My wife and I have been taking turns giving each other breaks from child care to tend to our souls. Sometimes its to do something social with friends, sometimes it's to pursue our outdoor passions. J recently shared a great hike of Mount Marcy with our friend Tara so I decided for my next outing I'd start back on my Cat 35 list.
J, Koda and I attempted this one a few years back in the winter but ended up turning back at Camel's Hump due to illness. I was excited to return and enjoy in a different season. I drove down NY 32 from Albany and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise while listening to the Grateful Dead's recently released July 1978 box set. I was halfway through 7/3/78 when I started my drive so I got to start with a Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain which always gets me excited to climb a mountain.
The drive was a mere hour and 15 minutes from my door which was a welcome break from hauls up 87 to the high peaks. It was a lovely morning and we had the trail head to ourselves. It was nice to simply let Koda out the back. Even in places without leash laws like the Cats I like to respect folks right not to be sniffed by my hyper goober of a dog at 6AM. The beginning of the trail squeezes between private property. Lovely place to live or spend time I'd say. Koda quickly found someones man made pond which borders the trail. He was very happy for a dip but got moving when I called him.
The trail follows what appears to be an old tote road at first (as many Catskill trails seem to). We made a hard left onto the more narrow trail where I signed in at the register. The morning was lovely despite the distant threat of afternoon showers. The whole forest had a fresh coat of vibrant green. I won't lie, its taken me longer to fall for the Catskills than for other areas. It always seems so bleak to me and so much evidence of man. I realized part of this perception was my own fault. I often hiked there in the shoulder seasons as a substitute for the Adirondacks. So I often found myself there in March or November in crummy weather. With the lovely late spring weather and all the new growth, I was deeply intoxicated by my path on this day. I realized other days I've really enjoyed in the Cats were also in the spring. I've definitely found a much deeper appreciation for the Cats in the past year or two, especially since I've been working in Prattsville and Lexington.
We got quickly down to the business of gaining the ridge. I was huffing and puffing pretty hard. I've let my fitness slip and gained some weight amidst all the life changes that come with having a baby. I felt glad to be able to keep pretty much my usual pace. It was just harder to do hahaha. We climbed the first crag (which actually turned out to be the only really scrambly section of the hike) and I began to notice wildflowers everywhere. Red trillium and columbine were first ,interspersed with all those pretty little white flowers that seem to always cling along the sides of rocks. There was a nice filtered view at the top of the crag.
Koda and I hiked on along the ridge. It's a very beautiful trail with little erosion. Painted in strokes of bright spring green, I couldn't imagine a prettier place to be in the world. It was almost jarring to reach the elevation of the coniferous forest in the Catskills, compared to the Adirondacks. There I sniffed deeply, the perfume of the pines. Is there a better smell? Well yes, but you feel me right?
We reached the summit of Thomas Cole around 8. Koda I kept going. Who am I to go against the wind? I followed after him and in about 10 minutes we were standing on the viewing ledge of Black dome. I didn't linger long as we had maybe pulled a bit of a fast one on the mountain gods, sneaking an extra peak. Koda and I trotted out of the woods, finishing our water supply on the way while taking in all the loveliness we had wandered through all morning noticing things we hadn't seen the first time through.
I was so happy to be able to get home to J and Hunter by about 11:30. Not having to commit 12 hours to climbing some peaks is one of the many allures of the Catskills Park. We started the drive home with Sugar Magnolia from 7/3/78. Such a run of the mill song the Dead played nearly every other show from 1970 on. This version may well be one of the hottest I've ever heard. Every place someone could rip it up or embellish the standard, they did. Throughout this run, Kieth Godchaux, the keyboardist is playing just about as well as I've ever heard him and this period, is past his prime in my opinion. He smokes it on this Sugar Mag and nearly everything else these five nights in the summer of 1978. I dedicate this hike to Kieth.