36F at noon, lightly overcast and chilly. The Spring (Vernal) Equinox is the time when the sun’s rays are perpendicular to the earth, as the earth’s northern hemisphere begins moving towards the sun, making it warmer here throughout the summer.
43F at 8.30am with thick fog rolling off the mountains. Update: 54F by the afternoon with a mixture of cotton wool clouds of various colors. Down to 44F with icy snowy rain by 2.30pm. Back up to 53F by 4pm.
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.
The Pecoy Notch trail must be magical in the summer because even in the winter, when it’s bare and cold, it’s charming in a way that other gaps and passes are not. The first 0.25 miles is a gentle incline and before you have time to be surprised at how quickly you arrived at it, you’re upon Dibble’s Quarry, a defunct quarry that runs down the side of the incline, on which someone has built a large stone stage and several over-sized stone chairs in which to relax. Behind the stone stage there’s a small room that looks like it’s on its way to becoming a small stone cabin equipped with stone picnic tables inside and out. Downhill, there are various lookout notches and seating built in the side of the hill from stone. The entire landmark is essentially a bluestone auditorium with a stunning view of Kaaterskill High Peak. Before you come to Pecoy Notch itself, which is a notch between Twin Mountain and Sugarloaf, you pass a frozen lake and then a frozen swamp, which adds an unexpected air of mystery. From the frozen swamp, you can clearly see the two mountains. The Notch from there to the next mile markers is a dense thicket of spruces with a soft forest floor covered in gnarly tree roots and fir needles. After the quarry, but well before the Notch, there’s a half-frozen, roaring waterfall that cascades across the trail and over the edge of the mountain. This stream is is a little tricky to cross, but shallow enough, and there are just enough boulders to help you pass.
It’s no secret that your humble correspondent is a big fan of both vodka and shopping locally. After much anticipation, Union Grove Distillery in Arkville, New York is up and running, producing vodka made from apple cider and wheat. Apples for the vodka were bought in Schoharie Valley at Terrace Mountain Orchards in Middleburgh. Vodka is, by definition in the United States, a spirit (made from a grain, fruit or any source) that has been distilled to 190 proof until it’s been thoroughly purified of all the remnants of the fermentation process. Distilled water is then added back in to dilute the liquid to a lower alcohol volume.
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 few days ago, I wrote about this weekend’s festivities at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge called The Hoot. It’s the 4th Annual Winter Hoot this weekend from January 29 to January 31, 2016. The Hoot “welcomes the community, one and all, for a spirit-raising good time in mid-winter” being three festive days of music, dancing, food, film, art and nature activities for all ages. Here’s tonight’s schedule of events:
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.