Cold Climbing in Cat Creek, Day 1 • Hiking Overlook Mountain • January 6, 2017
Last week, Curtis had a 4-day weekend! Never ones to pass up an opportunity to travel even a short distance, we had been toying with several ambitious trips. Boston, Philadelphia, even NYC. I don’t know why we wanted a city so much, probably because the forecast was supposed to be way below freezing the whole weekend, which means even colder in the mountains. It seemed like a better idea to go to a city where we could spend our time doing indoorsy things like tours and museums. After thoroughly searching through the lodging situations in those areas and being less than enthused, we decided to suck it up and brave the frigid temperatures and go hiking and exploring in the Catskills and Hudson Valley Region. Fortunately, while most of the East coast was hit by snow, we actually saw the least amount of snow we’d seen in a month. We only had a quarter-inch of accumulation on our last night!
Our intention for the first day was to drive down to the Catskills and knock out two fire towers. The first hike was supposed to be one of the easiest fire tower hikes, but ended up to be one of the hardest. The peak: Overlook Mountain — one that we tried to do last November but were unable to because the parking lot was full. It’s one of the more popular hikes for many reasons: it’s shorter and easier, close to the interstate, has beautiful views and ruins along the way, and is basically halfway between Albany and NYC. Knowing this (and after our experience from last time), we decided to hike it on Friday morning, in the “off season”, on a day with highs in the teens (the highest that they’d be all weekend!). And yet, it was still quite busy with hikers — that’s just how popular it is, and how hardcore some hikers can be out here!
As we were getting out of the car at the trailhead, Curtis said, “Be careful, it’s a little icy.” We would soon find out that that phrase could describe almost the entire trail. The trail itself doubles as a cell tower road for most of the way, and besides a few steeper inclines is gradual and would be easy if not for the elements. The road had seen many hikers and a few warm days since the last snow, and the freezing temperatures caused a layer of ice to form over the entire trail. It wasn’t good conditions for snowshoes at all, and while I had crampons and brought them on the hike, I didn’t end up trying them out. I just couldn’t envision a scenario where I wouldn’t end up falling on my face!
As for weather gear, we were wearing as many layers as physically possible, our plain old hiking boots, and I used one hiking pole. We only saw one group of hikers that were wearing crampons or micro spikes, everyone else seemed to be doing what we were and handling it just fine. There’s a lot of expensive gear we could get for our feet or to keep us warm, but we’ll just invest in things as we see fit, and find stuff cheap off of Craigslist. Charlotte was sporting a fleece jacket made by her Grammie (Curtis’ mom) and had no complaints with the trail conditions.
As I mentioned earlier, the 2 big draws to this hike are the great view at the peak from the fire tower, and the awesome ruins of a hotel that once stood here. It was HUGE and I wish it were warmer so we could have just wandered around and enjoyed it more! While the hotel at one point may have provided warmth from the cold mountain temperatures, it’s a little drafty right now. 😉 I loved the sparkly icicles hanging from the tower, trees, and bushes at the top. It was a beautiful winter wonderland, that’s for sure, but after a few minutes we were starting to feel numb so we hurried our way back down the mountain.
Of course, going downhill on icy ground is always more of a challenge (and much more dangerous) than going uphill. I certainly couldn’t have done it without Curtis’ help — a good excuse to hold hands the whole way down! I also tried to stay near the edge of the trail or slightly off, using fresher snow. I learned to walk with my heels first, and give the ground a little kick before stepping/putting my weight on it for extra traction. Curtis noticed on his AllTrails app that there was a side trail that went off the main road and met back up with it down the trail a ways, so we opted for that as it was less used and much easier to walk down. We also found another abandoned log cabin along that path. It makes us wonder how many other ruins are out here?! They’re so cool to find!
After a lot of thought and careful walking, a tiny mental breakdown, one fall, and a few yards of sitting and sliding down particularly icy parts, we made it back to the car alive. Not telling who was the more pathetic one. I’ll just say it definitely wasn’t Charlotte. Haha.
We had thought about hiking another nearby fire tower, but honestly didn’t feel up to it. Overlook had been mentally exhausting, a little dangerous, very cold. This other tower was supposedly even steeper and was probably equally as icy. Plus, we only had 2 hours before sunset, not nearly enough time to hike 6 miles. Instead, we drove to our AirBnB for the weekend — a tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere, all to ourselves! This was honestly the whole reason why we decided to vacation here despite the cold temperatures. I found a cute, cozy cottage on AirBnB for $40/night, (much cheaper than any hotels or rentals in any cities) and we decided it was worth forgoing our plans of visiting big cities to be alone and do things we actually enjoy. We brought our own food from home to make in the well-stocked kitchen and settled in for a relaxing weekend in front of a warm fire…and mentally prepared ourselves for more chilly hiking. 🙂