A Hike in the Southern Catskills

by Lee Felshin

Alright. Now that I've had a day to sort of recover (no, no, that's what weekends are for) I realize I've left out too much. Ok, I can't take the credit, other people noticed and told me.

And Craig was good enough to leave a message about volleyball practice tonight. Good thing the net was 4 inches low.

Mostly it is the calfs (calves?) which are really tight. More stretching. Maybe some homebrew shiatsu. Maybe less downhill per day. I haven't tried putting a pack back on, but there are some tender points in my shoulders.

Here's the revised story:
I've just (sort of) got back from the west side of the Hudson where I spent a beautiful but strenuous weekend camping in the shadow of Slide Mountain.

I managed to finish packing at 2:30 am Saturday. A cold (slept through all of Thursday) put me behind schedule. Even so I was only ten minutes late meeting Keith and Doug at the new IHOP. After inhaling a belgian waffle we stashed the two extra cars and pooled up to Phoenicia. There's where I made the first wrong turn (wrong going straight) and drove on through past Shandaken before we checked the map and headed back to Woodland Valley Campground. The ranger was very helpful: It's going to be a beautiful weekend. You'll have a great time. There's plenty of bears. Probably even water.

The trail starts out very steep. Every once and a while there's a cliff or a view (or both). And then the view off Mt. Wittenburg is fantastic (provided you like lots of haze with your Ashokan Reservoir and surrounding mountains to the east). That's after about 2500 vertical feet. Then a quick down and up to Mt. Cornell and it's 100 meter side trail to the summit. Small view to the SE. Then along the top until you pop out of the forest at a small cliff where the west view, including the gap between Cornell and Slide and Slide Mountain itself dominating the entire valley. Down into the lowlands (no camping allowed above 3500') to find water and tent sites. The first one is already occupied. The near spring appears to be a mud hole. The early birds say they couldn't find it but we don't think they looked. We decide to use the reliable far spring and head down the trail. Half way through the low area we find an unused camping spot. It is still a good ways away from the reliable spring (which is itself above the no camping limit). Keith asks me where I'm setting up my tent, since the obvious tent site is a depression. "No tent, but I'll probably put my sleeping bag over there [pointing to a nice earthy flat spot]". That turns out to be the only other tent spot. Keith grumbles so I allow as he can use that spot and I'll find something else. Keith stays to set up camp and avoid overexercising his knees while Doug and I carry the water bottles and sacks the 3/4 miles to and from (over hill and dale, no less) the spring. Immediately we pass all manner of nicer (grassier, more open) tent sites which are all taken to some degree. All of these sites are essentially right on the trail. If you don't use the approved sites you have to go 150 feet off the trail. We wouldn't have seen any of those people anyway.

Through the trees you can see Slide Mountain rising (towering) above. We're going up there? Well, tonight only half way up there to the spring. No switch backs on this trail though. When you reach a 5, 10, or 15 foot rock face (usually about 70 degrees) you see a red trail marker on a tree growing out of the middle of the rock. Most of the rock is a conglomerate with nice fractures so there's plenty of toe steps, footsteps, or crevices to work with. That's alot of deep knee bends and balancing with a big pack. And going down is much harder (if you go forward, your heel is doing the holding, if you go backward, you can't see). After we've gone farther than where I thought the spring should be we pass a couple of kids going the other way. Doug inquires about the spring. "About 15 minutes away". Doug groans/grumbles. I can't believe it is that far. A few minutes more up the trail, two more Gunga Dins pass. They hesitate then say, "5 minutes." Are they humoring us? Up farther, we meet a couple we first saw on top of Wittenburg. I see the spur to the spring and can hear the water. It sounds remarkably like the wind in the trees about which Keith has been asking "Is that water?" all day. Doug, however, can only hear his heart beating (the trail is very steep just before the spring). He again asks where the spring is. "Right over there."

The spring is a 1 inch diameter pipe stuck in the side of the mountain. Plenty of water is also running down the rock. There's no way to put the filter pump intake into the pipe. We just fill the bottles and bag with plain water. We're going to boil most of it anyway.

It is just about dark by the time we get back to camp. Keith has set up his tent in the low area. It isn't going to rain anyway. He's already chopped the onion, pepper, and garlic and saute'ed them with the 80% lean ground beef (still frozen in the center). Only used a pat of butter. Only had to blow out one gasoline fire on the stove (some must have leaked during transit?). We boil up the wagon wheels. I find that the sierra cup (yes Frannie and Nathan, the same one you heaved rocks after I dropped it on the glacier at Mt. Ritter) is too small and have to keep refilling. As the meat gets low, Doug starts eating the wheels with butter. We'd forgotten about the butter. Everyone adds some, and we quickly run out of pasta and meat. Next course is soup. The last quarter stick of butter is dumped in. Tastes fine.

The wind is howling still but my sleeping bag is plenty warm. My nose and throat are quickly drying out (still suffering from the cold). I can see the stars appear and disappear as the clouds pass. As I'm drifting off, some rain awakens me. "It'll blow by with this wind." It does. More drops blow back in. The gusts probably knocking the water off the trees. This goes on for a while and I start worrying about the food hanging over the tree branch. If enough rain collects in the bag, it might fall. I only used a plastic grocery bag. I'd already told Keith that the sleeping bag was supposed to be warm even if it got wet (Polargard 3D). After 8 miles of hiking on 5 and half hours of sleep, it wasn't too hard to close my eyes again. The flashing lights were annoying, though. I must be really tired, since I know no one is hiking down the trail shining their lamp across our site. When the fact percolated into my consciousness that the lights were from the electrical storm above I decided to set up the tent. The outside of my sleeping bag was pretty moist by this time anyway. I put on my boots and got the tent. I was glad that Keith had left me the good tent site. Finding a tent sized area in the middle of the night would be a real pain. Doug happened to get up (pit stop?) about this time and he helped me with some of the stakes and poles. The tent smelled a bit plasticy but no more wind on the snout. Couldn't get to sleep though since the rain returned along with the lightning. This time there was thunder too. And a sky opening deluge of rain.

Keith found himself floating on his new closed cell foam pad in the middle of the flash flood which had been his tent site. They stashed their sleeping bags in my tent while they picked up the tent (luckily it was erected in free standing mode), poured the water out, and moved it to a relatively rock free location. Not rock free, just relatively rock free. The rain showed some mercy by letting up during this manouver. Then back to the torrents while we tried to sleep again.

I guess the ranger was right in a way: Both days were gorgeous; Sunday much clearer (freshly washed) than Saturday. The night? Well, you're supposed to be asleep anyway.

Chief excitement at breakfast was testing out the freeze dried sausage patties. Remarkably like sausage (hey - there's a consistent target to aim for, anyway). A little like sausage flavored sponge also. Some refinements to the preparation have been proposed. (less hydrating, more frying for you chef wannabees).

Sadly, though we'd eaten a good chunk of our provisions and burnt nearly half our fuel, our packs seem no lighter. Probably something about the extra water weight. We've a long way to go if we are to get to top of Slide and back to the car. Well, further anyway than yesterday. Keith is unperturbed by the rock climbing or the sight of Slide rising above the trail.

A collection of people has gathered by the spring. One man is pointing out the peaks in the northern Catskills including several I've hiked up or camped on years ago. Again, we don't use the filter. Keith breaks out the iodine pills. These turn your water a fine brownish yellow. With a fine iodine sort of taste. We exchange group picture taking with the other tourists.

The rest of the trail has wooden ladders in the steep parts. Maybe 'cause they're steeper, but probably because they are longer. No time to nap on Slide because we want to get back before dark. It's too early for lunch. We've only walked a mile. From the top of Slide we decide to take the longer but easier trail back to Woodland Valley. Why blow out a knee or ankle? It is still a long (8 miles) down hill and our feet, ankles, calfs, knees, quads, hips and shoulders are already hinting about how they'll feel later. The trail down the west of Slide is not as steep and has no cliffs. The whole route is longer but I don't remember any tough stuff. All manner of people pass us going the other way. One even has a guitar. We walk another mile and stop for PB&J. A few groups with dogs pass. One dog seems to want lunch too. About another group Doug remarks "look at that goat." Keith: "What breed is that, anyway". The animal really is a goat. So we saw more barnyard animals than bears on the trip.

The trail gets a bit steeper and rockier but stays pretty straight and wide. Steep or rocky means trouble for legs. Unlike yesterday, where only one toe hurt, now my entire soles hurt. Eventually we reach the Slide Mountain Parking Area. (No, we're parked at Woodland Valley.) Here's where we get to walk along the road for a few miles. The road goes up a few hundred feet. To a reservoir which looks great for swimming but is thoroughly posted and fenced. It's at the top of the hill. Just below on the other side it's time to take out the map again and check where the turn back into the woods is. A hiker is coming out on an old road closed off by a cable. In a European accent he says he is not on the yellow trail but that this road is a short cut to the yellow trail. You don't go down the hundred vertical feet or so that the paved road plunges. Sounds great to us. The hiker is going to need a few more short cuts because he intends to hike the 11 miles to Slide, Cornell, Wittenburg and back to Woodland Valley too. It is 3pm now. I wonder if he ever made it.

The old road is pretty flat. It crosses a deep dry stream bed and starts heading up. Again, it seems like we've gone way to far, but no sign of the intersection with the yellow and blue trails. Doug and Keith stop behind me to think about this. In another 30 seconds I've reached the intersection. A group of 20 Japanese tourists is resting above the plunge the yellow trail takes to meet the road below. I can't see over the edge and don't go any close to look.

At this point it's nearly 4 and we've still got a ways to go. This is the part of the trail I don't really remember and it turns out to be quite steep. The mountain is much steeper so you've got a real view into the abyss to the right. Especially where the odd rockslide has cleared the trees. Although we've decided that the thought of putting the packs on again is too horrible we stop anyway. The downhill is too hard on the legs. The apples and oranges taste great. The trail continues downhill and gets steeper. It bends to the north and into the shadow of the mountain we've descended. The trail bottoms out (temporarily) at a dry stream bed with a log bridge. I remember the bridge from the picture Ariel and I took the last time we were here. Today, F1.4 at 1/15 of a second. Lighter than last time but still very dark. On the other side of the stream is a staircase built of stones. It rises straight up. And up. I'm excited because I can see the sunlight blazing gold a few hundred feet up. As we ascend (I almost fell off several times my legs were so tired) the gold glow spills down onto us. Great photo op. The stair continues. Like the rest of the trail, we give up on it ever ending. But it does and the downhill resumes. After another while, we reach a clearing. The giant pines are lying on their sides up rooted. Probably during one of the wind storms this spring (power out for a week in some places). But another awesome view up the canyon to the fall colors rising to the top of Slide. I waste extra time switching lenses. As we are starting to leave, Doug notices my car through the woods. In our excitement I miss the last turn and end up having to bushwack a tiny bit back. No problem.

[Now I remember why I didn't write this last night. It is way too long.]