81F by mid-afternoon and humid, with cloud sailing over the hazy mountains through a sky of swimming pool blue.
Back on the trails again, in the pines, welcomed by fresh, dewy cobwebs stroking my face and hands like ghostly fingers warning me that I’m on my own. This time Huckleberry Loop: a very long, meandering trail that intersects with Dry Brook Ridge in two places, that was deserted except for a special neighbor who arrived to walk her dogs along the loop’s road. Sometimes good things happen when you dither in the road with a map. Continue reading
50F by mid-afternoon, gusty winds, overcast, heavy rain leaving mist over the mountains.
55F, humid with overnight rain, mist lingering in the valleys. 61F and sunny with an afternoon armada of clouds sailing quickly like they’re on their way to somewhere much colder.
46F by mid-afternoon, brilliant sunshine, two feet of soft snow acts as a giant pillow for lounging in the sun.
28F by mid-afternoon and overcast with a glassy silver-grey sky and snow flurries on the peaks.
A wide stretch of electric blue, after a week of low light and vibrant snow storms. Clouds sailing quickly along like they have warmer places to be. So many fresh tracks in the snow made it look like a Million Animal March. Perhaps there was an unofficial wildlife conference last night? 24F by mid-afternoon.
It’s good to know when to give up and turn around and yesterday was one of those days. Rusk Mountain, a bushwhack that seemed easy on paper, was an almost vertical ascent the way we went, covered in a layer of thick snow, making it difficult to maintain traction even in snow shoes. After an hour of climbing, slipping, sliding and clinging to tree branches, the final straw was the formiddable rock ledge (pictured above) that greeted me about 20 minutes from the top. There were tracks up the side of this ledge from hikers that were ahead of us, but the snow was crumbly and there were no tree roots or rocks for support. Plus, I was cold, fatigued and we had started too late, so we were in a bit of a rush. Last time I ignored the conditions, I slid 30 feet down a mountain and slammed into a tree. I learned my lesson back then.
29F at 10am, snow flurries, turbulent sky, with flashes of blue.
31F at 9am, light breeze, milky sky, six inches of overnight snow.
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.
A frigid 27F by mid-afternoon with squally snow showers and thick snow on the peaks.
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.
73F at 8.30am and humid with thick cloud cover.
30F by 10am and partly cloudy and sunny, rising to 38F and overcast by 4.30pm.
Winter hiking can get dangerous pretty quickly. One minute you could be trotting along atop a magical winter wonderland and then the next minute, you might take your gloves off to take a picture and be left wondering if you’ll ever feel your hands again. Your water might freeze in your backpack at the summit of a mountain and if you’ve layered with cotton and start sweating on your ascent, you’ll stay wet for the duration of the hike. Winter hiking in the Catskills is only for the experienced or very prepared. At the very least, take spare socks, t-shirt, food and don’t wear cotton under- or base garments. Drink a liter of water before you set out and eat a hearty breakfast. Take a lighter, some pocket hand warmers and a gadget that turns snow into water. Or wait until Spring. Just stay at home and read, catch up on correspondence or binge watch quaint BBC period dramas because if I haven’t mentioned it, winter hiking in the Catskills can get serious suddenly and without warning.
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.
JN: What brought you to the Catskills?
JM: I guess a love of the forest and the outdoors. Nancy and I used to ski a lot up in Hunter and Windham, but we didn’t want to be in a ski-town, so we looked further afield. Plus, we figured that a lot of the open space here would be protected because it’s in the New York City watershed and won’t be highly developed which is what we were trying to avoid.
Where were you living before you lived in the Catskills?
We were down in Long Beach, Long Island.
I have friends there.
The reason I wound up in Long Beach first is because I was born in Brooklyn, but I was big into surfing and fishing and all that, so I found a little studio apartment in Long Beach overlooking the ocean. It was very expensive at $70 a month. [Laughs]
When was that?
A million years ago, but it was great. I was 21, or whatever, and all my buddies would be calling me and asking me if the surf was up. Plus, we would go fishing.
52F at 8am, with breathtaking skies ribboned with marbled cloud. 65F at 1pm and humid. A sombre dulling of the northern Catskills’ peaks.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
PD: I was born in Margaretville, so I’m a lifelong resident except for five years that Michael and I – the year after I got married, I was very young – we moved to Texas. We lived there for five years so we could finish school for basically free. Then came back and started raising our family here in the Catskills. So we moved back to my Dad’s farm and he gave a piece of it to each sibling.
So my children grew up climbing on the same stone walls that I grew up climbing on and also my grandchildren are [doing that] as well. My brother and I used to bring the cows from the barn down the road up here to this field and then take them back again at the end of the day to be milked.
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.
46F at 8.30am and humid with thick fog. Update: 72F by mid-afternoon and a brilliantly sunny and warm day. Fall just seems to be getting better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
59F at 8.30am with hazy sunshine, quickly rising to 72F by 10.30am with scattered clouds.
72F at 9am, bright with some scattered clouds. 78F by lunchtime.
74F at 9.30am with mist evaporating into the sunshine. 82F by lunchtime with scattered clouds. Heavy overnight rains had given the landscape a good soaking, and left the rivers gushing and thick with mud.
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.
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.
At least I managed to have tea and a biscuit at Giant Ledge. Time for some yoga.
82F by noon, clear skies overhead, warm and breezy with scudding clouds on the horizon.
Last night’s gorgeous sunset hike with Jeff Vincent of Catskill Mountain Wild occurred under a full, blue moon with clear skies and hazy sunset viewed from the fire tower atop Overlook Mountain in Woodstock. Go to the NYNJ Trail Conference website or the DEC to get the details of the hike. There’s nothing as quietening on the nerves as a strenuous hike that culminates in a few beers around the fire pit at one of the Catskills best bars, Commune Saloon on nearby Tinker Street. An uphill 2.5-mile battle at a thigh-burning gradient, the hike is worthwhile for the magnificent ruins of the Overlook Mountain House about half a mile from the summit. The hotel was built almost 100 years ago but swiftly abandoned by the developer mid-project. The trail is lined with burdock and mullein, but beware of the rattlesnakes. Once you ascend the fire tower you have almost 360-degree views of the Ashokan Reservoir, the Hudson River and the easternmost Catskill Mountains, once called the Blue Mountains for their blue hue. The 2.5-mile descent was under the gaze of the full, blue moon. A great hike to take visitors; the summit also includes a historical kiosk manned day and night by volunteer watchmen.
Fleischmanns’ Goatie White’s pork sandwich, on a light roll, made more moist and delicious by the addition of a generous helping of fried onions stuffed between the thinly-sliced pork and a thin layer of cheese. Not too heavy or greasy, it’s excellent pre-hike sustenance. A sandwich to love.
63F at 7.30am with the rising sun quickly burning through the thick mist hovering over the mountains. Update: the morning mist cleared quickly and the day turned out to be a 85F scorcher with high humidity.
As Jeff Vincent explained a couple of months ago in our conversation, “one day of hiking with somebody, you feel like you’ve known them for months and months” and it’s true. Jeff runs Catskill Mountain Wild, an outdoor guide business and he is also authorized to conduct marriages on top of mountains in what he calls “wild weddings”.
Wild red raspberries are plump and juicy this year. Get them before the bears and slugs do. Look for low lying bushes with leaves that have serrated edges.
65F at 9am with a sodden landscape and mist over the mountains. A light breeze whips rain out of dripping trees. Update: Sun! 74F with hazy sunshine over the lunchtime period, although more showers expected.
I went hiking and found myself. So every chance I get I like to climb a mountain with my laptop and do some work. I’m also a painter, photographer, writer, editor and often hike with a ridiculous amount of gear: easels, cameras, sketch pads, laptops, iPads, etc. I’m always stupidly overburdened. In fact, I go almost everywhere with my laptop. I’ve also mentioned that I’m aiming to complete the Catskills 35 in the next year and I’m totally unprepared.
For example, I was previously using this for day hikes:
When he finally dragged me out camping upstate for the first time, my husband tucked his socks into his trousers and his shirt into his Christmas tree pyjamas, because NOBODY wants Lyme disease. Consequently, I had never seen a tick on him before last week. It was a wood tick that I had not expected to be that large because local lore has it that they are everywhere and that the nymphs are about as visible as specks of dust.
75F at 10.30am, warm and sunny with hazy clouds on the horizon. Last night’s rainfall still lingering in the shadows.
In season now, are wild strawberries. That’s a teaspoon, so they’re tiny, but delicious. Look for the serrated-edged leaves and if the grass is low, just run your hands over it and you’ll reveal the berries lying against the ground. Notice that the tiny ones have just as many seeds. Don’t worry if you tread a patch into the ground. You should leave some behind to proliferate in the same place next year.
Regular readers already know about my love of tea and my obsession with Earl in Paris from Organic Traveler’s Tea, which makes a delicious cold brew that I take on the road. Yes, I travel with the Traveler’s, which is an organic tea that’s blended and sold locally. Now that the weather’s good for hiking, I’ve found tea that’s perfect to take up a mountain: Trekker’s Reprieve. You can cold brew it or take bags up a mountain and make sun tea with it while you eat your lunch. It’s gunpowder green with orange peel, spearmint, cinnamon and blue vervain. Blue vervain is a native plant from the mint family that grows all over the American prairies, meadows and plains and allegedly revered as a herb of great healing powers by the ancient Greeks. According to the USDA, it’s used internally to treat depression, fevers, coughs, cramps, jaundice, and headaches. So it’s healing for the hiker, tasty and refreshing. The citrus element serves to repel insects although nothing will stop the flies from dive-bombing your eyeballs.
I’m a born and bred Londoner, a city girl with city friends who have visited my house and come hiking in ballet flats and a boob tube. In their purse on hikes, you will find cash, lipstick and mini-bottles of vodka because they were only going for a walk, after all. A couple of months ago, after a particularly enormous meal at Arkville Bread Breakfast, home of the Catskills’ best fish and chips, I decided to hike to Giant Ledge with only two hours of daylight left. Wearing snowboarding boots unsuitable for the icy crust all the way up to the Ledge at 1500 feet, I passed embarrassingly efficient hikers on their descent with crampons and sticks. Miraculously, I made it back. I think I get this from my father whom I once took hiking in his wing-tipped, leather shoes. He was fine.
A brisk 50F at 9am. Foliage dripping and ground drenched with last night’s much-welcome rain. Update: no rain, but soggy and 55F for the rest the day.
Tim and Jess Luby own the Storehouse in Phoenicia. Last year, they were married on Giant Ledge, having hiked two miles in wedding attire and hiking boots.
JN: What brought you to the Catskills?
TL: The mountains. When Jess and I started dating, we both enjoyed hiking, so we planned a trip up there.
I am told by my pal, Laura Silverman, that spruce tips are ready to go. They are the brilliant green shoots that unfold from growths at the ends of the spruce spindles in May. They are much a much brighter green than the needles on the spindle and stand out in stark contrast to the tree itself. Snip the green shoots off and eat raw; they are packed with chlorophyll and Vitamin C. The aroma of only one of these little shoots is sensational. Literally spruce up a living room, pocket, bag or underwear drawer. They freeze well, so you can get your Vitamin C in the winter too. You can make tea, use in soups and salads. You can also crush them and make a pesto like you can with the garlic mustard. Recipes will be forthcoming over the weekend.
Jeff Vincent is proprietor of the new mountain guide business Catskill Mountain Wild, in Catskill, New York.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
JV: I was born in the town of Catskill 28 years ago.
So you’re a born and bred mountain man. You never wanted to leave? Usually young people leave here by the thousand every year.
I have left a few times and I came back. I lived in Denver for a year or so. I was in San Diego for a little while, but I really, really love this area, now that I’ve grown up and got all of that out of my system. I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, so that got me away for six months.
Jenny: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Heather: I moved to the Catskills in 2007, so I’ve been here going on eight years.
Where did were you living before?
I was living in Dutchess County in Dover Plains and I had been there 17 years. I grew up in Nyack. I’ve actually never lived anywhere more urban than Nyack. It’s been a slow and steady march northward.
What started that slow march?
When I was in High School. I had a buddy who – and this is a crazy story – we both turned sixteen, got our driver’s licenses. She quit high school and moved all by herself as a sixteen year old to Woodstock.
74F at 9am, clear and sunny, rising to 80F by mid-afternoon.
60F at 8am with hazy cloud cover and a light breeze rising to 70F by mid-afternoon.
49F at 9am and sunny with clouds, rising to 60F by 2pm with light winds.
46F at 9am, quickly rising to 54F by 10.15am. Overcast and gloomy with rolling clouds in gunmetal grey.
How long have you lived in the Catksills?
I moved upstate with my family in 1979 when I was nine years old and my parents were partners with my mother’s parents – my grandparents – at the Emery Brook House, that’s now the Evergreen. They ran it as a German Cuisine bed and breakfast.
Were you born here?
I was born in Huntington, Long Island.
So what made your family move to the Catskills?
Well, my grandparents had found the area. They had a boarding house in Rockaway and the area was being developed so they had to sell, or were bought out. I don’t really remember the story of how they left Rockaway, but they were looking for a German community and that’s how they wound up in Fleischmanns. There was a nice German community here and they were looking for a similar situation to what they had left: a boarding house. So when they contacted a real estate person in the area, the real estate person told them about the St Regis, which is huge and much bigger than anything they had envisaged managing, so they then found the Emery Brook and that’s where they settled.
50F at 9am. Mostly clear skies with a small armada of clouds on the horizon. 52F mid-afternoon with full cloud cover. A good sunday for a hike to Panther Mountain.
Years ago, a new country neighbor confided that whenever her husband went away on business she slept with a loaded shotgun by the bed, but I believe in accidents, sleepwalking and all the other disasters that Hollywood screenwriters can mustre. A shotgun only wakes you up after it has blown off your leg when you knocked it over reaching for a glass of water. A dog, however, wakes you up before something happens (or will ever happen).
Enter Alfie, my first dog, who barks when someone crosses the street a mile down the road, has a sense of smell so strong he can tell that the UPS guy will be here in an hour and follows me from room to room like a family member who’s afraid I’ll commit suicide. I only have to look out the window with a slight frown and he goes to the window and starts barking ferociously. Last night I gasped at a movie and he awoke with a start and issued a dead stare right in my eyes with one ear cocked until he was confident that all was well. He takes his position in the household as Head of Security as seriously as a Black Lab/Shepherd mix can. In Alfie is combined both the sheer comedy of a Black Labrador with the bossiness of a Shepherd. More important, as a first-time dog owner I don’t even see myself as the master of this dog; he’s not my dog, rather I’m his human. I can’t be alone in believing that the master should not be picking up faeces off the road and carrying it in a little bag. No, I am the servant for the next… ever.