Tag Archives: Catskill 35

The Catskill 35: The Burroughs Range

© J.N. Urbanski

“…what a severe yet master artist old Winter is… Ah, a severe artist! No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel.”

Back to Slide Mountain, a favorite of the writer John Burroughs and on a mountain range named after him after having inspired prose and poetry. There’s a commemorative plaque set into the rock under which he often slept at the summit of Slide. It’s also a favorite of my own being unimaginably stunning in the winter covered in a fluffy white cap with a glassy sky made of silvery blue. Near the summit there’s a crop of pine trees that look like they’ve been severely struck by lightning and, just further on from there, a stand of trees that have been stripped and tossed in the air like a giant had been picking his teeth with them. There are magnificent views and a wide array of trails to take.

© J.N. Urbanski

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The Catskill 35: Bushwhacking 101 Class with Jeff Vincent

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-5-54-34-pm
Jeff Vincent of Catskill Mountain Wild is running a Bushwhacking 101 class next week, Saturday November 12th, on Rusk Mountain. Apparently, it’s No-Trail-November and now that the trees are almost bare, trail-less hiking is much easier.

In this class you will learn how to bushwhack safely and properly; go over basic map and compass reading; learn how to navigate the land. This is described as a hands-on class and culminates in hiking to the summit of Rusk, which is one of the hikes required to complete the Catskills 35.

The group will be meeting at 9am on Spruceton Road in West Kill, NY, one of the most picturesque valleys in the Catskills. The Spruceton Inn will be giving the group 50% discount on drinks at their bar after the hike. Hike to the top of a mountain and then sip half-price drinks as the sun goes down in the beautiful Catskills: a guaranteed good time.

Jeff Vincent is a guide licensed by the NYS DEC, certified in First Aid & CPR, a 2014 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and Catskill 3500 Club member.

Read our interview with Jeff Vincent here. Go to the Facebook page to find exact details or email catskillmountainwild@gmail.com with any questions.

The Catskill 35: Southwest Hunter

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

The hike to Southwest Hunter was beautifully serene until halfway up The Devil’s Path I suddenly found myself in the midst of what I thought might be – but was not – young Giant Hogweed patch and froze in terror with my elbows in. I avoided touching it, but the dog raced on ahead of me and brushed through all the leaves that obstructed the path. “Giant hogweed!” I shouted to my hiking mate, who happens to be my husband. “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch the dog!”

“OK,” he said, nonplussed and walked on, clearly not fussed at all. I shouted out the consequences of brushing past Giant Hogweed to his back as he retreated into the forest brushing it with his bare arm. I proceeded gingerly through the patch passing what looked like enormous coriander leaves on stalks topped with large, distinctive, white floral umbrells.

The plants were six feet high and far too big to be poison hemlock. Out came the mobile phone, which remained raised in the air for a while and – lo and behold – you can get a faint signal on certain spots on the Devil’s Path and the occasional strong one. Good news. A spousal debate over tiny Internet images of Giant Hogweed ensued that became more annoying than the prospect of being burned by a poison plant…

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The Catskill 35: Doubletop

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

At 3860 feet high, Doubletop is the 9th highest peak in the Catskills and it’s a Catskills Camel, a double-humped peak and those humps are capped with dense thickets of fragrant evergreens. Once again, there’s a magical, mossy wonderland at the summit, and some ice and snow, but it’s doubly hard work getting up there.

According to the bylaws of the Catskill 3500 Club “there must be at least a 250 drop between the peak and any other peak on the list, or the peak must be at least half a mile from any other peak on the list”. So Doubletop’s two peaks are therefore combined.

It’s also a bushwhack with no trail, but it’s accessible from a number of directions. Experienced hikers approach Doubletop from nearby Graham Mountain, the Hardenburgh trail, Big Indian or Fir. The hike is mostly on private land, so you must obtain permission to hike this peak and you can find the details for that at the Catskills 3500 Club here.

There’s not much in the way of online information about the hike to Doubletop, so one must rely on a map and compass, or a guide. In a mostly southerly direction from the Seager Trail, it is straight up literally being almost horizontal in the beginning. Leaving the Seager Trail is always a miserable affair because it has everything you want in a trail: waterfalls, flat areas for picnics and a refreshing swimming hole. Leaving it to hike south towards Doubletop is even more painful because of its immediate upward trajectory: a thigh-buster from the beginning and troublesome because of its lack of trail.

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The Catskill 35: Fir Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

There are a handful of naturally made trails on and near the summit of Fir Mountain, which oddly make you feel like you’re back in civilization once you’ve reached the summit, a feeling that’s short-lived. Fir was our first bushwhack and it’s less of a bushwhack than a sapling-whack and they’re not being whacked, you are. At this time of the year, the saplings are bare but you have to push on through them and continually get whipped in the face. Catskills bushwhacks are climbs to the summit that have no trail at all and no signage. The saplings are a reminder of how much work goes into trail maintenance of all the marked trails by volunteers from wonderful organizations like the New York New Jersey Trail Conference.

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The Catskill 35: Peekamoose/Table

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Peekamoose is a strenuous, uphill struggle, a relentlessly steep trail with two or three large boulder formations to climb over. One formation has a precipitously positioned boulder that would tumble down the mountain should the tree on which its leaning collapse. After hiking over half the Catskills 35, I’ve never witnessed a tumbling boulder. Another notable distinction of this trail is the appearance of large boulders dashed with multicolored pebbles, making the rocks look spongy. There’s also a streak of pinkish, light purple rock and dirt about halfway up the trail.

More delightful are the manmade accents: doorways and steps carved in enormous, downed trees.

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The Catskill 35 (W): Bearpen

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

The trail to the summit of Bearpen is a long, gradual meander around a mountain, mostly on a part of a snowmobile trail that’s much longer than the walk to the summit and privately maintained. Unlike other trails to Catskills peaks over 3500ft, which are rocky, and perhaps because it’s so further afield than the others, the path is soft and grassy. There’s no tripping over boulders or sliding around on gravel. Most of all, there’s no clambering. If you like hauling yourself up over large boulders, this is not the hike for you. There are short lengths of the trail that are steeper, but they don’t last long. Bearpen is bearish, not bullish, if you like market metaphors. Yesterday, the trail was wet and that made the going very muddy with the boots sinking inches into thick banks of mud in some parts. There were long, round puddles that reflected another gorgeous winter day wearing the mantle of spring. On the ascent there are views through the trees during winter and at the summit, there are many breathtaking views. There’s also a large, rusting contraption that looks like an old ski-lift pulley converted from a car or truck, around which small trees have grown.

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Hillsound Trail Gear

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

It certainly wasn’t the plan to complete the Catskills Winter 35 (hiking every peak over 3500ft between the dates of December 21st and March 21st). In fact, the plan was to do the four required winter peaks of the regular Catskills 35 and resume in the spring, but like many carefully laid plans, this one failed. Being a city girl, before moving to the Catskills, all my walking was of the pavement persuasion and, truth be told, I only started hiking to wear out my puppy. I am not prepared for spring at all (and never was), but thanks to my friends at Hillsound, I am perfectly winterized with crampons, ultra crampons and gaiters, which are nifty contraptions, like hiker’s leg warmers that don’t wrinkle. Gaitors have stirrups that prevent the gaiter from rising up so that snow does not go up the trouser leg.

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The Catskill 35 (W): Hunter Mountain

© MAU

© MAU

I’ve written about my summer ascent to Hunter Mountain here and it was a memorable hike. Last weekend, it was even more memorable owing to the presence of a team of Asian hikers at the summit, huddled in the cabin porch, chatting effusively in their native tongue, crouched around a hissing hibachi grill. This is the second time I’ve seen such a spectacle and it couldn’t be any more delightful, but I’m not entirely certain its legal above 3500ft.

In the Catskills hiking world, there’s such a thing as “The Grid”: the ascent of every one of the peaks in the Catskills 35 over 3500ft accomplished in every month of the year. If you hike a couple of peaks a day, it’s possible to get The Grid done in a year by hiking the all 35 Catskills peaks every month for a year but, at a whopping 420 hikes, for most hikers who have a job, it’s something to accomplish over a lifetime. In addition to this, there’s the Winter 35 where the hiker must ascend every peak between the December 21st and March 21st. The Upstate Dispatch Grid is filling in at a snail’s pace, but the Winter 35 may be completed by the end of the year.

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The Catskill 35: Vly Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

There’s something magical about the valley through which Vly Creek runs and possibly it’s the wealth of great people who live there. Downstream from the Vly headwaters that originate alongside the trail to Vly Mountain, you’ll find Morse’s maple syrup, Vly bottled water and delicious, cream line milk from the DiBenedetto farm where the product is sold on the age-old, country honor system. As you drive along Route 37 crossing from Delaware County to Greene County, to get to the trailhead on Route 3, you’ll pass house after beautiful house in vibrant colors in a cozy, well-lived valley and photo opportunities galore with classic cars hidden behind barns, registered landmarks, and ancient houses. It looks like a movie set; Route 3 would make a riveting long walk in itself for this reason.

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Daily Catskills: 02/19/16

14F at 8.30am with the sun rising through a veil of cloud. 32F and overcast by mid-afternoon.

© J.N. Urbanski 1pm

© J.N. Urbanski 1pm

The Catskill 35: Slide Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

A return to the stunning Slide Mountain for the second time this year, ascending into the seductive clutches of a dense forest of snow-laden conifers, with a copy of John Burroughs’ In The Catskills. A commemorative plaque to Burroughs is affixed to a large rock at the summit under which the writer frequently camped. Slide is so named because of a landslide that occurred in the early nineteenth century on its north face where the scar is still apparent after having been refreshed by another landslide in 1992 and the entire area was thoroughly traversed by the writer.

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The Catskill 35: Big Indian

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Winter hiking in the Catskills is mostly magical, tranquil beauty but uncomfortable if you’re ill prepared and occasionally terrifying. I’ve been conveying my winter hiking experiences here under the Outdoors section on Upstate Dispatch. Or, rather, I’ve been writing about what could possibly go wrong should you decide to attempt a Catskills high peak when it’s 10˚F and weather conditions are a fickle master. True to my British nature, I seem to have created A Pessimist’s Guide to Winter Hiking or a Pessimist’s Guide to Conquering Winter Summits. Last year, I decided to attempt to hike all 35 Catskills peaks over 3500ft in order to join the Catskills 3500 Club and there are four extra peaks required in the winter. What I discovered after having hiked those four is that you can see a lot more of the landscape when it has lost most of its foliage. You literally get the lay of the land. So I’ve been continuing down the list instead of doing the sensible thing and waiting for the spring thaw. However, winter hiking is not for the uncertain.

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The Catskills 35 (W): Blackhead Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

There’s a part of the final metres of the ascent to Blackhead Mountain that is a vertical climb and one from which you should not look back down if you suffer the slightest vertigo or you will invite a case of the wobblies. It’s even worse now that it’s entombed in ice. My husband and dog hopped up it like mountain goats and I was left in the metaphorical dust, grappling with uncertainty, stabbing my spikes into the ice and, finally, hoisting myself up over the rocks with the roots of an aging birch tree. As I finally managed to haul myself over the top, I wondered if there was such a thing as hand crampons attached to a set of gloves because they would have made the job much easier.

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The Catskill 35 (W): Slide Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski The summit of Slide Mountain with zero visibility

© J.N. Urbanski The summit of Slide Mountain with zero visibility over the edge

Hillsound sent me two pairs of crampons – or “spikes” – to try out and my life hasn’t been so thoroughly changed for the better since I got my juicer. They must have taken pity on me because they read that I’m hiking the Catskills 35 in a pair of fifteen-year-old snowboarding boots that I bought in an emergency, during a torrential downpour on 14th Street in New York City, when I was on my way to meet a client.

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The Catskill 35 (W): Panther Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Oh, the joy of crampons. It’s nice to muster a decent pace with a good, long stride on the Catskills trails and I’m talking about the sort of stride that confirms the saying “to stretch the legs”, which British people call going for a walk. The only way you can do that in is in the winter on long stretches of iced mud, wearing crampons or “spikes”. Most Catskills trails are rocky, and I understand when I hear about hikers who go barefoot in good weather, because it’s easy to lose your footing if it’s wet or mossy. In the autumn, when the trail is covered with leaves, it’s too easy to slip between rocks and turn an ankle, especially when you’re on your descent and tired. Crampons are inadvisable other than when it’s icy or snowing because otherwise you’ll punch up the trail. They and snowshoes both make winter hiking rather special. Hillsound make a fabulous set for a reasonable price and I wore a pair yesterday for the very first time. Hillsound had sent us two pairs to try out for free and I love them.

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The Catskill 35: Indian Head Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

It’s difficult to decide what was more remarkable about a hike up Indian Head Mountain during hunting season. Would it be the periodic burst of gunfire from the local sportsman’s club every few hundred yards of my 13th peak over 3500 feet, like distant, anonymous cheerleaders? Perhaps it was the burly, camouflaged hunters strolling nonchalantly around the parking area, with loaded weapons over their shoulders, incongruously set against our hippy neighbors in their tie-dye. Possibly it was the roadside pile of dead deer we passed on the journey, but I think it was actually the unseasonal weather: t-shirt warm and humid at 55F by 10am on December 13th. I had no mobile phone service at lunchtime, so I could not tell what exactly the temperature was, but it felt like at least 60F. We’ve had a smattering of snow this year, but thus far that has been all. Last year was a strikingly different story as you can see here from our Daily Catskills picture of the same day. The lower parts of the trail to the summit and back down were wet and there were frequent stream crossings, but they were very low.

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The Catskill 35: Plateau Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

The trouble with hiking the Catskills in the autumn is that thick layers of fallen leaves completely cover the path. It’s easy to lose your footing and stumble, as your boot disappears up to the ankle into the crunchy leaves, especially when the ground underneath is rocky or slippery. The hike to Plateau Mountain from Mink Hollow Road on the Route 212 end, is rocky, pebbly and everything in between. It’s also wet, wet, wet; with several knee-deep river crossings on the first 2.6 miles, and frequent muddy pools, so if you feel like hiking it now, take your waterproof boots. One river crossing necessitated the aid of two large trees that were downed halfway across the water. All the clumsy, ankle-turning stumbling that’s met with enthusiasm on the way up becomes quite tiresome – and downright dangerous – on the way back to the car when you’re exhausted.

If it sounds like a big pain in the backside, this would be the point to mention that it’s utterly gorgeous: a smorgasbord of beautiful Catskills landscapes in a 7.3 mile round trip, featuring thick, white birch trees mixed with soft evergreens, falling waters, mossy boulders, a spring and a lean-to complete with outdoor privvy.

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The Catskill 35: Blackhead, Black Dome & Thomas Cole

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski The view south from Black Dome Mountain

Climbing Blackhead Mountain is like driving to New York City via the Tappanzee Bridge for the first time. By the time you’re more than halfway there it has become ridiculously difficult and you’re suddenly slightly afraid. You’ve got vertigo and you want to turn back, but you’re on a mission and survival is obligatory. The worst part about climbing Blackhead is the realization that, once you get to the top, if you want to be part of the Catskill 3500 Club, you have to return and repeat the experience in the winter. Four peaks are required hiking between December 21st and March 21st for entry into the club – Blackhead, Slide, Panther and Balsam – and Blackhead will require crampons, snowshoes and an ice pick – or all three. I already have a superb set of crampons from Hillsound, which I will be testing out on all four peaks.

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The Catskill 35: Westkill Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski The view from Buck Ridge Lookout

It might have been the delirium caused by hiking two miles up a steep, rocky mountain in less than an hour, but I couldn’t find the summit sign of Westkill after having gone past the two lookout points by about half a mile. If it is indeed there, I could not find it.* Could people stop stealing summit signs please? It’s dangerous for hikers, who go much further than they had planned, looking for something that’s not there, and tire themselves out. After looking for the summit sign for 15 minutes, I turned around on the trail intending to make my descent to my car. I stopped at Buck Ridge Lookout for a few minutes’ rest, but when I went to leave, I could not find the trail back and, as usual, deferred to the dog for guidance. He always trots ahead on every hike, can smell the trail and never goes wrong. This time, however, because this summit is in the middle of a trail that continues onward, he decided that we should just continue back the wrong way on that trail, which was five miles to another parking area on Spruceton Road that was four miles from the car. When I realised that was his plan, I panicked. He froze, staring back at me in anticipation as I traipsed around in the wilderness looking for the red blaze to direct us back the correct way. First time on The Devil’s Path and I was lost, however briefly, despite my good intentions.

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The Catskill 35: Balsam Lake Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

There are five fire towers in the Catskills, three of which I have visited, but I still have not mustered the courage to get to the top of one. Flights one, two and three of Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower were a piece of cake until a slight breeze blew, which rattled me to the core, then I looked down. Huge mistake; I sank to the floor (which looks like flimsy wood paneling when you’re kneeling on it), clinging on to the handrail. Is there a handrail? I can’t remember, but it hardly matters. I managed to execute a nice crawl/shuffle combination down the stairs on my bum, like a socialite spilling out of a nightclub at 3am, knees and elbows first. I spent the descent of Balsam Lake Mountain trying not to collapse in a heap, deeply in thought, musing on vertigo. Modern fire towers are steel structures bolted into solid rock, but older versions were made of wood. The earlier wooden structure on Balsam Lake Mountain was built in 1887, but was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground in 1901.

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The Catskill 35: Peekamoose

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Peekamoose is a Catskill 35 that can be combined with Table Mountain, also a Catskill 35, if you arrive at the parking area early enough in the day. Alas, I can never manage to muster myself in time. Work usually gets in the way. Moreover, on the day that I hiked it, the weather was inclement: foggy and raining, which made for a very enigmatic lunch at the summit. On top of a mountain peak, with your soggy sandwich, you are in the weather and this peak has two superb views made more astonishing by layers of fog and rain. Peekamoose is already an unusually lonely and desolate place on a summer weekday because the parking area looks like a spent weekend. Visitors, who bring their barbeque sets, chairs, tables and literally set up camp by streams and swimming holes in the area like the Blue Hole, leave all of their garbage: all of it.

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The Catskill 35: Balsam Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

The start of the hike to the summit of Balsam Mountain from Rider Hollow Road is a soft, mossy incline in a slender canyon between two mountains, crossing back and forth five times over (two) bridges and gushing streams, enveloped by the heady, familiar aroma of evergreen trees.

It’s an exquisitely picturesque hike with a narrow trail off which the dog strays, excitedly sprinting down to the gushing stream for a splash around and then back up the mountain to chase chipmunks. After the last bridge, the going begins to get rocky and steep, requiring hands and feet both in places, giving little respite until the next mile marker. Even after the mile marker, it’s a first-rate clamber in parts, second in line to the great rocky Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain hike. However, I’ve only done five of the Catskill 35, so I’ve little to compare it to, but it’s a thigh-busting challenge.

However, as the great lady said, by heck, it’s gorgeous. Not only gorgeous, it’s magical, evoking memories of childhood books in which squirrels and other spritely mammals live in enormous trees, like they’re Brooklyn brownstones, and go to forest school in uniforms. The magic was compounded by the fact that the base of the mountain was shrouded in fog when I hiked, so my ascent was a misty rise into a lushly ethereal world. You are never really alone until you’ve done a steep, perilous mid-week hike into the mountains after the summer season has finished and revelers have retreated to their city habitats. Always sign in for hikes. It could save your life. There is nothing like the doom of having unwittingly wandered off-trail and being lost in the wilderness with darkness looming. I recommend it at least once, because if you have stressful concerns about business, trivial family wrangles or superficial worries, they will dissolve like a desert mirage once you get lost on a hike with no cellphone service.

Hiking the Catskills 35 has taught me that I can start a hike fretting about a demanding client and by the time I’ve gone off-trail, become lost and suddenly relying on the dog to get me back to civilization, that formerly important client is miraculously dead to me.

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The Catskill 35: Hunter Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski The view from John Robb lean-to about 2 miles in

© J.N. Urbanski The view from John Robb lean-to about 2 miles into the Spruceton Trail to Hunter Mt.

If the Spruceton Trail to the summit of Hunter Mountain were a movie it would be a Kate Winslett vehicle: remarkably efficient, obvious, solidly reliable with a spectacular finish. An old logging trail, it has a very wide berth, leading the way like any seasonal road flattened with pebbles and flinty rubble. There’s really no chance for an idiot writer to get lost on this trail; even the Black Lab fell in line quickly and took a steady, dependable pace all the way to the top where there is a large fire tower, upon which should read the words: don’t look down. Looking down from the midway of the fire tower invites a severe case of the wobblies.

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The Catskill 35: Panther Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski 1.47pm

© J.N. Urbanski 8/12/15 1.47pm

It’s easy to miss the 3500ft elevation notice on Panther Mountain for two reasons. One reason is that it seems to be split down the middle and folded together slightly so that, on the ascent to the summit at 3720ft from Giant Ledge, it’s facing away from you. Second, it’s at the top of a particularly steep and (more) rocky part of the trail, so if you’re focusing on your footing and not looking up, you will miss it. Also easy to miss is the summit sign at 3720ft. On and on I hiked, until I was about three hours in from the Giant Ledge parking area, so I decided to turn back. I’m no slow coach, so I knew something was wrong. It had started to rain and, not only was I slipping alot, a large tree lay across the trail. I took this all as a sign and walked back to the second Panther Mountain view, in about half an hour, where I found the trio of hikers from the Adirondacks that I had passed at Giant Ledge. They were having their lunch. “I didn’t reach the summit,” I told the lead hiker “This is the summit,” he said. “Where’s the sign?” I asked. “People steal signs,” he said with a shrug.

A second source just confirmed the rumour. Someone stole the Panther Mountain summit sign. Maybe I just confirmed the rumour, but I’m too exhausted to think about it much. My round trip took me almost six hours, but on the plus side, the rain had stopped by the time I had returned to the summit from the other side and the mountains were steaming. I sighed and gasped at the views, took pictures and ate my lunch. I didn’t stop for long though, because I realized I had over two more hours of hiking ahead of me. They call it a hike, but there’s a considerable amount of climbing involved on this trail. During brief pauses in my hike, I would take pictures of my dog disappearing at the top of what looks like a very large pile of rubble.

© J.N. Urbanski 11am

© J.N. Urbanski 11am

On the thigh-busting descent to the Giant Ledge parking area, I was certain Giant Ledge was so-named because a giant went up to the summit, broke off the top of the mountain and threw it to the base. It crumbled as it tumbled and rocks are strewn all the way down. Unless you’re as nimble as a sprite, hopping from one half-buried rock to the next, the descent is a tedious search for sure footing.

According to Catskill Mountaineer, Panther Mountain “sits on top of a 375 million year old meteorite hit. The meteorite was approximately a half-mile wide. It sits 3300ft below Panther Mountain. Most of the rock on Panther Mountain is sand stone, which is just deposited sediments. If you go down near the Esopus Creek you will see significant fractured rock, which is evidence of the meteor. You will not find this fractured rock on top of Panther Mountain. The mountain is earth that has risen over time”.

Look for large pebbles embedded in the rock.

© J.N. Urbanski 1.47pm

© J.N. Urbanski 1.47pm

At least I managed to have tea and a biscuit at Giant Ledge. Time for some yoga.

© J.N. Urbanski 11am

© J.N. Urbanski 8/12/15 11am