Andre, a friend from college, had the week off from his residency so he volunteered himself for an adventure. We found a bit more than we asked for on our trip up to the trailhead. Andre got into a fender-bender on the way to the train station, and after picking Andre up, I managed to get a speeding ticket and hit a bird. The fun continued on the way home; we seemed to be a magnet for the transportation gods as we met nearly every type of bad driving behavior on the way back to NYC at the end of the day. Was it worth it? Definitely. (The bird might disagree.)
With all that excitement, we started the day late, setting off from the trailhead at 11:00am. The parking lot in Woodland Valley was pretty full, but we didn't meet too many other hiking parties until we hit the summit of Wittenberg Mountain. Somewhere on the way up a trail runner flew past us. A review of the trial log at the end of the day showed that she was doing a 15.1 mile loop that would hit the summits of Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide. That definitely made Andre and I reevaluate our level of fitness.
The first 0.5-0.75 miles of the hike is a relentless climb from 1400' to 2250'. After this steep section, the trail levels off for a few miles while you walk across the top of a NNE-facing cliff face that gives great views of Terrace Mountain. (The views might disappear when there are leaves on the trees.) In this area there are numerous water sources and small glades that would make camping easy. After leaving the cliff face, it's another 1300' of moderate climbing to the summit of Wittenberg Mountain (arrival 1:25pm). Progress was hindered at times by the presence of ice and snow (above 3300'), leading me to believe that two or three of the scrambles might demand some light (WI 2-3) ice climbing in the winter. On the way up we met a couple of hikers that spent the night in the col between Cornell and Slide Mountain. They informed us that the usual water sources in the col weren't running. (The ridge that runs this col is part of the Catskill Divide which separates the Hudson River watershed and the Delaware River watershed.)
At the summit of Wittenberg (3780') we encountered a local climbing party that had extensive back country experience in the Catskills. They gave some great pointers for how to approach Friday Mountain, Balsam Cap, and Rocky Mountain, none of which have trails. Andre and I let them forge ahead as we soaked in views of the Ashokan Reservoir in the distance. The bare summit of Wittenberg Mountain is a rarity in the Catskills. In my limited experience, only the views from the summit of Twin Mountain rival those from Wittenberg.
We quickly hiked the narrow ridge connecting Wittenberg to Cornell, and caught up to the other climbing party at Cornell Crack. Their progress was stymied by the inability of the dog in their party to get up the scramble. After securing a rope to the dog's harness and pushing the dog up a seam in the scramble, they finally got her to the top of the formation. (This area might not be an ice climb in the winter only because of the lack of drainage.) The summit of Cornell (3860', arrival 2:30pm) is much less impressive than Wittenberg's with only a few patches where the trees give way to views. Even so, we found a great viewpoint of Slide Mtn. and Panther Mtn. that showed that snow was still present in patches on the north face of Slide.
We were in a rush to descend so that Andre could catch a train back to Long Island, but progress was much slower than anticipated due to the numerous scrambles and patches of ice. We got back to the car around 5:15pm and hit the road to get back to NYC. This was a great way to start off the spring and summer hiking season. Thanks Dr. Dre!