I’d climbed Halcott several times from the west, but driving along route 42 one day I noticed a small parking area on Halcott’s eastern flank, where the road cuts through a steep-walled mountain gorge. This area is labeled on the map as “Deep Notch,” and appropriately so: the mountain walls rise 1,500 feet to the summit of Halcott’s neighbor, Sleeping Lion Mountain, reaching grades in some points of 100% (equivalent to a 45-degree incline). But if you could make it up to Sleeping Lion, it occurred to me, a long, flat ridge would take you straight to Halcott. This was intriguing…
It seemed worth the trip, with the extra benefit that Halcott was the last peak I needed to complete the Catskill 3500 Club winter series and earn a special patch. And so, one morning in late February I hopped in the car and headed north.
En route to the Catskills the NY Thruway treats the northbound driver to brief glimpses of the mountains at a point where the road crosses the Wallkill River and then again after it rises out of the Rondout Creek basin, and each time I take careful note of the mountains’ ever-changing appearance. On this trip, the sun was breaking through in some places and splashing across fresh snow, while in other places the forests were veiled by mist, and the mountains shimmered in bands of slate, light gray, and cerulean blue. It might have been Shangri-La, the mythical Himalayan kingdom isolated from the rest of the world.
Parking along Route 42, I stepped out of the car into the shadows of the gorge, as snow flakes twirled in the air. Instead of aiming for Sleeping Lion, however, I decided to head toward the saddle between Sleeping Lion and Halcott, as this would shorten the route by a mile or two. The ground was covered in crunchy ice with a dusting of snow — perfect conditions for microspikes — and I found the going was much easier than imagined thanks to relatively open forest and a more moderate 31% grade slope (equal to an incline of 17-18 degrees). Initially I paralleled a stream that was rushing down full of fresh snow melt and spilling over a wall of rocks. After a few hundred feet up I found a spot to cross and continued angling upwards toward the saddle.
The sun came out, the sky turned brilliant blue, and the snow-covered surface was dazzling in the light — and then the sun disappeared and the wind picked up.
As expected, the ridge was flat, and it was also relatively open — although there were plenty of raspberry canes, indicating that this would be a more tangled trek during late summer. The ridge took me southwest along a gradually rising slope. On the firm, crusty, smooth surface I kept up a quick pace and broke into a slow jog in a few places.
When I reached the summit, the mists had blown back in, obscuring the views.
On the return, I dropped back down toward Deep Notch, feeling as if I were falling into a great mountain bowl, with the ridge from Halcott to Sleeping Lion curling around behind me and large spurs from Mount Sherrill encircling the far side of the valley to the west and south. The forests were brown and gray, but compared to the snow on the ground and clouds overhead, these dim colors seemed to pulse with latent energy, as if the mountain walls had captured the sun’s muted rays and concentrated them here in the bowl’s interior.
Back at the road, I spent some time exploring the waterfall next to the parking area and the streams of water and ice falling across the rocks.
On the drive back, the sky shone through a break the clouds with an intensity that was startling.
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