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Trans-Catskill Route... how to fill in the missing gap?

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  • Trans-Catskill Route... how to fill in the missing gap?

    It is almost but not quite possible to hike across the Catskill Park entirely on trail, from Trout Pond in the western Catskills, to Windham High Peak (and beyond) in the northeastern Catskills... if it weren't for that pesky gap between Balsam Lake Mountain and the Burroughs Range. A trans-Catskill traverse is a hike that I've had the back burner for a few years now. Until recently, my planned route across this "missing link" in the middle of the traverse was as follows: From Balsam Lake Mountain fall the trail and old road to the summit of Graham Mountain, then bushwhack along the ridge line to Double Top, and from there follow the herd path to Big Indian Mountain. From Big Indian Mountain I would either take the Pine Hill-West Branch trail south to Frost Valley Road and then walk to the road to the Slide Mountain trailhead. Alternatively, from Big Indian Mountain I could also bushwhack directly along the ridge to the Slide Mountain trailhead, by way of Fir, Spruce, and Hemlock Mountains.

    Obviously, the unfortunate closure of Graham and Doubletop Mountains to the public threw a wrench into this tentative route. So out of curiosity, I figured I'd pose the question to the community: Given the current existing trail infrastructure, what route would you take to close this gap?

    Some map examination reveals a number of options:

    Option 1: Swing further north into the Big Indian Wilderness. This option would see me taking the Dry Brook Ridge Trail north of Balsam Lake Mountain, to Mill Brook Road. From there I would take the road walk to Seager, hop on the Seager Big-Indian Trail and hike to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail via Shandaken Brook. From there I could continue south over Big Indian Mountain pick up my original intended route to the Slide Mountain trailhead- the road walk via Frost Valley, or the bushwhack via Fir/Spruce/Hemlock Mountains.

    Alternatively, if I were a glutton for punishment... I could swing even further north still. Instead of turning right on Dry Brook Road towards Seager, I could turn left towards Mapledale, and road walk to the Rider Hollow Trailhead. While anything but direct, this route would facilitate the inclusion of 1 or 2 additional 3500 footer summits, depending on whether I include Balsam Mountain or not.

    Option 2: Bushwhack around the southern flanks of Graham/Doubletop. This route would see me hike south from Balsam Lake Mountain to the Beaver Kill Road trailhead. From there, I'd take the Neversink-Hardenburgh trail east to the Tunis Pond vicinity, where I'd leave the trail and bushwhack eastward along the southern flanks of Graham/Doubletop to the Pine Hill-West Branch trail somewhere between Big Indian Mountain and the Biscuit Brook Lean-to (the most direct route would see me traversing higher elevations and arriving at the trail closer to the summit of Big Indian Mountain). I'd remain entirely on state land the entire way and accordingly would not run afoul of any private property restrictions. This is probably the most direct route overall although potentially extra effort spent bushwhack for relatively little payoff (no views, no additional 3,500 footer summits).

    Option 3: Swing further south along the Finger Lakes Trail. The present route of the Finger Lakes Trail connects Balsam Lake Mountain with the Slide Mountain Wilderness via the Neversink-Hardenburgh Trail and a rather lengthy road walk via the municipalities of Claryville and Ladleton. Alternatively, I could instead the trail over Beaver Kill Ridge to Long Pond and from there swing east to rejoin the FLT at Basily Road. This would eliminate a small section of the road walk while adding some additional scenery in the vicinities of Willowemoc Creek and Long Pond. Overall, though, this would be a substantial amount of road walking.


    Unless there's some redeeming value that I've not considered, I think the lengthy road walking makes option 3 a non-starter, which leaves options 1 and 2. Between these two, I'm leaning towards option 1 personally- it does also include a not-particularly-short road walk but the resulting payoff is the ability to add another neat area to the full traverse.

    Any thoughts from the community on the pros and cons of these routes?

  • #2
    Brendan, have you listened to this episode? it may be useful/interesting.

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcas...=1000552433293

    I will need to read more carefully your proposed options, but with regards to option 1, I wanted to comment that you do not need to do a road walk from Biscuit brook to Slide, or visit the evergreens after Fir (not been there yet, but understand the descent from Winnisook down to Slide trailhead is super steep). you can just cross route 47 and whack to Wildcat range from there. if you follow it northeast, across both CHH summits, you can deposit yourself on a trail to Slide. There is a secret/illegal trail cur across the range that would bring you somewhere close to the PEB trail, but we stumbled onto it only at the end. It is a super beautiful area and I would take it over road walk any day.

    as a side note, when you execute this awesome adventure, please-please consider writing about it in The Canister!! I can't wait to read about it!
    46/46 as of August 1st, 2014!

    Comment


    • #3
      The wildcats was an option that I'd also considered- and I even almost included mention it in my post as a possible alternative to the Fir/Spruce/Hemlock Mountains bushwhack that also eliminates the need to do any road walking on Frost Valley Road. I know there was a proposal at one point to construct a trail along this ridge that connected the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail with the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail that would fill in much of this "missing gap." I'm not sure if it was ever an official proposal with DEC backing, or mere wishful thinking on the part of the 3500 Club and/or NYNJTC... I remember my first edition of the NYNJTC map set for the Catskills included this "proposed trail."

      I don't quite remember the specifics but I do recall that some years ago, an individual took it upon themselves to start building this "proposed trail" on their own without permission, and in doing so managed to generate some amount of illegal tree cutting and associated environmental damage. (Perhaps the same "illegal" trail that you mention as following the ridgeline.) My assumption is that this event was the impetus behind the NYNJTC no longer including "proposed trails" on their maps, as well as quite probably the death knell for any construction of an official trail along this route in particular. My memory is a bit vague but I also recall that there were concerns about protecting old growth forest along this route.

      In any case, in comparing the two potential bushwhack routes, one consideration is that with a west to east traverse the "evergreens" would make for a generally downhill bushwhack traverse (albeit a steep downhill in spots, as you mention). In contrast, the wildcats would demand a fair amount of uphill bushwhacking.

      That's not to say that I'm necessarily looking for the easiest way across this area... but it is nonetheless a consideration.

      Comment


      • YanaLG
        YanaLG commented
        Editing a comment
        totally makes sense for the trip you have planned! From what I hear, Winnisook mountain is a very special place but I will also say that the Wildcat traverse is amazing, as is the hemlock forest/bog on one of them.

        That trail incident happened before I started hiking in the Catskills but I believe we are talking about the same trail. Would love to learn more for sure.

        With regards to your original post - just to be clear, there is no herd path from DT to BI, and I am not sure there is one now from SDT to BI even with all the use and abuse that has befallen on SDT in the last two years. There was of course a herd path down to the Seager trail.

        I like option one with a road walk to Seagar. BLM trailhead on Millbrook Rd is the highest in the Catskills, so it will be a very quick road trip down and then essentially flat going to Seagar. One thing to consider, Seager trail is not maintained very well right now (totally passable but messy) and in high water, the crossing may be sketchy before you get to the lean to. On the other hand, you would need to worry about crossings too if you decide to bypass Balsam from Rider Hollow and then go straight for Eagle. Obviously, if the water is high, then you can go over Balsam.

        In general, high water is something to keep an eye on during your trip, as there are many crossings that could be problematic under the right conditions. Slide is one of them! so if you bypass Biscuit brook crossing by going over Hemlock, etc, you would still need to cross Neversink for Slide.

        it's a long road walk for option 3, so it would be a big no from me.

        option 2 sounds like a good one if you are feeling it. Mudhook will most likely give a big plus for Tunis Pond. But... lots of bushwhacking...

    • #4
      Option 1. the Millbrook Road descent to the flat Dry Brook Road is worth the walk. The Dry Brook Valley is quiet, the road walk takes you along the beautiful picturesque stream past covered bridges and has little vehicular traffic. The option to stay at the Shandaken Brook lean-to on your way back to the PW Trail will be enjoyable.

      Comment


      • #5
        Originally posted by YanaLG
        totally makes sense for the trip you have planned! From what I hear, Winnisook mountain is a very special place but I will also say that the Wildcat traverse is amazing, as is the hemlock forest/bog on one of them.

        That trail incident happened before I started hiking in the Catskills but I believe we are talking about the same trail. Would love to learn more for sure.

        With regards to your original post - just to be clear, there is no herd path from DT to BI, and I am not sure there is one now from SDT to BI even with all the use and abuse that has befallen on SDT in the last two years. There was of course a herd path down to the Seager trail.

        I like option one with a road walk to Seagar. BLM trailhead on Millbrook Rd is the highest in the Catskills, so it will be a very quick road trip down and then essentially flat going to Seagar. One thing to consider, Seager trail is not maintained very well right now (totally passable but messy) and in high water, the crossing may be sketchy before you get to the lean to. On the other hand, you would need to worry about crossings too if you decide to bypass Balsam from Rider Hollow and then go straight for Eagle. Obviously, if the water is high, then you can go over Balsam.

        In general, high water is something to keep an eye on during your trip, as there are many crossings that could be problematic under the right conditions. Slide is one of them! so if you bypass Biscuit brook crossing by going over Hemlock, etc, you would still need to cross Neversink for Slide.

        it's a long road walk for option 3, so it would be a big no from me.

        option 2 sounds like a good one if you are feeling it. Mudhook will most likely give a big plus for Tunis Pond. But... lots of bushwhacking...
        I may have confused the location of the Doubletop herd path... it's been years since I was there. I remember there being some impacts along the state land boundary line starting to form. I've probably herd references to a "Doubletop herd path" and assumed that is where it was.

        I think the biggest pro to Option 2 is that in combination with a bushwhack of either the evergreens or the wildcats, it allows for the elimination all lengthy road walks from the full itinerary. There'd still be a few short on-road stretches here and there but nothing of any significance. From a purely romantic standpoint that makes this option appealing, even if it isn't necessarily the easiest or most scenic option. This was the impetus behind my original selection of the Graham-Doubletop traverse as the preferred route, and the addition of these two high peaks further contributed to the romantic notion of this route (even if neither peak ranks particularly high among Catskill High Peaks in scenic qualities). But with the closure of these two peaks to the public, I'm not certain that the romance of avoiding road walks entirely is enough to sustain the added effort this route would demand.

        I think it would somewhat come down to just how challenging a bushwhack it would be. Might be worth a day trip or even an overnight to scout the area out a bit prior to attempting the full traverse.

        There was a post some years ago, made either on this board or on the ViewsFromTheTop forums, that provided some info regarding the proposed trail that would connect the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail with the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail across the ridgeline of East and West Wildcat. It also commented on the illegal trail and (I think) the concerns about protecting old growth along the route. I spent a few minutes trying to locate that post but was unsuccessful. The info I've provided here is based on my memory of what that post said- which admittedly may not be entirely accurate (I can't even definitively recall exactly who made the post).

        Originally posted by Laurie Rankin View Post
        Option 1. the Millbrook Road descent to the flat Dry Brook Road is worth the walk. The Dry Brook Valley is quiet, the road walk takes you along the beautiful picturesque stream past covered bridges and has little vehicular traffic. The option to stay at the Shandaken Brook lean-to on your way back to the PW Trail will be enjoyable.
        The first time I climbed Eagle and Big Indian Mountains, I did so via the trail from Seager, undertaking the trip as an overnight with a night spent camped at the Shandaken Brook Lean-to. From my vague recollections, the lean-to is of a somewhat unique design, a bit different than most other DEC lean-tos. My memories of that trip are pretty limited, and it occurred prior to my realization that if I didn't find a way to fastidiously document my outdoor adventures, the finer details of most of my experiences would eventually succumb to the haze of memories of years long gone. So it certainly would be nice to revisit the area again.

        Also worth noting that going by way of Shandaken Brook wouldn't necessarily preclude including Eagle Mountain, as that could be added on as a relatively easy out and back side trek once I crest the ridge. So the slightly longer road walk to Rider Hollow is really only worthwhile if I'm determined to also include Balsam Mountain, or if the water is running high enough that the Seager trail might be impassable.

        Comment


        • #6
          A ski trail was being cut. Rangers and others had an idea who was doing it and a public warning seemed to stop a bandit trail over the Wildcats. The ridge is one of the wildest areas in the Catskills with loads of first growth. It would be a crime against the mountains to build a trail across the Wildcats.
          "The mountains are like a museum where the exhibits change every month" ...Ralph Ryndak, Catskill Explorer

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