A Catskill Weekend
May 20 - May 22, 2005

by Papa Bear

(Photo of Blackhead)
Blackhead Mountain Seen from Black Dome
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

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A Catskill Weekend

Slide Mountain: May 20th
Black Dome Loop: May 21st
Hunter Mountain: May 22nd

A Catskill Weekend


ast weekend I did some hiking in the Catskills. This is ironic, since with all the hiking I've done in the last few years, this was my very first trip to this area, which is actually one of the closest hiking areas to my home in New York City. I hoped to do two things: 1) join in the VFTT (my on-line hiking group) fund-raiser for the Brain Tumor Society, and 2) climb the three most prominent peaks in the region (Slide Mountain, Hunter Mountain and Black Dome Mountain). Not surprisingly, given how prominence works, these are also the three highest peaks in the Catskills.

For some background, here's an outline of what prominence is all about on Aaron Maizlish's excellent site: Topographic Prominence. And Here's a prominence map by Aaron Maizlish of the Northeast (New England and New York) showing the all the high prominence peaks in the Northeast, including the three peaks in the Catskills that were my hiking goals for this weekend: Northeastern U.S. Prominence Map.

The VFTT fund-raiser was scheduled for Saturday, but I got a head start and left the city Friday morning and arrived at the foot of Slide Mountain by noon. I climbed Slide solo, and then drove the 30 or so miles up to meet the VFTT group at the "Pot o Gold" campsite in Acra, NY. I arrived about 5:00 PM and spent the evening relaxing, eating, having a few brews and getting to know my on-line colleagues in the flesh.

The VFTT event was to hike the entire Escarpment Trail, a long (over 23 miles) and difficult undertaking. The day started early with some of the group starting by 5:00 AM. I was not in shape to hike the entire route, so I volunteered to be a support person. So with TeeJay, my support partner, we hiked up to an intermediate point on the trail and set up our support "station". We offered water, power bars and encouragement to the hikers as they passed by our station. We helped out there from about 9:00 to 10:30. As the last hikers arrived and moved on, we cleaned up our stuff, and hiked up and over Blackhead Mountain on the Escarpment Trail and then took a side trail which took us over Black Dome - one of my goal peaks - and Thomas Cole Mountain. We finished up our miniature version of the day's hike by 3:30, and then after cleaning up, drove down to meet the larger group at the end of the Escarpment Trail and joined them for a very enjoyable dinner at the "Last Chance Restaurant" in Tannersville. So by the Saturday evening I had done two of my goal peaks and had helped out in the fund-raiser. Here's a thread on the VFTT forum summarizing this event.

Sunday turned out to be a drizzly cloudy day, but I nevertheless managed to climb Hunter Mountain, whose summit was in the clouds, before driving back to the city in the rain.

So passed an enjoyable weekend in the Catskills, where I met some new friends, helped out with a worthy cause, and climbed the 5 highest Catskill peaks, (since the two I climbed besides my goal peaks happened to be numbers 4 and 5).

Slide Mountain: May 20th

(Photo of Slide)
Slide Mountain
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)


t 4180', Slide Mountain is the highest peak in the Catskills and one of only two Catskill peaks over 4000'. I arrived at the trailhead on Slide Mountain Road (County Route 47) about 7 miles south of Big Indian just a few minutes past 12 noon. I would be following the Phoenicia-East Branch (P-E) Trail for .7 miles and then climb 2.05 miles to the summit on the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide (W-C-S) Trail. This is considered the quickest route to the summit, although other routes are said to be more scenic.

The lower section of the trail crosses a stream and rises over rocky terrain for about .4 miles until it reaches an old woods road. This section climbs gently over a very easy terrain until the intersection of the W-C-S trail which heads up to the left. This trail is also very easy for most of it's length. As I climbed a bit higher, a few views opened up towards the south and eventually I entered the Spruce/Fir forest above about 3500'. The trail continued to be easy, although somewhat steeper to the summit. After the obligatory summit photo, I moved past the summit yo a viewpoint towards the east with good views of the Ashokan Reservoir. It had taken me just under an hour and a half to climb this peak.

Since I had some excess time, I decided to take an alternate route down.
(Photo of Ledges)
Some Interesting Ledges on the C-O Trail
Some .7 mile down from the summit, I took a left on the Curtis-Ormsbee Trail. This headed down in a more southerly direction than the W-C-S trail and traversed some lovely meadows of False Hellbore and dropped over some interesting rock ledges. After 1.6 miles the trail joined the P-E about a mile above the point where I had left it on the way up. Here was located a curious monument to William Curtis and Allen Ormsbee for whom the trail was named, and who both, according to the trail description, perished on Mount Washington in June of 1900 in a snowstorm.

And easy walk along this old woods road soon brought me back to my staring point. The alternate route added about a mile to the distance compared to the way up.

All in all it was a short easy climb, with good views, marred only by the hazy sky. Thus had I finished my first Catskill peak, the highest, by about quarter to 4:00.

Map: NYNJTC map #43, "Southern Catskill Trails"
Total distance hiked: 6.55 miles
Total elevation gain: 1815'
Total time: 3:29
Photos: Slide album

Blackhead / Black Dome / Thomas Cole Loop: May 21st

(Photo of Black Dome)
Black Dome Mountain seen from Blackhead
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

aturday was the big day for the group, with the Escarpment Trail hike taking most of the daylight hours - or more. TeeJay and myself would man a support station where the Batavia Kill Trail joined the Escarpment Trail in the col just before Blackhead Mountain, about 8.4 miles into the Escarpment Trail. The climb of Blackhead is the steepest part of the trail, so we would see the hikers just before this toughest section.

We spotted my car at the Barnum Road trailhead of the Black Dome Range Trail, then drove all the way up Big Hollow Road where we would get on the Batavia Kill Trail. We planned to hike up to our support station, then go south on the Escarpment Trail to the summit of Blackhead Mountain (3940'), then turn west onto the Blackhead Mountain and Black Dome Range Trails over Black Dome (3980') and Thomas Cole (3940') and out to Barnum Road and the car. In the process we would hit the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest peaks in the Catskills and get many views both north and south of the Escarpment, the Devil's Path and beyond.

We started up to our station just after 8:00 AM and climbed the easy trail, past the Batavia Kill Lean-to, and up to the col, arriving about 8:55. We settled down and in just under 5 minutes the first two VFTT hikers, mtn.goat (David) and JimB arrived. We found that there were two hikers ahead of them which we had just missed, but we settled in and helped everyone else, with the last two, sli74 (Seema) and Brian arriving at 10:20. So in about an hour and a half
(Photo of Blackhead)
TeeJay and Papa Bear on Blackhead
we met the complete cohort of hikers. We then collected our stuff and just as we were getting moving, an older couple came by heading the same way. After TeeJay managed to get a donation for TBTS from them, we all headed up Blackhead together.

The Blackhead climb is the steepest on the entire Escarpment Trail and I was told is the steepest trail in the Catskills. Yes, it was steep, but it was nevertheless easy to climb, being very well built with foot placements and hand holds in all the right places. We got to the top at 11:30 and after eating and getting a few pictures, we were off again, leaving the Escarpment Trail and heading west to Black Dome. After we got down off the summit and onto the west side of Blackhead, the views opened up and we could see Hunter Mountain with the ski area and the Devil's Path Range and there right in front of us was Black Dome. We met Lou coming down off Blackhead, and TeeJay once again used his soliciting skills to get a donation.

The climb down into the col and up Black Dome was easier than the Blackhead climb, so we made good time. The actual high point is an indistinct area on the trail, but just after passing it we reached a viewpoint just off the trail with great view to the south. There we met Mike (from whom TeeJay extracted yes, another donation!) and we eat and chatted for a while. Black Dome is the high point of the range, 40' higher than Blackhead, but being off of the main trail it probably gets less traffic.

(Photo of Thomas Cole)
Thomas Cole Mountain from the west
The next and last major peak was Thomas Cole. This climb was the easiest of all, but the high point was even less distinct. I thought it was in the trees a little north of the trail. Others said it is on the trail. We moved over and down off the peak and traveled over a very lovely easy section of open meadows with a couple of viewpoints (Camel's Hump and the Caudal) with views back towards Thomas Cole and north towards Wyndham High Peak. We met up with a group of women who had passed us early in the day while we were at the support station.They were taking their time clearing branches off the trail as they moved along.

Finally we got to the end where the trail joins an old woods road which leads out to the parking area on Barnum Road. We felt a few drops of rain just before reaching the car at 3:20. How's that for timing!

It was a great hike over not-too-tough terrain on a great hiking day, cool and mostly sunny. We were now ready to get back, clean up and then drive down to meet the others at the end of the Escarpment Trail and have a great dinner in Tannersville.

Map: NYNJTC map# 41, "Northeastern Catskill Trails"
Total distance hiked: 7.95
Total elevation gain: 2770'
Total time (not including time at the support station): 5:39
Photos: Black Dome loop album
Photos: VFTTers coming through the support station (a part of the above album)
Photos: VFTT folks (Friday night, Saturday at the end of the trail and at dinner)

Hunter Mountain: May 22nd

(Photo of Hunter Trailhead)
Old Stone Pillars at the Becker Hollow Trailhead
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

unter Mountain, at 4040' is the second highest peak in the Catskills. It is perhaps best known for the ski area on its north facing slopes in the town of Hunter.

After 2 great hiking days, Sunday started out with clouds and a low ceiling and soon turned into a drizzly, chilly day. But I decided to climb Hunter anyway, since although a bit dreary, the weather was by no means threatening from a safety stand-point. I drove down to Tannersville, where we had enjoyed dinner after the Escarpment hike the evening before, and turned south on Route 214 to the Becker Hollow trailhead. As I had done with Slide Mountain on Friday, I chose the shortest route to the summit.

I was off on the trail by about 8:45 AM. I passed between the old stone towers which formed a gateway years past and climbed along side of Becker Hollow stream. The trail climbed up to the ridge line and became steeper. Although this trail was probably the least well built of the trails I had hiked during the weekend, it was still in good shape and
(Photo of Tower)
The Hunter Lookout Tower in the clouds
was generally easy going all the way to the top. By about 3000' of elevation, I entered the cloud ceiling and things were just wet. It wasn't exactly raining as much as it was dripping.

I reached the summit ridge and followed a wide, nearly level path that was graded for horses. Just before 10:30 I reached the summit area with its lookout tower and ranger cabin. It was chilly and there were absolutely no views. I stayed only about 7 minutes at the top, had a bite to eat and started down.

I took a shortcut from the tower down off the ridge on the yellow blazed bypass trail and then descended the Becker Hollow trail. About halfway down I met a group of teen-age girls with several adults leaders. They asked if there were any views and I said "Sorry, no". They were wet but still in reasonable spirits. It's a shame they had picked a bad day for this trek. By the time I reached the bottom, the drizzle had become constant.

I arrived back at the car about quarter to 12:00. My hiking was done for the weekend but I still had more than three hours of driving in the rain before I would get home. But when all is said and done it was a great weekend of hiking.

Map: NYNJTC map #41, "Northeastern Catskill Trails"
Total distance hiked: 4.5 miles
Total elevation gain: 2270'
Total time: 3:00
Photos: Hunter album

Click here for a complete set of albums from these hikes
Click here for a Catskill Wildflower album

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