Somewhat spontaneously last weekend I took an overnight backpacking trip to the Catskills. I’ve never been up there and it sounded like a good idea, even with the chilly weather (low around 15F) that was predicted. A friend from work, Carly, and me drove up early Saturday in the brown and dead landscape that is much of the Northeast in this abysmal start to winter that we have. Very unexpectedly the landscape changed just a couple miles from the parking area we were headed to. Earlier during the week we had received a bunch of rain and the temps dropped after that front moved through. Apparently in the higher elevations that rain changed over to snow at some point. The result was a pleasant surprise of a winter scene for our whole hike.
The plan was to summit Slide Mtn, Cornell Mtn, and Wittenburg Mtn before turning around to camp between Cornell and Wittenburg. The return trip the next day would take a slight variation after summiting Slide. The description of the hike sounded exciting because of the scrabbling parts, although the snow would make that a little more difficult we figured we’d be fine.
We headed up Slide Mtn without incident taking in the sights of the snow. We saw lots of tracks from just about everything, squirrel, rabbit, fox, coyote, and even bear. Actually lots of bear; a semi-alarming amount. I don’t have a bear canister so I figured we’d just do a normal bear hang to keep them from snatching our food. …
We summited Slide and took in the sun and views. Then we finally got the scrambling part of the hike that we read about. I had thought it was going up Slide Mtn from the parking lot side but apparently it is on the backside that has the scramble. This was quite challenging seeing as we didn’t expect quite as much winter conditions as we had. The trail was 6-8″ of unbroken snow down steep slopes. In a few sections we had to carefully work across some icy ledges and things that would have been a very uncomfortable fall if we slipped. Luckily we were in good spirits and trudged on through.
The decent down Slide Mtn took considerably longer than we expected and since we wanted to set up camp with some light we decided to continue hiking for a while but recognize we probably wouldn’t summit the other two peaks. As we kept going the trail became easier and we made better time. We kept passing tenting areas so we kept on hiking. The later tent sites allowed us to summit Cornell before turning around to head back into the valley between Slide and Cornell for our camp.
The tent site we chose was small but comfortable enough to set up my new winter tent, a Marmot Alpinist. The tent was great, good ventilation but reasonably warm. We hadn’t seen many people on the trail after the summit of Slide so we were surprised to see a gang of seven hikers show up after dark while we were making our dinner (sausage, peppers, and onions). They some how shoehorned all themselves into the site we were in, even with each of them having their own tents. We finished dinner and crawled into our bags around 8:30pm. Nothing like camping a couple weeks from the Winter Solstice to make for a very long dark night.
I decided to bring only about a 1/2 bottle of fuel since I wasn’t expecting to be melting snow for water. This turned out to be a mistake. I ran out of fuel after dinner. I guess the long simmer time of the sausage and peppers was a contributing factor. I was able to use some fuel from one of our seven sitemates, though after some difficulty. Because of our lack of fuel we had to be pretty conservative with the water usage and only ended up getting 1 liter of drinkable water. And to add to that it was the first water in the pot after we cooked. So our water for the next day would be bits of sausage, peppers, onions, and alfredo, yum!
The next morning they took forever to leave–3 hours of messing around. Since Carly and I had used up all my fuel the night before we didn’t have any warm breakfast and elected to just strike camp and get moving; eating only some PB&Js and Cliff bars for breakfast. I haven’t done this before in the winter and I have to say it might be a shift in my camping habits for winter. I felt warmer because all we did is get out of the sleeping bags and head out. With no waiting around for water to boil and such we didn’t loose the heat from being in the bags.
The return trip was just as good, great weather again. The trail back up Slide Mtn was considerably easier since trail was already broken and we were going up which is easier on difficult terrain. Once back on the summit we took the side trail for a few more views and a little different way down.
We capped off the trip with some good food and brews at the Guilded Otter in New Paltz.