As we embarked on our 4th annual winter adventure in the Catskills of New York, the trail conditions were relatively unknown. Each year the Slide Mountain Wilderness area has offered us something different, some years the trails have been covered in thick sheets of ice, other years snow but never deep enough to warrant snowshoes 100% of the time. This year was a whole different story….
Earlier in the week I reached out to some of my friends who live in the Catskill area to inquire about the trail conditions. The description was the same across the board, there is over 2 feet of snow covering the ground and foot travel may be impassable in certain sections.
At 5:00 am we jumped in to Julians Suburban to drive just a little over 2 hours to get to the Woodland Valley Trailhead. I packed my ice tools, crampons, snowshoes, climbing rope, extra gear for the guys, along with the mandatory gear one travels with when traveling in the backcountry during the winter months. (See our winter gear guide)
We pulled up to the trailhead, the outside temp read 10 degrees. We got our gear organized, decided to leave the rope & crampons behind and proceeded with snowshoes and our microspikes just in case we needed to negotiate icy sections that snowshoes would be too cumbersome for.
Excitement filled the air as we were off to see what lied before us, we walked across a footbridge that would lead us to the base of the first steep incline. The trail was slightly broken, maybe one person had gone before us. We opted to start without snowshoes but that quickly changed after about 45 min of extremely slow travel that forced us to struggle with every foot step. Often times stepping in the same spot and sliding without making any forward progress, it was quite funny.
Quickly we put our snowshoes on and this made a world of difference, until the tracks we were following ended, the person who previously broke trail turned around about 2 miles in at a trail sign junction. Now it was up to us to break trail from the base of Wittenberg to Slide Mountain and we were pumped for the challenge! We took turns breaking trail often times above my knees; keep in mind I am a small gal and the company I keep is much, much taller. The temperatures never really warmed up, thankfully we were properly dressed and comfortable.
As we started making our way up Wittenberg Mountain the scenery around us began to change. The trees were weighted down by several inches of beautiful fluffy snow, the trail would often disappear within the huge boulders and winding snow drifts, we’d often wander around in search of a trail marker as if we were in a giant maze. The views of the valley below offered an overwhelming feeling of how miniscule we were in this world. We felt as if we were the size of ants traveling up a mountain side. With every foot step the scenery became more breathtaking.
We finally reached the top of Wittenberg after some fun going hand over foot negotiating, now we were on our way to Cornell Mountain. The wind was howling and snow was flying! On the way to Cornell we had more hand over foot sections that demanded our full attention. I even had to use my ice tool to make it up a climb here and there. We safely made it up Cornell and the descent into the valley leading to the ascent of Slide Mountain was epic. At this point we had been snowshoeing for 5 hours and had covered around 6 miles. We laughed hysterically about how slow we were traveling, thinking about our Strava news feed, well you now have the SKT (slowest known time on the course), LOL.
We discussed our options, should we turn back or continue on the original course...I knew if we turned around it would be longer than if we continued on because the second half was way easier and is travelled a bit more. We decided to continue on, taking turns breaking trail and placing ourselves in semi risky conditions where you really had to commit to making forward progress through the valley and up Slide Mountain.
Reaching the summit of Slide from the Valley is always funny, because after a long day of solitary travel, there are often throngs of people who have made their way from a much closer parking area having lunch. Today was no different, we quickly snapped some shots and moved to the next section, which seemed paved after what we had previously been through.
Our pace quickened naturally due to not fighting our way against the snow. The time read 2:00 pm. At this pace we were thinking a 9:00 pm finish would be reasonable... We joyously descended down Slide Mountain to the impending 2 mile section of road that would snap us back into reality, we walked briskly down the road, eating and enjoying the freedom of not breaking trail for a while but at the same time bummed to leave the trail behind.
We made it to Giant Ledge parking area and just as we thought, this section of trail was pretty well travelled, until we would reach the trail junction that would direct us either left to Giant Ledge or to the right, back to Woodland Valley Campground. Our final 2.75 miles were bittersweet because our adventure was soon coming to an end. We turned on our headlamps, broke some more trail and made our final steps back to the Trailhead where the adventure started.
Till next year Slide, thanks again for an awesome day! Todays trip was a reminder that even if you travel down the same trail everyday you can always have a different experience and a great adventure.