The Catskills are a winter playground full of beauty and adventure. Mountain enthusiasts often overlook them in favor of areas to our north, yet some of the most rugged terrain along the Eastern Seaboard lies right here in our backyard. The Platte Clove area, in particular, has an extensive history of outdoor recreation, offering modern winter adventurers amazing terrain for snowshoeing, ski touring, and cutting-edge ice climbing.
Unlike a typical mountain range, the Catskills are not the product of uplift, rather they are a massive plateau that’s been scoured and carved by the powers of erosion and glaciation.Mountain streams delve deep, precipitous paths through the ancient sediments and forested hillsides. Most steep and dramatic is the Platte Clove. Clove is a Dutch word for valley and also means cleaved, and this describes perfectly the Platte Clove. The Platte Kill and Coal Kill, as well as a dozen other small streams, have gouged their way particularly deep, and durable rock ledges have resisted erosion, allowing water to leap off cliff edges into cold clear pools. From the top of the clove to its base, the Platte Kill drops fifteen hundred feet in just two miles. Surrounding the top of the valley are a series summits that circle the clove like silent guardians; High Peak, Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, and Plateau Mountain all combine to create a dramatic space. Looking east from along the top of the Platte Clove and out into the greater Hudson Valley feels distinctly western, like you’ve been transported to somewhere in the Rockies and gaze out of a steep-walled canyon onto the high plains of eastern Montana or Colorado. To visit the Platte Clove is to be transported, to be surprised, and, in winter, to be challenged.
Trailheads in this area are along the Platte Clove Road, which goes from West Saugerties to Tannersville. The eastern portion of the road is perhaps the steepest paved road in the state and is closed during winter from the bottom at Manorville Road to the top just east of the Catskill Bruderhoff Community. So, in the winter one must enter Platte Clove Road from Route 23a in Tannersville. Parking at the Long Path trailhead on the left just east of the Bruderhoff Community allows access to most of the places I will discuss here. The parking lot is typically plowed but snow tires are a must; four-wheel drive may also be key, and having a snow shovel along could save the day.
On snowshoes or skis, the Platte Clove (PC) has many options-from short and sweet to long and arduous. A lovely short loop of about two miles uses parts of the Devil’s Path (DP) and the Long Path. Begin from a trailhead adjacent to the small red artists’ cabin just west of the parking lot and on south side of the road. The Long Path drops steeply down an embankment, then crosses the Platte Kill (kill is Dutch for creek) on a nice little bridge.
The trail then rises fairly gently through a gorgeous stand of large hemlock trees joining the Devil’s Path after just under a mile. Go right on the DP, and follow it along the contour line before dropping down gently to the Prediger Road trailhead. Take off skis or snowshoes and follow Prediger a short distance back to Platte Clove Road, go right, and very soon you’ll be back to the car. This is the easiest possible introduction to the PC. It’s great for skis or snowshoes and is oh-so-lovely in frozen, silent winter.
Turn the aforementioned hike into a burly adventure by continuing up the Devil’s Path to the summit of Indian Head Mountain, down into Jimmy Dolan Notch, Turn the aforementioned hike into a burly adventure by continuing up the Devil’s Path to the summit of Indian Head Mountain, down into Jimmy Dolan Notch, and then out to Prediger Road on the Jimmy Dolan Trail. This 4.5-mile loop is quite rugged and lends itself better to snowshoes than skis, as there are a number of steep rock ledges that must be crossed, forcing one to take off and put on the boards at least a couple of times. It’s also steep!
Huckleberry Ledges makes for another fine and moderate objective on either skis or snowshoes. The trail passes through gorgeous mixed hardwoods and ends at a series of rock ledges with amazing views of the PC, Hudson River, and out onto the Hudson Valley beyond. From the parking area, follow the Long Path out of the back of the lot for approximately one mile to a junction with Huckleberry Ledges Path. The trail here is a four-wheel drive access road and is very nice for skis. Go right at the trail junction, and it’s another 1.4 miles to the viewpoints.
A longer option off the Long Path heading north is to continue past the Huckleberry Point trail junction and out to High Peak. It’s another 2.4 miles to reach the 3655’ summit of High Peak, which has a series of great viewpoints looking southwest back into the PC and over towards the Indian Head/Twin Mountain ridgeline. Except for a final short but steep section, this area offers a nice gradual gain in elevation and crosses a three-mile snowmobile loop that is wonderful on skis.
The PC road itself makes for a wonderful tour as well. By parking at the bottom of the clove in West Saugerties, you can ski up the road-getting a great work out and some of the best views in the our region-and then make a fantastic cruise back down. This is a really brilliant tour, a real gem that has always stayed under the radar.
What makes winter in the PC truly shine is its ice and mixed climbing. The area is jam-packed with some of the finest winter climbing in the Northeast. There is something for virtually everyone here. Just below the road is the Devil’s Kitchen with its densely packed array of hundred-foot pillars, terrifying hanging daggers, and dark rock caves. Though access to the base of these climbs is easy, climbing them is anything but. Some of the routes in this tight ravine are truly groundbreaking in the sport. Ice climbing has evolved from simply bashing our way up frozen pillars and waterfalls into combining frozen patches, blobs, and hanging daggers with steep rock edges, cracks, and seams; this is mixed climbing. No place in the Catskill region has evolved along with cutting-edge climbs of this genre like the PC, especially the Devil’s Kitchen.
For those looking for some tamer ice climbs, along the Platte Kill itself are a series of moderate waterfall climbs that can be combined by hiking down the creek bed and rappelling several times. The lowest falls are called Japanese Falls. Next comes Bridal Veil and then Platte Kill Falls itself. All combined, there are six or more falls that-when conditions are right-can be combined with pitches of 30 to 70 feet. To access these frozen wonders, follow the path by the red artists’ cabin next to the Long Path trailhead. The path weaves left of the cabin and drops down to the large pool below Platte Kill Falls. Walk downstream to reach a rappel anchor in a large tree atop Bridal Veil Falls.
The Dark Side is an array of pillars and craggy mixed routes smattered along the hillside above the Platte Kill and facing north. Wander east into the forest just after crossing the bridge on the Long Path, and search for hidden treasures. These climbs and most others are well-documented in An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains by Marty Molitoris.
The Black Chasm lives up to its somewhat forbidding name. It offers the most challenging array of steep ice climbs in the Catskills and is tucked into Coal Kill Ravine down below the Devil’s Path lean-to. This spot is totally ethereal in its winter wonder, festooned with towering ice pillars and the rubble of Coal Kill falls tumbling below layer upon layer of cauliflower ice. Climbing here is for the most skilled and experienced. The gut- and arm- busting length and angle of these climbs and the isolated nature of the place make it a testing ground for all aspiring masters of the sport.
These climbs and most others are well-documented in An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains by Marty Molitoris.
Follow the Devil’s Path until past the Platte Clove Preserve sign and onto blue-blazed DEC land, and look for an indistinct old logging trail on the left after about a ten-minute walk. Follow boot-pack in the snow or forge your own way down the hill to the edge of Coal Kill Creek, and the chasm will be obvious. It is worthwhile for non-climbers to visit this spot, as it is really unique and beautiful.
Outdoor adventure and sport lies at the heart of what make our region so remarkable. In winter, the options for getting out to play are extensive with the Platte Clove at the top of the list. See you out there!
Joe Vitti is a full-time rock and ice climbing guide with Alpine Endeavors. He lives with his family in High Falls and leads trips here in the Hudson Valley, as well as climbing areas throughout the United States.