Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Wittenberg Mountain - Phoenicia - Catskills, New York

Adam and I have been trying to balance our love for the outdoors with our need to finish this damn house. If you are new to KW, we bought a complete fixer-upper in May and have spent the last 6 months taking down walls and rebuilding them back up. In all honesty, it was well-timed with the virus and everyone being homebound but it has also been a strain on my love of the outdoors and long weekends in the mountains.

We made a fair compromise with the trails and our renovation when we decided Saturday would be spent in the Catskills (close enough for a day trip, far enough to be in mountains) and work on the house Sunday (Garage/Basement cleanout day!)  We left early on Saturday morning armed with coffee and packed sandwiches, excited to spend the day in the Catskills, and enjoy a new hike on new trails.  I did some quick research online looking for a medium level hike between 4 and 10 miles with some decent elevation gain (and a view!) and stumbled on Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain.  

We kept driving down Route 28 towards the town of Phoenicia, stopping for crossing deer and to my surprise, stopping to admire a Black Bear bumbling along the woods bordering the side of the road by the Phoenicia Diner.  My tone may seem casual but dear reader, note that this was a big moment.  In my 31 years of life and thousands of hours spent on trails, I had never seen a bear.  When people post in the hiking forums "I'm afraid of running into bears" I always laughed to myself, reminding the nervous hiker that they are more likely to run into a bear by their bird feeder.  Here I was, spotting my first Black Bear on the side of the road across from the diner.  He was insanely cute as he made his way towards the main road before turning back into the woods when our barking dogs announced their presence. 

Just past the diner and our bear encounter, we took a left onto Woodland Valley Road which took us across the insanely beautiful Esopus Creek and after a few scenic curvy miles, arrived at the trailhead at the Woodland Valley Campground.  I had checked online before about camping here at the trailhead and quickly discovered everything was sold out and as we pulled into the campground, I could see why.  Picturesque campsites were sprinkled throughout the area, tucked into the woods and some along a stream here in the Catskills.  The parking lot was overflowing (popular hike, weekend, fall) so we joined the other cars on the side of the road and went to the ranger station to pay the $5 parking fee for the day.  There are bathrooms available for use and we quickly loaded our packs and made our stops, anxious to get on the trail after the morning drive. 

Before we started, I read that the hike to Wittenberg offered a stunning vista with some technical spots that may be challenging for dogs but others commented it was doable.  I also read that going past Wittenberg to the next summit, Cornell Mountain, did not offer that great of a view and definitely provided some challenging sections for dogs.  With this information, we made a plan to hike the red trail out and back to Wittenberg for a planned hike of 8 miles round trip and lunch at the summit of Wittenberg, skipping Cornell all together. 

The hike started by crossing a bridge over the creek before continuing up a steady climb.  We signed into the trail register and made our way up the rocky staired section, eventually coming across an open ledge area followed by a backcountry campsite about one mile into the hike (mental note to come back and camp here).  From there, we made our way over the stream several times, passing quaint waterfalls and peaceful sections of the trail until we reached the rocky areas where the dogs would need a little bit of help.  I can see how this trail would be a challenge for a lot of dogs are there are large jumps and rocky areas where you will likely have to assist your dog.  Thankfully ours are part mountain goat and with just a little help from us, they were able to make their way up the steep and technical sections, surprising the hikers around us.  At one point, 35-pound Marshall the terrier scaled a vertical rock face with no assistance and we all had a good laugh at his ambition and newfound rock climbing skills. While the trailhead was busy, we were happy to discover that everyone spread out, leaving the trail relatively quiet, allowing long stretches of solo hiking in the woods and the blissful quiet that brings.  

After some technical sections and about 3.8 miles in, we found ourselves at the summit of Wittenberg with the most incredible view of the Catskills below us.  The sun was shining, the wind was holding off, and the view of the landscape below us was worth every step up and into the woods.  We happily parked ourselves on a rock, enjoying the perfect day and just how good a packed sandwich tastes on top of a mountain.  I could have spent the day soaking in the sunshine, sketching the view or reading a book on this peaceful mountain but we had a 3.5-hour drive back home and plans to work on the house the following day.  We packed up the remnants of our lunch, snapped a bunch of photos, said our farewells to the summit, and made our way back down the red trail.  We followed the trail feeling lucky for our health and the weather, happy to be out on the trail together and with our dogs.  

Back at the car, we unlaced our boots and loaded back into the car, following our route back southeast to the Connecticut shoreline. As we drove home, we talked about just how special the Catskills of New York are. They are less crowded than the other popular northeast mountains (Adirondacks of New York, Whites of New Hampshire, Greens of Vermont) and are doable on a normal weekend or even a day trip. You can find some affordable lodging options and have hikes from short friendly loops to some of the hardest trails in the Northeast. Fall in the northeast is a special season and a hike up Wittenberg Mountain is the perfect way to enjoy the trails, the quiet of the Catskills, and one hell of a view.

T r a i l   S t a t i s t i c s 

Distance:  7.8 miles RT 
Elevation:  2,500 feet (gained) 3,782 feet (summit) 
Trailhead/Parking:  Woodland Valley Campground - there is a $5 fee to park and there are bathrooms available.  Parking may fill up on the weekends so try to arrive early.  
Trail:  Relatively well-marked Red Trail to the summit of Wittenberg - The first mile or so is a steep incline that levels off into a scenic up-and-down path in the woods. The last mile or so includes scrambling up rocks, some vertical hoists, and more incline. 
Dogs/Kids:  Okay for dogs who are good at rock scrambling and can be assisted up some areas.  Good for older experienced kids only as it is a longer hike with some scrambling.  
Red Tape:  Fee for parking ($5), a busy parking area (arrive early in the busier seasons), and some technical sections

Other Catskills Hikes & Activities

No comments :

Post a Comment

Let's Chat!