“…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.
Twin Mountain is so named because it has twin peaks, and they are twin pains in the backside on the final ascent from either direction. After almost two-month hiatus, Twin was my 29th Catskills peak and this one seemed liked the most challenging yet. Hikers say Sugarloaf is the most difficult, but not so, in my humble opinion. I ascended Sugarloaf in icy conditions in February and last week’s summer ascent of Twin was much worse. From Pecoy Notch, on the last 0.7 miles to the summit of Twin, the path turns into mostly sheer rock face like this below:
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.
Fleischmanns is having a Memorial Day street fair on Saturday, 10am to 4pm.
If you come to visit, don’t forget to pack up your trash and take it with you. Last year, the Blue Hole, Peekamoose’s swimming hole was strewn with rubbish. Days and weeks later, hikers were still bagging litter on their way home. Jeff Vincent highlights this problem in his piece in this week’s Watershed Post. As a mountain guide, he regularly carries out rubbish on his hikes. This year, the DEC has issued new rules for enjoying the area.
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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.
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.
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.
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.