This past weekend I decided to knock off two bushwhacks from my Catskill 3500 list. The plan was to backpack up to the summit of Big Indian, cross over east to Fir, and then back down.
I was excited to get away from the humidity of NYC but unfortunately, it was incredibly humid up in the Catskills. I never felt it cool down the whole ride up. Not a good sign.
Upon arriving at the Biscuit Brook DEC parking lot, I de-suited, switched into my hiking clothes, saddled up the backpack, and headed up the road to the Pine Hill West Branch trailhead. Yep, it was super humid. Within 15 minutes, I was drenched in sweat and it was like this the entire trip. Lots of black flies, gnats, and mosquitos also.
My first destination was the summit of Big Indian Mountain. Technically, it is a bushwhack but coming from Biscuit Brook, 99% of the approach is along the blue blazed trail. A herd path branches off about 4.5 miles past the trailhead and goes off for, at most, 1/4 mile before reaching the summit. I can’t imagine an easier bushwhack.
From there, I continued my journey east towards Fir Mountain. Now began the true bushwhack. The herd path quickly disappeared and I had to rely on my compass to ensure that I was moving in the correct direction. The plan was to make it to the low point where Big Indian and Fir met, and set up camp for the night. Unfortunately, thunder quickly rolled in as I started down Big Indian. A major thunderstorm appeared to be looming. I didn’t want to get caught in it and since I was planning on setting camp soon, I decided to stop and drop. I was on some level ground and wasn’t sure that I’d have better options until the valley which would require me backpacking through the storm.
Space was very tight and the stakes wouldn’t bite due to the ground being all leaves, but I got the ZPacks Duplex pitched. I hung the bear bag and my sweat drenched clothes and retired for the night just as the rain picked up.
Bright and early the next morning, I packed up and headed over to Fir Mountain. Using my compass, I tried to still upon the Catskill Divide ridge as best as possible as it links the two summits. This was a true bushwhack. Every great once in a while, I would come upon a herd path but it never lasted long. The majority of the trip involved pushing through deep brush, thick tree layers, and jockeying over rock ledges. At one point, I fell down into a gully trying to jump across a ravine and had to administer some minor first aid.
It was slow going but I made it to the Fir Mountain gray canister around 12:30pm. It was tricky to find but you have to just keep going up. One thing to note is that there were no water sources. The day before was abundant but not today.
After a short rest and requisite photography, I began the descent back to the parking lot. The plan was to go south west until intersecting the Pine Hill West Branch trail near the shelter and then take the blazed trail back to the bike. I followed the herd path leading from the summit for perhaps a half hour but then it disappeared. I was now back to bushwhacking and a noticeable decline in pace.
The descent was steep and long. After a few hours, I came upon a brook and filled up with fresh water. I moved further down and waded across Biscuit Brook and on to the Pine Hill trail. From there, it was two miles back to the bike.
Sunday was a tough day. It took me approximately 11 hours to bushwhack from Big Indian to Fir to the parking lot. Very slow going but exhilarating, nonetheless. I switched out of my drenched clothes and into my bike gear, and headed home excited about the shower soon to be had.