Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hiking - Balsam Cap and Friday Mountains (Catskills)

Today was a tough end-of-winter hike in the Catskills. Several of the participants were working on completing their climbs of the Catskill 3500 peaks in winter, and one friend was finishing hers today, so I joined and went along.

The hike was a total of 5-6 miles, with no trails, up a steep ridge with a total elevation gain of about 2900 feet, most of it int he first two miles. The blue line was our intended route, and the red is our actual GPS trace.

There was no snow in the valley as we started out, but once we hit the top of the ridge and continued climbing, we donned snowshoes once they became necessary. Leaving the ridge below the summit of Friday, we skirted left to the headwall of the intervening valley, avoiding some major cliffs in the process. Then we turned right, and headed up toward the summit of Friday.

This was pretty steep and icy in spots, and after a short break on the summit and signing the register there, we all switched to crampons for the equally steep descent.

Finding a firm and crunchy snowshoe track headed toward Balsam Cap, we continued with crampons all the way to the summit. We passed through some pretty dense stands of balsam, but the path was clear and we stuck with it, arriving at this stupendous view from an open ledge.

Many of the other Catskill peaks

Ashokan Reservoir

Panorama from Cornell/Wittenberg (l) to Ashokan Reservoir (r)

Reaching the summit, we paused to eat lunch, sign the register, and celebrate Mary's accomplishment. We also switched back to snowshoes for the less steep descent back to the ridge we'd followed on the way up. As we were about to leave, two young men joined us on the summit. They'd driven up from NYC and gotten a very early start, bagging Peekamoose, Table, Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, and heading on to Friday, for a 6-peak day. Unbelievable!

The descent was steep in spots until we got back on the main ridge, where we eventually ran out of snow and removed the snowshoes. Then came the steepest descent of the day, off the ridge and back down to the cars, with wet leaves, loose rock, and occasional patches of snow to keep it interesting. After a total of a little over 7 hours, we finished the hike, all tired but none the worse for wear.

And with that, I'm hoping to move on to more spring-like activities. Winter may not be over, but it is in my mind. Time to get back on the bike.

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