Outdoors with Rick Brockway: Not lost, just a little bit confused

Many years ago when I was young, I was intrigued with the early explorers of the west. I remember reading an account of Jim Bridger when he returned to St. Joseph, Missouri, from trapping beavers in the Yellowstone country.

A newspaper reporter asked Jim, “You travel all over the northwest exploring and trapping. Do you ever get lost?”

Jim stood there for a moment, stroking his beard. “Nope. Never got lost, but I got confused for about three weeks one time.”

Well, George and I hiked up Halcott Mountain, which rises into the clouds at 3,547 feet. It has no marked trail, but I was sure there would be a herd path that many people follow.

I remember Halcott from the time I climbed the 35 High Peaks of the Catskills several years ago. It is steep. No, it’s very steep and seems to never lessen. I know many of you have seen this mountain. There’s a small parking spot at the trailhead on Route 42, or the Notch, as you head down through the mountains. As you drive along the road, it seems like the mountains on both sides are right straight up.

We decided to follow the directions on the internet. It said to follow the stream up on the right side and finally cross over to the left and continue to the top. I guess we missed the part about taking the second stream down from the parking area. Our climb continued ever upward, but without a path, we were forced through huge patches of waist-high nettles. Thank God we didn’t wear shorts. By the way, there’s a trick when you deal with nettles: Never, I mean NEVER scratch them. If you just leave them alone, the stinging goes away in just a few minutes, but if you scratch them, you’ll be itching them for the remainder of the day.

As we finally reached the top of the mountain, I remembered when I climbed it before, we turned to the right and found the summit just a short ways away. Well, that didn’t happen. We walked quite a ways before George decided to go on the internet and load in the GPS coordinates that he found. We walked better than a half mile before heading further up the mountain. The coordinates led us to the top of the mountain, but it wasn’t Halcott. It was Sleeping Lion.

We finally checked the map and discovered that we were about a mile and a half out of our way. After climbing all the way up from the highway, we weren’t about to give up the elevation, so we went in search of Halcott’s summit. We went back down from the peak and crossed the col, then up the second peak of the day. Finally, we reached the summit, which I recognized from years ago. We signed in at the canister and took the herd path nearly straight down over the steepest part of the mountain.

Three or four years ago when I climbed Halcott, I vowed I’d never climb it again. But there I was heading up again a step at a time. This goes to prove something: Never believe anything you read on the internet. On one of the Catskill hiking sites it said, “Halcott is a short, easy to moderate hike, four miles round trip – 3.25 hours.” Ha! That person had no idea, or they’re a super trail runner. It took us better than six hours. Besides that, it is so steep that when going down, your toes are crushed into the fronts of your hiking shoes.

Remember that vow I made? It will never happen again. Well, it depends on who invites me to go along.

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