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This past weekend I signed up for a guided winter hike through the AMC- Appalachian Mountain Club in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I didn’t know a soul. I never had used snowshoes or microspikes. I never hiked in the Catskills. But I had a great time!
Arriving Friday night after driving straight from work, I checked into my Bed and Breakfast in the cute, little mountain town of Tannersville, NY. Soon after, I headed to the Sunview Motel to meet my fellow hikers in the community room. Upon walking in, I could tell by the scattered groupings of people that they all knew each other and were slightly older than I was ranging to 25-69.
Views to the trail head
Jeff and Barbara, the organizers of the trip, allowed us to make introductions and discuss the hikes for Saturday. They were offering Blackhead an 8-mile hike and SouthWest Hunter a 7-mile hike. The mountains were going to be snowy and snowshoes would be needed. Unsure of my capabilities and the unfamiliarity of using snowshoes, I was directed to the SouthWest Hunter hike, which I gladly signed up for. With breakfast plans in the morning, I happily retreated back to the Bed and Breakfast for a good night of rest.
After breakfast at the Village Market & Deli, we met up at 8:15 to carpool to the first hike! About 8 people were going to South West Hunter and about 8 people were going to Blackhead. Before I should continue, I should mention the Catskills has an elite membership club for those who hike 39 of the 3500 peaks in the Catskills and 4 of those (Slide, Panther, Blackhead, and Balsam) must be hiked once in the winter.
MSR snowshoes I borrowed
Driving up to the trailhead, we were instructed to wear snowshoes. Not having snowshoed before, I was able to borrow an extra pair from Jeff and Barbara. I wasn’t nervous but I also didn’t know what to expect. Another hiker named Michelle said, “Snowshoeing is just like walking.” And she was right! It’s really not that hard. The hardest part is navigating over fallen trees because it can be awkward stepping over logs. It is slightly more physically demanding trekking through the snow. The most challenging part of snowshoeing for me was regulating my body temperature. The goal is not to sweat. It being in the 20s to 30s I figured that was out of the question but it is very possible. I was down to just a long sleeve shirt, no hat, one of the few without gloves on, a base layer, and non-insulated snow pants. The key is to add layers once you stop hiking and immediately take them off as you start to get hot.
Jeff said, “You want to start off your hike being uncomfortably cold.”
Some of the peaks have canisters to sign in and register to keep track of your 3500 completed peaks but also for safety. For my group, it was a tradition for someone’s first peak in the Catskills to find the canister and sign it first. I eagerly went ahead to sign.
After SouthWest Hunter, we hit up the West Kill brewery, which had a great view.
The nightly meeting Slide a 6 mile hike and Windham 7 mile hike. I choose slide because the trailhead was closer to home. There were 5 of us total who signed up and everyone else went to Windham. This time I was with two other leaders, Jeff and Judy. I should also mention must of the other hikers were all AMC leaders.
Jeff and Judy informed us that they were wearing microspikes and it was my choice if I wanted to use snowshoes. Snowshoes are best used when there are more than a couple inches of snow on the ground and it has freshly fallen. Microspikes are good for areas that have already packed down snow. This was a heavily trafficked trail and there hadn’t been any fresh snowfall for several days. Microspikes it was! I actually didn’t want to wear snowshoes for several reasons. I never had used microspikes. My calves and quads were sore from using the snowshoes.
Slide mountain hike was even more beautiful than the last. Slide is the highest peak of the Catskills and lucky for us it had fresh snow at its peak. Every evergreen was snow covered and had icicles dangling from its limbs.
With it being my second group hiking experience, I’m a fan and even bigger fan of winter hiking. There will definitely be more snowy traverses in my future.