This morning I woke up and thought I’d tackle one more waterfall before I shut down this grand tour of Ithaca area waterfalls. I drove 7 minutes up the road to Lick Brook Falls at Buttermilk Falls State Park. This is a lovely and quiet spot, especially on a Sunday morning with icy, muddy trails to contend with. So on went the micro spikes over the boots. I’ve worn that combo a lot this weekend and never was it more needed than on this hike. Steep downhill stretches were a sheet of ice, all the more treacherous because if you slipped you’d likely end up in the fast moving stream.
So I cautiously made my way down the icy trail. I’m not timid, but I do have a fondness for living. And not getting hurt again. After all I was flat on my back cracking a rib just two weeks ago. I’m getting older but I still remember THAT. I also did the mental math – I was one of two cars parked the trail head, and what were the odds of me being discovered should I slip? Not good.
No sooner had I said that than a trail runner came dashing down the hill behind me. It was his fourth loop of the trail I was hiking down. And yes, he was wearing micro spikes, but he was also hustling down the steep icy path I’d just descended. And he was wearing shorts.
I told him that he was a better man than me, got a quick download on the trail ahead and wished him God speed. He reminded me of the thru hikers we saw hiking through Mahoosuc Notch. I’d be moving at what I thought was a decent speed only to have those thru hikers blow right by me. All you can do is salute them and move along at the speed that makes sense for you. And that’s exactly what I did with that trail runner.
Lick Brook Falls is really three falls. The from the bottom to the top, Lower Lick Brook Fall drops 25 feet, moving up the trail, Middle Lick Brook Falls drops 47 feet and then Upper Lick Brook Falls drops 93 feet. This third drop ranks Lick Brook Falls as the fifth highest waterfall in the Ithaca area. It’s similar to Lucifer Falls for its relative isolation compared to the other falls on the top five, but unique for its three drops. This one reminded me a lot of hiking along a mountain stream in the White Mountains. The hemlock, oaks and maple trees certainly helped with that impression.
Ultimately I did three more waterfalls today, but I’ll save those for another post or two. If I’d just done this one today I’d have called today a victory. There are some incredible stories that came out of the others, and they’re worth a post of their own. Hiking the “blue” Lick Brook Trail in February paid off with plenty of water, ice sculptures and isolation. It occurred to me more than once on the trail that there was nowhere else I’d rather have been at that moment.
According to the Sweedler adn Thayer Preserves website, this area was protected from development when “Moss Sweedler purchased the “Lost Gorge” in the 1970s, and understanding its uniqueness, decided to leave it to the Finger Lakes Land Trust in his will. But in 1989, the Land Trust let the Sweedlers know that Lick Brook was a top priority for protection, recognizing the development pressure in the area and the site’s exceptional beauty, and in 1993 the Land Trust purchased 128 acres from Moss and Kristin Sweedler at a bargain price, creating the Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook. Since then the preserve has provided public access to one of the most remarkable waterfalls and gorges in the area.”