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Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:03 am
by rkugel
Saturday August 16, 2014 promised to be a nice day, though a bit on the cool side. I’ve been wanting to attempt Wittenberg Mountain from Woodland Valley for some time, and decided today would be the day. I left my house at 6:45 am and arrived at the Woodland Valley Campground at 8:40 am – just under two hours.

After parking my car, I walked down the road to the ranger station and purchased my daily parking permit for $6.00. I then returned to my car, placed the permit on my dashboard (where it would be in obvious view for inspection) and headed on my way.

Across the parking lot and about 100 feet east on Woodland Valley Road (i.e., in the direction back towards Phoenicia), there is a driveway (for accessing the campsites) along with a sign and an arrow indicating the trail. When you walk in, the driveway curves sharply to the right and parallels Woodland Valley Road. Unfortunately, there are no other blazes or signs directing you to the trailhead. After walking up and the down the driveway to no avail, I finally figured out that the way to access the trail is to simply walk from Woodland Valley Road straight back to the stream. Once I did that, I made a left and walked along the streambed for about 200 feet until I found the new bridge. More signage or blazes are definitely needed.

Once over the bridge, the trail climbs steeply to the trail register. Once the trail levels off (relatively speaking), it is a beautiful walk through the woods. I arrived at the point where the trail turns sharply left off the woods road, all the while being very cautious I would miss it. It turns out the sharp left is more obvious than I thought. For starters, there is HUGE tree (at least 3 feet in diameter) that fell right at the turn (no doubt from Hurricane Sandy). Thanks to the downed tree, you almost have no choice but to go left. Also, the marked trail is actually self-steering at that point – no doubt from the thousands of hikers who have packed down the soil making an obvious trail.

After making the sharp left, the trail ascends steadily to the top of a very high ledge looking down into Woodland Valley. Mike wrote a superb trip description (posted elsewhere on this website) and warned how easy it is to walk off the trail in this section. Mike could not possibly have been more correct. Trail blazes are placed way too far apart and there are numerous herd paths and other vague trails diverging off the main trail. It is incredibly easy to get lost here. More blazes are desperately needed. On the other hand, if you do wander off trail, there is a beautiful view looking out into the Woodland Valley. Above all else, stay alert!

The trail continues to moderately ascend and then actually slightly descends for a fair distance until the junction with the yellow trail is reached. The yellow trail goes left, while the red trail to Wittenberg goes right. Shortly after making the right, I noticed a “new” trail branching off to the left. I believe this is the new route of the Long Path to Phoenicia, but I am not certain.

From the junction with the yellow trail, it is 1.3 miles to the summit of Wittenberg. The first half a mile or so is not too bad as the trail ascends steadily, but not steeply. Then, all of the sudden, you encounter the first of many high ledges and cliffs and are forced to become more of a mountain goat than a hiker. Many of the rocks you have to climb are slippery (remember, this side of Wittenberg faces north and does not receive a lot of sun). Extreme caution is needed to safely scale many of these ledges, some of which require both hands and feet. This is another area where more blazes are needed. The trail is not obvious and self-guiding and there is a section of several hundred feet where there isn’t a single blaze to be seen. Once again, it is incredibly easy to wander off the trail. Stay alert!

The trail to the summit is relentless and seems to go on forever. Just when you think you’re almost there, you are confronted with another ledge. It’s as though the mountain is teasing you with the trail leveling off for a brief stretch (tricking you into thinking you’re near the top) only to slam you with yet another ledge to conquer.

I took my time going up and arrived at the summit at 12:00 pm – about 3 hours. As expected, the ledge was packed with hikers, but there was plenty of room for all and everyone was friendly.

After resting for a half hour and having a light lunch, I decided to try to for Cornell, which is only another 45 minutes away. Cornell Crack never ceases to amaze me – especially when approached from the bottom. It is imposing (to say the least) and has got to be one of the most challenging ledges in all the Catskills. After ascending to the top of Cornell Crack in one piece, I walked the short distance to the overlook facing Slide Mountain. There, I simply crashed for a half hour and marveled over the immensity of Slide.

On the way back to Wittenberg, I made the small detour to the actual summit of Cornell. However, there is no view.

I arrived back at Wittenberg around 2:30 pm and just spent the next hour relaxing and daydreaming on the summit. Incredibly, the last of the hikers departed at 3:00 pm and I had Wittenberg all to myself – something almost unheard of on a summer afternoon. It was close to 3:30 pm before I finally tore myself away and began the journey back down to Woodland Valley. I arrived back at my car at 6:15 pm and called it a day. As I descended, I could sense a change in the weather. The sky clouded over (showers were predicted later in the evening) and there was a distinct chill in the air (this is August?).

And in all, it was a gorgeous hike. I was amazed at how many people I ran into over the course of the day, from seasoned hikers to families just wanting to get out and get some fresh air. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and everyone just wanted to have a great time.

Sorry, I didn’t bring my camera for this outing. Hence, there are no pictures.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:37 am
by mike
Nice trip report Rich. Not an easy mtn to climb. But, the view from Wittenberg is spectacular. One of the best views in the Catskills.

Cornell Crack looks so imposing when you first see it. But, it is quite grippy, so it isn't that hard to climb. In the Winter it is sometimes just a ramp that is easy to walk up and down.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2014 2:51 pm
by bikenhike
You sure picked a nice day to do that hike. The view is breathtaking for sure.

Yeah, the cornell crack is quite memorable!!!

Great trip report Rich. Too bad about no camera. I would have liked to see what great photo you would have taken.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2014 7:09 am
by rkugel
Bikenhike and Mike,

Thanks for the feedback. I knew this was going to be a challenging hike, and so I stripped down my knapsack to the barest essentials to keep my load as light as possible. Unfortunately, my camera became a reluctant casualty. I'm thinking of getting a smaller (and lighter) camera to take on hikes as an alternative to my Nikon D300, which is a great camera, but weighs a TON !!!

As Mike noted, Cornell Crack is not quite as difficult as it looks, but it is still a challenge, and carelessness can easily result in serious injury.


Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2014 2:40 pm
by mike
Try the Panasonic Luminx DMC-ZS40. Takes remarkably good pics with a good lens.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2014 6:57 pm
by kennykb
Hi, Rich! Nice to see you're feeling up to a strenuous hike! Maybe we can get together for a jaunt one of these weekends. (I know Mike's mostly out of commission, alas.)

Witt is always a great trip. WHen I did it last year, I was coming through Woodland Valley because I'd been up to Giant Ledge the day before. I hiked through from Giant Ledge to the Terrace Mountain turnoff and headed toward the lean-to. A little bit past the bald rocks with the overlook, I found a nice (and legal) spot to pitch my tent in a grove of hemlocks. That broke up the climb, so I didn't have quite as much work to do the next day.

You're right that the new blue trail cut through is the Long Path. It goes over Romer Mountain and Cross Mountain and comes out right in Phoenicia village. It cuts off all the roadwalk from Woodland Valley. There's just a little bit of road walking through the village and across the bridge and around to the trail up Tremper. With the new-ish Warner Creek trail, that makes a direct connection onto the Devil's Path. The last few years, they've really paid attention to the Long Path. It's now hikable from Riggsville to Huntersfield, with only a few trivial road sections, and visits a lot of the Catskill highlights: Peekamoose and Table, the Burroughs Range, Tremper, the east half of the Devil's Path, KHP, the Escarpment, and the ridge to the north.

Speaking of Peekamoose and Table, the day after you were doing Wittenberg and Cornell, I was down that way. I decided to go from the Peekamoose trailhead because I hadn't tried it before. That's another route where the vertical just won't quit - it's about 2700 feet from the Rondout to the summit of Peekamoose. I can see why the directions on this site say to do it from Denning! It was even farther up than from the regular trailhead, because the parking was overflowing when I got there (including a bunch of people parked in front of the 'No Parking' signs). I wound up parking down at the little parking lot for Bear Hole instead and walking the quarter-mile back up on the highway.

My daughter had borrowed my camera, so I just had the phone cam along, but I grabbed a couple of decent pictures. I'll post them later. The viewpoint from east of the Peekamoose summit is just about totally grown in. I didn't even bother getting a picture. (And it looked freshly cut two years ago!) Likewise, the big boulder (Reconnoiter Rock?) at about 2900 feet has its view pretty much lost. But the ledge near the 3500 foot sign on the south side of Peekamoose still has its terrific view down on the Shawangunks.

There's a pretty obvious herd path leaving the col between Peekamoose and Table, a little up the hill on the Table side. I'm guessing that's the start of the slog over to Lone. I know it eventually disappears in the spruce, because I surely couldn't follow it in the opposite direction a month ago!

Maybe next time I'm down there I'll try to find the two plane crashes on the south spur of Van Wyck. (I still haven't bagged Friday, though. That's another reason to get down to the southern end of the range.)

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:19 am
by rkugel
Mike, I will check out the Panasonic. Thanks for the tip.

KennyKB, thanks for sharing your notes and insight. I had a feeling that the new trail was the Long Path, but I appreciate having you confirm it.

When Mike returns from Glacier National Park, we should all try to meet up. My only concern is the "glacial" speed in which I hike. I am always very self-conscious about my slowness and I always feel as though I'm holding back the group. I covered a lot of ground last Saturday, but it took me nine hours - that's slightly better than 1 mph for the 10 mile trip I did.

Regardless, I really enjoyed being with you guys last year when we did KHP (West Access) and Winter Clove. Hopefully, we can meet up at least once before the winter sets in. It's hard to believe that September is just around the corner.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:08 am
by kennykb
Rich, if you're slower than me, I surely didn't notice. Normally, I'm slower than everyone. We'll get along fine.

And I'm hurting for hiking partners at the moment. Everyone I go with has either got a new baby in the house, or a new job, or a medical issue, or just isn't able to hike at the moment for whatever reason. Even old reliable - my daughter - has her ankle in a cast and isn't up to hiking.

Re: Wittenberg and Cornell on Saturday 08/16/2014

New postPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2014 7:05 am
by rkugel
Hi Kev, I'm in a similar situation in that I do not get to hike anywhere near as often as I'd like. My work schedule is demanding to the point where most weekends are spent catching up on chores and errands that I simply have no time to do during the week. I also have elderly parents to look after and often have to do things for them on weekends. And then there are the weekends where I'm free, but simply too tired to drive two hours to the Catskills. Long story short, before my jaunt this past weekend, my previous trip to the Catskills was last autumn when I hiked Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain.

The good news is I have a bunch of unused vacation days. In the unlikely event I actually get to use some of them, that may open more hiking opportunities.