The brown DEC sign read 4.9 miles to the top of Panther Mountain from the Fox Hollow Road parking lot.
“That can’t be right,” reassured my hiking companion Nola. “It’s no more than 3.5 miles up or 7 miles round trip.”
She should know. Now in her late 60s, Nola is still just as active as ever, having climbed every mountain in the Catskills (3500 Club), Adirondacks (ADK 46er) and New England’s hundred highest once, twice, even three times. She has peak bagged all of the Rockies making her a formidable 14er and dozens more around the world. So, if she says the sign is wrong, it’s wrong.
There was no need for crampons today. Soft piles of crunchy brown leaves brushed with a light blanket of snow made the trail slick and slippery but tolerable. At the half-way mark a swath of toppled hardwood trees lay flat like toothpicks along the trail – the result of Hurricane Irene no doubt.
The Catskill region, among many others, were drastically affected by the storm in August 2011. Heavy flash flooding inundated towns by washing out roads, ripping down bridges and pummeling trees. Portions of the Esopus Creek watershed, the tributaries and the Ashokan reservoir, vital for supplying water to New York City, were especially hard hit.
We made it to the summit with little effort at just under 2.5 hours and enjoyed a lunch on the small rocky precipice sheltered from the wind with sunlight streaming down on our faces. With limited views of surrounding mountainscapes, hiking after the leaves fall is ideal. There are actually a few false summits on the way up that offer better views looking northeast at Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains than from above.
One unique feature that really caught my attention was the heavy geological activity that once occurred here. A cluster of eroded rocks at the top look like they were randomly dropped or hurled from the sky. My ranger book reads that the unique configuration may be the result of a meteorite. Geological surveys found that gravity in this bowl-shaped cirque is .2% lower than the Earth’s average.
Treat yourself to something warm and tasty at the Bread Alone Bakery on Route 28 after the trek!