5a. Blackhead Mountain (Winter)

Blackhead Mountain, 3940 Feet
March 19, 2015

4.4 miles solo via Black Dome Range and Blackhead Mountain Trails

#5 on the Catskills 3500 List


Finally, with my fourth and last required Catskills winter summit, I hiked in ideal winter conditions. This doesn’t mean, of course, I’ll never hike the Cats in the snow again or in the winter season, but as far as the four required winter climbs go, this was my last one.

I did Panther on a warm day with hardly any snow.

I did Slide and Balsam on a positively awful day, with heavy rain and several feet of soft, heavy, slushy snow.

So yeah, I reveled in this climb of Blackhead.

Firstly, the weather was perfect: 20 degrees, not-too-bad winds, and clear blue sky. But moreover, Blackhead holds a special place in my heart.

Four-and-a-half years prior, I was doing a two-day trip through the Cats. At one point, after summiting Windham High Peak and on my way to Blackhead, a text from my wife got through to my phone. This was pretty amazing, since I never, ever get cell service in the Cats.


Anyway, her message was important – she was pregnant and had undergone a bunch of tests. With our first sone having a rare genetic syndrome, these tests were not something I wanted to wait on. So I had a decision to make – finish my day’s planned hikes of Blackhead, Black Dome and Thomas Cole peaks and then hike out and call her from town (Windham) or hike out immediately and speak with her.

I chose the latter and didn’t regret it for a second.

Creek-crossings in the winter are often much easier

If you read CTMQ, you know that the news that day was good news. I celebrated after speaking with her with a beer and a meal at the Cave Mountain Brewing Company and did the Blackhead, Black Dome, Thomas Cole trio the next morning.

And so, here I was several years later, about to celebrate that second son’s birthday, walking up the ravine to summit Blackhead again.

The trail was hard-pack ice and no harder than it is in the summer. (Though micro-spikes were certainly needed, especially on the upper slopes.) I was happy to see a couple other names in the register, if only to take pictures of them to show my wife that these jaunts are always the lonely death-waiting-to-happen treks she may think they are.

Climbing up along the creek, Black Dome to the right

Obligatory, “Spring? Really? When? unfunny joke.

There are two trails up to Blackhead from the Maplecrest trailhead. Going left past the lean-to is a bit steeper and shorter than going right. I went right, because I’m old and lazy.

And because I knew there were SWITCHBACKS! In the Catskills! This rare quality must be enjoyed whenever one can when hiking here. You’d be a fool not to.

Gently graded switchback!

It was on those switchbacks, nearing the flat dip between Blackhead and Black Dome that I met John Dyer. My man is 79 and is a Cat35′er and a Winter Cat 35′er. But here’s the thing – he didn’t start hiking until he was 69 or so! People like him really inspire me to keep going.

He was actually turning tail because of some issue with his crampons. With some 65 degree ice covered slopes ahead, yeah, that was probably a smart decision for a 79-year-old guy hiking alone.

old guy
Surreptitious picture of cool old guy with crampon issues

I look pretty tough

Once past the flat area between the peaks, I made it up to the summit ridge much quicker than I thought I would. Yes, it’s super steep and without spikes there’s no way in the world anyone could make it up.

black dome
Black Dome

The 3500-foot sign; this is where it gets super steep

This view alone is worth it

Once on the ridge and back in the trees, the wind almost disappeared and I really enjoyed the walk to the true summit. Once again, as I did the last time I was here, I just walked all the way until the trail started descending again and picked a random spot to take my summit picture.

Good enough for me.


straight done
Heading back down… almost STRAIGHT down

My Catskills 3500 pages
Official 3500 Club

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