Outdoors with Rick Brockway: Happening upon a few too many fellow hikers

Last winter, friends that we ski with suggested going on a hike with us this summer. Last Monday, we decided to climb Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, which have some great views of the Catskill Mountains. Besides, Mondays are good days to hike because we usually have the trails to ourselves. Over the years, we have learned that during the week, we are sometimes the only people on the mountain.

George and I got to the trailhead at about 8:15 a.m., and Bob and Tina arrived soon after. The weather was cool and there was a slight breeze in the air. I was surprised, however, that there were already two other cars in the parking area.

After signing in, we continued up the trail. The first part of the mountain is the toughest. We crossed a wooden bridge and the trail immediately started up. It’s steep and covered with rocks, both big and small. In some places, trail crews have constructed stairs from the multitude of boulders. As we climbed, we stopped often to catch our breath and take a break. A little over ¾ of a mile later, we reached an old carriage road and turned right to continue our ascent. There was a short level spot, but steep rocky climbs lay ahead. Eventually, we reached to top of Giant Ledge, where we could see the unbroken mountains in the distance. If you are afraid of heights, these overlooks are not for you. The ground is a couple hundred feet below.

It was here that we met the first hikers. They had climbed up there the night before and camped in one of the designated areas. There are six or seven ledges before dropping into the col between there and Panther Mountain. So we continued climbing the 3,720-foot peak and found others on the summit.

We always have lunch on some overlook at the top, but others already occupied those spots. We sat near the summit and ate while enjoying the view. Reaching the top of Panther left my friend George just eight more climbs to complete the Catskill 3,500 Club Challenge.

Finally, it was time to head back down, but we soon learned that we were not alone. Groups of two, three or four passed us on their way up. There was a constant parade of hikers.

Over the years, the most hikers we have ever encountered on one of these majestic mountains was 11, but last Monday there were dozens.

We talked with several groups along the way and many gave us the same story; they were tired of being cooped up and quarantined in their homes.

Going down is always the hardest part of the trip. The rocks are steep, and you have to watch your step to avoid falling.

That was my fifth climb up Panther, but maybe it will be my last. Those rocks from the carriage road down are really tough. I chuckle as I write that. If someone suggests we climb up Giant Ledge, I’ll probably be first in line. Those views make it all worthwhile.

I was curious when he reached the sign-in kiosk. Forty-five people had signed in since we did that morning, and I’m sure others never bothered. The parking lot was full, and there were cars lined up on both sides of the road.

It reminded me of the Adirondacks, where you can’t find a place to park and the trails are overcrowded. Four years ago, George and I climbed Mt. Marcy, New York’s highest peak. When we got there, more than 200 people wandered the summit with no regard for the delicate mosses and lichens that cover the bald, rocky summit.

I hope that this is not a trend. I want to go to the mountains for the peace and solitude, not to fight the mobs on the trails and the summits.

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