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Trail Journal for Balsam Cap Mountain in the Catskill, NY
George Li

Lone, Rocky Mountain, Balsam Cap & Friday Mountain are nested on the South flank of Slide Mountain, separated by the Neversink River Valley. From Slide Mountain, 4 distant peaks rise up on the ridgeline. Our interest in climbing these 4 peaks gone way back to 4 years ago, one Thanks giving holiday, at the East Col of Slide Mountain, trying to traverse these 4 peaks in one day.

The result was total failure. From our starting point near Cornell Mountain (3860 ft) to the first destination, Friday Mountain (3694 ft) was a spread of dense fir tree covering the ridge line, so thick that you could only walk a few yards and got stopped every direction you turn.
2 Years ago another group of four members of CMCNY did try from the Neversink Valley up, the same route that we try this time, but they were turn back by the dense vegetation again.
We were set out to climb Rocky Mountain (elv.3508) from the Neversink River's south shore to the top of Rocky Mountain. At the start of the trip, we will set our compass at 140 deg towards the hilltop.

We started at 10:00a.m.(George, Chen, Michael, Jack, Nancy and Margie) ,following the banks of the Neversink River, we invariably got lost a few times because the trails is not very clear from where we passed through, (though the trail is very clear on our way back, we have learned our way though ).  After about 3 miles, we have dead-ended the river and come upon a little buff on the right hand side. There was no more trail on this side of the river.
From this point we set our compass at 140 degrees and follow the convex slope to the top. At about 3200 feet we encountered a belt of dense firtrees, which rise up like a wall around the mountain. This makes the going very tough and every way up is not really passable. Now the only option we have is to find an open spot that will show promise of passage. The saying: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. is really true here. We just bent down low, and sort of crawl though the dense vegetation and viola!; about 20 feet through the trees became less dense.

We then picked up a herd path here and there, we were traveling about 100 yards and then came to another thicket, that we would have to force our way through. Or then we would came upon a log jam of fallen trees, not just one but a few trees fallen upon each other. We were walking on top of the logs, using the log as a natural bridge to pass over.
All these maneuvers were making the going very slow. As we climbed higher and higher, we could see the skylight start to filter in, and we knew soon we would be arriving at the summit soon. Finally, we reached a flattop and just a few steps of search, we found the summit box hanging on the pine tree.  The problem was, we found the summit, but we were on top of Balsam cap, elevation 3623 feet. We had moved our starting point about 1/3 miles NE from the proposed starting point.
Now we just have to finish the trip by climbing Rocky Mountain and then back down to the Neversink River. From Balsam Cap to Rocky Mountain, we set our compass as 248 degrees and went through the thickets, jumping down a few ledges, we soon come to a dry river bed that led to the col between Balsam Cap and Rocky Mountain. We almost follow the streambed down and that will lead us down the Rondout Creek to the other side of the mountain. Fortunately at this point Nancy question my judgment of following the steam down and said we should check our map.
After some map reading and compass work, we abort the turn and went straight, keep climbing up Rocky Mountain. This side of the mountain is not as densely foliaged and made the going easy. In no time we were on top of Rocky Mountain and we were feeling very lucky. After taking a short break, we came down Rocky Mountain at 341 degrees and head for the little stream that drains into the Neversink River. When we came down to the Neversink, we paused and took a good look at the confluence, and made sure we remembered what we saw so we will be able to come back next time.

What we have learned this time:
1. Finding the correct starting point will ensure you getting to the destination,i.e. a good topographic map will help a lot.
2. Typical scrambling time is 2-3 hr just to get to the summit.(one way) Budget about 5-6 hour for each peak. Do not try to do two peaks in one day, time will run short if you got stuck.
3. Bring jacket, long pants.
4. If you got fir needles down your neck, don't sit down before you cleaned them off your butt. It hurts like hell with these tiny needles pinching you at the wrong spots.
5. When the going gets real tough, you need guts.
6. GPS only works at the summit. If it worked all the way, it will be a great tool.
7. When came down to the starting point, try to remember all the land marks so you will be able to return the next time.
8. Try not mark your path by breaking any little branches or disturb any landmarks. This will make less herd path, and let someone come after you to enjoy the true wilderness experience of a trail less peak.
9. Climbing a trail less peak is different from hiking on the trails, you will need good navigation skill and know how to use a compass. There is a big chance of getting lost. Be prepare for the unexpected, or even a night out in the woods. So bring extra clothing and food, flash light etc.

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