Winter Six (Catskills 3500 Club)
- Peaks: Friday, Balsam Cap, Rocky, Lone, Table, Peekamoose
- Type: Through (Car Stack)
- Time: 10 h
- Distance: 12.7 mi
- Hikers: Dan, Michael D + Eight more from 3500 Club
- 5:45 AM Leave home
- 6:45 AM At parking lot
- 7:35 AM On the trail
- 10:00 AM Summit Friday
- 11:04 AM Summit Balsam Cap
- 12:24 PM Summit Rocky
- 1:26 PM Summit Lone
- 2:40 PM Back on the trail
- 2:48 PM Summit Table
- 3:20 PM Summit Peekamoose
- 5:40 PM Back at cars
- 6:45 PM Back home
After hiking Blackhead last week, I’d completed the Catskills 3500 Club’s four required winter peaks. But I wasn’t quite done. I’d quit my job March 1st and suddenly found myself with lots of free time. I’d known about the 3500 Club’s organized hikes for years but never gotten around to doing one. If ever there was a time, it was now!
I signed up for Michael D’Angelo’s “Winter Six”: a bushwhack from Moon Haw Road up to Friday Mountain, then across the “bushwhack range” to Balsam Cap, Rocky and Lone, and finally on a blazed trail to Table and Peekamoose before descending back down to the Peekamoose Blue Hole. I initially got put on the waitlist, but fortunately a spot opened up.
I set my alarm for 5:25 AM to arrive for a 6:45 AM start. After waking up a few times I saw the clock reading 5:21 and got up without my alarm. Lucky Alex!
There were initially ten of us. I was one of only two who hadn’t already completed the 3500 peaks. Everyone in the group knew exactly where they stood on all the lists: no need to justify peak bagging with this group! After you complete your 3500 you work on your winter peaks. After that you say you’re “working on your grid.” Everyone is “working on their grid.”
The initial hike was quite steep. I started with spikes and thick gloves/hand warmers but quickly was down to bare hands. One of the hikers dropped out in the first 500 feet with a “knee thing” that he’d hoped wouldn’t be an issue. So we were down to nine. There was lots of talk of knee issues from the older hikers, for example how long it had been since a knee surgery or replacement. This was a tough hike for me at 38, I can only hope to be doing this sort of activity at twice that age and with knee replacements!
I’d hiked these peaks last fall via a different route and missed some of the bushwhack landmarks that I’d read about. So I was happy to see the famous “pregnant tree”:
I know there’s a plane crash in the woods around here somewhere, but we didn’t see that. I guess I have a reason to come back.
Michael D had broken the trail the previous weekend, so navigation in the snow was very easy. After my adventures last fall, this felt almost like cheating. The challenge today was purely the hike, not the navigation.
After passing some exposed rocks we finally arrived at Friday, the first peak of the day.
Like last fall, we took the high road between Friday and Balsam Cap. I don’t see why you’d go all the way down to the pregnant tree to get back up to Balsam Cap.
After summiting Balsam Cap we switched to snowshoes and kept them on for the rest of the hike. There were only a few places where they felt truly necessary thanks to Michael’s track from last weekend, but it was at least nice to have them out of the pack.
I heard and saw lots of chickadees, especially around the peaks. We saw lots of snowshoe hare tracks at high elevation, though we never saw a hare:
The changes in vegetation between the peaks and the cols were even more dramatic than they’d been last fall. The summits were covered with thick, pokey Balsam forest:
The cols were much more open with the leaves off the deciduous trees:
The ascents to Lone and then up to the blazed trail were the most challenging parts of the hike for me. I felt pretty spent by the time we got back on the trail. Fortunately most of the “up” was done by that point.
The trail near Table is narrow and the forest is quite dense. Following the broken tracks in the snow, I was struck that there wasn’t much of a difference between a trail and a bushwhack in those conditions. Then I remembered that there weren’t any branches whacking me in the face on the trail. That’s nice, at least!
After Peekamoose, it was a long, mostly slow downhill and that raised my spirits back up. I enjoyed seeing the beech leaves in every single footprint on the path down to the Blue Hole parking lot.
We had the mountains all to ourselves: outside of our group, we didn’t see a single other person all day. Even crazier, when Michael D opened the register book to sign us out, he was the last name in the log from his hike the previous weekend. That was a first, even for him. Tracy had homemade chocolate chip cookies and we had some in the parking lot. Nice way to end a long hike!
I made a ton of progress on the Winter 35 today: 4→10 peaks! This is starting to feel like something I’ll complete in the next year or two.
I’m glad I finally did a hike with the 3500 Club. It was a great way to facilitate car stacking, not get lost, and a nice way to meet people and have company on a weekday hike. That being said, I also like the control and challenge of organizing your own hikes. Having to navigate and look for the canisters adds to the satisfaction of finding them. And with a group of nine, you lose some of the enjoyment of solitude in the woods. I wouldn’t have minded starting a little later and getting more sleep, either!
Going forward, I think I’ll try and avoid the 3500 club for new peaks. But I can see it being a great way to bag some winter peaks or to make up for a failed bushwhack.