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The East Branch of the Neversink February 10, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking.
Tags: , ,

Slide Mountain in earlier days

This is about a certain stream valley in the Catskills, the most misunderstood mountains in the United States.

The East Branch of the Neversink is cherished by two groups of people: trout fishermen and bushwhackers. Peakbaggers going after the 35 summits of the Catskill summits over 3500′ sometimes venture into this valley, although most of the peaks that ring it can be reached by easier directions, either by trail or by shorter bushwhacking routes.  The headwaters of the East Branch drain the following mountains: Table, Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday, Cornell, and Slide.  (That is the sequence going counterclockwise around the valley.)  Of those, all can be reached by trail except for Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, and Friday.

Bushwhackers who want to explore the East Branch valley can do all kinds of variations.  You can pick off each of those peaks separately by going up the  tributaries, for instance going up the left fork of Donovan Brook to get to Lone, or you can do combinations of the peaks by connecting ridge sections between them.  You can do a peakbagging extravaganza including all of the mountains mentioned above by making a grand circle around the stream valley.  That is strenuous.

It was Bob who introduced me to the Catskills.  As hikers who lived in eastern Massachusetts, we weren’t really “supposed” to get interested in the Catskills.  We had the White Mountains, the Maine ranges, the Green Mountains, and the Berkshires closer at hand.  And if we wanted to venture into New York state, we would most certainly bypass the Catskills for the more glamorous Adirondacks—wouldn’t we?

But Bob believed in the Catskills.  It all went back to a camping trip he’d done when he was about 10 years old with his family at North Lake.  The place had cast a spell on him, even though his family had also camped in many other beautiful places in the northeast.  (It got to be kind of a joke with me.  We’d be driving along somewhere, just about anywhere, and Bob would point to a campground and say, “My family camped here.”)

Bob lured a lot of people into the web of the Catskills.  Mike, Margie, Adam, Meg, Lars, Steve… and me.  Some of the expeditions were for trout fishing and tubing.  Before I ever met Bob, he had already cracked a kneecap going tubing down the Esopus River.  What he and I did was mainly hiking, though I tagged along on some fishing excursions.

We did the Catskill 3500, and our bible was the guidebook by Lee McAllister and Myron Ochman, first published 1989 and I believe now out of print.  Bob and I had duplicate copies into which we each entered our list of bagged peaks.  I loved that book.  The writing was enthusiastic, even poetic at times.  And it had the most peculiar little black-and-white photos.  On p. 60 there is a photo of two damp, grubby cotton socks drying out on sticks in the ground.

There is a lot that could be said about our many adventures in the Catskills, and I plan to put in a post here and there about the best ones.  (When I get my boxes of photos out of storage next month, I’ll be able to scan some old pictures.)  But for now, here is something I wrote a few years ago.

Brook trout

East Branch of the Neversink

We crossed Deer Shanty Brook, stayed east, kept on

along the stream, searched out faint paths that ran

through groves of birch

and hemlock.  Footprints led through clearings where

thick sun-warmed tawny grasses grew like fur,

soft to the touch.

The stream was dark and clear with orange-red leaves

that drifted slowly over deep black pools

where one could catch

a trout.  Three worlds: the fish dives down, the leaf

glides past, the person idly wonders if

the leaf will reach

the sea.  So following the stream we found

the valley closing in, its sides inclined

at a steep pitch,

small spruces clinging tight to high moss walls.

The stream kept leading us toward its source.

We had to watch

the side streams, had to take a certain one,

follow it up to some dark green unknown.

We had to touch

a certain mountain.  As we went the streams

turned into secret pathways like long dreams

of breathless search.

# # #

"Autumn in the Catskills" by Thomas Cole



1. a loyal reader - February 12, 2010

A very beautiful poem. I especially liked this part which is almost a haiku by itself:

“Three worlds: the fish dives down, the leaf

glides past, the person idly wonders if

the leaf will reach

the sea.”

2. Jenny - February 12, 2010

Thanks–when you say that part is like a haiku, perhaps you were picking up on the fact that the whole poem has a formal structure. Each set of three lines has a certain number of syllables in each line and a set of off-rhymes. Writing it was like doing a puzzle, and I enjoyed it!

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