Trip Report: Looking For Ice In The Catskills

Kaaterskill High Peak & Hunter
View of Kaaterskill High Peak and Hunter Mountain

On Sunday my friend Russ and I had an early 4 a.m wake up call to head into the Catskills to search for ice climbing routes for this winter. Russ has been ice climbing for years and is now introducing me to the sport. I am super excited to be learning this skill and have been doing a ton of research and going over how the systems work with Russ. Sunday was a day for us to get the lay of the land in the Kaaterskill area from what we have been reading in guide books as well as a chance to teach me some of the fundamentals of crampon and ice axe work with some ice bouldering. We were following the Escarpment trail which goes by the Kaaterskill Falls and above the Asbestos Wall.

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The upper falls beginning to freeze 
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Views from the Escarpment Trail

As we started the hike it was a nice balmy 8 degrees but the winds were perfectly calm. We were loaded up with all our puffys and were stoked to be breaking in our new Scarpa mountaineering boots. We were impressed that in the woods there was about six or seven inches of snow on the ground, it is amazing what a difference a little elevation makes. The first thing we came across was the top of Kaaterskill Falls which was a breathtaking site as the sides and bottom of the falls were really starting to freeze over. We continued our way to the lower falls which was completely frozen. It was a breath taking sight at how much ice there was. We decided to step into our crampons and practice some of the ice climbing basics on the lower falls. It was a great learning experience for me and I was grinning ear to ear as I was stoked for whats to come this winter.

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Climbing on the lower falls

After playing around on the ice for a while we decided to head back up onto the Escarpment trail. We slogged back up the steep snowy slope with steps that takes you back out of the gully and onto the ridge line. This is a real leg burner early in the morning, especially carrying all your gear. We were having a blast once we were back on trail given the beautiful blue bird weather and despite the temperature hovering around ten degrees the sun and calm winds had us in very minimal layers. If you have never hiked the Escarpment trail before I highly recommend it, especially in winter when its snow covered and the trees are bare. The entire trail has beautiful views of Kaaterskill High Peak and the valley below. We chose this route because we knew it would give us good views of Hilliard Ravine and the other gullies along it that are famous for their amazing ice climbing. As we were new to this area we knew this vantage point would give us a great opportunity to look out at those gullies and get our bearings for planning future trips. It was fun matching up the gullies with our maps and the information that we have from our guide book. I was also excited because I am working on my Catskill 3500 list and Kaaterskill High Peak is one of the summits on the list that I still need to complete.

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Russ on the Escarpment Trail

We also wandered off the trail for a while as we followed a cliff line that already had some fantastic ice on it and looked to be very promising for the winter season. There is something remarkably satisfying as you walk through untouched shin deep snow working your way through different gullies and having spectacular views all around you. I am not usually one to go into the mountains without a strict ‘itinerary’ but that is exactly what our plan was for this day and I was having a blast making decisions to do whatever came to mind at each moment. We made our way back on trail and hung out while getting inspired on Inspiration Rock. We soaked in the sun here buzzing on our high of excitement from whats to come this winter and slowly made our way back to the car to get a late lunch and get back to reality as it was Sunday afternoon and the work week was almost upon us.

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View from Inspiration Rock
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Taking a break to organize off trail

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