View Full Version : Blackheads Traverse.
12-27-2006, 08:13 PM
Heading up to the Blackhead Range today. I haven't been to see them since July, and besides, I needed a winter ascent of Blackhead, anyway.I started off of Barnum Road at about 9:45 AM for an out-and-back of the Blackheads. There was a beautiful snow flurry falling all day and the trees were well covered, particularly above 3,000 feet. I find Thomas Cole to be a supremely beautiful mountain, mainly because it's not highly traveled, and the upper reaches of the trail are narrow and quiet. Gaining height of land, I took a short bushwhack to find the true summit. Santa Claus brought me a GPS this Christmas and I was anxious to see how accurate the elevation measurement was. Turns out the GPS is a bit generous. Upon finding a small mound covered in thick stand of trees which I found to be the highest point, the GPS gave a reading of 3,982 feet. Descending Cole was when the trouble started, because the ground had not been all that icy up to then. After taking a spill on my tailbone and nearly catching a large, pointy rock in a place I'd rather not catch a large pointy rock, I spend a fair amount of time butt-sliding down into the col. The western side of Black Dome wasn't as bad, but still lacking traction and I was lacking crampons (not that they would have helped much with the thin layer of ice and snow). The summit viewpoint on Black Dome was largely clouded over...a bit of a disapointment after having been able to cleanly pick out the Hunter fire tower from RT. 23A in Tannersville. My GPS gave a more reasonable reading of 3,992 feet on Black Dome. I carefully picked my way down to that overlook on the eastern end of Black Dome and rested for quite some time, knowing that the Lockwood Gap would be very icy and debating whether or not to abort the final leg of the trip. After much consideration, I began a slow methodical descent, taking my sweet time down that big scramble. Sometimes I sat down and slid for a ways, though plenty of times the mountain suggested politely that I sit and slide for a while. :eek: The ascent up Blackhead was tough, but I dreaded more the descent over those open rock faces. I reached the summit of Blackhead by about 1:10. I didn't stay and rest long for the cold, and neglected to visit the eastern viewpoint in the interests of time, though in retrospect I think I should have. The ascent back up Black Dome was the toughest part actually. Even with use of my hands, I often couldn't get enough traction to pull myself up. Between slide down and stumbling up, the 1.2 miles from Blackhead to Black Dome took almost an hour. On the summit of Black Dome, my GPS hemmed and hawed a bit before deciding on 4,007 feet. After cresting Black Dome, the rest of the return trip was smooth but slow going. It took a deft touch to descent that huge scramble on the way down Caudal. Got back to the car by 4:30. Respectable time, I think, for barebooting over that wintry wonderland. I'm not complaining, though. Winter hikes are meant to be more complicated and can be exceedingly beautiful. Personally, I'm glad for that little quirk about the 4 winter peaks. Have to try a whole winter 35 eventually. I'll be back to the Blackheads again. Despite the beating they always give me, they might just be my favorite place in the Catskills. :tup:
P.S. Out of curiosity, are Caudal and Camel's Hump considered part of the whole mass of Thomas Cole?
12-28-2006, 12:59 AM
:tup: The Blackheads are usually attractive, even in fog. I don't have any experience using GPS or altimeters. However, I believe the elevation readings can be affected by changes in barometric pressure, and they require some calibration with a known elevation to get accurate readings. The first 3992' elevation you had on Black Dome seems to be in the ball park. The mountain had a marked elevation of 3990' on the 1894 Durham quad (http://docs.unh.edu/NY/durh94se.jpg). The later 1943 Freehold quad dropped the measured reading and just showed a 3980' contour, but the 3990' measurement may still well be reasonably accurate. When I joined the club back in 1975, the club's list still showed Black Dome as 3990'. The initial 3500 club list was an outgrowth of a Dan Smiley's birding list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catskill_Mountain_3500_Club#History) of Catskill mountains where he thought Bicknell's Thrush might dwell. He had used the late 19th century, early 20th century maps to prepare the list, so he listed Black Dome at 3990'. The current Catskill 3500 list was later revised with the elevations from the current USGS maps.
P.S. Out of curiosity, are Caudal and Camel's Hump considered part of the whole mass of Thomas Cole? From the standpoint of peak lists, Yes. The Catskill lists use a 200' col criteria. So both the Camel's Hump (80' rise from Thomas Cole) and Caudal (120' rise from the Camel's Hump) are considered false summits of the next highest mountain on the list, Thomas Cole.
200' is of course quite arbitrary. The Adirondacks use a 300' criteria. There is a Trailwrights (http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/bagging2.html#tocref7) list of New Hampshire 4000' footers that uses a 100' criteria. But in spite of whatever the list rules may be, Camel's Hump is a scenic spot and a favorite area of many hikers.
12-28-2006, 09:08 AM
Nice - sounds like you had similar conditions to the hike Bill, Judy and I took earlier this month. Just enough snow and ice to make is dangerous, but not enough to justify crampons or stablicers.
As for your GPS readings, depending on the model you have, it may be a combination of barometric pressure and signal accuracy. Some GPS models have a built in Altimiter, while others use the GPS signal to derive your altitude. Alitimeters work off of atmospheric pressure, and can vary depending on weather - i.e. an incoming storm front can throw off your Altimeter. I've seen mine vary by a few hundred feet as storm fronts came in or departed. If your GPS unit does not have a built in Alimeter (mine does not, a 4yr old Garmin Legend), so it calculates by using at least 3 satelites for triangulation. You will see your Elevation vary, based on the signal accuracy. Most units are able to display how accurate the signal is, I beleive Civilian GPS is accurate to 3 meters (9 foot). I have found mine is generally within 40', unless I am on an exposed summit, in which case it usually cranks down to 9'. Thus, a 3982' reading for Cole may be right - given that your GPS accuracy probably varied from at least +/- 9' - 50', particularly since Cole is a treed summit, and the snowfall probably blocked your signal.
Generally speaking, I carry both a GPS (clipped to my shoulder) and an Altimeter (a manual job w/100' accuracy). I usually calibrate the Altimeter at the Parking Area, once I get a GPS signal & compare that to a Topo map. I would not use the 3500' markers, as they are not neccessarily at 3500' - I marked the one on the southern face of Balsam at 3450'.
Anyways, glad to hear you made it out without to many spills :tup:
12-28-2006, 11:18 AM
Yep---The Blackheads--One of my favorite spots in the Catskills--It's amazing how challenging the trip down the NE face of Blackhead can be w/ just a little snow and ice. When Judy and I did it last January it was full on winter.
http://inlinethumb28.webshots.com/411/1536488383082736937S425x425Q85.jpg (http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1536488383082736937tGRZpe)We threw our packs down the ice flows and butt slid and tree hugged down:D
12-28-2006, 04:48 PM
Thanks, Mark. I suspected that they were all part of one mass. First time I hiked the Blackheads I didn't even know they had names...I just figured that Thomas Cole was rather like Indian Head or Twin. That prominence thing is funny. The wikipedia article on the Catskill High Peaks muses over why Camel's Hump isn't counted as a High Peak, noting it's 3,520+ height (my GPS said 3,563) and it's distance from the main summit of Cole, but never mentions the lack of prominence. I haven't the energy to try to correct them, even when they go on about other little bumps in other places. Furthermore, I noticed a book of trails recently that claimed to be written for rangers. The author was insisting that Thomas Cole was technically part of Black Dome, since the col height of 3,730 (why he doesn't list it as 3,720+ is anyone's guess) doesn't allow for the necessary 250+ foot prominence for Cole to count as a high peak. At first I thought he must be confusing the Cats' with the 'Daks, but apparently that's not the case. By the author's logic, Wittenberg, Friday, Peekamoose, Thomas Cole and SW Hunter should all be demoted (there's probably more, but I can't recall more offhand). There's plenty more that puzzled me in just the few pages of the book that I read, but it's probably not worth listing all the peculiarities.
12-28-2006, 05:01 PM
BTW, congratulations to Bill and Judy. I've still got a bit of ways to go before I'm done, but I'm still actually slightly sad that there aren't more high peaks.
12-28-2006, 10:58 PM
That prominence thing is funny. The wikipedia article on the Catskill High Peaks muses over why Camel's Hump isn't counted as a High Peak, noting it's 3,520+ height (my GPS said 3,563) and it's distance from the main summit of Cole, but never mentions the lack of prominence. I haven't the energy to try to correct them, even when they go on about other little bumps in other places. Furthermore, I noticed a book of trails recently that claimed to be written for rangers. The author was insisting that Thomas Cole was technically part of Black Dome, since the col height of 3,730 (why he doesn't list it as 3,720+ is anyone's guess) doesn't allow for the necessary 250+ foot prominence for Cole to count as a high peak. Yes, prominence (http://www.peakbagger.com/help.aspx#prom) is a bit funny and perhaps unnecessarily confusing. There are two varying definitions (clean/pessimistic and optimistic), and many list makers use a third. Most lists were created with a "just read the map" prominence. Don't make any pessimistic, optimistic, nor interpolated assumptions about the summit and col. Just keep it simple and read the elevation on the map. That is how the 3500 Club criteria, as stated in the description of Southwest Hunter (http://www.catskill-3500-club.org/peaks.html#Southwest Hunter) on the 3500 Club website, is interpreted:
"... 200 foot drop and a half mile distance between summits ..."
Although in truth the Catskill 3500 list preceded the criteria, and a criteria was created to fit the list. And that led to the addition of Leavitt Peak (SW Hunter) which also met the criteria. Note: the "and a half mile distance between summits" clause is superfluous -- it would exclude a summit within a half mile that met the 200' drop/rise requirement. There are no such mountains in the gently rounded Catskills range. So the Catskill 3500 criteria could be more easily stated as simply 200' drop/rise.
Ed Henry is a former National Parks Forest Ranger, hence the Ranger's Guide subtitle on his three trail guidebooks. In Catskill Trails, The Northern Catskills, on page 118, he mentions the 3730' notch not being deep enough. The 3730' col is an interpolation (3720' plus half the contour interval, 10'). The Appalachian Mountain Club guidebooks also use interpolations. He also uses an interpolated 3990' summit elevation for Black Dome. To be consistent he should have used 3750' rather than 3740' as the elevations of Thomas Cole and Blackhead. He appears to use the variant criteria stated in the ADK guidebook Catskill Trails (all editions):
"... there must be at least a 250-ft drop between it and its neighbors or it must at least one-half mile away from them."
Perhaps this criteria was proposed while the club was searching for a criteria to match the list. If so it was probably discarded as the club would need to add 12 additional (false) summits to the list, because they are more than one-half mile away. The Wikipedia Catskill High Peaks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catskill_High_Peaks) article has yet another variation on the criteria:
... summits are separated either by one-half mile (805 m) or a vertical drop of at least 200 ft (61 m) between it and the next nearest separate summit.
As with the Adirondack 46er criteria, that inclusive or conjunction leads to the speculation about other potential high peaks like Camel's Hump which are more than a half mile from a summit. That is all unnecessary with the criteria stated on the Catskill 3500 website which uses the exclusionary and conjunction. IMHO distance criteria should never be used.
Back to prominence. Most summits just have a contour at the summit and col. The optimist will add a full contour interval to the summit, but use the col interval. The pessimist will use the summit contour and add a contour interval to the col. With 20' contours the optimist and pessimist will be 40' apart. For example, Thomas Cole (http://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=7315) has a 3940' summit contour and the col is 3720' (note: because the peakbagger site favors clean/pessimistic prominence, it states the "key col" with the contour interval added in, 3720+20=3740', although the verbiage mentions the col is between 3720' and 3740'). The optimist calculates the prominence to be 3960-3720 = 240'. The pessimist calculates prominence 3940-3740=200'. And the list makers have historically calculated the prominence to be 3940-3720=220'; and with interpolations it would be 3950-3730=220'.
To keep the list makers happy (to avoid dropping peaks off lists) the Prominence folks usually prepare lists with a 160' clean/pessimistic prominence (seems like 180' would have been sufficient). Their list of the Catskill 3500 (http://www.peakbagger.com/list.aspx?lid=21425) agrees with the club list. A few unnumbered false summits are also shown. I did notice at least one error on Southwest Hunter (http://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=7321). The summit actually has a 3740' contour (not 3720'). So the prominence of Leavitt Peak should be: 3740-3560=180' clean/pessimistic, 3760-3540=220' optimistic, and 3740-3540=200' Catskill 3500 criteria.
12-29-2006, 12:32 AM
A numbers geek like myself could have hours of fun with all that. I prefer the term "200' prominence" to the term "200' drop" simply because the latter is vague enough to potentially put the enumeration of a larger mountain at the mercy of a smaller sub-peak, if someone had the singular inclination to do so. One of the first things that struck me when I first started examining topographic maps of the Catskill 35 was the 3,640+ Peekamoose-Table col, which, if I've counted right, gives Peekamoose a prominence between 183-203 feet. If someone decides to get very strict about measurements in the future, we might say goodbye to a few high peaks (gulp)!
As for the book, that name rings a bell. I was wondering whether he was working off of some older information, or simply very confused. After all, there's still plenty of maps out there that have Slide marked as 4,204'. I've even got one that lists Mongaup Mountain as 3,890...though perhaps they intended that for West Kill, since they also somehow managed to transpose elevations for Indian Head and Overlook, as well as for Halcott and North Dome. Someone just get me some measuring tape...I'll put an end to all this weirdness.
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