Saturday, June 09, 2007

Overlook Mountain, Catskills

Overlook Mountain is just north of the famous Woodstock, NY. Take a look at some great pictures and an excellent map at This is one of the remaining five firetowers in the Catskills. These firetowers are publicly maintained by volunteer groups and each present great vistas of the nearby area. In addition, they are great antenna support structures!

The weather was clear at my house so I was hoping for one of those “perfect” days…low humidity and temperatures and vistas in all directions. Wrong! A blocking low pressure system was causing a persistent marine air wx disturbance with a low cloud layer in the NE and the Catskills. It was overcast at the hike start and then into the clouds as the old carriage road climbed to the tower site. It is an easy hike at 2.5 miles and a 1400’ elevation gain. At 1-1/2 miles you arrive at the remaining walls of the old Overlook Mountain Hotel first built in 1833, rebuilt in 1878 and then fire decimated in 1924 and never really restored since. In the late 1800’s it was a “grand ol’ hotel” and, I imagine, quite an adventure to get to by horsedrawn carriage.

About a mile past the Hotel, you arrive at the top, a small Forest Service cabin, picnic benches and the 70’ restored firetower. Forest Service volunteers are there on weekend summer days to answer questions of the numerous visitors. During my 5 hr stay, there were two large groups of 20+ folks and many 2 to 6 person dayhikers. The volunteers said during sunny weather, they often get more than 100 visitors per weekend day.…the place is a popular hike because of it’s ease of access, the Overlook view of the Hudson River valley to the east and the local “residents”, two 4’-plus Eastern rattlesnakes, both named “Rocky”. One Rocky is nearly black with the underlying variegated rattlesnake markings. The other Rocky is lighter-colored and of the more typical coloration for a rattlesnake. This rocky had 10 rings on his rattle and was about 3 inches thick!
It’s easy to hang a dipole off the firetower at 60’ and to a nearby 20’ tree and I set up in about 30 minutes. One picnic table is situated for operation with the dipole oriented NE/SW…perfect! But everything was in the clouds! It was 60-degs warm but for the first hour the mountain top was in the clouds! A consolation was that it keeps the bugs at bay! Later in the day the overcast burned off and the nearby mountains were visible but clouds would blow through occasionally.

I operated for about 2-hrs and talked with the numerous visitors for about 2 hrs before packing up around 4 pm. It’s almost as much fun demonstrating ham radio to folks who are always “wowed” by the Morse code operation, the “tiny radio”, and that you can talk “really far away like Texas”. I first setup on 20m and the conditions were ok given the sunspot numbers and the low part of the Sunspot Cycle. I had about 16 qsos from FL, LA, TX, WI, MO, OK and ME. Later in the afternoon, I setup for 40m but the QRN was painful so didn’t spend much time on 40m. It’s always fun to explain to your contacts what your doing…adds a little bit of excitement to a qso discussion.

So it was a good day overall and a very nice place to visit. This would be an ideal winter site to hike into and operate, weather permitting of course!