Ken and I set out from his house around 9:00, and made our way down and around to the trailhead on the west side of Slide Mountain. We made it to the trailhead by 10:25, and by 10:40 we were on our way. We opted to hike using micro-spikes instead of snowshoes; the trail was hard packed, and we figured that we would switch whenever we hit softer snow. The first stretch of trail stays mostly level for a little while, and then it starts to climb up, at a steeper grade, to meet an old woods road. We were on the road by 11:00, and 10 minutes later we were at the next junction, which would take us up to the summit.
The trail was still incredibly hard packed, so we continued on in our spikes. It was mostly flat along the woods road, and then beyond, but it wouldn’t last forever. After a few stream crossings the trail started to climb again. Through this stretch we met a few people, including the requisite man-twice-our-age-and-in-better-shape. We were also passed by a guy and his dog who was trail running; it wasn’t obvious until he passed us on the way down, though. On the way up, at least where we saw him, he was hiking fast.
Around this time the trees started to shift from mostly deciduous to mostly evergreen. To our right, we could see a valley, and on the other side of the valley was another of Slide Mountain’s shoulders. As we ascended, the grade started to ease off slightly, and we found ourselves at a hard left turn in the trail. A short distance later, and a hard right turn, and we were on the ridge that we would follow to the summit. It was wide, relatively flat, and offered decent-to-excellent views at select spots along the way, always on the left (north).
At one point, we stopped and took a measure of the snow depth with Ken’s walking stick. It was somewhere between 2’ and 3’ (I know, very accurate). I couldn’t believe it. The snow on the packed trail didn’t move underfoot when we walked on it, and when I jammed my trekking pole into the snow beside the trail, it barely went in a foot. Yet, the snow itself was actually well over two feet deep.
That snow depth explained how tight the foliage around the trail was, though. At times we had to duck quite low under the partial blowdown that was ubiquitous up here. I could imagine how fierce the wind must be up here at times, since it’s the highest point around by several hundred feet. There was a section of heavy blowdown at one point, off to the right, possibly the remains of the eponymous slide.
We got to the summit itself at 12:40. The only way that you can tell is that the trail ahead starts to go down instead of going up or staying on the level. There was no view at the summit, but a short distance down the trail there’s an open area where a couple of other groups were stopping to lunch. We could see Wittenberg and Cornell, and a bit of the Ashokan Reservoir, and the landscape beyond, but trees blocked the majority of the view.
The best view, by far, was actually seen five minutes before we got to the summit. We were standing near the top of the col between two of Slide’s shoulders; the one that goes roughly north toward Panther and Giant Ledge was on our left, visible but unobtrusive. The whole of the Catskills were laid out before us. Panther was visible, over the shoulder, and peak after peak after peak stretched out before us. I could even make out a bit of the Blackhead range, way off in the distance. What struck me the most was how level the tops of the peaks looked. For the first time, the geological history of the Catskills really settled in to my mind. I could see the plateau that had once been here, before it eroded away to form these mountains. In many ways, the plateau still exists, in the peaks of these summits.
Lunch was relatively uneventful, aside from my ever continuing experiments on hiking food. I decided to bring a can of tuna, and eat it on some rice crackers. I had gotten the idea from my friend Justin, who often brings a can of sardines with him for lunch. The tuna worked out well enough, but it didn’t sit as well in my stomach as I would have liked. The granola that I had made the night before did, however, and that will be accompanying me on future hikes.
At around 13:20 we started heading back down, and an hour later, we were back at the trailhead. The descent was uneventful, aside from slipping a few times. Oh, and the couple headed up whose gear consisted of a cloth shopping bag. At least they’ve got the “going lightly” bit mastered.
On our way back, we took a slightly different route, and ended up going right past Hunter mountain, the second highest Catskill peak. The snow in the valley had completely melted, but there was still plenty of snow on the mountain itself, and it was a warm day. We saw a few skiers getting in their last runs of the season, taking advantage of the nice weather. In a way, it paralleled our own hike. This would be our last snow-enhanced trip until next winter, and we were completely taking advantage of the mixture of warmer weather and snowy terrain. All-in-all, I had fun.