The goal was not just to bag three peaks for the Grid, but also to practice “natural navigation” i.e., moving straight through virgin forest without using map, compass, or GPS (although these would be carried just in case). Glancing at the map, we all agreed that the bushwhack up to Balsam Cap, although long, would be relatively straightforward, all we’d need to do was follow a twisting ridge….
Half-way through July, and I’ve completed just over half of the Catskill high peaks, many at night due to limited windows of opportunity during the day, but the rest of the month is tighter, and time is running out. The Grid has become a burden, and I feel a little like Sisyphus, doomed to push a rock up the mountain only to see it rolling back down again. But without burdens, life would be unbearably light, which is why Camus wrote that one must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Without enough time to write full articles on each climb, here are some notes from recent hikes, mostly for my own purposes in keeping track of the Grid Experience:
To complete the Grid requires climbing the Catskills’ thirty-five high peaks during every calendar month, and part of the purpose of this exercise is to observe new aspects of the mountains at different times of year and under different conditions. In this regard, last weekend’s trip up Peekamoose Mountain was productive: clear skies and leafless forests helped me better grasp the topography of the mountain and surrounding areas.
(Comments below refer to this screenshot taken from the NY-NJ Trail Conference Catskills map installed on my phone.)
East coast naturalist John Burroughs once wrote, “To learn something new, take the path you took yesterday.” With this thought in mind, I returned recently to Peekamoose Mountain, one of my favorites in the Catskills, and a peak whose trail I’ve taken many times. On this occasion, the plan was to survey the bushwhack from Peekamoose to Lone Mountain, so that I can improve my time when I next attempt the Catskill 35, as well as experience the sights and sounds of a beautiful late summer day.
The goal was The Nine, a 20-mile loop in New York’s Catskill Mountains that connects nine of the highest peaks, with the special challenge that four of the mountains have no trail, meaning you must bushwhack through the woods using map, compass, and/or GPS. I had completed The Nine before during the summer, so you might assume I’d feel pretty confident. But now it was winter. And the prospects of navigating over rugged terrain, contending with treacherous footing, braving the cold — this was a little daunting.
Emboldened by success climbing to the Piz Boe Alpine Lodge barefoot, I resolved to tackle a mountain in the Catskills, despite the notoriously steep, rugged terrain and rocky trails. Hesitant to take on this adventure alone, I recruited another barefoot runner to join me, namely Odie the Labradoodle.
Our destination would be the summit of Peekamoose Mountain, a 3,843-foot peak, which stands like a sentinel along the Catskills’ southern ramparts. We left bright and early, having heard stories of congestion in the area. One of America’s “best swimming holes” is situated on the Rondout Creek, whose source lies on the mountain’s shoulder. This was once a local secret, but the word’s gotten out, and now on nice weekends crowds of visitors converge on the narrow road that leads to the Peekamoose trailhead.
We arrived around 8:30 AM and secured a parking spot, just a few seconds ahead of three carloads of visitors who were evidently bound for the swimming hole. We didn’t hang around, but immediately headed up the steep trail, stepping over a couple bags of trash that hadn’t made it into a dumpster stationed nearby. But after a few yards, all signs of civilization were left behind.
And now it was time for the sandals to come off — and for me to discover whether climbing a rocky mountain trail barefoot was really such a great idea.