Tremper Mountain Fire Tower • Kaaterskill Falls & Forest Area • May 15, 2017
Our last peak that we needed to hike to finish the Fire Towers in the Catskills was Tremper. To be completely honest, we weren’t exactly excited to hike this one. We had actually intended to do it twice before — on Veteran’s Day weekend last November, we were on our way but a road closure kept us from getting there. We also meant to do it on our trip to the Catskills in January but didn’t feel up to it with the bitter cold and icy trails. Then I made the big mistake of reading reviews of the hike online. First, we knew that the trail itself was supposedly difficult, gaining elevation the entire way up a rocky slope, and the view wasn’t very good. Also, I read about all the wildlife people saw on the trails. There seemed to be several reports of bears and rattlesnakes. Through more research I learned that 100 feet off the trail was a timber rattlesnake den, and the snakes would commonly lay out across the rocky trail. I was absolutely dreading this hike!
Unfortunately, in order to finish the challenge, you can pick and choose 18 out of the 25 Adirondack Fire Towers that you want to hike, but you have to hike all 5 in the Catskills. I checked the forecast to find the best day for this hike, and saw that Monday was supposed to be cool and cloudy in the 50’s, and the rest of the week would be warm and sunny in the 80’s. I convinced Curtis that Monday would be the best day for this hike — rattlesnakes prefer to lay out on hot rocks on sunny days, right? So on Monday morning we drove down to the Catskills. Having learned from our previous hike to Snowy, we packed extra food and camping gear just in case, and had a few other ideas for hikes we could do in the area.
One other thing I was really hoping for was that there would be other people hiking to the peak today. If others had hiked up earlier, maybe they had scared away the wildlife for us! I know Curtis was hoping for us to be alone on this hike, but I was still excited to see several other cars in the pull off. We still got a parking spot, and that’s all that mattered today! We set off on the trail around noon.
I have to say, after reading so many bad reviews for this peak, we actually ended up really enjoying it. I recall that someone had said of Tremper that it was the “Hardest of all the fire tower hikes” — I’m not sure what led them to say that, but they clearly hadn’t done many peaks in the challenge. While yes, much of the trail is at an incline walking up a rocky path, you can actually WALK up rather than having to climb as we did with Snowy. Maybe just doing Snowy Mountain 3 days before made this one seem very easy to us in comparison. We felt that it was a great workout and not challenging at all. There were some flat sections of trail between all the slopes, and we were able to make great time. It had rained over the weekend so some sections of rocks were wet and slippery, and there were big puddles here and there, but again it wasn’t anything harder than what we had encountered before. Not only that, but we were also able to avoid seeing any sort of wildlife, which I was so grateful for. If you’re planning to hike Tremper, do be aware of the snake situation, stay on the trail and keep your eyes out. We also kept Charlotte on her leash the whole time to keep her safe.
We made it to the peak, and while the view wasn’t the greatest by any stretch, we weren’t disappointed with it either. The unfortunate part is that the peak is forested so you have to climb the tower to get a view, but the top of the tower was locked today. It sounds like it’s locked most of the time, unless there’s a ranger at the top. Generally, we find the Catskill peaks to be more regulated than the Adirondacks, which I assume is because they get more traffic from the major cities nearby. We climbed as high as we could to enjoy the view, ate some cookies, attempted finding a letterbox, then began our walk back down.
The hike is about 6 miles round trip. We arrived back at our car after 3 hours of hiking — when the trail is a gradual ascent the entire way up, it makes the walk back very easy. We then contemplated our next move: whether to do another hike then go home, or go set up camp, do more hiking, and do another hike tomorrow. We had plenty of time to do another hike, but we just couldn’t make up our minds. In the end, we decided to just do another hike then drive home late, and save the camping trip for another day that week. While there are many peaks and hikes we could do in the Catskills, we decided to return to one we’d done several times already — Kaaterskill Falls.
Why would we come back to the same place for the third time? We had 2 reasons fueling this desire: first, we knew there were more trails in the area that we had not yet explored (we had wanted to while visiting the Catskills in January, but didn’t because the temps were in the single digits!) and second, we wanted to experience the falls in a whole new season! I am SO glad we did — I didn’t think anything could top the beautiful snowy scene of Kaaterskill Falls in the winter, but seeing them in the spring absolutely blew me away. The falls were so full, much more so than they were in the fall, and the mountains in the background had sprung to life again with green leaves budding. (I posted a slideshow comparison of the 3 seasons on my Instagram account — you can see the post here.)
We first visited the overlook at the top of the falls, then began a long loop through the forest around South Mountain. This area actually has some interesting history, as there used to be 2 different hotels on this mountain: The Kaaterskill Hotel and the Catskill Mountain House. The story goes, a frequent visitor of the Catskill Mountain House was dining there, and his daughter asked for fried chicken rather than the roast beef. The staff refused, and the argument went all the way up to the owner, who, in exasperation/jest, suggested the other man simply build his own hotel and serve fried chicken. And so the Kaaterskill Hotel was built: larger, grander, and higher up the mountain. Interestingly, the two establishments did not fail because of competition, but because of the expenditure of operating. They are both no longer standing (like the one on Overlook Mountain) but we were able to find the base of the Kaaterskill Hotel near the peak of South Mountain.
From the peak we began to loop back towards the car, following a trail along the escarpment towards Inspiration point. The views along the South ridge were beautiful, as every window between the trees got better and better until we made it to Inspiration Point. Here we had a great view of Kaaterskill High Peak across the valley (where Kaaterskill Creek and NY 23A go through) and could make out the Hudson River and what we believe were the South Taconics (where Brace Mountain is). We took some time to enjoy the view here before continuing down the trail. We passed by Sunset Point (which was not quite as impressive as Inspiration Point) then made our way to Layman’s Monument, a monument from the early 1900’s honoring a fallen firefighter. To get there required going steeply downhill, then back up the other side, but at least we got a letterbox out of the deal!
After that, we were making our way back to the car park (we were 5 miles in to the hike at this point) and when passing by the trail that takes you to the base of the falls, I couldn’t help but request we go at least to the middle platform. We knew that doing so would require going downhill and down the stairs, only to make us return again, but why not when we were already here? We went down to the middle viewing point (at the base of the top tier of the falls), and made it just as the sun was directly on the falls, creating a rainbow effect around them. I had forgotten how much bigger the falls look when you’re standing beneath them!
Left – Bottom tier; Right – Top Tier
We made our way back up to the trail junction, then the rest of the way to our car. In all, we had walked 6.7 miles, making today’s total almost 13 miles! While it would have been fun to camp and explore more, I was grateful for a night in my bed and a day “off” before taking on another hiking trip. More on that later. 🙂
The funny thing is, after hiking almost 13 miles and seeing no wildlife whatsoever, we saw a porcupine on highway 23A just minutes after getting back on the road! He was not so happy to see us, and I was just glad to have a “wall” between us. 🙂