Hike: Windham Mountain to Blackhead Mountains Range

Posted on November 9, 2010


This past weekend, (November 6-7), I went for another hike with Rob in the Catskill Mountains. This would be my most ambitious hike yet, totaling 14.5 miles over two days. In terms of distance, our first day would be a cinch, 5.1 miles to the summit of Windham Mountain and then camping at Burnt Knob. The next day we would hike the remaining 9.4 miles across the Blackhead Mountains Range, which includes the third, fourth, and fifth tallest summits in the Catskills.

Catskillmountaineer.com had this to say about the hike:

Attractions: Great views from Blackhead and Black Dome. NO view from Thomas Cole.

Unattractions: Steep climbs. A real Huff-and-puff hike. You better be in good shape. A lot of small ledges you have to climb up. Blackhead (East access has a 30-40 degree climb near the top for about 100 vertical feet.)

Dangers: Falling off the many small ledges you have to climb – NOT recommended for children.

In my mind, the Dangers section reads more like: Children may fall off many small ledges.

I parked my car at the Windham trailhead and Rob parked his at the end of the Blackhead range so we wouldn’t have to walk back to my car after all was said and hiked.

We had originally planned on hiking this route nearly a month ago when we’d get to see the New York wilderness’ autumnal foliage in full, but my Lyme disease scare (Anthony Gets Lyme Disease, Kind of) postponed these plans.

Before I get going about the hike, I think it’s important to showcase Indy’s profile since she was very upset that she would not be accompanying us on this excursion. She became incredibly excited at the mere sight of Rob preparing his pack, almost as excited as those dogs in the Beggin’ Strips commercials, and it damn near broke my heart that our furry friend would have to stay home.

Here’s Jordan and Zoey going at it.  It’s just playtime.  Rob has many dogs and a few wild cats that often disappear for days at a time to hunt birds and mice in the forest, hence the ticks.

Here we have two ticks laying on a Scrabble rack, both picked from the same cat. Rob picked these off with the same kind of casualness one might employ when picking an M&M out of a bag. Considering the misery I went through for a few days because of these things, I had little reserve about popping the turgid one, although I would have preferred killing it with fire, as all wicked things deserve to be dealt with.

And onto the hike.

As I mentioned in a previous excursion post (See: “Ashokan High Point to Peekamoose Mountain“), resolution is a thing of beauty, and since I didn’t want to lug around a giant camera this time, I used my pocket-sized Canon Powershot to capture the images from the hike. Resolution wasn’t that great, and the camera threatened me numerous times with a low-battery warning, so limited images were captured.

Above, we see Rob traversing a flooded patch at the beginning of our hike. In my opinion, this wasn’t as bad as when the foliage would hide the mud and stones covering the trails. Somehow we managed to keep our feet dry. I actually made Rob retrace his steps for this picture, Bear Grylls style. Speaking of Bear, in case you haven’t seen this video, I recommend it:

Rob and I stopped at a lean-to because we thought we’d find a bar serving apple brandy hot toddies.

Exterior view of the shelter.

These logs were too slippery for my liking.

The very first patch of snow we’d see, and on closer inspection, a bushwacker’s nightmare.

Here’s a view from the summit of Windham on the first day.  The thing about this hike was that it looked easy on a topographic map, and that it sounded easy, especially when Rob would say “We’re hiking this one, sleeping on this mountain, and then climbing those other mountains the next day,” but it’s only when you see those summits covered in snow and clouds that you begin to detest Robert.

After commenting on how rude a lot of hikers in New York are for not giving others the right of way (those descending make way for those going up), we met some guy at the summit of Windham who was actually the nicest and most conversationally engaging character Rob and I have met on our little excursions. Since this particular side of the summit had snow covered trees, I asked our buddy to snap a picture of us, and then we were on our way again.

That night was easily the most miserable/ “challenging” part of this trip.  Even though we had our traditional Illahe Vineyard Viognier ’09 to celebrate, the constant wind atop Burnt Knob made sitting in front of our fire unbearable since the smoke would continually blow in our faces. We bemoaned the fact the we didn’t have goggles to withstand the smoke since all we wanted to do was keep warm by the fire, and I actually ended up burning holes in my shoes and (Rob’s) gloves trying to do just that. I couldn’t help but wonder why my nose was running so prodigiously (big words don’t make you smart), and the answer is:

When you’re healthy and weather conditions are normal, your nose produces 32 ounces of mucus per day.

Since I only understand quantitative measurements in beer form, this image provides the best example of how much mucus we digest. When it gets cold, mucus and secretion production increases to warm the air, forcing the excess to drip out the front way. Simple enough, but when tissues aren’t readily available, excess mucus can be a hassle.

Our water would freeze that night, and the condensation from our breaths would stick to the tent wall, freeze, and snow on us when the wind would whip at our tent.

I couldn’t help but wonder how those who climb Everest do it. I found this website, Mount Everest Equipment List, and it seems like a pretty comprehensive delineation of what one might need on such a trip. I don’t know a lot about the gear listed, but I did look up one of the sleeping bags they recommended:

This is North Face’s Inferno bag, with a temperature rating of -40 F, meaning that one should be able to sleep somewhat “comfortably” with temperatures lingering around that mark. This bag costs $659…

It was fun “waking up” at four or so with a dire need to piss. After stirring around for a bit, Rob made it known that he had not slept a wink all night, and he accompanied this statement with, what I thought sounded like the most melancholy succession of farts I had ever heard. I put on every layer I brought with me for that terrible minute outside. The stars in the sky never seemed clearer but I don’t think I’ve ever given less of a shit about the stars than at that moment.

The sun would rise and hit us as we were boiling water to make our breakfast.

I know it’s not scrambie eggs or toaster strudles, but any warm meal will do a body good, EXCEPT for Backpacker’s Pantry: Black Bean Tamale Pie. Even though I poured too much water into this meal, it quite literally tasted like vomit, which is why we named it, vomit soup. The soggy crunchiness of uncooked rice, beans, and corn really added to the whole experience. Rob purchased this meal, and luckily, I decided to purchase some instant mashed potatoes at the grocery store before we left which made up for this waste of water. We also ate freeze dried Neapolitan ice cream, trail mix, and cliff bars.

Sunday turned out to be beautiful. The temperature averaged around 35 fahrenheit, but felt like 50 with the activity and the weight of the pack. The three major peaks in the range include Thomas Cole Mountain (3,940 feet), Black Dome (3,980 feet), and Blackhead Mountain (3,940 feet).

Thomas Cole was an early 19th century naturalist painter I briefly studied in my environmental literature course at Geneseo. I’ve always loved his worked titled “The Course of the Empire: The Savage State”.

Fun fact: Rip Van Winkle, the short story by Washington Irving, is set in the Catskills Mountain region.

As expected, the distant view of the snow-capped mountains weren’t just for show.  Scrambling up these rocks was probably the best part since we’d go at a much slower pace as opposed to the upward and interminable trudge, trudge, trudge. It’s remarkable to think that people have actually died on these very mountains due to miscalculations, pride, and adverse/unforeseen conditions.

Up and down summits and mountain faces yielded interesting changes in the landscapes and temperatures.

The view from a Black Dome vista I didn’t capture, nor could.

Shortly after reaching this point, Rob and I reached another vista bathed in sunlight where we took a five minute power nap.  Or at least I did.

Afterward, I wrote a poem without a title:

The sound of distant wind

as if a memory

the intermittent silence

between the thawing of evergreens

and Rob shitting in the woods

Done, almost.

Pros of hiking in early November:

  • No leaves, better views
  • More seasonal variation, kind of (fall, winter)
  • The water you carry is always cold
  • More of an adventure
  • Scrambling in the snow is more fun for some reason


  • Cold
  • Mud (due to snow runoff)
  • Wind
  • Dead foliage covering footing