Who doesn’t want to go to Giggle Hollow? This delightful-sounding place can be found between Pine Hill and the south-eastern edge of Belleayre Ski Mountain, in a small web of hiking trails that leads from the top of the ski mountain all the way down to Big Indian wilderness and beyond. In the winter, these Belleayre trails are the perfect destination to snow shoe to these gob-smacking views if you’re with non-skiers or your dog.
If you do take your country dog, he must be harnessed and leashed if he’s likely to become uncontrollably excited by the prospect of skiing and keenly propose the notion of exploring the double black diamonds to a chorus of “Hi, Puppy!” as the skiers glide by. You don’t want your dog flying off down the mountain. While we were admiring the view from the summit, which is the end of the trail, we were approached by a skier from Europe who made me fiercely jealous by telling me that in The Alps skiers take their dogs, who follow them up the mountain on foot underneath the ski lifts. Alpine skiers ski with their dogs. What a life for an outdoor dog. Perhaps we could have Dog Day on Belleayre? Or would that descend into chaos?
Nestled in the foothills of the Catskills’ Hunter-West Kill Mountain Wilderness, almost at the end of a dead-end road leading to some the region’s most popular trails, is West Kill Brewing, with its small tap room, that’s been open for about a year. The standout beer is the fruitiest IPA for miles around, Moon Farmer IPA, but most of the beers here have some sort of unique berry, fruit, herb, pine or citrus combination in them and some of them are brewed with honey from West Kill Brewing’s hives. There’s even a basil IPA and a Belgian made with spruce tips. The beers here are not your regular run-of-the-mill offerings, they are mindfully made. Much thought has clearly gone into the recipes that incorporate a variety of the local flora. Maybe it was the strenuous hike to Rusk Mountain that influenced my tastebuds, but I was so surprised when I took a first gulp of Moon Farmer that I went straight to the counter to order a four-pack to take out. I don’t even like IPA.
Yesterday’s attempt to climb Rusk Mountain – our second – was a success, probably because the conditions were ideal. The first few miles of the ascent was a soft, bouncy carpet of fallen leaves, as most of the snow had melted, but we were followed by passing clouds that sprinkled dry, granular snow. As we climbed, we were still able to discern the trail of previous hikers – a dark trail of wet, disturbed leaves that snaked up the mountain. The summit of Rusk is a tangle of aging, gnarled spruces, some darkened by lightning, presiding over its younger generation of fern-like trees. The sign-in canister, painted a vivid, hunting orange, was attached to what looked like a lone cherry tree amidst this mess of pines that looks like a spiky hairdo.
Rusk is a popular hike because it’s short, but very steep – an elevation gain of 1600 ft – so if you’re fit enough you can be up and down in a few hours, so it’s often hiked with its sister mountains, East Rusk, Hunter and Southwest Hunter. When you get to the summit, it’s possible to see down the equally steep north side of the mountain and Jewett below.
A warmer 42F at 9am rising to a high of 49F with the habitual pall of thick foggy cloud, through which the sun strains to shine. The fiery ball at the center of our solar system barely registers over the stubbornly, chronically overcast Catskills. Opening Saturday at Bearpen Mountain.
Members of the Catskill 3500 Club are leading some excellent winter hikes starting this Saturday November 24th, 2018 through the holidays and the New Year. A Winter Preparedness Class is also being offered on December 1st – that’s if it hasn’t been booked up already. Click here to see the schedule.
This is a good way to accomplish the bushwhacks on the list of the Catskill 3500 in the company of the experienced hikers of the club. It’s magical on the peaks this time of year, but brutally dangerous and safer to hike in groups. In December, volunteers will be leading hikes to the following bushwhacks: Lone, Rocky, Friday, Balsam Cap, Rusk, East Rusk and Kaaterskill High Peak, the last mile of which is a bushwhack. Other hikes include Westkill, The Blackhead Range, Hunter and Slide Mountain among others.
The particularly handsome example of fomes fomentarius, otherwise known as the tinder polypore, pictured above was found on the Huckleberry Loop trail in July 2017. It remained on the tree because that was the only example to be found on the trail that day. Sustainable foraging means taking only some of what you find and leaving the rest behind to propagate. However, if you’re in the wild or lost, an old, dry tinder polypore serves as an efficient fire starter, especially useful in winter hiking if you ever get stuck somewhere and need to start a fire in wet conditions. This year, it seems like a trial winter just sprang out from behind a long, drawn-out autumn to surprise us and now is the time when temperatures fluctuate wildly from day to day. Hikers need to be sufficiently prepared and it’s easy to get caught out. Otzi, the pre-historic hiker from about 3100 BC who was found in the Alps – by modern hikers – mummified and preserved in ice on the border of Austria and Italy back in 1991, was reportedly wearing several pieces of tinder polypore on a string around his neck. Continue reading →
Like Giant Ledge, Huckleberry Point is a reliable hike that’s a comparatively shorter distance than other Catskills hikes, but offers equally stunning views and a beautiful summit. You can also find people doing this hike in sandals and a tiny handbag on a Friday afternoon, so it’s that kind of go-to hike – the kind people decide to do regularly and on a whim. Unlike Giant Ledge, there’s no climbing involved, this trail is easy to moderate with one or two rock piles to climb over, but nothing anywhere near to the rock climbing you’ll endure on Giant Ledge. The Huckleberry Point trail is also different in that you’re climbing up and over the summit of a mountain and down the other side to the lookout, so you’ll be getting some aerobic exercise in both directions instead of only getting it on the ascent. Continue reading →
This time in the beginning of fall is the best time to hike. It’s too cold for the bugs but warm enough to hike in a t-shirt once you have gotten going and the leaves have only just started to fall, so there’s no thick, wet carpet of rotten leaves coating the rocks to make the trail treacherously slippery.
To access Cornell on a marked trail, you need to approach from either Wittenberg or Slide, two of the Catskills highest peaks and each one difficult enough on its own. Wittenberg is much more difficult than Slide, a withering epic that begins as it means to go on, with even the very beginning being a steep ascent to the sign-in register and, then after a 2.9 mile hike with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, in the last mile before the summit there are three or four intimidating climbs up sheer rock faces. Hiking Cornell via Wittenberg from Woodland Valley is the third highest vertical climb in the Catskills. Continue reading →
The Finger Lakes Trail wends through the Catskills, beginning at the western edge of the Slide Mountain Wilderness and continuing on to Downsville and way beyond, stretching for about 500 miles.
A few miles’ worth of the Catskills’ portion of the FL trail goes past Big Pond, and Little Pond (pictured above). The trail to Little Pond begins across the road from Big Pond’s small beach – and it’s even smaller parking lot – and forms a loop around Little Pond that’s made up of two trails: The Little Pond Trail and Touch-me-not Trail. Continue reading →
Early morning sun barely breaking through thick fog. Overcast and humid with periods of break out sun, a torrential afternoon shower, and a high of 83F. The Catskills is a rain forest, consisting of a innumerable number of creeks, streams and rivers in a world that is running out of fresh water.
The Shavertown Trail that runs over the summit of Perch Lake Mountain in Andes is a moderate hike suitable for all ages that offers its rewards early on: stunning views from Snake Lake about a mile up from the trailhead. This hike is perfect for a large family party or house full of visitors of assorted ages. The first mile is the most strenuous, after which less fitter members of the group can loiter at the lake and picnic – if spring ever visits us again – while admiring the views over the Pepacton Reservoir. Those who need more of a workout can can go further. After the lake, the trail is a solid, long hike for 1.5 miles through a dense hemlock forest to a loop which turns you around to hike back to where you started. The entire trail is 5.3 miles long and the elevation gain is only 700ft.
This guided hike – led by volunteers of the Catskill Mountain Club – was supposed to be a spring hike, but winter is hanging on like the overbearing party guest who has outstayed his welcome. Yes, he’s handsome and charismatic, but cold, and exhausting. Plus, the house is a mess. Continue reading →
How quickly the phrase “failure is not an option” turns into “let’s find the nearest pub” when faced with an extended trip down an icy rock face. Pictured above is part of the trail down Slide Mountain on the way to Cornell. Yes, that’s the trail up the middle of the picture, completely filled in with ice. If you had been there you would have found me clinging to some of this rock face, stuck and hyperventilating, even wearing crampons, wondering aloud, why, why, why, am I here again? Have I learned nothing? You would have observed my dog looking at me quizzically, wondering, why doesn’t she just trot down like I just did?
Briefly back to the earth tones and flax colored landscape. Bitterly cold with an icy wind chasing grainy snow that swirls around on the ground and fills the air, glittering in the sun. An afternoon high of 28F.
The gloriously gorgeous Kaaterskill Falls, being one of the true wonders of the Catskills, is one of our most popular hiking spots for tourists: lush in the summer and, in winter, haunting the eye with its striking beauty. Because of its popularity, it’s noticeably the most well maintained area, with manmade steps, bridges, a viewing platform, rope handles and much more signage. Most of the signage this season is warning signage because Kaaterskill Falls is also the most dangerous place in the Catskills, statistically speaking. Deaths and injuries occur here every year, mostly because people hike to the top of the waterfall and slip over the edge. To prevent more accidents, a sturdy old-school, farm style fence has been installed at the top of the falls, in addition to plenty of warning signs saying: “danger!” Continue reading →
Readers have asked for an update on my experience with tick tubes, so here it is. In June, I wrote a post about how we installed “tick tubes” around our house, in the woodshed, and flower beds. Pictured above, the tubes are filled with permethrin-laced cotton wool, which mice and chipmunks take and use to make their nests. White footed mice and other small rodents living on the edge of forests are believed to be the main vector for ticks, according to most sources. The permethrin on the cotton wool kills the ticks on the rodents.
Summer is coming to a close, and we have not seen a tick anywhere, on us or the dog, since we put out the tubes. Less than half of our land is forest, but we do live on the edge of it, making our house a hotbed for tick action. Continue reading →