“You really can’t find crampons for toddlers,” Jason Pelton told me. “Microspikes maybe, but no one makes crampons for toddlers.”
If you’re not familiar with crampons, they’re the aggressive metal spikes people wear on their feet to climb icy mountains. You may have seen photos of mountaineers in the Himalayas wearing them. You have probably not seen many toddlers wearing them, unless you know Jason Pelton. His daughter, who at age 5 became the youngest person to climb all Catskill peaks with summits over 3,500 feet in winter, needed crampons and Pelton, a skilled metal worker, crafted a toddler-sized pair for her himself.
A child of Altamont who has lived at various compass points around the Capital Region, Pelton settled in Schoharie roughly a decade ago. With easy access to the Catskills, Pelton, who is in charge of facility maintenance at Albany Medical Center, largely kept his focus south.
In the winter of 2019-20, Pelton was working on a Catskill lean-to challenge when COVID-19 hit. The Department of Environmental Conservation asked people to recreate locally and avoid the high peaks of the Catskills and Adirondacks. They also asked Pelton to delay the launch of his lean-to challenge. “I was bummed because I created a patch and everything,” Pelton says.
There is a patch for finishers and Pelton has added a winter rocker for winter finishers. For more scary information visit: www.catskillhiker.net/Scary19/peak_list.shtml or search for the Scary 19 page on Facebook.
During the pandemic, Pelton started looking closer to home. “I didn’t realize there was that much state land in Schoharie County.” Looking to find a way to highlight the beauty around him, Pelton used the same approach as he did for crampons for his daughter — he created his own.
The “Scary 19” is Pelton’s all Schoharie County hiking challenge. “The Scary” as Pelton calls it, has been curated to offer interesting views or historical perspective. Despite the name, the hikes in the Scary 19 aren’t particularly frightening; it’s a play on the way locals pronounce “Schoharie.”
I selected Lutheranville State Forest near Richmondville as my first Scary hike. The beauty of the challenge is that the hikes are close to home and not necessarily long or grueling. Pelton and James Hopson, the first Scary finisher, have combined multiple Scary hikes in one day.
The proscribed hike for Lutheranville State Forest begins on the south side of the high point near Mud Lake, but I blundered the directions and began on the north side on Gott Road. This was a forgivable sin according to Pelton. While the intention is that people get to the high point, he emphasizes exploring instead of a set route.
A few minutes into my hike I encountered an area of cleared woods and found views of rolling hills mixed with squares of farm fields blanketed in snow. I followed snowmobile trail markers to the high point. Despite the markers, there was little evidence of snowmobile traffic.
I searched the woods for more views and then headed south toward Mud Lake. The grades were downhill, the sun was on my face and the woods held screened views of the Catskills. A grouse gave me a side eye and flew off into a pine.
The highest point in Schoharie County is Huntersfield Mountain but it’s not part of the Scary 19. Huntersfield is part of the Catskill Hundred Highest, a hiking challenge made popular in “The Catskill 67” by local writer Alan Via.
Pelton omitted Huntersfield because it’s already on another list and also because the mountain is on the border of Greene and Schoharie counties. He wanted the Scary 19 to be uniquely about Schoharie County.
From Mud Lake, I considered retracing my steps back to Gott Road, but I was there to explore and not to see things I’d already seen, so I made a loop using a network of roads. A group of friendly snowmobilers passed and then the woods were quiet. I paused to inhale the clean winter air as a nuthatch hopped around overhead.
The fastest way home and to a hot chocolate from Gott Road was Route 88 but I realized I’d never set foot in Cobleskill before. Again, I followed Pelton’s directive to explore. I parked my car, found a bakery, found my hot chocolate and walked the streets of downtown Cobleskill just to see what was there. Because until you do, you’ll never know.