West Kill Mountain – The Absolute Mountain

Westkill Mountain from the ledge near the Becker Hollow Trail
Average read time 3 min

The hiker who climbs West Kill Mountain during the regular hiking season will be well rewarded for this endeavor. However, if one wants to experience West Kill in all her glory, it should be climbed in the winter. To stand on Buck Ridge Lookout on a winter’s day is a magnificent event that you should not miss.

This summit is part of the Devils Path sequence of peaks. Nevertheless, unlike other Devil’s Paths approaches, the trail leading to West Kill does not climb out of a steep notch. However, the absence of the thigh bust notch does not mean that the climb up West Kill is without toil. Climbing from Diamond Notch Falls to the Ridge leading to its summit is a stiff scramble, or coming from the western end of Devil’s Path, you’ll need to walk farther and mount St. Anne’s Peak before getting to West Kill.

West Kill, like many other peaks in these mountains, shows signs of heavy glaciations.

When the hiker mounts the East Ridge and climbs, the summit of West Kill one is now standing on the Catskills only aiguille (horned summit). During the last ice age, several small alpine or local glaciers hung on the mountains’ slopes in the region and carved their slopes. On West Kill, for a period, it had at least two of these.

West Kill Mountain bowls and ridges show signs of heavy past glacier activity
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking West Kill Mountain bowls and ridges show signs of heavy past glacier activity

If we were around during the last ice age, we could find one hanging glacier in the West Kill Valley and the other on the southern slopes in the Chichester Hollow margin on the mountain. These would carve and shape its pointed summit. These past glacial events present the hiker with an awe-inspiring mountain climbing experience.

Panorama from Buck Ridge Lookout
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Panorama from Buck Ridge Lookout

With its steep scramble to the ridge, superior ridge climb, inspiring views, and horned summit West Kill is the complete Catskill summit climb. When you add winter to this, it’s simply excellent.

The West Kill Valley is a long glacially formed bowl. It is settled between two mountain chains with four summits over 3,500 feet to the south by the West Kill Chain and the North by the Lexington Chain. This grand Valley is bound on its eastern terminus by Hunter and Southwest Hunter Mountains and on the west by Vly and Halcott Mountains, all exceeding 3,500 in elevation. No less than five other lesser peaks above 3,000 feet add to the charm of this vale.

The Town of West Kill Village was once industrious

Before 1800, it had a greater abundance than the communities of and around Hunter, very different from today. One of the first enterprises in the town was a woolen factory that operated for many years and a sawmill that contained a cider mill; however, a flood destroyed both. The hamlet was a quiet spot with the main street lined with many large elms and maple trees, not much different from today.

However, the considerable difference since then is that industry and tourism are no longer a significant part of the valley’s existence. During the valleys zenith, it was a hub for city tourists bound for country solitude and home to many inns and boarding houses. Two tanneries operated in the valley in the 1820s, and 1830’s one owned by Abraham Hare and another by Philo Bushnell. The lowlands were covered with hardwoods, while the foothills and mountains sides were adorned with tannin-rich hemlock. The valley was stripped of these majestic trees, and most were left either to rot or were burned. Only the bark was used on all the trees. The trees that were close enough to the road for easy access were taken to the sawmills to be processed and used; however, the mills never entirely harvested almost ninety percent of the cutting.

Getting to the top

The summit of West Kill can be reached in three directions by trail. The most interesting is from Diamond Notch Falls; however, the west approach on Devils Path is longer but has merit. The hike to West Kill via Diamond Notch Falls starts at the eastern terminus of Spruceton Valley Road, where a parking area is situated on the road’s right side. The first section of the trail is the Diamond Notch Trail and follows Blue markers. Heading east, the old road once used to provide access between Lanesville and Spruceton was converted into a ski trail in the 1930s. This trail serves as a footpath, horse trail (to the falls), and an excellent ski route.

Related post: Best Hikes: West Kill Mountain in the Catskills

Hunter-West Kill Wilderness
Contact Information:DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Email: r4.ump@dec.ny.gov
Backcountry Emergency: (Search, Rescue & Forest Fire): 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Town of Lexington and Hunter, Greene County and the Town of Shandaken, Ulster County
Map: View Hunter-West Kill Wilderness/Rusk Mountain Wild Forest Map
Amenities:Lodging and dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Hunter, Tannersville, and Woodstock.
WeatherHunter Mountain Weather
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