I feel like every time the Catskill mountains of New York come up in my blog, I say the same thing: It felt good to be back. I mean it every time. It’s funny because no matter how much I love the Catskills, I keep finding myself heading away from it, now farther than ever living in Seattle. I only return after long periods of time away, but each time it is fantastic. Maybe that’s the nature of life, scarcity allows us to realize how much we love, want, miss, or need something. The drought of time I spend in the Catskills is no exception.
I was very fortunate to be able to come home for Thanksgiving, and my family and I headed to the Catskills for the weekend after. Snow was on the ground and it was beautiful. Seeing as I don’t get to the Catskills regularly anymore, I knew I had to seize the opportunity to go hiking. None of my family members really wanted to hike, nor could they really because they don’t have the gear to keep them safe, warm, and dry in the snow. However, I didn’t want to ditch them for the whole day. I wanted to choose just the right hike to accomplish my goals and get my Catskills hiking fix, but not something that would take me away from my family for too long, as I don’t see them regularly anymore either. First things first, I knew I wanted to bag a 3,500 footer as I’m slowly, but surely, working on my list. Therefore, I couldn’t repeat one that I had already done. But there has always been a part of me that had wanted to return to Giant Ledge. I hadn’t been in years. Thankfully, there was a hike that would satisfy all three of my criteria.
I went to Big Indian, and decided to hike to Giant Ledge and then past to the summit of Panther Mountain. It was a phenomenal hike. I was reminded of the grandeur of Giant Ledge, and got to see some new trail and a new summit. The snow on the ground was the most pure shade of white, and extremely light. The snowy trail was well broken up to Giant Ledge, less so between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, and not broken at all past the summit of Panther Mountain.
I hiked alone, and didn’t see anyone until reaching Giant Ledge on my return trip. So, the first three quarters of my hike were solo, and amazing. It felt like a little slice of heaven. But back to reality and it being the middle of hunting season, I decked myself out in blaze orange gear. Probably not my best fashion statement, but safety always comes first. Yeah, it might not look good, but fashion isn’t worth getting shot over. In fact, a few people that I passed on the way down mentioned how they should have been wearing blaze as well, even though they weren’t. During hunting season, it is really important for hikers to know the dates and regulations. It is important to protect yourself. The forest is a shared resource, which is a beautiful thing. But sometimes different forms of recreation can have conflicting interests. Sharing, compromise, and proper safety measures by all that enter the forest help mitigate any accidents or conflicts that might arise.
The other funny thing about my hike was my newest hiking accessory. Traveling home from Seattle, I was unable to take my trekking poles with me. Knowing that I’d be hiking in snow, I wanted to at least have one “walking stick” to help me thrust uphill, or help prevent a slip downhill. I figured I could always find a stick in the forest, but I pretty much hate hiking sticks. Typically they’re either too heavy, or too light and flimsy, and they’re almost never well balanced, making them inefficient to swing between steps. I recalled a time when I saw a guy using a hockey stick as a hiking pole on Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire. I decided I’d give it a try. My wooden hockey stick proved to be a worthy companion. It is light enough, but very sturdy. It is well balanced, and swings nicely between steps. The handle of the hockey stick is cut at a right angle, and the corners actually get some decent purchase on the trail, even in snow. As it turned out, the blade of the stick became somewhat useful, as it helped my brush snow away from places where I wanted to step, but was unsure of the footing or depth of snow. Clearing the path gave me a better idea of what that particular step would be like. I got a few comments from other hikers, such as “You playing hockey?” I facetiously told them I had a game at the summit of Panther Mountain.
I unfortunately won’t be heading to the Catskills when I return home for Christmas, so I’m really glad I was able to sneak this hike in. As for this December? Surfs up; I’m hoping to slide into a wetsuit and brave the cold of the waters in Rhode Island and catch a few waves with my brother.