View of Wittenberg and Cornell form the Burroughs Range Trail

Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain hike from Woodland Valley

Lowdown on Wittenberg and Cornell
Difficulty:
8 of 10... or 10 of 10 if your fitness is "okay", it's hard...
Features:
Views, Steep climbing, First growth forest, More climbing, All-sorts of wildlife, rapid weather change, Lots of hikers, Climbing...
Best time to go:
Mid-week, in summer., fall, and spring. Winter for experienced only.
Red-tape:
Charge for parking in-season at the day-use parking area.
Total mileage:
Out-and-back 9.6 miles (going past Cornell's summit to views a must)
Total Climb:
2,800+ feet. Nice. Better than your gym's StairMaster anyday.
Map set
Catskill map set NYNJTC

Naming of the Burroughs Range

Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains are a main part of the dramatic Burroughs Range in the Catskill’s Slide Mountain Wilderness. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names associates the Burroughs Range with Slide, Cornell and Wittenberg mountains as it was petitioned in 1986 by the John Burroughs Natural History Society and former Senator Daniel Moynihan. During the naming process, the petitioners were questioned whether a broader range would be acceptable as the three summits were somewhat generic. This was rejected by the petitioners who wanted the name applied only to the three mountains. For a time, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had requested the name be “The John Burroughs Range”, but the U.S. Board on Geographic Names rejected this as their policy was of using names that are functional in daily language – longer names are generally “clipped”. The naming of “Burroughs Range” was officially approved on September 17, 1987 (1). Geographically the mountain chain which includes the Burroughs Range may also include the terrain of East and West Wildcat, Cross, Pleasant, Romer, and Terrace Mountains.

Early experiences on Wittenberg, Cornell and Slide Mountains

The naming of the Burroughs Range is proper as John Burroughs may have fixed Slide Mountain’s fame in his essay “The Heart Of The Southern Catskills” published in 1910. Burroughs a writer whose works were a mixture of keen observations about nature with a poetic prose inspired many. Interestingly, in his description of his adventures in this area, now known as the Burroughs Range, he speaks only of Slide and Wittenberg, never of Cornell and mentions no trail to Slide from Wittenberg. Burroughs had an admiration for these peaks as he wrote on a failed attempt to climb Slide from Woodland Valley (2):

The view from the Wittenberg is in many respects more striking, as you are perched immediately above a broader and more distant sweep of country, and are only about two hundred feet lower… Slide is southwest of you, six or seven miles distant, but is visible only when you climb into a treetop. I climbed and saluted him, and promised to call next time.

However, in the “Journals of an anonymous hiker” written between 1917-1923 the unknown hiker from New York City clearly describes the “Wittenberg Trail” going from Woodland Valley over Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide. He writes about his experience trekking from Wittenberg to Cornell saying (3):

I had plenty use for my eyes, I had to look at every inch of trail I covered, it was full of rocks weeds and fallen trees, and it was not straight for ten feet. At one place through an opening in the woods, I had a fine view of my next hill, Mt. Cornell, rising at a very steep angle and covered with big pine trees…

The other side of Slide, however, has had a trail to its summit since the 1800’s.

Trail to Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains

Today, the hiker can ascend Wittenberg and Cornell from the state-run campground in Woodland Valley on a well-marked and maintained trail. There are many sites at the campground that one can camp at in this attractive valley or one may day hike or backpack from the day use parking area for which there is a daily charge during the Summer and Fall. The hiker should call the campground for specifics. This trail head is remote and, in the Winter, make sure your car is in good working order when coming to this place.

This hike is not for beginners as you’ll climb about 2,500’ in 3.9-miles just to Wittenberg – this rival some of the Adirondack High Peaks. Going to Cornell adds another 0.8-miles and 288’ of climbing. This puts your day’s total round-trip mileage at 9.4 miles (9.6-miles if you got to views past Cornell’s summit) with almost 2,800’ climbing and descending. Overall your average grade in climbing is about 17% with a maximum of 49%.

The parking area on Woodland Valley Road is on the west side of the road. You will cross the road and follow the trail markers through a section of the campground. The red-blazed Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide trail exits the campground and crosses the Woodland Creek on a well-constructed bridge. The section of trail you will be on until 0.2-miles above the Terrace Mountain junction will serve as a connector trail for the southern and northern sections of the Phoenicia – East Branch Trail which drops to Phoenicia 8-miles north.

Chris on Bridge over Woodland Valley CreekScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Chris on Bridge over Woodland Valley Creek

The trail will begin an immediate steep ascent on steps to the trail register at 0.2-miles, please sign in.

The stairs after bridge over Woodland valley CreekScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
The stairs after bridge over Woodland Valley Creek

After the trail register, you will continue to climb through a section of trail littered with boulders shaded with hemlock. This is a very attractive section of trail. In the summer you may smell the campfires at the campground on your return here.

Making the rocky steep climb away from the campground through the bouldersScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Making the rocky steep climb away from the campground through the boulders

At about 0.5-miles the trail will level and swing left (southeast). The grade will ease for a bit then level and at times ungulates as it works its way to the junction with the Terrace Mountain Trail. The trail will move back and forth at times very near the steep headwall of the ravine between Terrace Mountain and Wittenberg Mountain’s ridge. You may get some views north when the leave are out and will certainly have them when the trees are bare.

View from the Burroughs Range Trail above the Wittenberg RavineScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
View from the Burroughs Range Trail above the Wittenberg Ravine

Although Terrace is labeled as a mountain it is really part of a spur ridge of the massive Wittenberg Mountain. I estimate the area of Wittenberg with all its ridges to be more than 8.5 square miles.

At about 1.75-miles you will reach a spring off to the right of the trail. These can be dry during periods without rain. Make sure you carry the water you need!

The trail will eventually drop and then regain elevation before arriving at the junction with the Terrace Mountain trail at about 2.6-miles.

Trail junction sign at the Terrace Mountain TrailScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Trail junction sign at the Terrace Mountain Trail

From this junction you will turn south (right) and on a gradual grade swing west where you will reach the Phoenicia – East Branch Trail / Long Path heading to Phoenicia at 0.2-miles from the junction (2.8-from the start). In the 1.1-miles you will climb over 1,000’ to the summit ledge on Wittenberg reaching the summit at about 3.9-miles from the trail head.

The trail will move back and forth on the ridge and you will climb over, around and through ledges. Some views, especially higher up will present themselves.

Rocky outcrop on the way up Wittenberg MountainScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Rocky outcrop on the way up Wittenberg Mountain

The real prize is the summit ledge on Wittenberg which has arguably the best ground view in these mountains.

View from Wittenberg MountainScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
View from Wittenberg Mountain (click to enlarge)

Iconic Wittenberg view

The sweeping view includes to the north Hunter and South West Hunter with Blackhead at the rear. Eastern Devil’s Path including Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin and Indian Head along with Plattekill, Overlook on the horizon to the northeast. Look very hard a see Kaaterskill High Peak between Sugarloaf and Twin. In front of Plateau are Mount Tremper and Carl Mountain. Mount Tobias seemingly alone in the midground inline with Plattekill. Cross and Pleasant Mountains are up front to your left. Centerstage is the Ashokan Reservoir and Samuels Point. Ticetonyk Mountain is north (left) and Ashokan High Point to the south of the Reservoir and Mombaccus Mountain and Little Rocky to High Points right and slightly behind, a bit of Friday Mountain, and Balsam Cap with its massive ridges extending into Maltby Hollow to your right. Hanover Mountain anchors one of Balsam Caps ridges just in front of High Point. On winter days the views seem endless.

Besides the views on Wittenberg and Cornell

Most people understandably come for the vast view. However, don’t miss the little things. The backdrop of this summit ledge is teaming with life. A first growth boreal forest shrouds the summit. Fir and spruce set the scene. Paper birch, is scattered about. Various birds including Bicknell’s Thrush, Black pole Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rump Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, and Yellow-bellied Fly Catchers. Mammals such as chipmunk, porcupine, rabbit, bobcat, and even deer and bear all visit this place (watch for the tracks, especially in winter). This environment is present on most Catskill boreal peaks.

Wittenberg to Cornell

Leaving Wittenberg, you’ll drop quickly to the col between the two mountains. Don’t rush. Walk this section slowly and enjoy the Bruins Causeway a narrow strip of land that connects these two peaks. The land will drop off precipitously on each side of you for a bit. However, due to the trees, many people don’t notice it.

As you pass the col you will reach the Crown of Cornell (the rock cliff that sits below the summit) and will need to navigate the Cornell Crack. At about 4.6 miles you’ll reach the cliff with a V-cut in it – this is the “Cornell Crack”. The first part of the climb to the shelve below the “V” is easy. However, the “V” or the crack itself is more challenging with limited hand holds.

Chris standing blow the V cut on Cornell MountainScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Chris standing below the V cut on Cornell Mountain

Once above the crack, you’ll get a view back at Wittenberg and the going is easy to the summit of Cornell, which is found on a side path at 4.7 miles.

Wittenberg from CornellScott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Wittenberg from Cornell

The view from the summit of Cornell is grown in and limited. The summit view ledge is known as Cloud Cliff.

The view from Cornell summit ledge. Known as Cloud Cliff.Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
The view from Cornell summit ledge. Known as Cloud Cliff.

If you planned an out and back to Cornell, you’d be missing fine views of Slide, Panther, and Giant Ledge just past the summit at 4.8-miles. Go visit this!

Slide Mountain from Cornell. Notice battered and flagged trees.Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Slide Mountain from Cornell. Notice battered and flagged trees.

Then retrace your steps back to the trail head and enjoy all that Wittenberg and Cornell have to offer again!

Map of Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains


Slide Mountain Wilderness
Contact Information:DEC Region 3 New Paltz Office:
phone (845) 256-3000 (M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM), email: r3admin@dec.ny.gov
Law Enforcement, Emergency & Ranger: 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Towns of Shandaken, Denning and Olive in Ulster County
Map: Slide Mountain Wilderness Map
Amenities:Food, gas, and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Phoenicia and Boiceville.
Dining opportunities can be found in the nearby communities of Boiceville, Mount Tremper, Phoenicia and Shandaken.
Lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Mount Tremper, Oliverea, Phoenicia, Shandaken.
Weather:Slide Mountain Weather

References

  1. GNIS detail – Burroughs Range. Retrieved from https://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=gnispq%3A3%3A0%3A%3ANO%3A%3AP3_FID%3A971957
  2. The Heart Of The Southern Catskills By John Burroughs (1910). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.catskillarchive.com/jb/heartsouthern.htm
  3. Journals of an anonymous hiker [written 1917-1923]. In New York State Library. Collection of three manuscript diaries, 1917-1923, kept by an anonymous hiker, who describes in great detail the trails and topographical features of the Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains, and Shawangunk Mountains in New York State.

Last Updated on by Scott L.

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