Thursday, May 27, 2010

GIANT LEDGE: 5/21/10

If you want to hook a hiker on the Catskills, take him or her on the short, moderate trek to Giant Ledge, one of the premier viewing perches in the Northeast. For a hike of about 3 miles round trip, with 1000 ft. of elevation gain, the reward is a series of stunning clifftop overlooks taking in the mighty Burroughs Range, the wild forests on the slopes of Panther Mountain above Woodland Valley, and the skyline of the rugged Devil's Path peaks.

The parking area for Giant Ledge is at a steep hairpin turn on County Route 47. Amazingly, at 11 am on a sunny Friday, there were no other cars here.

Typical of Catskill trails, there is a register near the start for hikers to sign in. This being one of the most popular hikes in the Catskills, there were many entries in the book. But mine was the first registration for the day.

The trail soon crosses a small creek on a bridge....

...and ascends through beautiful open hardwood forest.

The grade is moderate, but sections of the trail are very rocky.

At 0.7 mile you reach a junction at the height-of-land between Giant Ledge and the northern spurs of Slide Mountain.

Turning left here, there is a long, level traverse along the crest.

Trail crews have placed many step stones here, providing easy passage through some muddy areas.

Interesting trailside rocks.

A short burst of rocky climbing lifts you up to the crest of Giant Ledge (3200 ft.).

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit had staked its claim alongside a rock.

The path eases again as you approach the clifftop overlooks.

There are four or five separate vantage points along the rim. My favorite is the first one you come to, a wonderful flat sandstone shelf. I've been here several times over the years, but that first look at the vista never fails to amaze.

Off to the NE, the Devil's Path peaks: L to R are West Kill, Hunter, the aptly-named Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin and the bumpy profile of Indian Head.

Close by to the N is Panther Mountain and its great eastern spur.

To the SE is the Burroughs Range, featuring a closeup of Wittenberg (L) and Cornell (R). Friday Mountain peers over to the R of Cornell.

A zoom on Wittenberg & Cornell and the great basin between them.

On the far R is the massive head of Slide Mountain.

This perch is one of the great hangout spots on a fine sunny day. I spent two hours here, and in that time only two people came by, stopping briefly at one of the other outlooks farther to the N.

Wild Azalea was in bloom beside the ledge.

After my summit sojourn, I continued a short distance N along the trail, then followed a beaten path through a designated primitive camping area to the little-known western outlook.

This secluded spot looks across the Esopus Creek valley to the high, wooded, mysterious ridges of the Big Indian Range. In this picture are Fir Mountain (L) and Big Indian Mountain (R), both on the 3500 list.

Farther R are Eagle Mountain (L), another 3500 peak, and Haynes Mountain (R).

You can see why this is a popular camping area.

I visited all of the major viewpoints along the trail as it skirts the Giant Ledge clifftop. The northernmost one has a terrific perspective on the Burroughs Range.

Slide, that favorite haunt of the naturalist John Burroughs, looks suitably rugged.

One parting shot of the Devil's Path, and it was time to head for the trailhead and, eventually, my New Hampshire home.

I had one last look at the Catskills from a scenic overlook on the beautiful Taconic State Parkway. Can't wait to go back.

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