Wyndam-Blackhead Range — Catskill Mountains

In the month of October, our lives got busy. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time hiking as we normally do. So, last week, when we were planning the weekend’s trip, we were giddy–not only were we going to spend two nights outside….we were going to spend two nights outside in the cold!

At the end of last winter season, Kyle and I started slowly updating our wardrobes as online sales presented themselves. We have new jacket combinations, new super mittens and a few new tricks for keeping our feet warm. We have been waiting all summer to try out our new toys. When the forecast in the Catskills was calling for temperatures in the teens, we were a little excited.

Quick Details:

Range: Wyndam-Blackhead
Mountains: Thomas Cole, Black Dome, Black Head
Elevation: ~4500 ft. gain
Distance: ~12.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Date: Nov. 10-12, 2017
Temps: ~12-30
Weather: Partly Cloudy in the morning and mostly sunny during the day (Saturday).
Conditions: A light dusting of snow on the ground.
Trail Head Address: 360 Barnum Rd, East Jewett, NY 12424
Here’s a great resource for more info on the surrounding trails/mountains

Blackhead Wilderness

The Hike:

Friday Night (8:30 pm): We parked at the trail head on Elmer Barnum Rd. where we needed to cross over a small portion of private property before entering into the Wyndam Blackhead Wilderness. Once entering into the designated “wilderness” there is a small area that (on the map) looks relatively flat and Kyle felt pretty confident that we would find a flat spot to set up camp in this area.

Within 30 minutes we were setting up camp and before the hour was up, we were inside our sleeping bag, trying to stay warm in the ~12° temperature. We brought our two-person 20° Enlightened Equipment quilt with the plan to bundle up. Kyle is a human furnace, I have a sleeping bag liner that is supposed to add 12° of warmth. We were hoping the quilt would hold up, but we both ended up being just a little bit cold. Live and learn! We’ll be bringing our 0° single person quilts on the next trip!

We had planned to get up and leave as early as possible, but it was cold–we ended up lazily making and eating breakfast from the comfort of our sleeping bag.

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Breakfast in bed.

Once we got moving, we hiked up the red trail, over “Camel’s Hump” and up to Thomas Cole Mountain (the 4th highest mountain in the Catskills–3940 feet). Thomas Cole was a landscape artist whose artistic expression began with paintings of the Catskill Mountain Range. Kyle read somewhere that people joke about Thomas Cole Mountain because even though it was named after someone who painted mountainscapes, during much of the year the mountain yields no views. Strange.

Thomas Cole was my favorite mountain of the weekend. It has a lone balsam tree on top that makes it easily recognizable from any of the surrounding mountains. I just love that unique, medium-sized tree.

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Northern View from Thomas Cole

We continued on the the red trail up and over Black Dome Mountain (3980 ft) until we came to the junction at Lockwood gap. Here we stayed straight to begin on the yellow trail and to the top of Black Head Mountain (3940 ft).

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There is a junction at the top of Black Head Mountain. We turned left on the blue trail and then left again on the yellow trail in order to hike down to some water. I’ll admit, this portion of the hike was technically “unnecessary,” but I’m pretty glad we decided to hike down.

The alternative would have been to turn around and get water at the spring on the black dome trail, but in our experience, the springs in the Catskills are not always roaring. We decided to hike down to the Batavia Kill–the hike along this stream was beautiful.

The yellow trail took us back to Lockwood Gap where we made a right turn on the Red Trail in order to retrace our steps. We had our eye on a few different campsites along the way, but as we approached each one, we just kept going. We weren’t tired and it made sense to be close to the car in the morning so we ended up hiking into the night and back to our campsite from the night before.

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View from the top of Black Dome
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View of Black Dome from Thomas Cole
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View from the top of Black Head

The Mitteneer’s Rating

  • Group Rating (1-20): 17

There wasn’t really anything that we didn’t like about this hike. One (minor) complaint we have about the Catskills is that it lacks “loops.” In the past, it’s been hard for us to wrap our heads around driving 3+ hours to hike the same 6-10 miles twice (one time out and one time back). That being said, this is a very personal concern that has almost nothing to do with the Catskills as a mountain range.

What we liked: 

  • The Balsam trees at the tops of both Black Dome and Black Head: The dense Conifer forest alone makes the trip to Black Dome worth the time.
  • The col between Thomas Cole and Black Dome: On the way back to camp, we were hiking through this area at dusk. Dozens of birds were sleeping in the brush on either side of the trail and as we passed by them, they flew away in big rushes. We couldn’t see them even when they flew away.
  • The lonely pieces of lichen: We love lichen. I’ll share a video of how excited we get when we see even a tiny bit of lichen hanging from the trees.
  • The steep parts: There were only a few parts (up Thomas Cole and Black Dome) that required you to climb a little bit. It’s fun!

I would recommend this hike in a heart beat. If you can make it there in the snow, even better!

Sincerely yours,

The Mitteneers

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