After surveying the damage to the Catskills’ trails caused by summer storms, excessive heat, and hordes of hungry insects, a motley crew of hikers and climbers springs into action. They are members of a group called the Rip Van Winkle Hikers — but don’t be fooled by the name. Arguably the liveliest bunch of bushwhackers, thrill-seekers, and navigators this side of the Hudson, their outdoor feats include climbing the 35 High Peaks of the Catskills — regardless of weather or wildlife, and sometimes against their better judgment.
In addition to conquering the region’s most treacherous terrain, some of these hikers — all of whom are affiliated with the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference — do double-duty by providing volunteer maintenance on the trails. But this isn’t your ordinary broom brigade: These folks carry everything from pruning saws to hand loppers, roofing nickels, hammers, and hand clippers to thin out overgrown trail vegetation, chop away at fallen trunks, and replace markers. “It’s very cooperative, we have a blast,” says Patrick Colangelo. As maintenance trail coordinator for the group, Colangelo is responsible for planning and executing maintenance hikes to make sure the trails are both safe and ready for use.
Hikers become members of the Catskill 3500 Club, and receive a special patch, after they’ve scrambled up all of the High Peaks (those over 3,500 feet in elevation), four of which must be scaled in winter. “Other patches show the sickness at its finest,” Colangelo laughs. “The Grid patch is earned when you climb all 35 peaks every month of the year over a number of years — I’m two-thirds through to getting it.” Trailblazing with the crew is especially satisfying this month, what with the crisp, cool weather and vibrant foliage. “This is, by far, the nicest time to hike,” affirms Colangelo.
The next maintenance hike is scheduled for November 7 on the Thomas Cole Mountain trail. For more information or to join a hike, visit www.newyorkheritage.com/rvw.