Adirondacks versus Catskills

I’ve bagged 7 more peaks since my first post; I’m now at 9 out of 39 (there are actually 35 mountains above 3,500 feet in the Catskills but to be part of the Catskill 3500 club you repeat 4 of the mountains in the winter). Check it out:

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And no, I don’t know what I will do at mountain #11…

Anyway, I’ve noticed there are quite a few differences between hiking in the Adirondacks (ADK) and the Catskills. First off, there seems to be a lack of signs in the Catskills. I guess I was spoiled in the ADKs where almost every mountain had a sign indicating which mountain you were on (except Hough Peak, Macomb, and a few others). None of the mountains I’ve hiked had a sign at the top to let you know you’ve reached the summit! So, you get to the top of a mountain and run around aimlessly for awhile trying to find something to indicate you’ve made it to the summit. Eventually, you give up, sit down, and eat your sandwich you’ve been thinking about for the past hour on the hike up the mountain.

A bigger and more prominent distinction between the two mountains though is the difference in elevation. The ADK 46 High Peaks are all the mountains above 4,000 feet as opposed to the Catskill 3500, which are all above 3,500 feet. These 500 feet apparently make a huge difference in your experience. The ADKs have better views because the last few hundred feet of your hike is above tree line and this can sometimes result in a great 360 degree view. This view consists of 6.1 million acres of forest land and often you can just barely make out a house in the distance. These views can be really satisfying when you struggle the last few tenths of a mile and are rewarded graciously upon reaching the top. On the other hand, it is much less satisfying when you get to the top of a Catskill mountain and your view is nonexistent because it’s been compromised by a million trees (doesn’t nature know any better?). When you do have a view, it often includes much more than just mountains since the Catskill Park is a mere 700,000 acres and many of the valleys are developed. This might make people, like my mom, who worry about getting lost feel better when they make it to the top and know there is civilization if they walk far enough in one direction.

Another difference is the distance to the summits. In the ADKs, I remember hiking for miles just to begin my ascent (Allen Mountain anyone?). In the Catskills, I get out of my car and immediately I’m hiking up a mountain and only have a few miles until I summit. This might be more desirable for people looking for a hike with less mileage (again, better for moms).

However, what’s not better for moms is the fact that in the Catskills trail-less mountains really are completely trail-less. I thought I was such a badass in the ADKs hiking “trail-less” peaks. However, these ADK “trail-less” peaks had herd paths, unofficial trails created and maintained by hikers. Herd paths didn’t have official trail markers but they would have cairns and other things to identify the trail. In the Catskills, the trail-less peaks don’t have shit (way more badass). You have to bushwhack to the summit and actually need some navigation skills (or a fancy GPS). Better go dust off that compass sitting in my closet…

Lastly, I really enjoy the enthusiastic ADK spirit that exists in the towns throughout the Adirondack region. Every car has an ‘ADK’ bumper-sticker, every store that exists has ADK books and shirts, and every porch has an ADK chair (quite possibly an exaggeration). The Village of Lake Placid boasts constantly about their hosting of the 1932 AND 1980 Olympic games. And Lake George is just in a whole other ballpark when it comes to having town spirit… I mean, the Minnie Ha Ha is pretty cool, I guess, but your outlets do kind of suck, Lake George. But seriously, if you do find yourself in the Adirondacks Keene Valley is the cats pajamas when it comes to cool mountain towns and Noonmark Diner has the best pie north of the Mason Dixon Line. I haven’t experienced this type of spirit (or pie) in the Catskills, which could be a good thing because it means less tourists (hikers hate large masses of people). Maybe I just haven’t explored the towns enough (I did eat at Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in Saugerties… amazeballs) but it just doesn’t seem like people are that worked up about the Catskills.

I could probably go on about this for a while but this is by far my longest post and I’m sure most of you have stopped reading by now. So, I’ll end here by saying both mountains have enjoyable hiking so get out there and see for yourself which mountains you prefer.

One thought on “Adirondacks versus Catskills

  1. Nice blog Sara, and nice pic too. Just sayin… will be doing Black Mtn this weekend. Not a 46, but great views of Lake George area.

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