I remember planning this hike at work. Back then, I commuted three or four days a week into Union Square, New York. I traveled a lot too; not for a quick meeting in Chicago, but 15-hours-on-your-butt-each-way trips. Then there were the pre-dawn and late-night telephone conferences. The feeling of being trapped and sapped by all this gave my hike-planning urgency. I needed to get outdoors.
I bought leggings and liner gloves at Paragon Sports on Broadway, and – if my photo timestamps are to be believed – took Friday December 10th 2010 as a day off. Since I had major cobwebs to blow away, I headed not for my local woods and hills, but to the Catskill Mountains. I had good memories – one in particular – of hiking the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail before, but that had been in late May.
I don’t recall much of the 3.4-mile, 2,500-foot climb from valley to peak. I do remember that it was cold in the valley, but with little or no snow. As I climbed, ice lay underfoot, and I did not own microspikes back then. Higher up, snow covered the trail, but not so much as to impede progress. On Wittenberg summit, it was – leggings and two layers of gloves notwithstanding – far too cold to linger long.
I did something on this hike that I have never done on a day-hike before or since – I carried a stove, and with it a 1-pound can of soup, probably Beef Barley. I started down from the summit with a pretty good idea of where to set up kitchen.
[Flashback to the spring hike, and the particularly good memory: I am hiking the side trail to Terrace Mountain when I hear movement in the trailside brush. I look ahead and see a sleek black bear, too busy grazing to pay much attention to me. I shout and clap, and the bear retreats a few yards and resumes its grazing. I clap harder. The bear runs into the trees. Sometime after this encounter, the adrenalin only slowly wearing off, I find an open, rocky area where campers have built rock-slab seats and a rough hearth. I rest and eat, alert for any movement coming from the surrounding woods.]
Coming down Wittenberg Mountain, warming up a little, I headed for Terrace Mountain, which is really just a spur of the Wittenberg ridge. I thought how the bear would be hibernating by now. But when I reached the place where I judged the encounter took place, there were clawed tracks in the snow, and pale blood smeared among them! I was even less expert at reading tracks then than now, and could not be sure what happened here. Maybe my bear was involved, or maybe a raccoon caught a squirrel. But as I heated my soup at the rough hearth in the rocky area, I was again hyper-alert to any sound in the surrounding woods.
I would like to say that on Monday, December 13th 2010, I returned to Union Square restored, but I do not remember. Hikes do restore, but alas even the drive home is sometimes enough to undo the good work.