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Slide Mountain Wilderness

Slide
Mountain

 

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Slide Mountain at 4180 feet is the highest mountain in the Catskills. It is also only one of two mountains in the Catskills that rises above 4000 feet.  Being the highest mountain in the Catskills and located close to New York City, Slide Mountain is a very popular hike.

On the summit area of Slide Mountain lies two great viewing areas. The viewing area on the eastern side gives an excellent viewing of the reservoir below as well as a view of many of the distant Catskills. This viewing area is located over the John Burroughs Memorial Plaque. The west view gives a great unblocked view of the northern Catskills and limited views of the east. These two viewing areas more than make up for the fact that Slide Mountain doesn't ever rise above timberline.

There are two distinct way of reaching the summit and both differ in difficulty tremendously. From the east is one of Catskills more difficult hikes on the Cornell-Wittenberg Slide Trail. This 7.0 mile difficult hike involves some scrambling, ladder climbing and reaching the summit of two other mountains before reaching the summit of Slide Mountain after seven miles. Most of the hardest stuff comes just before the summit of Slide Mountain.

By contrast from the west lies a much simpler route which hike 2.7 on three different trails and only has an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. This is make a great first 4000'er for a beginner hiker seeking to begin peak bagging.

Directions:

VIA WOODLAND CAMPGROUND TRAILHEAD (EASTERN SIDE): From NY 28 head west make a left (east: right) on Woodland Valley Road (0.5 miles from Phoenicia. Take the road about five miles where the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trailhead will be on your left.

VIA SLIDE MTN. TRAILHEAD NEAR WINNISOOK LAKE: From NY 28 head west make left on County Route 47 which is located in the town of Big Indian. Follow the road roughly 8 miles up a valley and past the first trailhead which leads to Giant Ledge. Go around that turn and the Slide Mountain Trailhead will be on your left roughly a half-mile from Winnisook Lake and Club). The GPS coordinates of the parling area are N42 00.515 W74 25.660.

Trails to Slide Mountain

Three trails combine to create three possible approaches to the mountain, although only one crosses the summit.

Burroughs Range Trail from the west

The most popular route up Slide has always been from the pass between it and the mountains to the west, where the high elevation at the trailhead has greatly reduced the vertical ascent required. The move from Winnisook Lake to the new state trailhead has added to the climb slightly, but it is still less than that required to climb some of the lower Catskill High Peaks.

After crossing the upper west branch of the Neversink at the trailhead, 2,400 feet in elevation , the yellow blazed P-EB trail works its way gently up slope and over some lesser streams 0.7 mile to the old carriage road it originally followed through the Winnisook Club property. It follows this south past a reliable spring 0.3 mile to the western terminus of the red-blazed Burroughs Range Trail, the old horse trail built in 1892.

This works its way steadily up Slide's southwest ridge for about a mile to the summit ridge, where boreal forest takes over and it abruptly turns to the north, then west again to follow the north side of the summit ridge. Shortly after this latter turn, the old Dutcher Trail, marked by very faded orange blazes, comes in from the north. The remainder of this section, where the treadway lies heavy with the white quartz pebbles, is the trail Dutcher built and used in his day.

An official trail, the Curtis-Ormsbee, soon comes in from the south. At this point the Long Path also joins the trail. From here it is 0.7 mile to the summit, with spectacular views to the north opening up at several points along the way. The best is just short of the summit, just above the top of the slides that give the mountain its name.

Total distance via this route is 2.75 miles, with a vertical ascent of 1,700 feet.

Curtis-Ormsbee Trail

Reached from the same starting point, the Curtis-Ormsbee Trail adds more distance to the overall trip but is a favorite with serious hikers since it offers an additional viewpoint and passes through more scenic stretches of forest. It is the route the Long Path takes up the peak.

It is named in memory of William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee, two hikers from New York who died in a sudden snowstorm in the White Mountains of New Hamshire on 6/30/1900. They had laid the trail out, and a small monument to them is located at the trail's southern end, where it leaves the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail 0.8 mile south of the Burroughs Range Trail junction, in the col between Slide and neighboring Wildcat Mountain.

The blue-blazed trail, 1.6 miles long follows another ridge up to the junction with the Burroughs Range Trail on the summit ridge. Just above the signs indicating the camping and fire restrictions that NYSDEC has put in place for areas above 3,500 feet in the Catskills to protect the mountain forests, there are two viewpoints just off the trail. One takes in Table and Lone Mountains; the other offers the only good glimpse of the lowest High Peak, remote and challenging Rocky Mountain. It continues to the summit through long and fragrant stretches of balsam fir and soil muddy enough to require puncheon bridges in some areas.

It is 4.1 miles to the summit via this route. Many hikers make a loop of the trip if time permits, ascending via the Curtis-Ormsbee Trail and returning down the Burroughs Range Trail, a total trip of 6.85 miles.

The beginning of the Curtis-Ormsbee Trail can also be reached by using the Long Path approach and coming from the southern end of the Phoencia-East Branch Trail, 2.95 miles away in the town of Denning. Vertical rise to the summit via this route is almost 2,000 feet, and the total distance to the summit is 6.25 miles.

Burroughs Range Trail from the east

The most challenging route to the summit of Slide begins at the Burroughs Range Trailís eastern terminus, Woodland Valley State Campground south of Phoenicia. It takes in the whole range, going over Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains for a 7-mile, 2,700-foot ascent. Wittenberg and Cornell are both challenging climbs in and of themselves, and the climax is the steep 900-foot east slope of Slide.

It is not surprising that this is often done as an overnight backpacking trip, since the long col between Slide and Cornell features a spruce grove that is an excellent place to camp, and the state has accordingly designated several sites in that area. Some hikers, though, have been able to get to the summit of Slide and back to Woodland Valley in a single lengthy day, often by descending to the western trailhead and following the Phoenicia-East Branch trail back down, a grand loop of 13.95 miles.

Bushwhacks

Two approaches that are at least partially without trails have been used by those seeking greater challenges.

The north ridge

The ridge leading down from the summit to the col with Giant Ledge to the north is an obvious route. DEC had, at one point, planned a trail up it but the idea was dropped when hikers and hunters objected and the route was judged too environmentally fragile to support a trail.

It can be used by starting from the Giant Ledge trailhead at a hairpin turn on County Road 42, about 2,200 feet (670.5 m) in elevation. It is 0.65 mile to the junction with the blue-blazed Fox Hollow Trail, which leads north to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain. By striking out due south from this junction one will soon begin to climb the north ridge, reaching first a 3,620-foot summit (on the private property of the Winnisook Club), then turning to the southeast through thickening boreal forest to the 3,800-foot  summit. From there the narrow, thickly-forested ridge is followed steeply up to the summit ridge and the Burroughs Range Trail, about 0.25 mile from the summit.

East Branch of the Neversink

A long route that very ambitious hikers have used, especially on multi-day trips with attempts on the range of trailless peaks to Slide's southeast, follows the east branch of the Neversink up to the ridge connecting Slide and Cornell.

Starting from the Denning trailhead, the P-EB Trail is followed 1.2 mile to its junction with the blue-blazed Peekamoose-Table Trail, which drops down to the east 0.35 mile (560 m) into the river valley near the flood plain at the Deer Shanty Brook confluence and its many channels, some of them difficult to cross at high water. After one of the last, alert eyes can find the beginning of the "Fisherman's Path," an unofficial trail following the East Branch far upstream into the wildest country in the Catskills.

It takes some skill to follow this trail, as red paint blazes that sometimes appear are often painted out by DEC forest rangers (there are, however, some official campsites along its length) and while it is sometimes wide and obvious it is not always, and switches sides of the river several times.

Further upstream, as it passes the usual points of departure for Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap and Friday Mountains, the path gets increasingly disused and harder to follow. The challenge in hiking Slide this way is not so much the mountain itself as the route finding when it begins to climb to the col.

Deer Shanty Brook

The most challenging bushwhack route is the seldom-attempted approach up this tributary of the East Branch. It begins identically to that route but involves leaving the trail at that crossing and eventually following the brook to the slopes of Slide to the southeast. There is no trail whatsoever through this country and the boreal forest on this part of the mountain itself is reportedly difficult to penetrate, even by the standards of other peaks in the vicinity.

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