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Slide Mountain Loop Hike, Catskill Mountains - Winter

on Thu, 02/23/2012 - 23:36

Today I went on an amazing ~4-hour 6.8 mile winter hike up Slide Mountain, the tallest peak in the Catskills topping out at around 4,180 feet with several outstanding viewpoints along the way. It was my first winter hike in the Catskill region, and it was absolutely beautiful, I’m really looking forward to doing this again soon.

While we were less then three hours from New York City, where we started out earlier that morning, about an hour into the trail we felt liked we’d been transported into a winter wonderland. It has been a very mild winter and overall the hike had only a few minor challenges – some icy sections that you had to take slowly, and 2 or 3 really short but steep areas that were a little difficult because of the snow, but very doable. The trails are really well maintained and clearly marked. The hike was never really strenuous, the grade never too steep, etc. it was a very moderate and thoroughly enjoyable trip – I highly recommend it.

Evan and I met up around 9:45am and were on the road by 10am. The hike is about three hours from NYC and we arrived at the trailhead around 1pm, summited (via Wittenberg Cornell) by 2:30pm and made it back down to the parking area (via Curtis-Ormsbee) shortly after 5pm (about 4 hours including a 20 minute rest at the top). You could drive back to the city and do this as a day trip – but I was worn out and thankful we’d rented a house for the weekend and was looking forward to a hot shower and a great dinner!

Below is my gear summary (what I packed) followed by a photo walkthrough and description of the trail and our hike:

on 02/22/12 in Big Indian, NY the high was 37°F the low was 15°F and the mean temp was 26°F. check out's elevation weather modeling before your trip  

I was a bit worried about the snow and ice we’d encounter, but it has been a pretty mild winter and no special equipment (i.e. crampons, snowshoes, ropes, etc.) was needed, just your winter basics.

I used trekking poles, and I’m glad I brought them – they gave me a lot more confidence while navigating a few tough sections, and some stability in key places, not to mention the use of my upper body on a few of those steeper grades – but Evan didn’t bring his and never regretted it. Personally, I would recommend you bring them on a hike like this.

I wore a short sleeve Arcteryx polyester t-shirt under my Atom LT mid-layer jacket, with my Theta AR light rain jacket as a shell, which I love and take on every trip I do; for much of the trip the Theta wasn’t fully zipped (front or pits) and I was never cold. I had on a light pair of wind resistant gloves and a wool hat (which I took off a few times because it was too warm).  I wore a light weight base layer on my legs and my favorite trekking pants. I had rain pants in my pack and a long sleeve polyester t-shirt – but never once thought about using them.  Arcteryx is one of my favorite brands, it isn’t cheap but is worth every penny – they make truly awesome gear that fits great, wears well during activities, is very durable, tough, and long lasting…  

For any trip I pack a few essentials: my Sawyer water filter and 4L water pouch - I like to have and drink a lot of water (and be able to make more), a head-lamp, a small “emergency” kit, some toilet paper, a small zip lock garbage bag, and of course lunch and some fruit for snacks (and 2 energy bars for emergencies).

I had the NY NJ Trail Conference Maps for the area, and I brought along my new Garmin Rino 655t, I’ll have to do a separate write up on the 655t – overall I liked it, and the one time we overshot a turn in the trail it did save us before we went too far out of the way (the custom map feature allowed me to overlay the trail map on the gps which was awesome) – but I think they could make it so much better in this day and age, my cell phone is such an amazing piece of technology by comparison. All the photos in this post were taken with the Rino’s built-in 5-megapixel camera, which takes decent photos – I was hoping for better image quality.

I stuffed all this into one of my favorite packs, the waterproof Deuter DS Hike 20 perfect for day trips.

The trails are really well maintained and clearly marked throughout. We found signs at all the intersections, though the maps have the most accurate mileage data. I would never advise going out without a map, etc. but it would be difficult to get lost on this hike.

The New York - New Jersey Trail Conference web site is an amazing resource but the write up on this trail was done in 2002 and is a bit out of date. I’m not sure if it is going off of the old mileage information (between 2001 and 2003 the Adirondack Mountain Club collected new mileage data by surveying wheel) but the NYNJTC lists the hike as 5.1 miles long, and taking about 4.5 hours. However, even if you go out and back via the shorter Wittenberg Cornell route the hike is 5.6 miles; if you do the loop hike (which the write-up covers) it is 6.8 miles according to their maps (printed in 2010). The NYNJTC write up also says the hike is strenuous, but I’d consider it to be of moderate difficulty – not overly strenuous, and at a good pace the 6.8 miles can be done in about 4 hours, which includes a short 15-20 min rest at the top.

The Loop: From the parking lot, you head out along the Phoenicia East Branch .7 miles, then we switched onto the Wittenberg Cornell trail for 2.1 miles to the summit. We backtracked along Wittenberg Cornell .8 miles and took the Curtis-Ormsbee trail 1.65 miles back onto the Phoenicia East Branch which was 1.55 back to the parking lot.

1pm: The parking area was easy to find thanks to the NY-NJ Trail Conference website write-up: 74.427584 W, 42.008637 N

From the parking area, we proceeded up the Phoenicia East Branch .7 miles. This was the worst part of the trail - starting about a hundred yards in from the parking area, for a little more then a quarter of a mile the trail, it was very icy and slippery. The two photos below were actually taken on the way back down – Evan decided it would be fun to slide down one section to show you how icy trail was – he easily slid along a 60 foot stretch (and had a great time doing it) from where i was standing to where you see him in the second photo; I was able to walk down along the edges of the trail without too much issue, I just went a little slower: 74.424519 W, 42.008012 N

The Phoenicia East Branch Trail has yellow trail markers – it is very well marked: 74.418824 W, 42.00389 N

.7 miles into the Phoenicia East Branch trail is a well marked trail sign. Given that we started at 1pm, sunset was at 5:30ish, and the NYNJCT website listed the hike at 4.5 hours, we decided to go up the shorter, but less interesting, Wittenberg Cornell route first in the hopes we’d have time to summit (it is 2.1 miles to the summit - the sign says 2.0 but the maps are more accurate) and make it back with plenty of time/light – we didn’t want to be traversing that icy patch again as it was getting dark: 74.418633 W, 42.00358 N

2:20pm: about a mile into the Wittenberg Cornell trail, as we started to gain some elevation, is when we really started to feel the winter wonderland effect… this trail was never too steep, and is a quick route to the top, but not as interesting as Curtis-Ormsbee (visually or technically). These photos were taken just before Wittenberg Cornell meets up with Curtis-Ormsbee, about .9 miles from the summit: 74.398005 W, 42.001746 N

2:35pm: we took a 20 minute break at the top, it was really the only time during the hike that I got cold, mostly because I’d taken off my hat and gloves and we stopped moving. it was the first time we’d had any cell reception in a few hours (not much service on the road leading up to the trail head) so we took the opportunity to check email, I made a short but important phone call – hopefully I’ll be posting about that soon, and we each had half a sandwich…

3:15pm: We then backtracked along Wittenberg Cornell trail .8 miles to where it intersects with the Curtis-Ormsbee trail. This entire .8 mile section of the trail is pretty flat – a slight downward grade, we lightly jogged a fair amount of this section covering the distance in about 10 min. By compairson that same .8 miles took us almost 40 minutes on the way up to the peak...

At the trail junction we ran into the two guys who we’d met in the parking lot, the only other folks we saw on the trail (though we did see two other guys coming off the trail as we started out). They’d gone up the Curtis-Ormsbee route and were deciding whether or not to make the summit – I hope they did! They were kind enough to take a photo of Evan and I before going on their way: 74.396775 W, 42.001153 N


3:40pm: the Curtis-Ormsbee trail is much more picturesque with two great viewing points; this is Evan at the first of the two vistas (marked as a * on the maps) on our way down: 74.409627 W, 41.995388 N


3:50pm: this photo doesn’t do justice to the steep nature of this section – there were 2 or 3 places on the Curtis-Ormsbee trail where we had to go off trail a little bit – it was just too steep and treacherous otherwise, but it really wasn’t bad…

4pm: about ¾ of the way down the Curtis-Ormsbee trail, we came across these giant rocks with amazing ice formations and stopped to explore and check it out; the trail passes right by this: 74.417431 W, 41.9938 N

Curtis-Ormsbee had blue trail markers; it was very well marked: 

4:20pm: A little more then a quarter mile after you switch off the Curtis-Ormsbee and back onto the Phoenicia East trail, we saw our first really green vegetation – some moss growing around a water run off: 74.416586 W, 41.997811 N

about ¾ of the way down the Phoenicia East Branch, or about 2/10ths of a mile before it intersects again with Wittenberg Cornell, we walked across a short bridge (3 planks wide – easily traversable) over a small running stream: 74.415221 W, 42.001195 N

5:05pm: we got back to the parking area a few minutes after 5pm; this picture was taken a quarter mile away from trailhead, you can see the sun is starting to set… we were very happy not to have to traverse that icy section in the dark and thrilled with our timing for the entire hike…