Sunday, December 23, 2012

Giant Ledge & Panther Mountain

Looking Northeast from Panther Mountain.
Yesterday’s hikes up the Beacons and The Taurus in the Hudson Highlands were indisputably great and rewarding, but they also only reached a maximum elevation nearly 1,000 feet lower than home. I had aspirations to get higher than that on this trip, so some outings in the Catskills were also priorities. The weather forecast looked great, so today seemed like an ideal time to get a little more elevation. Since I am working on the Catskill 3500 list, that is climbing the 35 peaks in the range above 3,500’, anything over that elevation I hadn’t already been on would be a plus. Since it was a clear day, anything with good views would be another plus.

+Leanne was also free today, and wanted to get out for at least one hike during our week in New York. She wanted a good hike but didn’t want to do anything overly difficult, so I ruled out the remaining trail-less peaks which I had not yet been on. And since I’ve been considering leaving trailed Windham High Peak for last, that let me narrow it down to a very small handful of the trailed peaks I had not yet been on. Since views were highly desired - and I knew from a previous visit that Giant Ledge was spectacular, as well as along the route to Panther - it became a no-brainer as to where to go. Furthermore, Panther is one of four peaks that the Catskill 3500 Club requires to be climbed a second time, in Winter, to qualify for membership. Today was December 23, two days into Winter. Another plus! Not only that, but it would possibly be Leanne's first Catskill 3500 peak. Even though she grew up in Kingston, she only did a limited amount of hiking in the area. She may have done a hike up Slide with friends in her college days, but can't remember for sure. If not, this would indeed be her first 3500er, though we had done some other peaks like Tremper and Red Hill together.

We left the parking lot in upper Big Indian Hollow on an icy, snowy trail and began the 500’ climb up to the Slide-Giant Ledge col. The snow was shallow enough, and the ice sporadic enough, that barebooting it worked fine for this section, and indeed for the whole hike, with a couple of exceptions where perhaps microspikes would have been better put on than carried in the pack.

On the horizon, some of the Devil's Path peaks rising above Tremper Mountain.
The hiking was easy for a short stretch after reaching the col, but steepened considerably on the uppermost 300’ of Giant Ledge. I thought some of the snowy ledges to be great fun clambering up, and wished there had been a lot more of them. But the trail flattens out as it reaches the top of the long cliffline the peak is named for. Over the next couple thousand feet there are a number of great views to the east and northeast, but the very best is probably the first one. The top of the ledge is nice and wide here, and flat - with great places to just hang out and take in the wonderful views. Slide Mountain, the monarch of the Catskills as the range highpoint, is visible far to the right,  just through the trees, towering 1,000’ higher. Slide is the second most prominent peak in New York, with 3,295’ of prominence. Only the Adirondack’s Mount Marcy, with 4,925’ of prominence beats it. But Slide beats out Marcy to be the peak with the most isolation in New York, there not being a higher peak within 136 miles.  Then, in clear view, are Friday’s summit, and the entirety of Cornell and Wittenberg. Far to the left is the summit of Panther some 500’ higher. But my eye was drawn more to the northeast and the challenging up-and-down crest of the Devils Path peaks. West Kill, Hunter, Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin, and Indian Head were all visible on the horizon, sharp-cut in the clear Winter air. A big goal of mine is to sometime hike the entire Devil’s Path over all these peaks in one day, a distance of some 22 miles and a cumulative elevation gain of 8,000’. This is one of three classic Northeast “Death Marches” (though still not the hardest that are done with some regularity by the hardcore hikers of the Northeast). The other two are White Mountain’s Presidential Traverse in a day, and the Adirondacks Great Range Traverse in a day. I did the former with my buddies Shane Ashby and Tommy Bell in a tough 18 hour day in 2010. My buddy Peter Barr and I attempted a variation of the Great Range Traverse last October but nagging problems from a prior injury forced us to bail out early. These latter two are longer and have more climbing than the Devil’s Path, but I’m not entirely certain they are any harder. I’d like to find out.

Fun ledges enroute to Panther Mountain.
Continuing on, we descended steeply into the Giant Ledge-Panther col then quickly started up again even steeper. I came close to pulling the microspikes out a couple of times, but the really icy sections were short and had enough firm snow adjacent to them that we were able to find sufficient footing. As the grade eased, it became less and less of a concern and we soon found ourselves in the beautiful snowy balsams the rest of the way to the summit.

Based on the criteria used by the Catskill 3500 Club, Panther Mountain, at 3,720’ elevation, is the 18th highest peak in the Catskills. Club lists are great, and I like them for specific ranges or regions, but that is only one possible way of looking at it. If one uses an interpolated elevation of 3,730’ and considers only peaks with at least 300’ of prominence, it is tied with Balsam Lake Mountain for 12th highest in the Catskills and tied with Balsam Lake and Lewey Mountains for 65th highest in New York. Regardless of its ranking or elevation, or any other stat, it is a great summit with a couple of nice viewpoints. Not as open or expansive as those from Giant Ledge, they add the perspective of increased elevation, as well as extend it farther northwest to include peaks such as Sherrill and North Dome, two more I have yet to climb.

On the return hike up Giant Ledge.
After another enjoyable summit stay, we headed back the same way we came from, excepting a brief detour off-trail to tag the true summit of Giant Ledge, a viewless rock in the woods. Nevertheless, using the same criteria as for the Catskill 3500 peaks, this 3,200’ summit is one of the Catskill Highest 100 peaks and could not be passed up, especially since I can’t remember if I went to the actual summit on my 2005 visit. Peaks must be bagged!

One last view from Giant Ledge.

The route of the Giant Ledge and Panther hike. To see a larger map click here.

Hike Stats:
6.9 miles
1,900' cumulative elevation gain

Pictures from this hike

gpx file and topos
Catskill 3500 Club
Catskill Hiker
Catskill Mountaineer

Trailhead coordinates:

Google Map for trailhead

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