Ascent of Fir Mountain on 2021-03-10

Climber: David Rockwell

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Fir Mountain
    Location:USA-New York
    Elevation:3620 ft / 1103 m

Ascent Trip Report

I got a late start Wed and never left home until 8:30. I set out from Biscuit Brook Parking Area and signed in at the trail register at 10:30. It was already about 40 degrees. The original plan was to hike to Big Indian, then South Double Top, then back to BI. The trail was well packed I wore my spikes but no snowshoes were required. At the Biscuit Brook Lean to, about 2 miles in I took a breather. I saw where someone had used live pine for firewood and was originally disappointed, because you are not supposed to cut live trees. I then saw that they had cut the top off a fallen pine.
I headed out from the shelter and soon saw where the trail split. To the right was a well defined herd path that I assume went to fir mountain. I continued on the marked trail to Big Indian, but my tracks were the only ones. It had not been used in a day or 2. I came upon one set of bear tracks from a small bear, a day or 2 old. And I saw one set of coyote tracks that followed the well beaten trail for some time before going off in another direction.
I continued steady up and at a point where the trail leveled off a bit I ran into 2 people coming from the other direction. They informed me that there was a well defined herd bath to the left that led to South Double Top about 1/2 mile before the summit of Big Indian.
I took that much less traveled and softer path to go summit SDT. After a very short distance I hit the edge of the trail and sunk to my crotch. I made the decision to continue on without snowshoes until I sunk again. At that point I put on my snowshoes. I did not want to be one of "those" people that destroy the trail by filling it with post holes. I was so glad that I did put them on because even with the snowshoes if I went even slightly off the edge of the path, I sunk considerably. The day was warming fast.
While hiking toward SDT I was thinking had there not been a trail, I may have not actually summited SDT in all this snow. I saw a few places along the way where someone before me had obviously not been wearing snowshoes and had made many post holes. The climb up SDT was not too steep, but I was glad I left my 60lb pack at the bottom.
I reached the summit and got a few pics and videos my #31/39 summits to become a 3500 club member. The wind was blowing and it had cooled considerably. I was starting to wonder if leaving my pack along with all my emergency stuff behind was a good idea. I will remember for next time to at least carry my fire starter and hat and gloves and a coat with me.
I left SDT and returned along the same herd path. There is an unnamed mountain between SDT and BI, the climb up the West slope was terrible. The afternoon sun had softened the snow so much that I was sinking waist and chest deep. Sometimes a 2 ft step up actually meant packing down 6 ft of snow. By the time I reached the top I was exhausted. I got back to the trail at 4:30, so it was a 3 hour trip from her to SDT and back.
A short distance along I ran into a young guy coming from BI. He was bare booting it and did not appear to be sinking at all on this hard packed trail. Mind you he was not carrying a pack and likely only weighed about 120# compared to my 200 plus 60 pack. We chatted a bit and he said he was heading back to the PA and was doing SDT the next day. I informed him he would definitely need snowshoes to attempt SDT. We parted and I continued along to BI. Along the way I saw that he had made many post holes. Even with his small size he surely should have been wearing snowshoes.
I found the summit of BI and got a few pics at the canister #32/39. There is no official trail from BI to Fir, but I headed that direction following a well defined herd path. I dropped to about 3300ft and found a place to set up camp for the night. I had a great place just big enough to pitch my tent between 2 large boulders. I packed down the snow and pitched my tent.
I have to say one nice thing about camping in 5+ ft of snow, you can make a very level, stick and rock free area to set up camp. I made a fire and cooked my ramon noodles for dinner. Another great thing about primitive camping in the Catskills, just find a spot to camp near a dead tree, no having to haul firewood.
With no light pollution and being at 3300ft, the stars looked like you could touch them and they were so bright. I tried to video them, but nothing really showed up. 5 or 6 flocks of geese flew directly overhead, just above the treetops. With all the snow on the ground and the bright stars, there was really no need for a headlamp to move around camp.
At about 8PM I drank a cup of sleepy time tea and crawled into the tent for the night. It took no time for my body heat to make it too warm, so I had to strip to my birthday suit to be able to sleep. But even that did not work. The wind was howling so loud all night, that even though I was exhausted I never really slept. The constant blowing and about every 10 minutes or so there would be a gust that I thought was going to rip the tent out of the ground. Finally about 4:30 I had to get rid of the tea, I unzipped the tent and even going out to pee in the nude it was not cold, just windy. I got back in the tent and tried to go to sleep. I then thought I would make a video of the wind. Of course while videoing I got no huge tent rattling gusts.
I am sure I slept off and on more that I realized but finally got up about 7. I cooked some breakfast and made a small video at my campsite. I packed up and gave Amber a call to let her know I survived the night. Of course my phone battery died while talking to her, so I got no more pics or videos for the rest of the trip.
I found the herd path and started along to Fir mtn. I eventually reached the summit and followed herd paths everywhere, but could not locate the summit canister. I was somewhat disappointed, I like to sign in when there is a canister. But I had no camera for a pic anyway. Although I never found the canister to sign in Fir was #33/39.
My original plan was to bushwhack from Fir to 3 more peaks on the Catskill Highest Hundred list (but not 3500ft peaks). But since I had no camera to take pics and the fact that there was no herd path to follow I changed my mind and decided to just make my own way off Fir back to the car and head home. That was a huge mistake. I should have followed the best herd path. It had warmed to the 60s. Most of the way, even in snowshoes I was knee to waist deep in snow, and sometimes chest deep. Finding a path down the cliffs was scary, Sometimes I was not sure if I was on ground or just deep snow and would take one step and slide and pack the snow 20 ft down the mtn. Another bad thing was occasionally I would be walking along nicely with the shoes only sinking 5 or 6 inches and then step on a snow buried pine tree and crash down to my armpits, That is a problem when the snow is so deep, you do not know there are trees with snow voids.
I did eventually make it back to the trail to BI. It was a welcome relief to be back on a trail not pushing through all that snow. However, even on the packed trail I occasionally sunk to my knees even wearing snowshoes. The 65 degree temps were really softening the trail. I ran into two young people that were planning on doing BI and Fir. Neither were wearing snowshoes. I cautioned them that the trail was soft and likely getting softer with the warm day. Again, they were much lighter than me. I also told them that If they were insisting on doing both mountains to follow the herd path to Fir first, since it was likely going to be complete mush by the afternoon.
I was very disappointed when I heard that the girl was a 3500 club member working on her winter 35 and was still not wearing snowshoes. It is one thing if you are destroying the trail because you do not know. But if you are experienced winter hiker you should know that bare booting makes the trail almost impossible to hike when it is full of post holes. And the hike from where I intercepted them back to the parking area was a post holed mess. Many times I sunk into their tracks even with my snowshoes.
I got back to the parking area and signed out at the trail register. It was still early and I considered going over to the Giant Ledge trail head and hike Giant Ledge and Panther Mtn since I needed a 2nd summit of Panther to become a 3500 club member, but then I considered the temperature and how terrible the trail would be and decided to just call it a day. I got in the car and headed home. At one point of the drive somewhere near Hancock, I saw the temperature was 71 degrees, WOW. I got home about 2:30 and took a hot bath.
This had been my first actual winter Catskill overnight. I had set out to camp 2 prior times last winter, and overnight forecast of rain changed my plans. Overall, it was a great hike. In the future, though I will not hike untrailed peaks on warm winter days. If it is very cold, yes, but not worth the struggle through the deep snow, when the snow is not firm enough to support me even in snowshoes. I am guessing I will not get to hike and camp again this winter, but am looking forward to finishing my final 6 peaks fairly soon.
Summary Total Data
    Quality:2 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
60 plus degree day
Ascent Statistics
    Route:Biscuit Brook trail to bushwhacks
    Start Trailhead:Biscuit Brook Trail head  
Descent Statistics
    Route:Bushwhack off Fur chest deep soft snow
Ascent Part of Trip: South Double Top, Big Indian, Fur summoits (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
3Fir Mountain2021-03-10 

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