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May 23, 2014

Slide Mountain touches the sky and the soul

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The Daily Star

---- — On Wednesday, a friend of mine and I decided to head to the Catskills and hike up Slide Mountain. The weather for a hike was perfect, with temperatures in the mid-60s and no bugs.

This was my second trip to Slide Mountain, which is the highest peak in the Catskills. Having a summit of 4,180 feet above sea level doesn’t mean much when you climb up Slide, because it’s one of the easier hikes of all the taller peaks in the Catskills and the Adirondacks.

We arrived at Big Indian along State Route 30 at about 9 that morning and turned down Route 47, commonly known in those parts as Indian Hollow. The parking lot for Slide Mountain is on the left, about 9 miles south past a cluster of houses oddly named Oliverea.

After registering at the trailhead, we crossed the upper reaches of the Esopus Creek. There was a log across the stream and a number of larger, flat rocks to step on, so our feet remained dry. Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy.

I talked to a fellow who had quite an experience crossing it one day. It had rained steadily for several days before his attempted climb. He stepped into the creek, not realizing it was better than three feet deep, and ended up 100 yards downstream before getting back to shore. He was sure he was going to meet his maker that day.

The trail continues through an old, hardwood forest for about a third of a mile before the rocks begin. The trail becomes choked with rocks and stone steps until it meets the old Jeep trail. Soon after, you turn to the left and continue for two miles on a moderate-but-rocky trail to a lofty summit with a wonderful view.

Years ago, there was a fire tower on the top on Slide, but it was removed by the state. We sat on the rocks for a few minutes and talked to some other hikers but soon headed off the northeast side of the mountain to check out the wooden steps and ladders that aid hikers over a very steep section of the trail to Cornell and Wittenberg Mountains and the Woodland Valley Campground — some nine steep, up-and-down miles away.

We returned to the summit and ate our lunch as birds chirped and chipmunks scurried around. Finally, we started our descent back to the car.

Last fall, I told you about my trip to Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks. The trails were heavily eroded and overly-crowded with other hikers. This was not the case with Slide Mountain. We saw six other hikers on the entire trip and enjoyed the trails much better.

Slide Mountain has quite a history. John Burrows, the famous writer and naturalist, spent a lot of his time on that rocky summit. He loved the views and the tranquility that the higher peaks afford. There’s a plaque on the side of the upper rocks commemorating his works. It hangs beside a rocky overhang, where he often slept at night.

I know why he loved those sky-touching peaks. As the wind blows through the trees and I look out upon the surrounding mountains, I feel something special. There’s a mystical attraction that forever draws me back. It’s like a deep love that’s inexplicable and reaches clear to my soul.

What’s Happening?

For all the hikers and climbers, the fire towers in the mountains will be open this weekend and manned by volunteers as many programs are on tap. I’m told Smokey the Bear will even be there to meet the kids.

At 8 a.m. May 31, Mike Porter, an avid birder, will lead a hike to the Balsam Lake Mountain tower from the Millbrook Trailhead. You should see many species and share in his knowledge of the area.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoor column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.