Buttermilk Falls State Park offers lovely views of the many waterfalls that cascade through the gorges carved by Buttermilk Creek. The biggest cascade is the easiest to see – you can basically drive right up to Buttermilk Falls and take a picture of you wanted. But who the hell wants that? I walked over to the falls from the Hampton Inn I was staying at when I checked in to get the blood flowing and again this morning as part of my earn your breakfast routine. From the Hampton to Pinnacle Rock it’s a little over 3 miles round trip.
The walk from the hotel to the entrance to Buttermilk Falls State Park is roughly a mile of strips malls, fast food restaurants, and loud traffic rolling by you. Not the highlight of a trip to Ithaca. But once you turn into the driveway you see the falls right in front of you and the city sprawl becomes a memory. As I walked in I noticed that the park was completely empty. It was 6:15 AM after all, but still, I expected at least one or two people tapping into the energy of Buttermilk Falls.
Yesterday I stopped at the first observation platform as you walk up the stairs. Today I wanted more than that and aimed for Pinnacle Rock. The thing about waterfalls is that if you’re going to hike alongside them you’re going to end up walking uphill for some period of time. At Buttermilk the steepest part of the Gorge Trail is the very beginning, which probably deters a few people from continuing on.
The Gorge Trail is about 1/2 mile from Buttermilk Falls to Pinnacle Rock. This morning in the rain that walk required a dose of awareness of where you were walking. I don’t hike as often as I’d like, but I can certainly handle this terrain. Much of the Gorge Trail is stairs and terraced stone built in the 1930’s and 40’s. I’m sure it’s been re-built a few times over the years but it looked very much like it might have then.
When I reached the second bridge across Buttermilk Creek I looked up and there was Pinnacle Rock, perfectly situated amongst a double waterfall. This was what I told myself I came here for, but really it was the experience of hiking up this quiet trail early on a Friday morning while hundreds of people commuted to work just below me.
For me a hike begins with a Friday night-level anticipatory excitement, and I felt that exhilaration as I rounded every hilltop or bend in the trail to see what came next. But inevitably the hike must end, and as I descended the Gorge Trail I experienced that Sunday afternoon melancholy of knowing I was going back to the roar of the commuters and back to another workday. As if to hammer the point home for me, I glanced out across the creek on my descent and saw the orange awnings of a Home Depot across the street from the park entrance.
All told I did the walk from the hotel to Pinnacle Rock and back in under an hour. That hour far exceeded any amount of time on a treadmill or an erg in my basement at home. If I lived in Ithaca I’d start every morning with a similar hike. At least that’s what I tell myself. If there’s anything positive about business travel, it’s that I’ve grown accustomed to being in different places every night. If there’s a drawback, it’s the relative ease with which you can slide into bad habits. Today I cast a vote for a good habit, and I’m the better for the experience.