Hunter, Southwest Hunter, West Kill September 19, 2011Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, peakbagging.
Tags: Catskill 3500, Catskills, Hunter, Southwest Hunter, West Kill
Fellow Smokies explorers, you would probably sneer at the notion of bushwhacking in the Catskills. Sneer not! The Catskills are the most misunderstood, overlooked, underestimated, and oversimplified mountain range in the U.S. I have many fond memories of my adventures working on the Catskill 3500s—all 35 of them, of which 16 are bushwhack peaks.
Since I have only been able to do local hikes lately (mainly MST sections near Asheville), I am going to time-travel back to May 29, 1996, when Bob and I knocked off three mighty Catskill peaks.
Our first goal was Hunter (4040′), the second highest in the Catskills and one of two that surpass 4000′. We drove into the lovely green Spruceton valley with its old, sometimes rundown, but always interesting farmhouses and cottages. Think of screened porches with rocking chairs, assorted lawn statuary, and carpenters’ ornamentation along the gables.
One of the things I like about the area is that its heyday as a vacation spot dates back to the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s. Therefore it has largely escaped the cookie-cutter construction and aesthetic cliches of many more recently developed vacation spots.
Hunter is also a ski resort. Its summit can be reached from several different directions by trail or even by walking up the ski slope itself. We followed the wide, rubbly Spruceton trail to its summit, climbing 2000′ in 2.7 miles. We reached the grassy clearing and rested. Unfortunately, since we were there during the single 10-year period that the fire tower was closed to the public in its 102-year history, we could not climb it. The tower was closed in 1989 and nearly demolished, but a movement sprang up to save it, and it was repaired and reopened in 2000.
Now it was time to tackle the real challenge of the day, Southwest Hunter (3740′)—a bushwhack peak. The difficulty lies in finding the right spot to leave the Devil’s Path and plunge into the spruce-fir forest, and then locating the actual high point along a wide, densely overgrown, nearly flat summit plateau. Some people describe SW Hunter as one of the most difficult bushwhacks on the peakbagging list.
We did beautifully. It was pure map-and-compass work. We followed a disciplined line through the thick evergreens, kept going…going…going…and walked right up to the summit canister! I’ve always enjoyed finding these canisters, whether on Catskill peaks, New Hampshire 100 Highest, or anywhere else. It’s a bit like doing an Easter egg hunt. You get to open up the canister (unless it’s winter and it’s frozen shut) and sign in with any comments you feel like making, and of course you skim through everyone else’s comments (“Getting attacked by gnats…went up wrong branch of the stream…lost map,” etc.)
As he always did with the Catskill registers, Bob drew a picture of a space ship and wrote, “You have been invaded by aliens from Massachusetts! Beware!” (A reference to the fact that no one from eastern Mass. went to the Catskills—except us.) I took the picture at top. When looking at Bob’s facial expression, bear in mind that his sole intent is to throw you off.
We then dropped off the northwest side into the valley of the West Kill, a beautiful stream. It made for delightful rockhopping.
We maneuvered easily down its flat-topped rocks and eventually reached Diamond Notch. There we left the stream and picked up the Devil’s Path once again to climb 1300 vertical feet up to West Kill (3880′). It has a wonderful wide, smooth ledge near the summit with a commanding view to the southeast. The luminous green of spring had flooded the valleys and was marching its way up the slopes.