sun didn’t rise at 6:52 AM as predicted. My favorite view of the sunrise is always when the sun is just on the horizon. But looking to the east, it didn’t look like the sun was going to make the expected appearance. However, now that the lighting was better, I was able to get a great photo of Storm King Mountain:
And looking south along the Hudson River:
Duty called and I had to return to the car. This was still a workday, after all. As I descended from the ridge, I managed to get many photographs. I took a few excursions off-trail just to see different views. On Breakneck Ridge, there are so many places to explore it is unbelievable.
On my way back to the car, I stopped once again at the large, flat area with the flagpole. It was about 7:45 AM. It took a long time to get back down to this part of the trail, but I spent so much time taking photos and exploring on the way down. And I’m so glad I did because this is the time the sun chose to finally appear!
The sun rose on the horizon atop Mount Taurus (otherwise known as Bull Hill). My efforts were already very much rewarded, but this was perfect. I can’t think of a better way to start off my morning. Once I got some sunrise photos, I made the final descent back to the parking area.
By the time I returned to the car, I had taken 104 pictures! Not all of these photos were great, but I did manage to post a lot of them online. There were so many, it was difficult deciding which ones to include in this report.
Because of the great views, the dramatic and exposed scrambling experience, plus the physical challenge of climbing Breakneck, I would encourage everyone to pay it a visit at least once. I tend to hike out there a minimum of once a week. But definitely be careful, especially if you’re going to get bold and take advantage of the many off-trail scrambling opportunities. Despite my considerable experience on this ridge, I took what could have been a very serious fall up there this summer. I fell backwards and upside down while ascending a steep hill near the summit. This was mainly due to the rock being wet. It was pure luck that I didn’t relive the experience the bull had many years ago for which Breakneck Ridge gets its name. So enjoy it, but be safe.
To view a complete photo gallery of this trip, click here.