Holiday Gift Guide: Catskills Stocking Stuffers

Here’s a list of our top ten handiest Catskills small gifts and stocking stuffers suitable for all friends, family and colleagues. Get your friends interested in the outdoors with maps, gift certificates, guides and ski-lift passes. Give the foodies in your life some of our scrumptious locally-made produce. The Catskills is also home to some of the best soap-makers and cosmetic artisans. 

New York New Jersey Trail Conference Maps
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New York New Jersey Trail Maps are an invaluable resource for both novice and experienced hikers of the Catskills. Click here to order the 2018 edition. These maps show hiking trails in detail, local monuments, lean-tos, views and topography – basically everything you need to plan a hike. You can also buy the maps at the Catskills Interpretive Center on Route 28 in Mount Tremper. $16.95 for a full set of Catskills maps.

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Monday’s Radio Show on WIOX: Winter Hiking Tips

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Monday’s guests Heather Rolland of the Catskill 3500 Club and Will Soter of Upstate Adventure Guides will be imparting Catskills winter hiking tips on Monday December 10th on WIOX Roxbury from 9am to 10am). You can listen to WIOX streaming online service here. Will Soter will also be talking about outdoor guiding in the Catskills. Whether you simply want to know more about hiking the Catskills or if you’d like to become a guide, tune in on Monday at 9am.

Catskills Christmas: Robson’s Tree Farm, Bovina Center, NY

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If you’re having a Catskills Christmas this year, there are a few places in the Catskills where you can source a freshly-grown fir for your house and one of those places is family-owned Robson’s Tree Farm in Bovina Center, NY. They maintain a couple of acres of thick, gorgeous trees – that won’t quickly lose their needles – that have been specially grown for Christmas: a sustainable option for the eco-conscious.

Very friendly, helpful and engaging staff give you a saw and send you into lines of trees to pick your own fir in the thick snow. Only pick the trees with the red price tag on. All the other trees without tags have not finished growing. The tree below was $35 but prices range from $25 to $75 for trees of different sizes. Most trees are 6′ to 8′ and are $30 to $55. Freshly-made wreathes were also available for $23. There is a fire to warm you up after you’ve finished sawing and hauling. Continue reading

Catskills Cocktails: Mulled Port

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This is a popular mulled wine recipe for port or sherry lovers that has been featured on this website in previous years. Port and lemon is a common combination. When it’s warm, sweetened with cherry juice and spiced it makes a harsh winter worth enduring. Port has a storied history; a staple in British households over Christmas Eve. Santa always got a glass of sherry with his Christmas pudding. And of course, the obsession with marinated cherries continues.

Mulled Spiced Citrus Port

750ml Tawny Port
100ml cherry juice
1 orange
1 lemon
10 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
1 drop of vanilla essence

Slice off the peel (including pith) of both the orange and lemon until you have the raw fruit and about eight slices of fruit peel. Put the peel to one side and muddle the raw orange and lemon fruit together with the port and cherry juice. Add the remaining ingredients, including the fruit peel, into the muddled mixture. Steep the mixture for a few hours. Add a cup of water to dilute to taste. Pour into a saucepan and heat gently until warm. Remove the fruit waste – but not the peel – once the port has warmed sufficiently to serve.

Serves four to eight.

Catskills Cocktails: Mulled Wine with Cherries and Pomegranate

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It’s going to be a Catskills Christmas this year, so there’ll be hot toddies, Irish coffee and spiced, citrus port.

Mulled wine is a seasonal, holiday indulgence, so it may as well be rich and sweet with some luxury ingredients. There were three lonely pomegranates remaining in the fruit isle at the grocery store, so one of them is now simmering gently with maraschino cherries, cherry juice, orange, lemon, cinnamon and whole cloves. As soon as the pomegranates were cut open, they exuded a thick, fragrant juice that was added to the saucepan. The cherries work well because they’ve been soaked in sugar, so there’s not really a need for a great deal of sugar in this recipe. If you inadvertently add too much lemon, use more of the maraschino cherry juice to dilute it. If your wine gets super-fruity, add more cinnamon. It might even take continual adjustment, but that’s half the fun and, of course, as the night goes on, your mulled wine will transform, perhaps being a completely different taste and smell by the end of the evening if it lasts that long…  Continue reading

Winter Hiking in the Catskills with The Catskills 3500 Club

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Members of the Catskill 3500 Club are leading some excellent winter hikes starting this Saturday November 24th, 2018 through the holidays and the New Year. A Winter Preparedness Class is also being offered on December 1st – that’s if it hasn’t been booked up already. Click here to see the schedule.

This is a good way to accomplish the bushwhacks on the list of the Catskill 3500 in the company of the experienced hikers of the club. It’s magical on the peaks this time of year, but brutally dangerous and safer to hike in groups. In December, volunteers will be leading hikes to the following bushwhacks: Lone, Rocky, Friday, Balsam Cap, Rusk, East Rusk and Kaaterskill High Peak, the last mile of which is a bushwhack. Other hikes include Westkill, The Blackhead Range, Hunter and Slide Mountain among others.

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Daily Catskills: 11/22/18

5F at dawn, rising to 19F by 1.30pm. Bone-numbingly cold with an arctic breeze making waves on the steaming Pepacton Reservoir. Ethereal clouds. Update: a plunge into the single digits overnight for a low of -2F or lower on the peaks.

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Ski Season in the Catskills

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There are discounts still available on ski season passes for 2018-19 at Belleayre Mountain until November 26th. A mid-week pass for Monday to Friday ski-ing, including holidays, is still only $329. Season passes make good holiday gifts. A day pass for Monday to Friday is $60 and a holiday Monday day pass is $72, so you only have to use the pass five or six times to get your money’s worth. Click here and scroll down for more details. See you on the Slopes.

Daily Catskills: 11/21/18

A high of 34F and overcast with the mountains blanketed in thick fog. An afternoon storm blows through bringing a few inches of snow. Snow-making continues on Belleayre.

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The Fire Starter: Tinder Polypore

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The particularly handsome example of fomes fomentarius, otherwise known as the tinder polypore, pictured above was found on the Huckleberry Loop trail in July 2017. It remained on the tree because that was the only example to be found on the trail that day. Sustainable foraging means taking only some of what you find and leaving the rest behind to propagate. However, if you’re in the wild or lost, an old, dry tinder polypore serves as an efficient fire starter, especially useful in winter hiking if you ever get stuck somewhere and need to start a fire in wet conditions. This year, it seems like a trial winter just sprang out from behind a long, drawn-out autumn to surprise us and now is the time when temperatures fluctuate wildly from day to day. Hikers need to be sufficiently prepared and it’s easy to get caught out. Otzi, the pre-historic hiker from about 3100 BC who was found in the Alps – by modern hikers – mummified and preserved in ice on the border of Austria and Italy back in 1991, was reportedly wearing several pieces of tinder polypore on a string around his neck. Continue reading

Hiking the Catskills: Huckleberry Point

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Like Giant Ledge, Huckleberry Point is a reliable hike that’s a comparatively shorter distance than other Catskills hikes, but offers equally stunning views and a beautiful summit. You can also find people doing this hike in sandals and a tiny handbag on a Friday afternoon, so it’s that kind of go-to hike – the kind people decide to do regularly and on a whim. Unlike Giant Ledge, there’s no climbing involved, this trail is easy to moderate with one or two rock piles to climb over, but nothing anywhere near to the rock climbing you’ll endure on Giant Ledge. The Huckleberry Point trail is also different in that you’re climbing up and over the summit of a mountain and down the other side to the lookout, so you’ll be getting some aerobic exercise in both directions instead of only getting it on the ascent. Continue reading

New Invasive Tree-Eating Pest Threatens The Catskills: The Spotted Lanternfly

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the US Northeast now has the Spotted Lanternfly from Asia on the march from Pennsylvania after its discovery in 2014. As reported by the Catskill Center, it has been spotted as close as Albany and Yates County. The fly is easily distinguished by its colorful wings and it feasts on grape vines and hardwood trees like oak, maple, apple, walnut and cherry. By eating these trees, the render the plant or tree vulnerable to other insects.

The DEC urges people to report sightings of the fly or eggs to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov. This fly is unique because it only flies short distances; it’s primarily transported by human activity. It lays its eggs on vehicles, rusting metal, stone and firewood so they are very easily moved long distances on vehicles like long-haul trucks. It’s egg masses are brownish-gray, waxy and mud-like, resembling taupe putty when new. Old eggs masses are brown and scaly.

Signs of an SLF infestation may include:

Sap oozing or weeping from open wounds on tree trunks, which appear wet and give off fermented odors.
Massive honeydew build-up under plants, sometimes with black sooty mold developing.

The Catskills 35: High Peak (Kaaterskill)

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Nothing makes you more alert than hiking an unmarked, bushwhack trail to the top of a very steep mountain. It was such a relief, after doing a quick pitstop at Hurricane Ledge (for the picture above), to return to the summit to find fellow hikers. KHP, as it is known, is not for the faint of heart, the inexperienced, or anyone with the slightest bit of vertigo. Map and compass-reading skills are essential for this hike. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/19/18

Clear skies at dawn and for the most of the morning. Wispy cloud forming at noon and then, a delicate layer of woolly cloud floated across sky like a sheet and hardened into milk glass at dusk. A high of 61F. No snow on Kaaterskill High Peak, but the odd patch of ice in places.

Daily Catskills: 10/18/18

33F by morning with overnight snow on the lower peaks forming a crunchy layer on the ground that lingers until the afternoon. A high of 43F but back to 36F by the evening. The Black Lab Mix salutes these new frigid temperatures with some yoga – he’s ready – but a lot of green remains on the trees. Fall has not finished.

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Daily Catskills: 10/17/18

A crisp autumn day beginning with a humid morning and rising to a 52F high. Mostly overcast with rolling, dark cloud bringing a sudden hail storm at 4.15pm and, after a plunge into freezing temperatures of about 36F late evening, a crunchy layer of snow. If we wanted it dull, we would be living somewhere else.

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Daily Catskills: 10/16/18

A fresh, chilly morning rising to a high of 54F. A rare day with clear, blue skies do nothing to enliven the dull fall colors. Still waiting for nature’s fireworks.

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Winnisook Lake, Origin of the Esopus Creek

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It’s truly extraordinary that one of the most majestic creeks in the Catskills – and possibly about a quarter of the drinking water supplied to nine million New Yorkers – begins with a tiny spring originating on Slide Mountain in Oliverea just over the apex of the Catskills Divide. This spring was dammed at its source by the Winnisook Club in 1886 to create the now 8-acre Winnisook Lake, so that members of this private club would have somewhere to fish. (This is a private club with no public access).

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Spilling from this pristine lake, is the start of the Esopus Creek, which travels about 65 miles through the northern Catskill Mountains and is revered as the source of some of the America’s best fly fishing.  It is dammed for the second time to create the Ashokan Reservoir and then continues on from there to empty into the Hudson River at Saugerties. We have so much water here in the Catskills, and so much rain, that it really feels like a rain forest in humid periods. The precipitation occurs because we’re high up in the path of clouds moving east from the comparatively flatlands of Ohio. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/12/18

A cold snap: a chilly morning at 46F by 9am warms up to a high of 57F. Breezy with fast-moving cloud and sunny periods. There still some patches of green hanging on amidst the yellowing and almost bare trees.

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Daily Catskills: 10/10/18

Already 72F mid-morning with the sun spilling through gaps in the clouds and gilding the forest. Another overcast afternoon with a high of 79F and a slow breeze. Feels like a late summer.

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Giant Ledge in Fall

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Ah, Giant Ledge. These days it’s like Times Square up there even on a weekday in autumn because it’s a quick 1.5 miles from the parking area, over a babbling brook and up quite a steep, rocky incline to literally a giant ledge jutting out into the wilderness with astonishing panoramic views of both western and eastern Catskill Mountains. On a nice summer day, you can get up there in your day wear on a lunch break and then there’s full cell service at the summit, which makes it popular with the Instagrammers, photographers and weekend visitors. There is no cell service on the way up, in the parking area or on Route 47.

For this reason, Giant Ledge is the gateway hike. It’s lures you in with its easy rewards, and before long, you’ve bought proper hiking shoes, non-cotton clothing and perhaps even hiking poles. If you go 1.85 miles further on from Giant Ledge you will reach the summit of Panther Mountain, which is one of the Catskills peaks over 3500 ft, the “Catskills 35”. (There are 35 peaks over 3500 ft here in the Catskills.)

In the fall, it’s muddy and once the leaves start falling on the trail along with the rain, the rocks get very slippery so extra care is needed. (In the winter, it completely ices over and it’s necessary to use crampons). Only the beginning part of the trail to Giant Ledge is level: a brief reprieve in the rock climbing, but it’s still muddy at the moment. None of that seems to deter the multitude of visitors though, because it’s one of the perfect spots to watch the leaves change.

Right now, the landscape is mostly yellow with some swathes of red. There’s lots of green left on the oaks and other hard woods, but it’s sure to burst into its final, vivid orange fireworks any day now. If that happens on a sunny day, we’ll be golden.

Go here to scroll thought last year’s October.

Giant Ledge is a 2.5-hour drive from George Washington Bridge. Take I-87 to Kingston, Exit 19, then take Route 28 (West) after the traffic circle, following the sign to Pine Hill. At Big Indian, turn left onto Route 47 and drive 7.5 miles south on Route 47 until you see the trail head sign. The parking area is just before a hairpin bend.

The View

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The Trail

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Daily Catskills: 10/09/18

A balmy high of 78F, but overcast still with thick cloud like a plumped up duvet that rolled back to reveal some sun (sun!) for a brief period in the early afternoon.

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The Catskills 35: Cornell Mountain via Wittenberg

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This time in the beginning of fall is the best time to hike. It’s too cold for the bugs but warm enough to hike in a t-shirt once you have gotten going and the leaves have only just started to fall, so there’s no thick, wet carpet of rotten leaves coating the rocks to make the trail treacherously slippery.

To access Cornell on a marked trail, you need to approach from either Wittenberg or Slide, two of the Catskills highest peaks and each one difficult enough on its own. Wittenberg is much more difficult than Slide, a withering epic that begins as it means to go on, with even the very beginning being a steep ascent to the sign-in register and, then after a 2.9 mile hike with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, in the last mile before the summit there are three or four intimidating climbs up sheer rock faces. Hiking Cornell via Wittenberg from Woodland Valley is the third highest vertical climb in the Catskills. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/06/18

Gloomy, overcast with the sun occasionally breaking through the cloud for a high of 64F. Thick mist hovered over the caps on the high peaks for most of the day. The whisper-quiet summit of Cornell covered in a foggy shroud.

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Daily Catskills: 10/05/18

After a gloomy morning, the thick clouds evaporated into nothing leaving clear skies and blazing sunshine for a change. Fall began in earnest this week. The yellow leaves are falling and the reds are popping. Peaches are ripening just as their leaves are drooping.

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Fall Harvest: Squash Fries with Burnett Hot Sauce

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The butternut squash came out more squashy than usual – much less like the soft, puddingy texture of sweet potato, more watery and stringy like spaghetti squash, a diluted version of the dense butternut from where the seeds originally came. A suggestion from Steve Burnett: cut it into fries, toss the fries liberally in Burnett’s legendary homemade hot sauce and roast for 40 minutes to make spicy squash fries. If you like a skin on your fries, finish them off under the broiler for a few minutes. Hot, spicy and delicious.

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Daily Catskills: 09/29/18

Almost 60F by mid-morning with ominously low blanket of cloud that splits into a flotilla of long cotton balls by mid-afternoon.  A high of 62F. The fall is slower this year with only vague swathes of red amidst the yellowing landscape.

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Daily Catskills: 09/26/18

Another one of our many moody days. Showers in some areas, and the ubiquitous low-hanging clouds looking like the underside of a winter comforter. Long, steady breezes push through the trees and a high of 75F. More rain late afternoon. Rain, rain, rain. Cows in a huddle.

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Fall Harvest Soup

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What do you do when you have a basement full of potatoes, onions, garlic and apples? Add lentils to make a Fall Harvest Soup. You can easily make it vegan by not adding butter. You can also add bacon if you can’t live without meat, frying thin slices of your bacon in with the garlic.

This soup is a delicious mixture of the fruity apple with the nutty lentils. The potatoes thicken the soup, but you prefer the soup to be thinner, add more warm stock towards the end to reach the consistency you prefer. If you prefer the apples and lentils to be the main two flavors, only use three cups of potatoes, and add a half-cup of lentils. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/21/18

A sturdy autumn breeze steals the day, shaking acorns out of the trees. Overcast with sombre clouds passing slowly in a low, solemn procession and chilly for a high of 66F. The landscape continues its barely discernible yellowing.

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Five Catskills 35 Trail Hikes

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There are 35 Catskills mountains over 3500 ft and there’s a club of volunteers devoted to maintaining these trails, and leading group hikes, called the Catskills 3500 Club. Two of the best extra resources are the Catskill Mountaineer website in which you can see a great deal of detail on each hike in the Catskills and a set of maps produced by the NYNJ Trail Conference. All the hikes are pretty strenuous, steep and miles long – not just your proverbial walk in the park. Furthermore, nine of the hikes are bushwhacks, which means there is no trail and you must rely on a map and compass. Some of the hikes are arrestingly beautiful, with waterfalls, lush vegetation and mountaintop lookouts that reward the hiker with stunning views that extend for hundreds of miles over the Catskills’ peaks. But don’t go unprepared. These hikes demand a high fitness level and expert advance planning, especially in winter. Novice hikers should not be attempting peaks in summer or winter without advice.

As an introduction to hiking, I hiked in the summer first and you never forget your first peak.  Balsam Mountain in the summer is spectacular. Here are links to five reviews of the Catskills 35s: Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/17/18

Mist sinking into the valleys early morning with wispy clouds getting thicker as the day progresses. A mostly sunny afternoon with a high of 80F and light rain beginning at dusk. Balmy.

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Retrolinks Sunday: The Best of Upstate Dispatch

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Upstate Dispatch recently celebrated its fourth birthday and I took a bit of a break to ponder on why and how it started in the first place. As a writer, I’ve always lived in deserted areas of cities with cheap rents: Shoreditch when it was a post-industrial wasteland on the other side of Liverpool Street train station – a two-pub pocket of London that was deserted at weekends where I learnt to play pool; Williamsburg when there were still cars burning on the streets of Kent Avenue: Bed-Stuy, when there was an actual car burning outside our studio one time and where a musician came every Sunday with a set of speakers and an electric guitar to play where nobody heard him; leafy Fort Greene when the rents were laughably low and one local dive bar in a basement that teemed with characters fit for novels, bursting with life. As I moved on from one city to another, and one area to the next, in the above order, the expanding population followed hard on my heels. Shoreditch is now a tourist mecca akin to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square.

The Catskills, where I now live, is also a sparsely populated area where there are so many characters fit for novels and brimming with life in a completely different way: rural, and wild-forested natural history. Farmers, artists, historians, writers, homesteaders, cooks, teachers and more, nestle in the valleys of the Catskills and perch on mountaintops. Our forested ridge is fast filling up with young people seeking a more calming environment, good food and company. In the time since we bought our house, an astonishing eleven years ago, our dog has had the run of a 40-acre ridge-top and we only had two friendly full-time neighbors, a retired couple. All that is changing – our dead-end road is filling up with young, curious people and for the first time last night, as I read by an open window, I heard music coming from another distant house that mingled with owls, evening chirping and the waning laughter of crows.

New York City is charging out of its concrete jungle, sending out its long, withered, under-nourished tendrils towards us – the only vegetation that it can muster – gasping for life and some nurturing soil. This slow march from the city to the country is viewed with consternation by some, but if you’ve had children, you can’t really complain about the fast-swelling population.

Upstate Dispatch was started as a Catskills diary, a daily documentation of life in the Catskills and latterly my experiences as a writer in the past four years in local print and on my radio show on the eclectic WIOX Radio.

There is a so much to read on this site. Here are some more links to the best of Upstate Dispatch:

Our hiking page has been the most popular. Find our efforts to climb the Catskills 35 and document some of the best views in the Catskills over the years.

Every day, for the first 18 months of the website, I published one picture a day from around the area in the Daily Catskills section. Click here to scroll back through the years in this category.

More on my personal history in First Person Dispatch.

Conversations with other Catskills residents in Catskills Conversations.

Our adventures with our small farm and a steep learning curve in the world of foraging.

Now, back to documenting this year’s slow fall. The mountains look like those heads of broccoli that you leave in the fridge too long: slightly yellowing, “on the turn” as they say in England.

Thanks for reading.

J.N. Urbanski 9/11/18

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Daily Catskills: 09/06/18

80F by noon and breezeless, but cooler in the forest.  A humid 84F high broken by heavy clouds, mid-afternoon showers, lightning and a long thunderstorm that dumps a mass of evening mist that rolls in and out of the valleys at dusk like a tide. Then a power cut at 8.30pm for absolutely no reason at all.

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