80 degrees on Long island! Yes! Finally, a nice spring weekend. It’s about time…April 14th, practically a month into spring. What better way to spend it then a hike in the Catskills … hiking in 20 degree weather and snow flurries?
Today, the goal was to cross two more Catskill 3500s off my list; Vly and Bearpen. I heard that they are supposed to be the easiest of the unmarked trails; perfect for my first time off trail! Ease me in to it a bit.
My Dad, our friend, and I arrived at the trail head at 8:30 am Sunday, ready to go! Heads up for anyone interested in doing this trail, there isn’t much room for parking.
We bundled up and prepared ourselves for the hike ahead, I forgot my gaiters, which resulted in a pair of ripped pants. Whoops!
We started up the trail, optimistic, because although it was flurrying around us, there didn’t seem to be much snow on the ground. We reached the junction between Bearpen and Vly, there is an abandoned hunting shack at the juncture. As we proceeded down the right fork towards Vly, our optimism started to fade, as we were hit with the hard truth, we would be encountering a mix of 2-3 feet of snow covered areas and areas where melted snow had created streams and mud. This was going to be fun and messy! I recommend that anyone going hiking in April wear waterproof hiking boots. The runoff is bad from melting snow and this makes for muddy/ wet conditions. Don’t want to hike with wet feet!
After about 150 feet down the path, you will see an old yellow van on the right side, this is where you will turn to towards Vly, about ¼ mile later you will start to ascend. As we started our way up Vly I was in denial…it was spring I was already bundled up I would not put on my microspikes…well my denial only lasted for so long. I was having an issue gripping the snow on the path, and while I can proudly say I didn’t fall, I had to cave and put on micro spikes. This definitely helped!
The higher we got, the more snow was on the ground and the trees…but how do you avoid post-holing when there is no trail to stay on for compacted snow? To be honest, you don’t. Luckily, I was hiking with two people in front of me so I just stepped right in their footsteps. One downside; they both have at least 6 inches on me, so their strides are a bit longer … but you know, I made it work… and it is work to extend your leg and extra three inches and push off like you’re trying to jump.
After some time, the snowmobile trail faded, and we were left with just trees. Now what? Well hopefully someone you are with has a GPS with the summit coordinates …otherwise most likely not happening. We had one. We started through the trees “bushwhacking.” When we got to the top we kept walking in circles looking for the canister at the summit…. nothing. We looked it up online apparently there is one, but we couldn’t find it.
Unfortunately, we had a foggy day, so I’m sure the views are nice, but we could barely see 500ft in front of us. The snow-covered trees did create a nice winter wonderland atmosphere. Maybe not necessarily what you hope for in springs, but nonetheless amazing. Time to head back down to the junction and a nice snack, at least my granola bar wasn’t frozen this time!
Once we returned to the junction, we took the path to left to take us to Bearpen, the next mountain. According to reviews, even though this trail is unmarked, it’s very easy to follow. We did not have this experience. There were so many places with crossing paths, so we had no idea where to go, so we guessed. The experience hiking Bearpen was much different than Vly. There wasn’t as much post-holing, instead we were punching through thin ice. When you stepped in the wrong spot the ice would shatter and you’d sink in to freezing cold water. This didn’t happen to me as much as it did to my dad (yes for once I wasn’t the Klutz, stay tuned I will regain that title). When you get to the highest point on Bearpen, turn to your left, there are some ledges on the left that present great photo ops. I’m sure on a clear day you can get a much better view than what we were able to make out.
After reaching the summit, we started our way back down. Another two mountains conquered! We made it back down to the junction and started the mile path back to the car. After we left what I thought was the icy part of the trail, I decided to take off my micro spikes. I took my first step without the spikes, instantly slipped, and slid …. Ten feet later and with soaking pants, my title was restored!
This hike brought on new challenges, and lessons. At the end of the day, it is not just about climbing the mountain but who we become during the process.
Total distance: 29,140 steps (thanks fitbit), 6.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,009 ft
Total time: 6 hours (thanks hidden cannister)
What to wear: For this hike I wore:
· Under Armour Cold gear leggings and shirt-this is my go to base layer in the cold
· North Face Etip gloves Click here to buy
· SmartWool NTS 250 Mid-weight Sport Hoodie Click here to buy–Love this piece, great light weight mid-layer. Warm, cozy, and great fit!
· North Face Apex Bionic 2 hooded jacket Click here to buy–Great jacket, tons of pockets! Sizing is on the small size, I recommend you size up.
· SmartWool hiking socks-only hiking socks I wear! Love them.
· Microspikes these are a life saver. Click here to buy
· Hand warmers I always keep these in my bag during a cold hike, they come in handy (pun intended)