I’ve written about Bearpen Mountain before after climbing it in March 2016. As I wrote then, it’s aptly named, being bearish not bullish, a long, gentle incline around a mountain following a snow mobile trail. Bare trees allow stunning, almost panoramic views, glimpses of the surrounding countryside, so it’s easy to keep your bearings. When the mountain’s covered in a few feet of snow, you can follow the tracks of previous hikers up or down a handy short cut that’s a dashed black line on the map and helpfully signed “Danger”, but this part of the trail is scantily marked, so I’ve never had the courage to bother with it before. It was a blessing on the way down on Sunday because all the hikers before us had decided to take the short cut so we had broken trail most of the long way up and – as usual – I had forgotten something, snow shoes, that would have made the going far easier.
Bearpen was once a ski center and bears – can I fit in any more bear/bare puns in here? – a large aging, rusting contraption, looking like it was made from an old car, that was used to haul the ski-ers up the hill. At the start of the trail, there’s a private cabin, more aptly described as a fort, with security (“Bullitt Security. Call us. We’ll arrive like a shot!”) and a wooden gun nailed to the door.
Let’s not forget the spectacular views that are some of the best, if not the best in the Catskills 3500 range. From the first unimpeded view near the top, in a northwesterly direction the hiker can clearly see both reservoirs in Schoharie County, the highest one impressively carved into a mountain peak and gleaming like set glass (top left on the mountain range of the picture below):
Onward you will find a clear, north-westerly viewpoint, from which you can see Plattekill Mountain on which the wide ski-runs come to a point in the shape of a massive diamond (below, middle top).
Of all the Catskills 3500s, Bearpen is close to the top of my list for these reasons and because it’s at the end of Route 3, in the Vly Valley, one of the most picturesque and quintessentially Catskillian routes in these mountains with some of the best, most solid, people, our neighbors. We’re lucky. A beautiful drive through the valley past gorgeous homes, quaint barns, horses, ducks, chickens and cows, charming homesteads and farms; a reasonable, yet suitably taxing 3-mile (3.5 hours because of deep snow) hike up a grand mountain peak, and then afternoon lunch with a few beers in front of the fire accompanied by a black lab passed out cold. A perfect Sunday.