The elevated one. The highest of the high. El Abuelo of the Catskills. These titles I bestow upon an old friend of mine, Slide Mountain….
At close to four thousand two hundred feet in elevation, this big boy of the Catskill Mountains assumes its position as the tallest peak in the region. And as is the case with any regional high point, many a hiker climbs its lofty, Balsam covered slopes for an opportunity to taste its rarefied air….
Pardon my vocab in advance but FUUUUUCK! The drive up from Jersey to Upstate New York last Friday was intolerable, to say the least. Lucky me. It starts to snow as soon as I pull away from my home and upon reaching the BELOVED parkway, I was treated to what would rapidly become a vehicular skating rink….
It was totally my fault for not taking another quick glance at the weather forecast but I was still pissed off, none the less. Low visibility, morons insisting on zooming by only to end up skidding out of control ahead of me, and trucks shitting on my windshield with their payloads of filthy slush….
Three hours later, I was able to unclench my butt cheeks and finally settle into a relaxed state. At the drop of a dime, seemingly, the wretched snow stopped, the clouds parted, and the sky smiled upon me with the prettiest bluebird hue. Welcome to the Catskill Park. Jeez, that was a close call….
The calm after a storm is always so sweet, so pretty. Ahead of me the southern peaks glistened in a new layer of lovely white that provided a most beautiful contrast to the azure ceiling above. After a picturesque drive down the Big Indian Valley I arrived at the Slide Mountain trailhead….
Winter hiking is, as we grew up in the hood saying, DOPE! Or as the youngens would say these days, LIT. For starters, you don’t have to contend with the summer hoards of hikers and tourists that turn popular trails into veritable wooded highways. Secondly, and most enjoyable, is the resultant peace and solitude that envelops fourth season adventurers….
Occasionally you cross paths with another person but on this hike, that didn’t happen until damn near the end of the hike. Yes, Yes, Yes, as Dean Moriarty would say. The hike up to the junction with the Slide-Cornell Phoenicia East Branch trail was wonderful. That hellish storm I drove up through felt like a blessing all of a sudden as I stared down at the five to ten inches of powder underfoot. So cushiony, so light, so ideal for the use of snowshoes. And that striking canyon, as I like to call it, that one encounters after the Ormsby Memorial was a sight to behold. Its walls covered in ice, its floor buried under snow drifts of up to a foot and a half, I had to literally tear myself away from the place or risk forgetting about my main objective….
Besides, once you start your way up the last section of ridge that culminates on the summit of the Highest One, the magic begins….
The remainder of this hike is defined by some of the finest stretches of forest in the park. A stretch of forest I’ve dubbed the “Balsam Highway”. Fuck, how I love it up there in realm of Balsam Fir and Paper Birch. These relic mountain top gardens have such a unique character to them. They compel you to stop, to stare, to shake your head in disbelief at the beauty below their canopies. I liken it to an evergreen hypnosis of sorts that never seems to disappoint. And on this day, the Firs of this great ecological belt were cloaked in white, branches drooping under the divine weight of the purest of snows, ice framing the most stubborn of branches….
I kid you not, after leaving the urban sprawl of the tri-state area, being among these trees, in this setting, you come to terms with the appropriateness of the phrase, painfully beautiful. I marched forward, ever closer to the summit, on a trail lined with deep snow drifts. This is the land of Snowshoe Hares and Bobcats as the countless footprints attested to. Complete stillness, solitude, joy, and a sense of well-being accompanied me the rest of the way to the summit …..
Before taking the final steps to the top, I stepped off trail to enjoy a panorama to the northeast of the famed peaks of the Devil’s Path. In front of me, that long torturous ridge of mountains unfolded, winking at me from beyond, greeting me with snow-covered slopes and deceivingly smooth undulations. It’s always nice to stare at what you’ve accomplished over the years, at excursions from the past. All trips that lend themselves to a heightened sense of place and appreciation….
Within a few minutes, I arrived on the summit of Slide Mountain. A thin layer of ice over a clearing provided the stage for another inviting gaze into the heart of the park. The cold seems to lose its edge a bit within such beauty, thwarted by evergreens encased in rime ice, patiently waiting for Spring’s glorious return….
Hello old friend. Another visit, a different season….
Just below the top, a plaque, almost covered by greedy drifts, commemorates the naturalist, the Muir of the East, John Burroughs….
I snap a few more photographs, take a bite out of my sandwich, and continue my scan of the Fir framed horizon. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it up here again, if I’ll ever stand on this mighty summit, so I say my goodbyes just in case….
Before heading back, I think about the quiet times, the good times that Slide played host to. I think about who I was with and how quickly the years melt away behind us. I even think about who I was….
What does this mountain have to say about me? Is it aware of my return? As I descend from its icy perch, does it smile at my back? Questions. Questions that I pose and entertain myself with….
Hasta Luego Viejo……..