We were on the road and bound for the Catskills before 4 am Saturday. And still we hit stand-till traffic on a BQE detour. Nothing to do but put on my jams and guzzle coffee. We started this trip with Spoon because they’re boppy. Smooth sailing and a very scenic foggy drive on the NY Thruway to reach the Slide Mountain trailhead around 7 am. The parking lot was mostly empty, which was surprising for a summer Saturday.
Rising to 4,180′, Slide Mountain is the highest peak in the Catskills and one of dozens that top out above 3,500′. Several trails will take you to the summit. The trail up the east side is steeper and looks like a lot of fun, but the trailhead is on a campground we’re staying at in August, so that trail is in a pocket for later. For this trip we traversed the more heavily trafficked western side starting with the Curtis-Ormsbee (yellow) trail. This trail is named after two NY hikers who perished in an ice storm on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. There’s a stone monument just before, or maybe at, the blue trail junction.
We took the 6.7 mile loop – yellow trail, left on blue trail, right on red then red to yellow back. It’s a mile longer than just going yellow to red and back, but that mile is worth it. The blue trail is gorgeous and varied. It’s very well marked and fun to find your way up the steep stone parts. The second half reaches the magical elevation where every breath is piney fresh. Even the dirt changes to the more sandy texture you find in woods near beaches.
Here’s the DEC’s Slide Mountain trail description:
(1.6 miles, blue markers, moderate 900 feet elevation gain.)
Often referred to as the scenic route up Slide Mountain, the Curtis-Ormsbee trail provides the hiker with three panoramic vistas to the south and west and a moderate “terraced” ridge hike through stunted northern hardwoods. It is named in memory of William Curtis and Allen Ormsbee who originally blazed this route and later lost their lives during a mountaineering expedition in the White Mountains in 1900.
Most of the trail offered full shade. The rain from hours prior trickled down rocky streams. We saw salamanders and cooled off by placing our wrists in cold flowing water. Everything was so green and gorgeous. I know it’s summer and these are woodsy mountains and green is a natural part of that picture, but I was full of wows. High-fives to my boyfriend for not rolling his eyes around the hundredth time I said, look how green it is. Green green green. GREEEEN.
That up there is the only bridge we encountered. Of course, it reminded me of the dancing on a log scene in Dirty Dancing, shot in the Catskills. I beckoned Raj from the center, but he refused to dance out to me like Baby did. Dream killed.
A little ways down from the bridge comes the blue trail junction, and it’s impossible to miss unless you’re hiking with eyes closed. Don’t do that. We were very happy to finally begin the ascent – the yellow trail is mostly flat after an initial gradual climb.
This mountain is deceptive. Every time we thought we were at the top, the trail just kept going. I’m glad we took a few breaks to fully take in the quiet and savor the pure air and bird songs. The switch from blue to red trail is not well marked if it’s marked at all. We only noticed it because some trail runners happened to be passing on the red. All eyes or you might miss it.
We stopped here for a bite. This is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever eaten a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Once you hit the red trail, it’s not far from the very unceremonious summit. It’s just a block of concrete, a former base of a fire tower. There are higher points, but this is what I read marks the summit. Don’t turn back yet though. Continue for just a few more minutes and you’ll come to a big rock. Make your way down and around to see the plaque for naturalist and writer John Burroughs, who often wrote about Slide Mountain. Not a bad writing spot.
We took the red trail to the yellow trail back to the parking lot. We planned to hike the Giant Ledge after since the trailhead is only 2 miles up the road, but were tired, tired, tired and went to our campground instead. We’ll do it next time when we can enjoy it more.
We stayed at the Kenneth Wilson campground. This was a last minute trip and others were all booked. It worked out though. The woodsy grounds are completely surrounded by mountains. The facilities were clean and showers surprisingly warm. After setting up our tent on a soft bed of pine needles, we visited the pond and nature trails. I was a little anxious about staying here because many of the reviews mentioned bear sightings. The staff said they’ve only had one sighting this summer and it was a cub. The camp is very strict about bear prevention – no food/cosmetics/drinks left unattended, no food scraps in the sink, etc. As a result, the place is pristine. I didn’t want to leave. My only complaint was the cloudy sky keeping the stars all to itself.
Let’s talk walking sticks.
Wonderful hikers left perfect walking sticks at the trailhead. As one of the first ones in the lot, we had our pick. I grabbed one, expecting to drop it and forget it after a few minutes, but no. We bonded.
This was my first time hiking with a walking stick. How have I gone so long without one? Right away I was amazed at the handiness. These sturdy sticks lent stability on muddy ground and took stress off my knees on the ascent and descent. They boosted endurance, speed and balance. I used mine to prod for loose rocks and help my posture since my shoulders like to hunch when there’s a backpack on them. Also, I can’t help being scared of bears. It was comforting to have something solid I could use to protect myself juuuust in case the rare one tried to eat me.
Walking sticks are MVPs. They’re my new adventure mascot. I love walking sticks. When this is all over, walking stick and I shall build a creepy cabin together.