The Catskills got 8-12 inches of snow last week, so Elizabeth and I headed up for some snowshoeing on the 16th. I've been meaning to try out some hikes in the Slide Mountain Wilderness area for a while. The area west of the Ashokan Reservoir is a bit farther from NYC than my typical hikes just west of Saugerties, and while the area isn't as convenient, the distance provides a solitude you can't get closer to 87.
After a 5:30am wake up call and a quick stop in New Paltz to pick up snowshoes for Elizabeth, we made it up to the trail head at 10:00am. The trail log showed that we were the second group to hike the route, and the post holes that punctuated the trail indicated that our friends were not wearing snow shoes. After a quick bite to eat on Giant Ledge, we descended into the col between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain. A northwesterly howled through the saddle and made progress miserable. Up until this point of our climb, the snow had been a fluffy, soft powder, but the snow in this area was a hard dry crust. The quality of the snow and the numerous snow cornices were a testament to how that area must have gotten battered during the storm that dumped all the powder.
As we began the ascent towards the summit of Panther, the birch trees turned into a lush coniferous forest. We managed to pluck our way down the path and didn't get hit with any bad snow bombs. Just as we were passing the 3500' marker, we encountered our trailmates (who did the climb in microspikes). We stumbled around at 3720' for a while in a search for the summit marker, which must have been obscured by snow-laden boughs, but were satisfied we'd attained the peak because we found both lookouts that bookend the summit (1:00pm).
After a break at one of the viewpoints, we packed away our snowshoes so we could glissade when possible and began our descent (1:20pm). We slid when possible, so the descent went quickly even though we were post holing occasionally. After encountering 3-4 other climbing parties, we returned to the car by 2:40pm.
This is a great day hike with views that are far superior to those from the Indian Head Wilderness. I can't wait to climb Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide in the coming months.