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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Giant Ledge Hike - Catskills, New York

The Catskills have become my calming place. An escape when I need to feel the quiet of the woods and the trail without journeying too far away from home. A place where there are more trees, fewer people and things slow down a little bit. A place where I spend time with a handsome dark-haired man and our two dogs, making summer memories in the mountains. 

My summer has revolved around work and two crazy jobs so by the time Friday rolls around - I am wound.  Wound up in meetings and emails, commutes and phone calls, days managing projects in the field and nights behind the bar.  I am short on sleep and time and certainly short on patience.  Adam had a rough July as well, recovering from a sinus infection, wisdom teeth surgery, and then another surgery on his nose.  We were mentally (me) and physically (him) wounded.  I knew the solution for me: get in the car and drive north.  It was a little tougher for him (wisdom teeth extraction and nose surgery) but we seemed to find a casual compromise between my need for peaks and his limitations post procedures.  

Our compromise was the Catskills: no backpacking, smaller hikes, and a quiet evening of camping.  

As we entered the Catskills, things immediately slowed down.  Quiet road and sweeping views and cute little drive-thru's called Mara's (on the way).  No traffic, no hustle and bustle, no rush or tons of tourists.   A quiet ride through the mountains with a stop for breakfast (delicious on the go, and yes on the way).  As we got closer to the trailhead, we stopped at a random gas station (bathroom stop) where I happened to find one of my favorite Icelandic beers in the cooler, a beer I had only seen in Iceland.  Catskills, you sure know how to deliver. 

After a 2.5-hour drive lengthened by a stop at Starbucks for coffee, CVS for nose supplies, Mara's on the go for breakfast, a gas station for bathrooms, and a surprise 6-pack of Einstok, we were finally pulling into the trailhead in Big Indian, New York.  

At the trailhead, we were greeted by a good amount of cars coming and going in the parking lot and also lining the roadways.  I knew this would be a busy one, as this hike is rated as the #1 hike in Catskills (you'll see why).  We packed our day bag with water and snacks, dog treats and doggie bags and were off on the trail.  

Trail:  Out and Back - Blue Trail 0.8-miles to the Yellow Trail 0.8-miles - there are five ledges to choose from once you get to the top
Trailhead: Panther Mountain Trailhead, Oliverea Rd, Big Indian, NY 
Amenities:  1 port-o-potty, no garbage, pack in pack out
Distance:  3.2-miles to the first ledge and back, 4-miles if you do all five ledges
Elevation Start: 2,140 feet
Elevation End: 3,171 feet
Elevation (gained):  1.030 feet 
Parking:  Small lot with parking, most people park along the road.  No facilities 
Dogs and Kids:  Dogs are allowed on-leash.  The trail would be best for older kids as there are some steeper sections and exposed ledge at the summit. 

After parking (along the road), you cross the road at a windy corner where you will see the yellow trail marker crossing over a bridge and into the woods. We followed the yellow trail for a bit (just under a mile), chatting about how crazy our lives have been and just how good it was to be out on the trails. I could feel myself unwind as my shoes tracked the trail, watching the dogs in hiking heaven. After a few weeks of Connecticut Cabin Fever, the cool breeze, rugged terrain and green trails were pure therapy.  

We followed the yellow trail until we came to the intersection of blue and yellow trails, 0.8-miles from the viewpoint. At this intersection, we took a left onto the blue trail where we followed the blue blazes up steeper sections of the hike.  

Hopefully, you aren't stuck behind two dogs wearing loud and haunting clinging bells with their unaware dog owners for a half a mile (note to readers: do not put loud obnoxious bells on your off-leash dogs on very popular on-leash trails, you will ruin the experience for everyone).  

After a while, we reached the first ledge where happy hikers were taking off their bags and enjoying the view. I had read that there were five ledges in total, five chances to take in the views of Catskill Mountain  Thanks to prior planning, we decided to skip the busy first ledge and continue on to the next ledge which was absolutely empty.  

Catskills busiest trail on a perfect Saturday in July and we found a quiet ledge all to ourselves.  We took off our bags, happy to be in that Catskills on this particular set of rocks on this perfect July day. The dogs settled down with treats and water as we found a spot on the rock to enjoy a snack and some water.  I cracked open an Einstok Icelandic White Ale as I sat on my sunny rock taking in this day. I think we sat here for a good 30-minutes, taking in the view and chatting about life.  And just like that, somewhere in the middle of my sunshine soaking, boyfriend and dog adoring, and full-on view appreciation, I felt like myself again.  

The last few weeks sort of melted away and I was back to me, my plate a little emptier than when I started the hike. 

After some time at the summit, we headed back down, happy to be away from cowbells and on our way to set up camp.  We packed the dogs back in the car and headed northeast to Devils Tombstone Campground to set up camp.  On our way, we stopped in the cute downtown area of Phoenicia, a cute tiny little town famous for a quaint creek, great tubing, and a killer diner.  Just north of Phoenicia on our way to the campsite, we saw a car pulled over next to Esopus Creek and realized we just stumbled on someone's swim hole.  We followed suit, changing into our bathing suits in the parking lot before following a side trail down to the Creek.  We spent some time in the creek soaking with the dogs, enjoying the cold creek on a hot day after a perfect hike.  

How to end a great hike on a perfect summer day?  Find a swimming hole, soak in a creek, head to a brewery, and fall asleep under the stars. 

Life changes fast and on my third trip to the Catskills, I was happier than ever.  A perfectly clear day, two happy hikers, and two tired dogs.  Amazing views of the Catskills and a reminder that life needs to slow down once in a while. 

Back at the campsite, we set up our tent and strung the hammock before heading out for dinner.  Hunter Mountain Brewery was where we ended the day with a burger and a beer. As the sunset, I finished my flight of local beers (none from the brewery...) and we headed home. 

After a drive with a billion stops, a hike, wade in the river, and dinner at the brewery, it was time to call it a day.  Home for the night was four fabric walls tucked into a campsite in the woods. We started a fire and made s' mores before crawling into our sleeping bags.  If a day gets better than this, I can't wait to find out.

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