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Catskills 3500 Club - My Journey from Tenderfoot to Guide

It may be hard for you to imagine that there was a time when my life didn’t revolve around the outdoors, or when people didn’t know me first and foremost as Dave, the outdoor guide, wilderness man, and founder of DBA. But once upon a time, my office wasn’t the woods, and I too was a stressed out New Yorker desperately trying to meet sales goals.

If you’ve ever hiked with me, you know that the Catskills saved me from my miserable publishing career, but few people know that it was actually my pursuit of my Catskills 3500 Club membership that made hiking a regular part of my life and where I developed my dedication to the outdoors, which led to me founding DBA in the future.

What is the Catskills 3500 Club?

To quote their website: “The Catskills 3500 Club was founded in 1962 to foster interest in hiking in the Catskills. Membership is open to all persons who have climbed on foot each of the 35 Catskill Peaks above 3500 feet in elevation.”

While the ultimate goal of becoming a 3500 Club aspirant is, of course, to climb all 35 peaks and 4 winter peaks required to join the club, it’s about much more than bagging peaks, and climbing 39 Catskills summits will get you far more than a nifty patch. Becoming a 3500 Club aspirant will motivate you to make hiking a regular part of your life, allow you to develop an intimate relationship with the Catskills, and foster a incomparable sense of accomplishment as you make your way toward your final peaks.

Why aspire to join?

Believe it or not, before I hiked my way across America, spent days on end in the backcountry with just a map and compass, and led survival school courses, I too was a beginner hiker and made many of the mistakes beginner hikers make. To name a few:

  • Hypothermia on my first winter overnight hiking up Indian Head mountain
  • Torn hamstring climbing a tree while lost on a bushwhack
  • Dehydration hiking 10 peaks in three days

Many of the mistakes I made would have been easily avoided if I’d known a bit more about hiking and backpacking. Hiking your 3500 peaks with DBA will help you avoid the many (many) mistakes I made, learn the skills necessary for the off trail peaks like Rocky and Friday, discover the ins and the outs of Catskills, and learn how to hike along the way. (For those interested in a course on hiking, check out our Hike Like a Guide and Backpacking - Making the Wilderness Your Home degrees.)


Finally, the 3500 club is a community, and it’s truly a joy to meet fellow hikers on trail and get a 3500 status check (We’re 11 peaks in, how about you?). The Club hosts an annual banquet where members can meet and mingle and swap hiking stories.

When I was an aspirant, I would note the membership number of everyone I met who was aspiring to join (including member 160 back in 2008!). I started as an aspirant with zero hiking experience, and didn’t end up finishing my 39 peaks until after I got my guide license, so the club truly took me from beginner to expert hiker.

In case you’re wondering, I’m #1884.

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