by Adrienne Larys
The MTHS Hiking Program emerged as a natural and logical outgrowth of the founding of the MTHS. Linked forever to the natural beauty of the Catskill high peaks, the history of the discovery and exploration of the Catskills natural wonders became the focus of mostly seasonal hikes led initially by Catskill artist Barry Hopkins and a year or so later by, Larry Tompkins and Bob Gildersleeve. Primarily from April to October, with occasional snowshoe excursions, the MTHS Hiking Program has roamed the Catskills, the Taconics, the Shawangunks, and the Hudson River Valley following in the footsteps of Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, Sanford Gifford, and Asher Durand. While not mountain hikes, there were forays to various Hudson Valley historic sites. The Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh was a regular excursion, mixing hiking with history.
As with every hiking group, while destination is important, it is the fun and fellowship and unexpected bonding experiences along the way that make so many MTHS hikes memorable. There was the time Bob and Larry had to go back into the woods after dark to ferret out slow moving hikers on an Indian Head hike (they found them!), and the shocking moment when a hiker slipped over a ledge on Giant Ledge to hang upside down (she survived without a scratch), and the terrifying moment when a hiker had a close encounter with a rattlesnake in the Taconics while blueberry picking (the snake continued to rattle for at least 10 minutes while the astonishment and adrenaline slowly subsided!).
Variety being the spice of the program, hike destinations were rotated so as to not repeat the same hikes over and over, year after year. There were the more leisurely luncheon hikes to Mohonk Mountain House where eating more than hiking was the goal! Those excursions were rotated with more challenging hikes from Minnewaska to Lake Awosting, that ended with a wonderfully refreshing dip in the Lake (only to be followed by the long but mostly level 4-mile hike back to the parking lot).
A few hikes were designed to offer more than an ordinary challenge -- the Kaaterskill Clove and the Platte Clove stream hikes and the triple mountain hikes over Slide, Cornell and Wittenberg were some of the most physically and mentally demanding, testing endurance and teaching hikers to overcome fears.
Sometimes, the intended destination was changed at the last minute due to the inclination of the group or the threat of inclement weather. Often this led to bushwhacks, as the time several hikers put off going to Plateau in favor of a precarious bushwhack to the awesome Black Chasm Falls (a favorite of ice climbers) just off the Platte Clove Trail to Overlook and Echo Lake.
At times, hike destinations went over private lands and required special permissions. One of the most memorable was the early November hike to explore the old Fenwick Lumber Company property on Southwest Hunter. It drew one of our largest groups and provided an opportunity to experience early winter hiking conditions while learning about the lumbering and sawmill business in Stony Clove. This year, a hike to the privately owned Tiskilwa Park in Chichester expanded our understanding of the history of furniture manufacturing in the Catskills and provided a superlative view to the Burroughs Range.
Thanks to the Catskill Geologist, Robert Titus, the study of the region's ancient geology became the focus of many hikes from the Kaaterskill Clove to the Ice Caves in Cragsmoor. With characteristic wit and vivid, mental image-inducing descriptions, Dr. Titus has engaged the group in understanding the many geological forces that formed the valleys, cloves, waterfalls, mountains, ledges and caves of the region.
More recently still, the focus on our region's natural history has been expanded to include the botany of the Catskills. This year's hikes and lecture to explore in the footsteps of the Bartrams -- the region's first explorers to focus on the vast array of new world plant life -- was led in collaboration with botanists from the Brooklyn and New York botanical gardens, the Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia, and the Catskill Native Plan Society. It shed a bright light on the MTHS's educational mission.
Some of our most popular hikes have been to the area immediately around North- South Lake. These history hikes and accompanying lectures have explored the original trails, tracked down the unusual and aptly named trail-side rock formations on South Mountain and above and below the Wall of Manitou, and poked around the sites of the 20th Century's famed Rip's Retreat, and those of the Catskill Mountain House, the Kaaterskill Hotel, and the Laurel House, each with its own memorable history.
Last but not least, while Bob and Larry have been the Programs indomitable leaders from the beginning, in recent years the MTHS has engaged other hike leaders, providing new perspectives and novel destinations. Jennifer Ment, Paul Misko, Ricky Brooks, Dave and Carol White, and Brian Powers have been a great help in leading hikes recently and we are very grateful for their time and commitment.
The MTHS Hiking Program is eager to continue to attract new hikers and new hike leaders, so don't hesitate to suggest a hike destination, or offer to lead a hike.