|Hike Name:||Balsam and Eagle|
|Trip Date:||November 21, 2019|
|Trip Temperature:||High: 31-40, Low: 31-40 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Trip Report:||It was another restless night. It was a combination of the anticipation of a perfect hiking day and the anxiety and depression that has been eager for this much needed release. The alarm goes off at 04:30, but it’s 3:30 and I SHOULD get some extra sleep to be energized and alert for the hike. I toss and turn for 15 minutes before I decide a head start on the day might not be bad, as the hike I had planned was a little ambitious. Balsam and Eagle mountain in the Catskills were the main goals, but if completed with enough daylight to spare, the Panther trail head was just up the road and certainly doable.
I slip on my hiking apparel that I ritualistically lay out the night before, with the extra layers packed neatly into a bag that I keep in my passenger seat as a reliable and faithful co-pilot. I grab my gear bag and keys and head for the car.
The air is crisp and still. I look up at the night sky and take a moment to admire how bright the stars appear. The pitch black sky is shimmering as if it was painted with glitter. I mutter to myself “Damn, I wish I had a zoom lens,” as my breath visibly escapes my mouth in the cold of the night. Not a single noise is made, and I can’t remember a time I experienced something so beautiful and peaceful.
My favorite constellation, Orion, shines proudly with his hunting dogs and runs down 87 with me trailing slightly behind. We go our separate ways as I turn west to head into the mountains. I start slowing down to search for the trail head and see some doe crossing the road right in front of me. Looking to my left, a huge 6 point buck stares into my passenger window, alert and watching his family cross the road. Our eyes meet for what might have been only seconds, but I feel like he saw deep into my soul. They didn’t rush off or seem panicked. He must have decided I was not a threat. Moments later, they were safely into the woods and I was able to proceed to the McKenley Hollow Trailhead.
I spoke with a hunter at the parking lot, cursing myself that I forgot it was hunting season. The hunter showed me on the map where he was heading, and I showed him the public lands and trail I intended to hike. Technically the land my trail was on did not allow hunting permissions, but I wanted to be safe. We bid adieu and went on our separate ways.
The hike was mild in the beginning. There was a low river crossing and some flat land providing a good warm up. The trail steadily increased to a steeper slope as the sun followed me up the hill, catching the sunset just before the trail head broke off to Eagle and Balsam. I took the right to Balsam, as it was only .7 miles up to the peak. It was a mildly aggressive incline after huffing the first part of the climb at a rather vigorous pace, but I arrived at the top and admired the snow capped trees and the dusting of snow that wasn’t present for the majority of the hike thus far.
I made my decent to the intersection to continue on to Eagle. The trail had a winter wonderland appearance with the sun up and shining in the clear blue skies. Everything shimmered and shined, from the icy branches and the snow covered ground. Two miles later, I have arrived at the tree topped summit of Eagle and locate the canister I must sign to validate my 3500 club summit. Though it was considered a bushwhack, it was pretty easy to follow the herd path that had been created. I snapped a few photos and headed back down to the trail head.
The got into my car and did a layer change out to get into some dry clothes and had a snack before driving to the Panther trail head. It was roughly 1 pm and I decided I decided I had plenty of time to snag one more peak. It was 6.6 miles round trip up over the Great Ledge, with a small dip before a tough ascent up the last couple hundred feet to Panther after such a long day. I had to breeze past the Great Ledge and snap just a few quick photos to make sure I could bag this last peak before nightfall. I had my headlamp, but I wanted to see the views and ensure a safe descent. I got to the top of Panther feeling like I was running out of fuel, but the accomplishment gave me a second wind. I snapped some photos and turned to head back down. I had plenty of daylight to meander the Great Ledge and get some nice shots of the landscape. The Great Ledge has so many amazing views of the Catskill range, it will forever be one of my favorite Catskill hikes.
With 16.67 miles and 4,937 feet in total elevation gain on the day in the books, I arrived to my car before sundown. Feeling victorious, I knocked the mud and ice off my boots and poles and put on some dry layers so I could head to the nearest brewery for a celebratory beer.