CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN

It’s a relatively new hobby of mine–hiking in the mountains–but I’ve definitely caught the bug! After scattered adventures in Virginia, New Jersey, upstate New York and Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail, it was time for my greatest challenge yet. I asked a friend from church who’s an avid hiker if I could tag along on one of his forays into the Catskills, and he came up with a DOOZY of a plan.

Wittenberg, Cornell and Slide Mountains are often combined into one long hike, stretching nearly ten miles from point to point. Three mountains, all over 3500′ with a variety of terrain and topography, culminating with the tallest peak in the range. I was nervous for weeks leading up to this trip, mostly because of the unknown. Would I be strong enough? Would I make it the whole way? What should I pack with me? Would my new hiking boots do the trick? I’m a planner. That’s how I navigate uncertainty, so I did a ton of research and asked other hikers for their advice. Ultimately, the day far surpassed any expectations, and it’s a good thing I didn’t know what lie ahead.

After parking our cars at either end of the route, Jeff and I set out from the Woodland Valley campground near Phoenicia, New York, a little town nestled in the mountains where cell service is rare. The first four miles were a long, sloping climb, ascending roughly 2500′ to the summit of Wittenberg. The trail wasn’t extreme, but it stretched on and on. We encountered our first rock formations where arms, legs, hands and footholds were necessary! On this initial stretch, limbs and branches and jutting rocks were all great leverage. We needed three hours to reach the top (3780′) but the views were worth all the effort. Not only was the fall foliage glorious, but the blue sky was marked with white puffy clouds which made for incredible photos. The Ashokan Reservoir sparkled far below our perch atop Wittenberg, and I could have soaked in the scenery all afternoon.

With so many miles and two peaks ahead of us, we only rested for ten minutes to eat lunch before facing the next phase of the hike. After a relatively quick jog down, we started up to Cornell Mountain. This is where the climbing turned serious with sheer rock faces and cliffs to scale. The most famous of them is the “Cornell Crack” which you can easily find online. The pictures don’t do it justice; we stood at the bottom and gazed upward, taking stock of our options. As I found out, the best plan was to go slow and be sure of my footholds, tackling one level at a time. It helps to have long legs and upper body strength!

To the victor go the spoils! I was as proud of myself for reaching the top of the “Crack” as I’ve ever been crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. Once we made it, we only had another 400′ to reach the summit of Cornell (3680′). The final ascent to this second mountain was steep; however the actual distance from peak to peak was under a mile. We stopped to snap a few photos, though we wanted to keep moving with the tallest mountain still ahead of us and only a few hours of daylight remaining.

The trail leading off Cornell and toward Slide Mountain was a nice change of pace. We made good time and gobbled up snacks along the way, crossing through camping areas and enjoying the brilliant colors in the woods. I wondered more than once if the toughest climbing was behind us, and then we came to a point where the trail marker was above our heads. I looked skyward and saw a mountain looming overhead and I said out loud, “As long as we aren’t going up there.” Except that’s exactly where we were going…straight UP!! Gulp. The next half mile was the most grueling part of the day as we navigated boulders, rock formations, trails built into the side of the mountain, even ladders made of logs worn smooth by years of the elements. It seemed like we would climb up, up, up to heaven. We ascended roughly 1000′ over that half mile, and I pushed my lungs and legs to the limit. The air was definitely thinner up there, haha! I also turned my breathing breaks into cool photo ops.

After we survived that excruciating climb and reached the very top of Slide Mountain (just shy of 4200′), we allowed ourselves another quick break to drink in the breathtaking views of the Catskills from its highest point. It was thrilling to summit our third and final peak, but it was colder up there. As soon as we stopped moving, we could feel the chill of temperatures in the mid 30s. I lost track of the number of times I pulled on and then stripped off layers of clothing during the day.

Now we were in the homestretch. Three miles to go from the top of Slide to the parking lot, and we quickened our pace over the first mile when the ground was soft and the trail forgiving. Then everything drastically changed. The last two miles down the mountain were the only ones I wouldn’t do again, at least not without poles. The track widened into what appeared to be an old logging road; it was covered in rocks which were blanketed by fallen leaves. Not only could we not see the small rocks and stones, but they moved or rolled or shifted whenever we stepped on them. For the final two miles, we could only step gingerly and pick our way carefully among the rocks; even then, I rolled my ankles multiple times, lost my balance over and over and stumbled through the steep descent. To avoid getting supremely frustrated, I looked around for splashes of color in the woods.

When we finally made it back to the car nearly eight hours after we set out, my legs were wobbly and I was parched. I saved my last splash of water for the end, but I will definitely pack more water and less food on my next major climb. In addition, I learned two other valuable lessons. ALWAYS find the next trail marker, no matter how “obvious” the path may seem. After scaling one rock face, we set off to the left around the front of a cliff, confident we were following the clear trail. After walking 500′ and not seeing a red marker, Jeff tried a short climb up to another level while I retraced our steps back to the last marker we saw. We had gone the complete opposite direction!! I felt a chill as I realized how easily we could get lost in this vast wilderness. Multiple times throughout our trek, we returned to the most recent marker because we weren’t positive we were heading the right way.

The other lesson? Be careful how and where you try to stand when mountain climbing. After pulling myself up to the first level of a challenging rock face, I attempted to stand…only to bang my head into a rock overhang just above where I was crouched. It hurt! Jeff wanted me to come down so he could make sure I wasn’t bleeding; but after climbing up there, I definitely wasn’t going back down only to do it over again, ha. I still have a slight bump on my head as a souvenir from our adventure.

It was AMAZING to see this sign at the end of our trek…proof of the miles and a validation of our efforts.

An unforgettable experience in so many ways. I am so ridiculously proud of myself but also humbled by the majesty of God’s creation and the glory of the mountain tops. Thank you, Jeff, for letting this novice climber take part in your grand adventure, and thank you for taking so many photos that perfectly captured the moment and the memories.

Mission accomplished.

18 Responses to “CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN”

  1. William Edwards Says:

    Incredible Read. Loved the pictures and how well they finalized the pictures in our head of thr story we are reading. Great job

  2. Well written and it looked like an amazing journey.

  3. You are a really good writer and I enjoyed your description of the hike just like I love to hear your excitement about sports.

  4. David Warmee Says:

  5. Great climb…..great description..next time El Capitan.

  6. exponent8gmailcom Says:

    Great story Amy. I admire your grit to try new things. Consider SE Utah for a glorious, alternate type of hike. Lots of red, yellow, and orange sandstone.

  7. I am so in awe of you, your climb, and your dedication! You are also a beautiful writer. Thank you for sharing here as well as your animated narrative on last night’s program. You are a captivating story teller.

  8. Tom Gilbert Says:

    What a fantastic write up your adventure. The way you described it and with photos made the story come alive. Just the way I was taught my 1st year of Journalism in High School and beyond.
    FWI, The last 2 photos are gorgeous Fall colors.

  9. Penny Robb Says:

    Wow. What an amazing excursion. Congrats. You must be very proud. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Michael "Chico" La Barbera Says:

    Amy, ahora estás lista para subir a la montaña de Huayna Picchu (que significa “montaña joven” en quechua [el idioma de los incas]). Te agradezco por compartir tu maravillosa experiencia. Lo más importante es que afrontaste a tus temores del miedo a lo desconocido. ¡Así se hace!

  11. Allan Friedman Says:

    Wow! Great photos. Looks amazing!

  12. Wow, congratulations! Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. janet alden Says:

    Way up high high five my friend! Great adventure, story and pictures! You accomplish everything you set your mind to and I am always proud of your commitment!

  14. Great Job Amy!👍🏿 Thanks for sharing those amazing photos.

  15. Barry J Veenstra Says:

    Great read Amy. Sounds like you’re ready to be OUR trail guide! Where do we sign up? 🙂

  16. Larry Bradley Says:

    Sounded like a good day of hiking.

  17. Jack Miller Says:

    I heard it and now I read it. Great both ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: