Peak Experiences of a Catskill Senior Hiker

16. April 2012 06:13 by Jim in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

There are some experiences that we end up putting off too long and then it becomes too late in life to physically do them.  I should of, would of, could of!!  For years I had heard people talk about hiking the Adirondack 46’s and thought “that would be really neat to accomplish someday.”   Those are the mountains in the Adirondacks that are over 4000 ft.   However, I had never met anyone that had actually climbed all of them.    In April of 2008 I retired from the Eastman Kodak Company and now had all day long to spend on the computer with my main hobby of researching and then locating sunken shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.  I definitely was fitting into the criteria of a “couch potato.”  At this point hiking those mountains in the Adirondacks was probably not going to happen.

Shared Experiences with father and sons

In September 2009, while visiting my son, Jamie, at his house in Woodstock, NY he suggested that we take a hike up to the fire tower on Overlook Mountain.  Overlook is a very popular hike up the access road which also passes by the ruins of an old Catskill hotel.   It was a sunny day and quite warm.  His little Boston terrier, Ocho, was running back and forth on the trail with no trouble at all, while I had to stop several times just to catch my breath.  WOW!!!  Was I out of shape for this hike?  YES!!  It made me tired just watching little Ocho.   Finally, it was a treat to reach the summit of Overlook and climb up the fire tower.  I enjoyed it.  I had hiked while in the Boy Scouts and when I was hunting while attending college in the North Country but this was the first hike I had made in 50 years.

Then in mid-October 2009, Jamie invited my younger son, Doug, and me to hike up Westkill, another Catskill mountain.   I purchased a pair of hiking shoes and borrowed a pack.   Oh boy, that was a struggle for me during the ascent.   It had been raining for 3 days straight and the leaves and rocks were soaking wet making the trail very slippery.  I was tired and had to stop multiple times.   Jamie found a nice hiking staff in the woods and that helped me somewhat.   Finally, at the Buck Ridge Lookout near the summit we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular autumn views of the Catskill’s that I can remember.  Being able to share this experience with both of my sons was priceless.    While hanging out at the overlook, Jamie mentioned that Westkill was one of the Catskill 35’s and that there were 35 mountains in the Catskills that are above 3500 feet.  People that hike all 35 mountains plus 4 designated ones in the Winter are known as Catskill 35’ers.   He had started to hike some of these mountains in his quest to complete the Catskill 3500 requirements.   Even though Westkill had been a tough one for me I thought that I could probably still do this but I would need to get off the couch and start working on being more physically fit to accomplish the goal of hiking all of the Catskill 3500’s.  This would be a common interest and goal for both Jamie and I to complete together.   

 During 2010 both my sons and I got out together when we all could and hiked some of the 35’s.   Both of them are working so it was not always possible for us to hike every one of them together.   I ended up hiking with a couple of hike mates and also doing a number of solo hikes.   One book that became my bible on hiking these mountains was Catskill Peak Experiences by Carol White.   This book is a collection of stories from various hikers that ran into problems while trekking in the Catskill Mountains.   I vowed that these situations would not happen to me…..wishful thinking!!

 My Peak Experiences

Typically, before I hiked a mountain I read up and emailed several people that had been there before to understand the length and conditions of a particular hike.   In May 2010, my brother-in-law and I got up late on a Sunday and then took a walk out to Huckleberry Point.  We had a nice lunch and sat out on the ledges and enjoyed the great views of the Hudson River.  It was early afternoon and I decided that I still had time to climb Kaaterskill Mountain as we had just hiked up part of the trail.  I had not previously talked to anyone about this hike.  I looked at the map and planned my route.  I would hike up the old road bed to 3000 feet and bushwhack through the woods to a ski mobile trail, follow the ski mobile trail around to the south side of the mountain and then head up to the summit of Kaaterskill.  All went as planned, but the ascent from the south side of Kaaterskill is an old trail which is not well marked any longer and is quite steep.   I made it up to Hurricane Ledge took some pictures and followed a herd path to the summit about a quarter mile away.  It was getting later in the day and I was concerned about the steepness of doing a solo descent off the south side of Kaaterskill.  I decided to take the north trail back down as that should be easier even if it is slightly longer.   I saw only one trail but it led me to the eastern viewpoint that had a 200 foot drop.  The trail stopped there.  I was now afraid of losing daylight and I had not recalled seeing the other trail.    OH BOY!!  What would Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) do in a situation like this?   I walked around the cliff area to see if there was a place where I could descend safely.   It looked like my only option to get to the forest floor below was to hop on to a tall tree and shimmy down it and then tree hop again until I reached the bottom.  And that is what I did.  From the cliff base I set a course east to the ski mobile trail passing over very dense blow downs and a few more small cliffs.  I reached the ski mobile trail and followed it around.  This time I avoided the previous bushwhack to stay on a known trail.  It would take longer but it was the safe thing to do.   That evening I made it out in the moonlight and got back just before my brother-in-law was about to call the ranger. 

In September 2010, now having completed a number of Catskill 3500’s I felt confident that we could take on what some call the “bushwhack range”.  These are four of the most remote mountains in the Catskills (Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap & Friday) that are above 3500 feet in elevation.  I communicated with several experienced Catskill hikers that had been over this route a number of times before.  Jamie and I started this long trek one hour later than we had expected.  All was going well as we summited, Lone and then over to Rocky.  The hike to Balsam Cap is through thick Balsam growth and a number of blow downs slowed our expected travel time considerably.   From Balsam Cap we followed a partial herd path and then around one of the tall cliff faces to a large crack in the cliff where one can ascend to the summit area.  There are canisters on most of the bushwhack mountains with a log book for those who climb the mountain to sign in.  We spent 20 minutes trying to find the canister on Friday.  Finally, after almost giving up we found it just as we started to head back down.  It was not at the true summit.  All the information that I had received about this hike had been very good, except for the final descent.   I had been told that from the Friday summit to just follow the ridge line on the way down, which was correct to a point.  The ridge line at 3300 feet brought us to a large cliff.  We had to find another way around this area.  We were slightly to the east of the ridge and descended a very steep area thinking that this was the way around the cliff to get back to the ridge line.  Not so, as we continued to move farther and farther to the east descending one steep area after another.  My concern was to get to the forest floor before it got dark.  We made it just in time but our new route had taken us away from our intended path.  We now had been hiking for 12 hours, it was dark, and I was getting tired.  Thank goodness that we had enough extra food, water, and lights. We were still several miles from the car that we had parked at the end point of our hike just off of Moon Haw Road.  It was slow going as we followed a stream, crossing back and forth over it again and again to find an easier hiking route.   Several hours later we made it out successfully and were more than ready to get a good night’s rest.  We would return the next day and pick up the car that we had parked at the start of our journey.  Some important lessons were learned from those peak experiences that I had on Kaaterskill and bushwhack range hikes.  Fortunately it all ended without any injuries or life threating issues. 

Reaching our goal and beyond

Jamie and I went on to complete our Catskill 3500 hikes on December 23, 2010.  I continued to make a number of hikes during the winter of 2011 and really loved it.  It may be somewhat of a Catskill secret but it is actually easier to make some of these hikes in the winter, plus there are many more views possible when there is no foliage on the trees.  I completed my Catskill winter round of hikes on December 29, 2011.  Climbing the Catskill peaks built my confidence enough to take of the Adirondacks.  I’ve now climbed nearly half of the 46’s.  For this retired senior hiker it wasn’t too late in life to still get out and hike those mountains I had been thinking about for the past 50 years.

Catskilll 3500:  #1888, #774W

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