Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hiking "The Six"

I started the Catskills 3500 peaks a year ago today. As I am now halfway through, the logical conclusion is that it’ll take another year to finish. On the other hand, if I continue at yesterday’s pace, it’ll only take three days. That’s because yesterday I hiked “The Six” - Friday, Balsam Cap, Rocky, Lone, Table, and Peekamoose - with the Catskill 3500 Club.

I will not finish in three days.

The hike appealed to me because of its near-German efficiency in peak-bagging: six peaks in only one 12-mile hike! Also, four of the six peaks are trailless and take good navigation skills, which I’m happy to outsource to experienced trip leaders. Of those 12 miles, about four are on trails, mostly at the end. The first quarter-mile or so up to Friday is technically trailless, but it follows an old road. The rest is navigation either by compass or landmarks. Navigation is made more complicated by stone cliffs as well as a bit of private property near the beginning.

The hike started off with a strenuous ascent up to Friday from Moon Haw Road. This would be the biggest elevation gain of the day, as the cols between the peaks aren’t deep. There were some rocky ledges, but the bushwhacking wasn’t dreadful. From there it was on to Balsam Cap, which involved much thwacking of the face with branches. Most of these peaks have eastern views at or near the top, but the day was cloudy with fog rolling in.

From Balsam Cap we continued to Rocky, a journey filled with very thick balsam. Bushwhacking through this is a slow and (occasionally) painful process; a dead branch randomly fell on my head at one point. After Rocky came Lone. Supposedly, this is the thickest of the bushwhacks, but our leader steered us clear of the worst of it, earning enormous accolades from the hikers who had done it before. By this point it was raining, though, and I'd reached my fill of fighting branches while simultaneously not tripping on roots.

From Lone, we headed towards the trail between Table and Peekamoose. When we finally saw the trail, it was like sailors reaching land. The ground was so smooth! So easy! So not in our faces! Even if it was uphill to the flat top of Table. Then backtracking down and continuing on to Peekamoose. All views were utterly obliterated at that point by clouds. Luckily, the tree canopy kept most of the rain off of us, so we weren't any wetter than we would have been from sweating on a warm day.

The trail back to the cars seemed interminable. Everyone was a bit cooked at that point. However, we were all glad to be proceeding down gentle trail rather than than the steep path we had ascended initially.

GPS apps called our final mileage between 12.7 and almost 15, so it was likely more than the estimated 12. It was a rough 12-15 miles though, between the extensive elevation gain and the bushwhacking.

By the way, there is an extended version of The Six - The Nine, which adds on Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg. I have no intention of doing that. This was a tough enough day for me, and anyway I've done all those peaks. The remainder of my excursions are probably no more than two peaks at a time, which is fine with me.

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