I spent this past Saturday through Monday backpacking around Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. Hunter Mountain is the second tallest peak in the Catskills measuring in at 4,040' above sea level. My friend Jay and I enjoyed the weekend hiking from shelter to shelter in a relatively small area of the Cats. In three days we hiked a mere 9 miles total; nice & easy.
We got to the trailhead around 7:00pm on Saturday night. Stepping from the car, a fine mist hung in the air, a dampness, which would accompany us for the next two days and nights. Hefting our packs up and synching our hip belts tight, we set off into the damp forest. After entering the dark woods, we hiked only a few minutes before switching our headlamps on. Rain was not falling but branches and nettles obscured the trail and quickly soaked my shorts with their heavy wet leaves. Though the hike from the car to the first shelter was only 3 miles, the trail was, at times, brutally steep and the overgrown brush from either side of the trail made it difficult to find safe footing on the baby-head sized rocks below. Nettles stung the sides of my knees making them itch!
We reached the Devil's Acre Shelter around 8:30pm and met three guys from Boston who were occupying it. They had just finished dinner and washing dishes when Jay and I arrived. We made small talk, killed a ridiculously large and threatening spider, then ended up sharing the shelter with them for the night. Within a few minutes of arriving, the rain finally let loose and down it came in sheets. It rained on and off all night while the clouds rolled right through our campsite limiting our view to only ten or fifteen feet in front of the shelter. We all got to know each other a bit while Jay and I cooked our dinners and talked about hiking in the Catskills, Adirondacks and life in Boston. Without a fire there wasn’t much incentive to stay up all night so we all crashed around 10:30pm or so. A full moon shown brightly between quickly passing clouds reflecting a silvery glow down upon the rocks and plants laid out before us.
I woke up around 6:30am on Sunday morning. The rain had stopped. Large puddles had filled pockets within tree roots and the hollows of rocks and logs. A trench had been beaten into the ground below the roofline of the shelter where water had dripped for the last several hours. Though dampness hung in the air, the five of us in the shelter were warm and dry. I had slept like a rock all night and I felt well rested. I unzipped my bag, pulled on my boots, grabbed my camera and headed out to take in the morning’s scenery. Water droplets hung in spider webs and crystal clear droplets lined the stems and leaves of lush vegetation everywhere. All the while a dense fog floated about our campsite. It was a wet but beautiful morning in the Catskills.
At around 9:30am the three guys we shared the shelter with, set off on their way while Jay and I took our time packing up and watching a new hard rain set in. When the rain broke, we picked up our packs and set off for the John Robb Shelter, just three miles away. On the way to the next shelter we stopped at the fire tower on the summit of Hunter Mountain (Elevation 4,040’). We climbed the tower but the low flying clouds obscured any type of view. Looking down from the tower, I was barely able to make out the picnic table below. A scenic view of the surrounding mountains was definitely out of the question.
Pressing on, we reached the John Robb Shelter sometime in the afternoon. This is one of the nicest shelters I have ever seen. Built in 2009 it was in spectacular shape and kept us quite comfortable. We ate lunch in the shelter and pretty much napped for most of the day. During a break in the rain, we hiked down to a nearby spring to fetch more drinking water. I spent the rest of the day napping, snacking and enjoying the sites and sounds of heavy rain in the Catskills. Though we heard no thunder and saw no lightening, a steady roar of rain fell down upon everything, creating a lullaby that had me asleep by 8:30pm.
Monday morning we woke to even more rain. It had rained through the night in a relentless bombardment of big fat drops. Rain streamed from the roof and down in front of the shelter, blasting a trough into the ground below. This trough had morphed into a mote around the front of shelter, with a trickling path down through the rocks and over the side of the mountain about 20’ away. After spending most of yesterday and all of the previous night in my sleeping bag, I was eager to get hiking. The rain was not showing any signs of letting up so we decided to get moving around 8:30.
The hike out was really enjoyable. I hiked out wearing shorts, gators, a t-shirt and a rain jacket. Though it was raining pretty hard, the forest canopy created a bit of a buffer and I really didn’t get too wet. The hike was mostly downhill along a very smooth fire road. Though the trail was wide and smooth, it had also transformed itself into a river. A steady stream of water filled the trail. It was a sloshy hike out, but we reached the car warm and dry. Looking forward to next time!