Sullivan County High Point Trip Report

Date: April 6, 2000
Author: Dan Case

Sullivan County: spot elevation, 3,118', 0.5 mile NE of Hodge Pond (Seems to be unofficially known as Beech Mountain). The lowest of all the Catskill county highpoints turns out to be the hardest to get to so far. And like some areas of Maine, half the adventure lies in getting to the trailhead.

The shortest route (the way I went back, not the way I went, which was plagued by some wrong turns) would be to take NY 17 (the future Interstate 86) to Exit 98, currently an at-grade exit with a traffic light. Turning north, towards Parksville (well, the exit pretty much is downtown Parksville) will put you on County Route 85. However, the sign to that effect shortly after the exit is pretty much the last one you will see.

There is very little to indicate what road you are on; the fly-fisherman's Mecca that is the region of Sullivan County within the Catskill Park Blue Line. (Fortunately, there was little of that traffic as it was a weekday afternoon. Temporary overnight-parking ban signs posted all over the towns of Rockland and Neversink, however, attest to how busy it gets on weekends now that trout season has opened.) You are headed to "where the streets have no name," as the song puts it (actually, it's "where the streets occasionally have names"). That is directly responsible for several of the wrong turns I made, when I naively assumed that the paved roads are the main routes and not the rutty dirt roads that for all intents and purposes are barely fit to serve as driveways.

Anyway, to avoid this fate and get to the trailhead as directly as possible, watch for Lily Pond Road forking off to the left almost a mile after leaving 17. Bear left onto it. Further down, make a right to stay on it and avoid the dead-end Old Lily Pond Road. Eventually it goes past a built-up residential area called Hunter Lake and the road name changes to Hunter Lake Road, as you are now in the Town of Rockland, inside the Catskill Park. Immediately after Hunter Lake, be careful. The road offers staggering views north as it descends a steep, winding 600 feet in three-quarters of a mile into the Willowemoc Creek valley. You may be able to see Beech on the ridgeline across it; however it will be dwarfed by the higher mountains in Ulster County to the north. The most conspicuous one visible from here is the twin-summited Doubletop, the highest trailless peak in the Catskills (and always a rewarding bushwhack from the many directions it can be approached).

After crossing a rusty bridge, you will reach Willowemoc Road, the main drag through this sparsely populated area. No sign tells you this, but it's the best road in the region so trust me. (Another approach, if driving in from the west, is to get off 17 at Exit 96 and just follow Willowemoc to this area. It's long and meandering, but beautiful.) A left turn from the Hunter Lake Road intersection brings you a short distance to Mongaup Road, with state signs to the camp, campground, fish hatchery and trailheads up this road. You pass them in short order, and reach a fork to Beech Mountain Road (not so identified, but bear left when you see the sign to the Frick Pond trailhead). In about half a mile you reach the NYSDEC signs for the trailhead.

The Flynn Trail, the shortest and easiest route to the HP (or, more accurately, to its vicinity) leaves across from the parking lot (another trail, which you can take back, comes into it). In a break from DEC's practice elsewhere in the Catskills, here in the Willowemoc-Long Pond Wild Forest the trail signs also sometimes have the trail's name on them as well. It is blazed with blue plastic DEC disks. It skips around the house at the end of the road and then back onto the continuation of Beech Mountain Road. Unlike most other woods roads in the Catskills, this is nice, soft, wide and grassy. It climbs 600-700 vertical feet in about 1.7 miles, a very gentle ride up the side of a spur.

As it levels out, it crosses the snowmobile trail that comes up from Mongaup Pond, also marked as a hiking trail and in fact the way I returned to my car. At 0.1 miles past that junction, you reach a gate that marks the boundary between state land and the Beech Mountain Nature Preserve, a 288-acre inholding that includes the HP. The BMNP is mainly used for scientific research and, as such, doesn't permit people to wander off the state's easement beyond fishing Hodge Pond. (Their brochure, a copy of which is displayed at the information kiosk at the trailhead, does, however, indicate that the CHP is within its bounds.)

I wasn't looking forward to bushwhacking through the many immature beech saplings that often predominate between 2500-3000' in the Catskills, but to my great surprise, right at the boundary a woods road runs off to the north, doubtless left over from the heavy logging that once took place around here (you can see plenty of old stumps in the trees, and sometimes rotting sawlogs are piled up next to the trail). It's getting a little overgrown, but it is still passable for about 0.3 miles to a clearing where a limited view is available to the south, with much of Sullivan County seeming quite flat and low despite its self-image as rugged and mountainous (in fact, too many people identify it and the old Borscht Belt resorts with the Catskills as a whole). It may or may not be following the land line ... there is no way to tell because the customary yellow blazes are pretty much absent, as are any posted signs (and arguably, under the NYS Fish and Wildlife Law this could absolve me of trespassing). So, after the clearing, it got a little harder. The slope up the last 200 vertical feet gets much steeper and has some loose rock.

Once I topped that, the shale rock storey that usually shows up around 3,100 feet in the Catskills left some impressive rock outcrops to work around on the final rise going up the summit. Amazingly, another old grassy path wound around the mountain at this point. Once on top, I found yet another very old skid road along the edge of the bluff that eventually led me through the ridge-hardwood forest up here to a clump of dirt from a long-fallen tree that I deemed the summit after thoroughly eyeballing the surroundings. I took a couple of pictures.

There is no doubt you're on top of the whole county here ... everything higher is to the north, in Ulster. Balsam Lake, Graham and Doubletop mountains form a nice triptych through the trees. I didn't spend too much time up here because at the summit you are definitely on private land and also, the weather was promising another light intermittent shower.

Once back on the trail I continued down to Hodge Pond for lunch and the possibility of a photo opportunity for the mountain over the water. Finding none likely, I went back to the snowmobile trail and followed its large orange disks, plus the yellow-blazed Big Rock Trail disks, down about a mile and a half to the "Times Square" junction with the Loggers' Loop, blazed as a cross-country ski trail. It took the high (but not entirely dry) road above Frick Pond to another junction with the Big Rock Trail. I went 0.1 miles down through a white pine grove to the outlet ... and there I got the mountain-and-water photo I wanted.

It looks truly impressive here, dominating the skyline despite its relatively low height. Dusk was just putting a nice orangy trim on the ruddy earth tones of early spring. I will have to come back in other seasons.

Going back to the parking lot on the Big Rock Trail was uneventful ... it, too, briefly becomes a real trail during its last (or first) few hundred feet to avoid the private land (I think it's the forest ranger's house). Thus satisfied, I got an even better treat on the way home in the form of a brilliant aurora display over Sullivan, probably due to that solar flare that was just reported.