Hiking the Pepacton Range

Pepacton Range

The Pepacton Range in the distance from Bramley Mountain

Hiking the Pepacton Range
by Wendell George and Mike Kudish

Last July 7th forest historian Dr. Michael Kudish and I set out on a hike intended to allow me to hike a section of the Quick Lake Trail that I needed in order to meet the All Trails Challenge requirements. Having hiked everything else in the area, I was determined to avoid the 14 mile out and back from Frick Pond to Quick Lake. I decided to bushwhack from Shin Creek Road in the north and it was my good luck that Mike was eager to hike that route since it was an area he had not explored. The Shin Creek ravine was deep and steep, but the hike through the woods was pretty short. Once we were across, we followed the ridge to Hodge Pond Mountain and the Quick Lake Trail. After an unremarkable hike to an almost dried up Quick Lake, we set out on the return ‘whack from Junkyard Junction. This time we stayed too far east and ended up hiking through wetlands that were host to thick, chest high brush. Angling back towards the ridge, we came out at exactly the spot we had entered from, which was good because we had scouted the creek for the easiest crossing.

Driving to our Shin Creek Road destination, Mike and I drove along part of State Route 30, tracing the shores of the huge Pepacton Reservoir. Most folks in the Catskills have heard of the reservoir, its name coming from the Lenape word meaning “marriage of the waters”. How unintentionally appropriate that name is for a reservoir. Many know that the reservoir was created by damming the East Branch of the Delaware River. Those who have seen it know that it has a fjord-like appearance due to the very narrow valley of the East Branch and to the mountainous terrain surrounding it. The reservoir is about 15 miles long but never more than 0.7 of a mile wide, and much less so for most of its length. With a surface area only about 70% as large as that of the Ashokan Reservoir, it is deep enough to hold considerably more water. Its capacity of 140 billion gallons provides 25% of New York City’s water supply.

What does any of this have to do with the title of this story, you might rightfully wonder. Looking north from the Quick Lake Trail, we saw the distant ridgeline of a range of mountains. As we walked and talked, we realized that there was no way to talk about what we were seeing except with a description that left us unsatisfied by its anonymity. How could it be that such an immense natural feature had no name? A place without a name lacks a crucial element of identity and, having no unique way of being referred to, it is deprived of deserved recognition. We propose to correct that unfortunate oversight.

The eighteen mile long Pepacton Range rises to the south of the reservoir. Framed by the Pepacton to the north and the Beaverkill to the south, it runs from Barkaboom Mountain in the east to Campbell Mountain in the west. Most of the range is traversed by trails that are co-aligned with the eastern part of the Finger Lakes Trail. The trails cross a total of seven mountains, Barkaboom, the eighth, being trailless. The elevation gain of the traverse is approximately 6500′, and the bushwhack of Barkaboom starting up Cross Mountain Rd. from the Alder Lake entrance adds another 1175′. It is possible to drive up Cross Mountain Rd. to DEC land and save 500′ of climbing. From several primitive campsites at Alder Lake to a lean-to on Campbell Mountain, there are numerous campsites along the route, including a state campground at Little Pond which is a short and steep hike off the ridge from Touch-me-not Mountain. Because there are few sources of water along the trail, it may be necessary to leave supplies along the route if you plan an end to end traverse. This is made easier by the several roads that cross the trail, so supplies can be stored at the trailheads.
According to Mike’s observations, the most striking feature of this range is that it contains three fairly large tracts of first growth forest (never logged, barked, farmed) on Cabot, Beech-Middle, and Mary Smith Mountains. When combined, these three areas have an acreage in Delaware County second only to the portion of Dry Brook Ridge located in the county. What is surprising is that no one else had reported these original forest stands on the shoulders and summits before Mike realized it in the summer of 2012. This range is a perfect example to teach forest history. Old farms in the cols, logged forest in the middle slopes, and first growth higher up. And when plotted on a range profile (mileage-elevation diagram), what symmetry it has!
Although the Pepacton Range lacks the high peak elevations found on better known trails like the Devil’s Path and the Escarpment Trail, it offers something they cannot. If you value a quiet, uncrowded hiking experience, then this may be just right for you. With just enough views and numerous ups and downs, the hike with keep you interested while providing a wilderness experience that more popular trails have lost. With a name, the Pepacton Range, we can finally talk about it in a way that truly recognizes its significance.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2019 CMC News.

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