2016-08-24 / Take a Hike

Cornell Mountain

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By Will Soter

Right at the mid point on the legendary Burroughs Range is a trail named for Catskills’ native son, John Burroughs. Burroughs frequently traversed this range, spending many nights in a camp on Slide Mountain. One of the neighbor peaks in the range that book end a thru hike of the range, and that is what I love about Cornell. Unless you bushwhack it, you always get a bonus peak.

I will focus on a route I traveled over six times in one recent week. I recently had the pleasure of working with two great groups of dedicated volunteers who spent their time and a great deal of their effort, all to rehabilitate a muddy section of the Wittenberg- Cornell-Slide (WCS) trail on the Burroughs Range.

Just as we did, I recommend starting in the Slide Mountain parking area, on County Route 47. After signing the trail register follow the yellow blazed spur trail across the West Branch of the Neversink. Use caution and plan accordingly if you attempt to cross this after heavy rain, or in the early spring when snow may melt all day when you are out on the trail. Over the next three-tenths of a mile the trail will climb and wind through the forest, sometimes on uneven and rocky footing. The trail will climb a stair case to an old road, and turn right (west). About a half-mile in you will reach a piped spring. Don’t count on this spring this year, it wasn’t running when I was there two weeks ago.

Reaching a junction

At the seven-tenths of a mile mark you will reach a junction. Turn left on the red blazed WCS trail. This is a remnant of the old fire tower road. Erosion has taken its toll and exposed rocks that make the trail lumpy underfoot at times. At one and three-tenths miles from the parking area you will reach a primitive campsite on the right hand side of the trail. At this point the trail is climbing steadily and will continue for about another three-tenths miles until the trail eases up after entering a sweeping switchback.

At two and one-tenths miles you will reach the junction with the Curtis-Orssbee trail. The trail from this point will be refreshingly level and the crushed quartz and stunted boreal forest make wonderful scenery. Soon the travel will begin to make the last climb to the summit. You can tell you are near, as the view through the trees is sky on either side of the trail. A few hundred yards short of the summit there is an amazing views north and east. The Devil’s Path is a prominent feature in the view.

After enjoying the view you will find a cement step in the middle of the trail. This was the bottom step of the staircase for the fire tower that once stood atop Slide Mountain. Just after this you will reach a large rock out crop. Stop to enjoy the distant view of the Ashokan Reservoir. You may notice a camp site as you travel along the top of Slide Mountain. Remember that camping above 3,500 feet is prohibited outside of 12/21- 3/21, and should be avoided in winters when there is no snow to protect the sensitive vegetation on the summits. When you have finished enjoying the views, and perhaps lunch, you will want to travel under the rocky clearing. Here you will notice a plaque commemorating John Burroughs favorite campsite. The trail will take a sharp right and begin to drop rapidly. This is the point you may wish to call it a day, if you are uncomfortable with heights, scrambles, and steep drops.

Over the next two-tenths miles there will be steep rocky drops that will make you think twice about the location of the trail. After three good drops you will come to the first set of wooden stairs. The trail jogs left then the next shorter set of steps, followed by stone steps, ending at a T- intersection. Turning left will bring you to the spring. This spring is more reliable than any other on the trail.

Continuing on down the trail the space between drops will grow, and level out, however, it will also lead to greater drops. Just after you reach 3,500 feet in elevation you will find a designated campsite on your right. At this point you are through with the worst of the big drops.

Trail winds down

The trail will wind its way down to the saddle between Slide and Cornell. You cannot mistake the flat area between the peaks. As you move on the last one and four-tenths miles to the summit of Cornell, the trail will rise gradually at first, passing over and along some interesting rock features. Within two-tenths miles of the saddle you come across the first of three designated campsites. In another three-tenths miles you will find the next two designated camp sites. From here the trail will begin to climb steadily before leveling out around 3,500 feet. Just past this point you can see the new bog bridge installed by an army of volunteers that carried all the supplies from the same place you started.

After a level section the trail will reach rocky outcrops that will have you using all fours to pull yourself up. Just before the actual high point of Cornell there are a series of views looking back at Slide and Panther mountains. At the actual summit there is a side trail on your right. It leads to an area that has begun to see misuse. Please tread lightly so the damage can heal.

For the purpose of this article, I will have you retrace your steps back to the Slide Mountain parking area. If you choose to press on you will encounter the legendary Cornell Crack. The most notable drop on the trail. For now I will leave this drop and the scenery of Wittenberg for another article.

Will Soter is the co-founder and lead guide of Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC. Learn more about hiking the Catskills at his website: upstateadventureguides.com. Previously published Take A Hike columns are available at catskillmountainnews.com under the Sports Menu.

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