Southwest Hunter Mountain is also known as Leavitt Peak in honor of the Leavitt’s, two Catskill 3500 Club founders. However, in this writing I will refer to the mountain by it’s official name of Southwest Hunter Mountain to avoid confusion with maps.
The peak was originally not part of the official Catskill 3500 requirement list as it was considered a spur ridge of Hunter Mountain. There was disagreement among the early club members and it was left off the list. In 1987 it was voted on the list and has been required for membership since 1990. Clearly it is its own peak.
The peak was one of the pesky peaks, not hard, but many people came back not finding the canister due to the long flat ridge it sits on. I talked to people who stated they wandered around and simply could not locate the canister. Today, however, there is no such problem as there is a strong herd path leading directly to the summit from Devil’s Path not too far from Geiger Point.
The peak from Diamond Notch Lean-to
If you are looking for a way up the mountain with some challenge without ascending the herd path there are many options. One such option is to make the relatively short, but very steep climb from Diamond Notch. The route is beautiful as you’ll be climbing through a first growth forest on the diamond notch trail south of the falls. This area and all going over West Kill was left untouched by loggers who had cut over much of the area in the 1800’s. However, once off the trail and on the ridge, you will be in a forest which has been logged.
Even though the distance from Lean-to to the summit is short – this hike is not easy. It requires map and compass skills and good fitness as you will ascend about 1,000 in .55-miles!
Spruceton Road Trailhead to Lean-to
This is a most enjoyable part of the hike. The blue marked Diamond Notch trail will leave the parking area near the end of Spruceton Road (the one with the trail register).
You will walk the road for 0.16 miles and enter the woods at a yellow gate.
For the next 0.7 miles, you’ll be walking on a gentle undulating trail climbing toward the junction with Devil’s Path and Diamond Notch Falls. The West Kill creek will be at your right for the entire time.
Soak in the coolness of this place with its tree cover and beautiful trillium in the spring. To the left in the woods you’ll notice rock structures, these are probably remanence of farming activity that was common in the valley.
Upon reaching the junction with Devil’s Path cross the bridge and continue on the blue marked Diamond Notch Trail for another 0.4 miles to the lean-to. You will climb about 400 feet from the falls. You will have traveled 1.24 miles from the parking area.
This is a good place to stop and enjoy the first growth forest in which you have been climbing since just above the falls.
Lean-to to Southwest Hunter Mountain summit
This is the hardest part of the hike. The climb out of the notch is steep and can be unforgiving. Take your time and choose your ascent route carefully. You will climb about 1,000 feet in the first 0.55 miles of the 0.8 miles to the summit. The heading is generally southeast, but don’t head to far south on the ridge as you will end up wandering around looking for the summit canister.
On your ascent you can find some nice ledges with views back toward West Kill and Rusk and East Rusk. This is especially true when the leaves are down. You will also encounter bands of new growth spruce which can be difficult to traverse.
If you take your time, use your compass, and pick your ascent routes well, you should enjoy the grandeur of this place. Remember err to the east rather than south on the climb. Even if you miss the summit heading more to the east you’ll probably find the herd path (See map below).
Summit to Diamond Notch Falls and Trailhead
From the summit follow the obvious herd path (almost trail-like) to Devil’s Path. The level section on the path was once part of the old railway used to haul logs during the operation of logging companies. It is about a 0.75 miles 20-minute walk to the trail. Once reaching Devil’s Path (Red Marked) turn left and continue where the trail will drop steeply and then gradually head uphill toward Geiger Point which is reached about 0.5 miles from the herd path.
Geiger Point is a great place to stop and look across at South West Hunter. The view also includes West Kill to the south west.
From the view it is another 1.55 miles descent to the junction with the Diamond Notch Trail and falls where you can stop for a swim or simply soak your feet in the flume above the falls in warm weather.
After the junction walk the 0.85 miles back to the trail head. Your total mileage will be about 5.5 miles on the loop.
|Hunter-West Kill Wilderness|
|Contact Information:||DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
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.|
|Weather||Hunter Mountain Weather|