Chilly with rain and brief flashes of sun through thick cloud, only dispersing late afternoon. A high of 52F. First snow of the season on Kaaterskill High Peak.
Ah, Giant Ledge. These days it’s like Times Square up there even on a weekday in autumn because it’s a quick 1.5 miles from the parking area, over a babbling brook and up quite a steep, rocky incline to literally a giant ledge jutting out into the wilderness with astonishing panoramic views of both western and eastern Catskill Mountains. On a nice summer day, you can get up there in your day wear on a lunch break and then there’s full cell service at the summit, which makes it popular with the Instagrammers, photographers and weekend visitors. There is no cell service on the way up, in the parking area or on Route 47.
For this reason, Giant Ledge is the gateway hike. It’s lures you in with its easy rewards, and before long, you’ve bought proper hiking shoes, non-cotton clothing and perhaps even hiking poles. If you go 1.85 miles further on from Giant Ledge you will reach the summit of Panther Mountain, which is one of the Catskills peaks over 3500 ft, the “Catskills 35”. (There are 35 peaks over 3500 ft here in the Catskills.)
In the fall, it’s muddy and once the leaves start falling on the trail along with the rain, the rocks get very slippery so extra care is needed. (In the winter, it completely ices over and it’s necessary to use crampons). Only the beginning part of the trail to Giant Ledge is level: a brief reprieve in the rock climbing, but it’s still muddy at the moment. None of that seems to deter the multitude of visitors though, because it’s one of the perfect spots to watch the leaves change.
Right now, the landscape is mostly yellow with some swathes of red. There’s lots of green left on the oaks and other hard woods, but it’s sure to burst into its final, vivid orange fireworks any day now. If that happens on a sunny day, we’ll be golden.
Go here to scroll thought last year’s October.
Giant Ledge is a 2.5-hour drive from George Washington Bridge. Take I-87 to Kingston, Exit 19, then take Route 28 (West) after the traffic circle, following the sign to Pine Hill. At Big Indian, turn left onto Route 47 and drive 7.5 miles south on Route 47 until you see the trail head sign. The parking area is just before a hairpin bend.
A balmy high of 78F, but overcast still with thick cloud like a plumped up duvet that rolled back to reveal some sun (sun!) for a brief period in the early afternoon.
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.
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:
Fleischmanns gains an exotic cafe; read my article in the Watershed Post.
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.
If you have any weekend links you would like to suggest, please email email@example.com.
43F by 11am, overcast, but still bright. 45F by 2pm.
32C by 11am, dull and overcast. Snow on the peaks laying thickly on branches.
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.
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.
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.
There’s a sudden change of scenery on the trail to Windham High Peak after the first mile or so. An imposing, sky scraping spruce forest wherein you feel like you’re about to get picked off like Hansel and Gretel. To make it even spookier, the forest floor under the spruces is barren apart from intricately woven with thick tree roots snaking all over the path. A perfect Halloween scene if ever there was one.
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.
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.