Big Hill Shelter

The Expedition Years (1972 - 1982)


Cruise the Site!

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx


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Harriman State Park

At some point in time during 1971 or 1972, Larry Silvestro took his younger brother Paul on a motorcycle camping trip. Larry rode a 350 Yamaha 2-stroke in those days, having graduated from a series of smaller machines--including a small Ducati, or 'Moto-Ducati' as they were known way back when. Larry and Paul had strapped overnight gear for two and placed themselves aboard the little Yamaha and headed North from the Bronx into Harriman State Park. It was this pair that discovered Big Hill Shelter.

Mike Giga and I had camped at Lake Tiorati in either the summer of '69 or '70, and although the camp ground was pretty much dust and clay from years of overuse, the trips there instilled a love for the wilderness that lingers to this day. Of course, Mike visits the woods, I now live in them!

Some photos remain of that first expedition to Lake Tiorati, Mike's Dad, John Giga, drove Mike and I as well as Mike's little brother George in the family's blue Buick station wagon. Later trips would be made in Mr. Giga's white and wood grain 1971 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon. This was the largest American wagon ever built, at least it seemed that way. 455ci engine, three rows of seating, a killer stereo for its day and a Christmas card from OPEC every year! The picture at left shows Mike Giga looking for the big one that just went over, Harry Pellegrin doing his best to look cool in a denim jacket and John Giga demonstrating an axe murder with Georgie as the guest of honor. The parachute was our main gathering area, pup tents made up the sleeping accommodations for Mike and I.

Anyway, this has a great deal to do with Big Hill Shelter, and I will explain. Paul and Larry brought back vivid and exciting tales of hiking miles into the woods and up a fire break to connect with a very rough-hewn jeep trail that wound its way further up into the mountains until it terminated at the edge of a cliff. A terrific panoramic view of the Hudson River Valley and a fairly imposing drop to the forest roof below, as well as a stone lean-to type structure with two internal fireplaces and an outside cooking pit greeted them. They raved and raved, but none of us had a license or a car! Larry flatly refused to take us all up on the 350 Yamaha. Those experiences at Tiorati had infected us with the need to be in the woods!

In the ensuing time, Larry (seen at right, Expedition of 1978) bought a 1968 Ford Fairlane Squire, like a Country Squire, but built on the Fairlane platform, it was something of a rare bird, I've only seen one like it since. With this vehicle, Larry was finally able to transport the four of us to Big Hill Shelter--in November of 1972. There had already been snow in the mountains by that weekend we'd scheduled for the trip, but heck, we were all tough guys from the Bronx and had slept out before. Mike and I both packed comforters inside our sleeping bags, and we figured with enough fire, we'd be just fine. And we were.

After taking a circuitous route from the Harriman Toll Plaza of the New York State Thruway, Larry found the small twisty road that terminates at a smoke tower and radio mast. The road is narrow, so at one particularly blind and tight curve a sign reads GO SLOW SOUND HORN. Of course, we read it that way, and to this day, we refer to the road as the driveway of a person named Goslow Soundhorn. At road's end, Larry nosed the Fairlane Squire (left) into the greenery and we decanted our gear. It was chilly and light snow punctuated the frozen ground. We rejoiced, as no matter what our canteens might eventually say, there would be water, potable after boiling or Halazone tablets. The sun rode low on the Horizon was we began following the yellow marks on the trees (trail blazes) into the dark, wintry wood. The trail traversed a number of small valleys, passing a dry stream bed that is quite active during parts of the spring and fall, but remains empty much of the year. Soon after the stream, the trail emerges onto a firebreak. At this point, one can continue across the break and resume the marked trail, which will eventually lead to BIG HILL Shelter from the cliff's foot. This is the way we went on this first trip, climbing over boulders and through tangles of tree boughs in the deepening twilight. Below is a view from BIG HILL Shelter, taken in the summer of 1978. We didn't have panoramic cameras then, so please forgive the rough transitions.

There was another group of hikers at the shelter already, but the floor was big enough that we could also occupy a portion and not be deemed intruders. As it turned out, these folks were leaving in the morning. We'd have the place to ourselves thereafter. Paul had only packed his sleeping bag, and due to his discomfort, spread himself out right in front of the fireplace. Right in front. The fire, containing some pine or evergreen branches, popped and sent an ember onto his sleeping bag. "Paul, you're on fire!" "You just want my spot!" "Paul, I swear, you're on fire!" "NO way, I'm not moving!" Finally, the heat alerted Paul that his tail feathers were indeed in mortal jeopardy. He started jumping and hollering, Mike and I almost wet ourselves laughing. Larry, always the practical person, reminded us that we might be in better shape if we put him out. Easier said than done, the sleeping bag filler continued to smolder and would erupt after a short time. We managed to salvage half his bag--the lower half. Of course, Mike and I each gave him our comforters--so he was the only warm camper all weekend! That's what we get for laughing, I guess!

Here is a shot of BIG HILL Shelter as it stood in 1978, coming up the trail from below. This is the last ten yards or so, when the rock begins to level off. Paul was resting (!) by the fireplace closest to the camera when he caught fire. Below is a picture of Harry on the top portion of the jeep trail, where it is fairly passable. His pack is fairly representative of what the guys carried in--usually weighing in excess of 75 pounds.

'First Night Up' was always the time to freak the other guys out with what you'd packed. Mike brought wine and cheese once, Paul, a frozen pizza.

Mike Giga still has a roll of film shot on our first adventure at BIG HILL Shelter. It shows us all, fifteen, sixteen years of age, dressed in the uniform of the times, jeans, concert tees and snorkel parkas, me with my hair on my shoulders. My photos date from two trips, one in 1978, and my last visit to BIG HILL in 1982. Mike reports that he was taken his son (now eighteen) on the trip up to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of our first time. The shelter is standing firm and remains unchanged. When you consider that the shelter was built in October of 1927 by Major Welch, for whom I assume the Lake in the Park is named, the place still looks good! Yes, we feel old!

Paul Silvestro deserves some recognition here. Even on our 1978 trip, he still displayed a certain lack of enthusiasm for getting out of the sleeping bag. Note Mike Giga's '70's-era watch strap!

Paul went to Cardinal Spellman High School in Da Bronx, graduating in 1974. He wore his gym shorts on camping trips and coordinated it with his St. Andrew's Cross Tee to show he was a Spellman Rebel!

He went on to be a very successful sound technician with many of the touring New Wave bands of the early 1980's. We lost touch in 1986. [UPDATE: And who says the internet doesn't do any good???? Through this site, Paul and I are back in communication. He is doing well, married with two handsome sons, living in New York State and prospering. Way cool!]

Here Mike (Left) and Paul (right) display one of the official BIG HILL beverages, Southern Comfort, which I have not been able to look at since hurling mightily on it in 1972... Southern Comfort was the official poison of preference with the Cardinal Spellman High Stage Crew, of which, Paul is the most illustrious alumnus.

In 1982, I made my last pilgrimage to this haunt of our youth. Present were: Mark Berlingeri (first lead guitarist with Stampede) his brother-in-law Jeff, Mike Giga and me, Harry Pellegrin. Once again, we went off-season, which is great because you don't have half the mosquitoes or fellow campers. BELOW, RIGHT: Here I am making Jiffy Pop, what all the world ate before the microwave came along. Of course, the boys never could figure out how to get a microwave up to BIG HILL!

LEFT: Mike quotes Pink Floyd "It's good to rest my bones beside the fire..." The cliff face stands behind him, it's about ten or twelve feet down to a leaf-filled pocket in the rock, another forty or so to the base. Paul rolled off it once. Southern Comfort, anyone?

RIGHT: Cleanliness is next to... impossible at BIG HILL, the little stream afforded a much needed refreshing on the trip down the mountain. You wouldn't notice how bad everyone smelled until the car ride home.

LEFT: Dinner might include all manner of food-stuffs augmented by whatever else might have wandered by the camp. On this night, it appears that two fish were snagged from somewhere on the Yellow Marker Trail.

RIGHT: Jeff, Harry and Mike relax after eating a hearty breakfast, or lunch, or... It always seemed to be time for one meal or another at BIG HILL.

LEFT: Mark Berlingeri displays the catfish that didn't get away at Camp Friday the 13th, a Summer camp that lies dormant the rest of the year. A spooky spot, but good fishing.

RIGHT: The big one that didn't get away--no, actually it's Mike Giga hard at it, fishing like a pro.

LEFT: Harry takes aim with Jeff's equalizer. Isn't an equalizer a box with little sliding potentiometers? Better ask Paul. Oops, he wasn't along on this trip.

RIGHT: Mark Berlingeri takes aim as well. What got these boys so angry? Some tin cans!

LEFT: Mike's musical fingers, probably clicking out the drum/hi-hat part of the intro to 'Watcher of the Skies'--well, maybe not.

RIGHT: The rock we all posed on when we were teenagers. Some of the original graffiti from 1972 remained in 1982. I guess it's either faded or painted over.

The back of BIG HILL Shelter. There was an outhouse back here somewhere, but it was reduced to firewood by someone--and not even us--over the years. Wild blueberries grew around this area and I made a mess-kit sized muffin with Bisquick, sugar, powdered milk and Squeeze Parkay (Fix All) on one trip. And this concludes our nostalgic visit to BIG HILL Shelter.

Of course, on the trip home, we always had to stop for a beer -- so cold, it smokes when you pop the cap. So cold, ice crystals form around the neck, so cold, your teeth crack, pushing that dust down your throat, irrigating the soil from the trail... That's how we tortured ourselves in the woods. The Last Chance Deli would always supply Heinekens--light or dark! Ah, now there's an idea... Thanks, Mike!

Sober as Judges!!!


  LOW END  By Harry George Pellegrin.  The first in the Gary Morrissey series of mysteries.  Dealing with modern subject matter in the classic style of the 1940's Mystery Noire masters--think Raymond Chandler in New York in the 1980's...  LOW END is the story of a drug addict who is murdered after he believes he has found evidence of a major government conspiracy.  Is it only drug-induced paranoia?  Might be, except his paranoia could be considered justified: he was murdered, after all.  Friend Gary Morrissey takes it upon himself to find out just what happened and lands himself in the crosshairs.
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Classic Guitar Method  Composed, written, transcribed, edited and arranged by Harry G. Pellegrin: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.
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DEEP END: The Wreck of the Eddie Fitz  By Harry George Pellegrin. A mystery novel. Involving a semi-professional musician and a Kreyol death cult, DEEP END takes the reader from the bottom of Long Island Sound to the steamy streets and Blues clubs of New Orleans. Alternative spirituality does battle with the common working man.  Published by PAB Entertainment Group in association with LULU.com.
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