“…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.
Seven of the final nine peaks left on my list to be climbed to qualify for full membership in the Catskill 3500 Club are all bushwhacks and Halcott Mountain, which I climbed last week is the second lowest bushwhack in the Catskill 3500, but somehow felt like the steepest. From now until I finish my 39th climb, it’ll be mostly compass, map reading, being slapped in the eyeballs by saplings and tree branches, falling face first into slush, sliding backwards over ice into a tree, hauling oneself over giant ledges, and watching the summit move upwards as you climb towards it. (“That’s it! Wait…”) In fact, it’s all uphill from here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Senseless vandalism in the form of tree gouging has been taking place on several of our Catskills 35 bushwhacks in the past month shocking local hikers. Polite members of the Catskills hiking community are calling the hand-sized marks “blazing”, but they are not just your average grazing or marking of the bark with a pocket knife. They are distinct, deliberate, firmly removed chunks of tree that are a couple of tree-rings deep, accomplished expertly with a well-sharpened tool. On one bushwhack, hikers reported as many as 50 trees affected, so sadly, it looks like hikers doing the trail-less peaks have been marking their way by chopping at the trees like lumberjacks gone rogue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of accidents on the peaks – Kaaterskill and Sherrill – this past week remind us how treacherous winter hiking can be. It’s not only the cold, icy terrain that’s a threat; if you’re tired or hungry, circumstances can quickly go from uncomfortable to dangerous. Once fatigue sets in, an ordinarily innocent stumble on a boulder can easily turn into a fall or disable a knee or ankle. In addition, if your under layers are soaked in sweat a rest break could allow them to freeze. These are potentially fatal conditions. Listen to your instinct when it says you’re really too tired to attempt to climb up that 50-feet-high vertical pile of jagged rocks. Except, I didn’t.
Westkill is not one of the peaks you are required to ascend in winter, but it is one of the most beautiful during this time. Diamond Notch Falls’ rumbling cascade is a gorgeous place to sit and meditate in the summer. Go here to read our account of Westkill during the summer. It’s a difficult hike, with two miles that are a challenging, thigh-busting uphill battle, but the views from the summit make it all worthwhile. Yesterday’s light was utterly extraordinary. Plus, the drive on Spruceton Road, on which you’ll find a motel, farms and a church with a small graveyard, is just as beautiful as the hike up the mountain itself. At about 3pm, the sun came out, which pleased the horse (pictured bottom) no end.