Sabbath Day – The Giant Stairs
It’s a New York thing.
The Palisades of Northern New Jersey tower majestically over West shore of the Hudson River. From the time I first saw them I wanted to climb them. Though actual climbing is not allowed – you can see in the photo above where a whole section collapsed into the river in 2012 – the aqua blazed Long Path traverses the top of the Palisades while the white blazed Shore Path scrambles along the boulders below. I did a loop hike utilizing both.
After dropping August off at school, I drove to the State Line Park just below Exit 3 on the Palisades Parkway. I had never been before, and the views are incredible – though I did not know that till later in the day because the river was blanketed in the a dense fog when I arrived. The parking lot was filled with birders who couldn’t see 30 feet in front of them. This made the rapid descent from the parking lot rather spooky. A series of stone stairs (and switchbacks) built almost a century ago brought me to the Shore Path, and I headed North.
The Giant Stairs are a series of talus fields extending for more than a mile along the shore. My forgotten walking poles would have been in my way, as I had to use my hands continuously to climb over or jump from rock to rock.
For three quarters of an hour I don’t think I placed my feet flat on the ground (what ground?) but balanced on the edges of scree or placed them flat against vertical stone sheets. Once past the Giant Stairs I arrived at Peanut Leap Cascade, an impressive – but at this time of year underwhelming – waterfall where I found this rope swing. I can’t explain it, but this swing brought me great joy. It was at least an hour’s walk from the nearest access point. Who hung it, and how long has it been here? Would it hold me? I didn’t think so.
I also passed through these woods where everything grew at angles that made them look wind blown, but in fact seem simply to have been reaching for water and sun. The whole world seemed slant and I found myself swaying as I walked. Honest, the camera was being held straight, it’s the world that was off balance.
At Peanut Leap, the Shore Path climbs through a natural break in the Palisades to rejoin the Long Path which meanders along the top, sometimes no more than a foot and a half from the vertical drop. Here I circled back above the wall in the photo at the top of this post.
A couple hundred yards beyond this point I crossed through a rusted chain link fence marking the border between New York and New Jersey. The gate was open.
But you don’t need to hike many miles for these vistas. These views are also easily accessible from the State Line State Park. From there I could see the Tappan Zee Bridge to the North and the Bronx and parts of Manhattan to the South. I could make out the tallest buildings in White Plains rising above the tree line, and beyond them the Long Island Sound! Even further, I could make out Floral Park, Queens!! This, on a not very clear day.
The hike didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and a quick trip back home left me ample time to read until August got home from school. Noelle made her favorite Cuban black beans and rice for dinner, August visited his goats at the Greenburgh Nature Center and walked a neighbors dog he is looking after, and the two of them left me home alone for the evening to do whatever I pleased. What a rare Sabbath gift.
Throughout my hike, I had this quotation by Nancy Frey about pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela running through my mind, particularly the penultimate line. It is cited in Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful Wanderlust: A History of Walking –
When pilgrims begin to walk several things begin to happen to their perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they develop a changing sense of time, a tightening of the senses, and a new awareness of their bodies and the landscape. . . . A young German man expressed it this way: ‘In the experience of walking, each step is a thought. You can’t escape yourself.’
Each step is a thought, indeed. Or a prayer. . .