Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Catskills: Logistics

Notch PondUntil now, I hadn't been to the Catskills for lack of a car. It's not readily accessible by mass transit - although that doesn't mean it can't be done. I saw Trailways buses in both Tannersville and Phoenicia. Still, it would be a hike to any campsite. That doesn't mean it can't be done. John at the Hunter fire tower told me about a 71-year-old retired teacher from Queens who had done all the Catskills 3500 peaks via bus, train, hitchhiking, etc. Furthermore, she had done what he called "the grid" - each of those 35 peaks in each of the 12 months of the year. You do the math on that one.

My commitment to car-free living isn't as rigorous as that, though. I merely took a train to Poughkeepsie and rented a car there. (I had zero desire to drive out of Manhattan.)

That meant, though, that I had to keep my equipment light; not quite backpacking weight, but I only had a large suitcase and a day pack. Practically speaking, that meant buying food in Poughkeepsie and, perhaps more importantly, no cooler: I drew the line at buying and tossing a cheap styorofoam cooler. No comfy camp chairs, no endless wardrobe choices.

I chose to stay at Devil's Tombstone, which is a primitive campground near North-South Lake. "Primitive" is accurate: pit toilets, pumps but no running water, no RV hookups. The pictures on Reserve America made it look quite pretty. And you can drive a few miles and shower at North-South Lake. I hoped a primitive site would have quieter campers.

What the pictures don't make clear is that the pretty little pond at Devil's Tombstone is in the day use area, not within view of the campsites. It was my bad luck, further, that the two sites across from mine were occupied by one large group of college kids. Their idea of camping was to drink beer, adorably struggle to make fire, and go on one hike without being adequately provisioned and then moan about it. Oh, yeah, and to play their music until 2:30 in the morning, even though quiet hours start at 10 p.m. - the attendant on duty Friday night did nothing to keep the sound down. Saturday was better. Sunday night it was remarkably quieter, as nearly everyone left.

Next time I'd stay at North-South Lake. The sites are just as nice, the noise didn't seem to be any louder - rather more kids, though, I'd expect - and it's worth not having to drive just to flush the toilet and shower off the grime.

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