A long and hard (but do-able) hike over six peaks
Hiking Trail Description
I was definitely nervous to go on this hike. I knew it was long and demanding. It crosses six mountains and some of the gnarliest terrain in the Catskills. But tackling it as part of a group made it a fantastic experience.
Catskill 3500 Club Group Hike
As a noob, there’s no way I would tackle this hike alone. At least, not on a first pass. Even in a group, I was concerned about my ability to keep up. But our group leader, Marv Freedman, who leads this hike regularly, assured me I could absolutely do it. I’m not the fastest hiker but I’d been on a few previous hikes with Marv and knew I could trust what he said.
If you want to do this hike, keep an eye on the 3500 Club’s hike schedule and sign up as soon as the hike is posted.
As it turned out, at the pace Marv set, the hike was completely do-able. We took regular breaks, nobody felt pressure to hurry, and we even finished a little under our expected time.
About This Post
The hike from the pregnant tree on Friday to Balsam Cap is pretty easy, and super pleasant. Lots of classic Catskills moss, rocks, and roots.
This is the canister on Balsam Cap.
Balsam Cap to Rocky
From the canister on Balsam Cap, the herd path runs southwest, descending into a col.
Very quickly, I realized things had kicked up a notch.
On this part of the hike there were many obvious herd paths which were easy to pick up and follow.
However, there were even more sections with no clear path — just endless, disorienting woods on all sides…
Safety Goggles & Stab Wounds
At the bottom of the descent, about half our group suddenly donned safety goggles. Quietly, I wondered WTF I’d got myself into. But it was a solid move. Friday and Balsam Cap was a literal walk in the park compared to the gauntlet of stabs we endured down here.
Long Sleeves & Scratches
At least I was wearing long sleeves. I got pretty scratched up, regardless, but I felt like the thin layer of fabric my arms reduced the overall collateral damage.
The woods were extremely dense. Even walking close together in single file, I regularly lost sight of half our group. The herd path came and went. (Mostly went.) Following someone with a good route plan and solid nav skills was crucial. Even so, my arms, torso, neck and head all took a real poking and slashing from the trees. And this was the easy route.
You can see from the Gaia GPS track that we stayed to the north side of the col, mostly below 3200’. The woods on the south side of the col are even more dense, and the going there is notoriously tough — “shitty” is how I’ve heard it described.
Leaving the col, we approached Rocky from the northeast, following the Catskill Divide, the major watershed line that runs along that entire ridge, and visible on our NYNJTC trail maps.
Close to the summit, we arrived at a large and very square “room” — basically, an enormous open rock chimney with 12‘ walls on three sides. We decided to climb directly up out of it. The sketch factor here was high — it was a rock-and-root lift — but we made it up without incident. If you’re not comfortable with this, work your way around.
Why Rocky is called “Rocky” is not fully clear to me. It seemed mostly mossy.
We signed in at the canister and took a short break.
Rocky to Lone
Between Rocky and Lone we again stayed 400-500’ north of the Catskill Divide until about 3500 ft when we re-joined it, coming down toward the summit from the northeast.
Lone’s canister is directly on the herd path.
After another short break, we started down into the dip between Lone and Table.
Lone to Table
Heading away from Lone, this time we kept pretty strictly to the Catskill Divide.
The herd path was mostly obvious and easy to follow.
On the southwest side of the summit, at about 3800’, is a wet muddy vertical rock chimney that feels 50’ high. This is the most difficult chimney I’ve come across in the Catskills and it should give you pause. A fall here, so far from help, would be very bad news. It took everyone a minute, but it was a great puzzle.
Heading up towards Table, at around 3750’, it’s worth turning around to take in the view behind you. You’re looking back over everything you’ve crossed and climbed so far. In the distance you can see the Devil’s Path mountains. To the left is Slide Mountain.
This route gets you onto the eastern side of Table’s plateau. To reach the summit, turn right on the blue trail. I love the top of Table, the way the trail winds through the woods.
Note: before Table had a maintained trail, it was a canister mountain. Look for the scrap metal on the east side of the tree that marks the summit.
Table to Peekamoose
On this hike, I consider it a bonus that you get to cross Table’s summit twice. (The hike down from Table and through the col toward Peekamoose is especially lovely in the winter.)
The summit of Peekamoose is marked on trail maps but it’s a little farther down the trail from a large distinctive erratic that seems to be the real summit. Marv says you must climb this boulder to truly summit the mountain. It does seem to be the highest point. (Steep angle, though. Be very careful if it’s wet.)
When I first did Peekamoose, I didn’t notice the very obvious spur trail that leads to a rocky opening with an excellent view. It’s just after the large erratic, as you head south. From the ledge, you can see Ashokan High Point and the reservoir.
The Hike Out
Heading southwest toward Reconnoiter Rock, but about half the way there, is another wonderful lookout. In fact, there are two lookouts, both very close to one another.
From either one, you’re looking west to the distinctively-shaped Van Wyck Mountain, jutting from the landscape like a shark fin among a wide field of Catskills that rolls toward the horizon.
Continuing south, Reconnoiter Rock itself is a large, distinctive outcrop that offers no view.
The descent to the parking area from here is three miles of steady downhill woods walk. There are some rock ledges on the way but all are easy to navigate. It’s not too interesting. It’s one of those end-of-hike schleps you just have to get through. But what a day.
Final note: the trail up, from the parking area to Peekamoose, is said to provide the most elevation gain in the Catskills. It starts around 1250’ and ends on Peekamoose’s summit at 3819’. If you like a lot of elevation on your hikes, that’s 2569’ of gain in just under 4 miles.
How to Hike This Hike
This hike is put on multiple times a year by The Catskill 3500 Club but, be warned, it fills up quickly every time. Check the Club’s hike schedule to see when it’s coming up next. It’s a great day. You’ll bang out six peaks — a real boost for your 3500 List — but the moderate pace and friendly group dynamic make it completely do-doable.
If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Description: Two medium sized lots. Requires a car shuttle.
GPS Location: 41.983949, -74.327439
Location: The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.