To climb a crag like Bonticou is an exciting outdoor experience, but to view the same crag from a nearby hill offers its own, quieter rewards. I discovered the latter on my recent ascent of Guyot Hill. Jack Fagan says of Guyot Hill, in his superb Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks, that it “seems unloved and is seldom visited today.” That sounded perfect to me, in the mood as I was for a quiet, solitary ramble on a mild, early spring day.
Guyot Hill’s namesake was Arnold Guyot (1807-84), the first Professor of Geography and Geology at Princeton University, who loved Mohonk and stayed often at Mohonk Mountain House. Guyot’s map and study of what are now called the “high peaks” of the Catskills, including Slide Mountain, was published in 1879-80 and radically altered understanding of the area. Until Guyot’s work, the “Catskills” was popularly seen as the environs of the famous Catskill Mountain House, where North/South Lake State Campground is today. Yet it is this unassuming hill in Shawangunks, and none of the Catskill peaks, which bears Guyot’s name.
Guyot’s Hill is a place of quiet surprises. It is in fact, at 1,270 feet above sea level, the highest point in the Shawangunks north of Mohonk Mountain House area, and the highest in the whole region whose bedrock is shale. Here the much harder, more resistant quartzite conglomerate that forms the dramatic cliffs and bare rock ledges elsewhere on the ridge has been removed by erosion, the last of it perhaps during the Wisconsin glaciation 15,000 years ago or so. The layers of shale that are exposed along Guyot Hill Road are thin and flaky like phyllo pastry. It’s the same rock that underlies the Wallkill Valley below, which can be glimpsed from the top of Guyot’s Hill through the still-leafless trees. Soft, dark and yielding to erosion — these qualities of this Ordovician age shale molded the modest contours of Guyot Hill.