November 30, 2013

Hiking Scared: Slide Mountain

By Stephon Boatwright In On the Trail

Ok, I wasn’t scared, but hiking anxious didn’t have the same ring.  As a rule of thumb hiking alone in wilderness areas isn’t the greatest of ideas, there’s no cell reception most of the time, no one to help in case of an accident, and the trails are scarcely traveled so no one will come across you for some time if you get injured.  On those marvelous notes, I decided to solo climb the highest mountain in the Catskills since Brian was working, Allie was sick, and I had the day off.  I’ve been so antsy to get outside I’ve been writing trip reports from old ADK hikes.  I got up a little behind schedule and was totally misty eyed for some reason; I’m normally pretty quick to shake off the morning dust.  I left in a hurry and forgot, well, everything.  I left the memory card for my camera, my phone charger, the directions and right about everything else of use.  I chose the Catskills because I wanted a short hike outside of the Adirondacks where I only hike with my Bears, unfortunately this meant I had no idea where I was going.  After taking the super long route through some beautiful mountain towns, I arrived at the Slide Mountain trailhead.

Slide is 4,180 feet tall, small by Adirondack standards, but it is actually the tallest mountain in the Appalachians between Virginia and Vermont.  The hike was supposed to be quick (5.4 miles roundtrip), fun, and easy, instead it was continuously unnerving.  Literally 20 feet into the trail I was confronted by a creek turned river due to the snow melt and rain.  I wanted to turn back, I wanted to find a bar and call it a day after a frustrating ride, but instead I waded through ice cold waist deep water and crossed onto the trail; I was instantly miserable.  My brand new Merrell Norsehound hiking boots were rendered worthless after the soaking, even after I dumped a pint of water out of each of them with frigid fingers.  Since it was my first solo hike I kept feeling like someone was behind me, a crazed hillbilly or a Lord of the Rings monster, but that feeling faded pretty fast.  I started to enjoy the hike quite a bit until I realized I forgot my memory card for my camera.  I didn’t think of it much until the most cool/terrifying moment of the day.  I saw I was the only one on the mountain when I signed the hikers log, and could see the tracks from the sole hiker the day before.  When I got 2/3 of the way up I noticed the biggest paw prints I had ever seen, then quickly realized they abruptly started and stopped after 20 feet.  Bear!  I took a quick peak around me and bolted.  After coming to my senses I realized the print was melting with the snow around it, so it must of been a bit old, but nonetheless frightening and exhilarating all at once.

I reached the summit where I had no views as the day was cloudy with a winery mix.  I wanted to make good time back so I hustled quite a bit.  When I got back to the aforementioned creek, it had turned into a torrent of rapids.  There was 20 feet of water between me and my Jeep, and did I mention I cant swim?  This was probably the most freighting point of the day.  I knew I couldn’t wait it out; the temperature was dropping and I was already soaked and freezing, so I bushwhacked about a quarter mile upstream until I found a narrow enough section to leap rock to rock all the way across.  It didn’t work quite as planned when my last leap came up short and soaked me further, no matter, the Jeep was in sight.  After sitting in the warming car for a while I got a whole new appreciation for my hiking buddies, even if it was just to share the pain with.  I have more solo hikes planned, but it’s nothing like when I have the crew.

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