Devil's Path 27M Fastpack, Catskill Mountains, NY 5,5

Elevation Gain: 10,000+' - High Point: 3855' - Low Point: 1980'

Scrolling Photographs of the Devil's Path

May 18, 2013 - I have always loved Tina Turner; maybe it's just her great legs; or
maybe it's her swagger; or maybe it was something she said one time before
cranking out Proud Mary about never, ever doing anything "nice, and easy" - only
ever doing things "nice, and rough".  It resonates so much with my outlook on
life, and running, in particular, as my passions increasingly migrate toward the 
rough, the tough, and the beautiful, and shying away from "nice and easy".  This
trail - the Devil's Path - was just that - nice and rough and beautiful - and so I
find myself still savoring the experience two days later, already planning to go back.

I find I never need an alarm to get me going when I have a dream to chase.  Up
at 0430 to find ambient light already creeping through the canopy, I roused from
a restless night of sleeping in the car, got my gear together, channeled my inner
Chingachgook, and was ready to go by 0515 with plenty of light at a comfortable
37 degrees.  Cranking up my engines I immediately felt that old familiar purr as 
the rocky trail immediately went vertical on the first climb up Plateau Mountain.

Feeling rested and dressed lightly I found my stride early and charged my Ferrari
up, up, and up over rocks, rocks, and more rocks, over roots and around boulders,
with an ambition to climb the first 1.2 miles and 1400 feet to the top in a half hour.
Despite humming along without need for pause I was surprised to find it took me
45 minutes to reach the flat at the top.  This trail was perhaps going to be more
formidable than even I had hoped for.  All the better.

Unlike most other "trail runs" this outing would be more appropriately considered a
fastpack.  Not knowing exactly what to expect I was packing heavy, with about
ten pounds in a hydration backpack and waist outfit.  I carried extra water in the
event springs and seeps were not to be found frequently enough; survival gear
in the event of some traumatic injury that would force me to bivouac overnight -
like extra dry clothing, space blanket, fire starters, extra food, even a compass.
With so many unknowns, despite my preparation and research, I was a good
Boy Scout and tried to anticipate everything.  I even packed a needle and thread,
along with a lot of other medical supplies, in case I had to suture a lacerated knee,
or worse.  I've been in the weeds and experienced trauma and survival situations
alone before, and I was not going to take anything for granted while fastpacking 
what has been labeled one of the six most dangerous trails in America.

The top of Plateau Mountain, appropriately named, was a two-mile runnable flat
through a classic boreal subalpine forest, with a mystical feel at six o'clock in the
morning.  I half expected to find gnomes collecting mushrooms in the thickets
or the Headless Horseman come chasing from behind.  I enjoyed the shuffle 
through the dark woods toward the morning sunshine on the eastern side.  It very
much reminded me of the swampy boreal forests north of here on the Canadian
Shield.  The adventure was going well; my engines were purring; and I had already
found that sweet spot as I danced a perpetual pas de deux with the rocks and roots. 

At 3855' of elevation, Plateau Mountain would be the highest point of the day.  In
pure sunshine I rolled off the east side, straight down 1200 feet rockin' and
rootin' at a safe shuffle to Mink Hollow at the bottom.  Finding a great spring most
of the way down boosted my confidence that there would be adequate water
along the way.  I drank heartily and continued toward the next climb up Sugarloaf,
another 1200' climb up some of the most challenging rock chutes and cliffs of the
entire Devil's Path.  This vertical section is aptly called Suicide Mountain, especially
by those attempting a winter traverse, like some insane friends of mine did in April.

The old Ferrari ain't as fast as it used to be, but it can still climb with the best of 
them.  No one would walk past me all day, except for a group of Japanese hikers
while I was taking an extended social break with another runner.  I felt good
scrambling up Sugarloaf, often wishing I had my boots on rather than trail shoes.
I attempted to conserve water, still not knowing what sources remained ahead of
me, but didn't scrimp on Clif Shot Bloks.  After summiting the 3800' Sugarloaf and
stretching out the legs on some runable sections I descended the eastern side
down to Pecoy Notch, often downclimbing chutes and weaving through narrow
openings between large rock outcroppings.  Along the way there were some good
views of the next vertical challenge - Twin Mountain - and the narrow ribbon of
the Hudson River winding north-south at 30 miles in the distance.

Climbing out of the col the route up Twin was not as tough as the previous two
climbs, enabling me to run many sections as I ascended.  Rolling over the first
summit of Twin at 3640' and then the second at lesser elevation my momentum
carried me down a series of contours and ledge scrambles for a half mile down to
Jimmy Dolan Notch, the highest col on the trail, before doing the fourth climb up
Indian Head Mountain, which peaks out at 3573'.  Its rather unremarkable top
doesn't last long before it begins a precipitous mile and a quarter quick drop of
about 1400', where overhanging trees and root systems become essential for
safe downclimbing of the route.  This was a tough section, one that I was not
looking forward to renegotiating on the return trip.

Reaching the bottom left only another two-and-a-half miles of gradual rocky
woods running to reach the parking lot at Prediger Road, which I achieved in an
elapsed time of exactly five hours.  Not too bad for a conservative, safe, hike/run
of 13.3 miles and 5000' of climbing, more or less.  I had occasion to cross paths with
perhaps eight runners along the way, in both directions, that were training on the
Devil's Path in preparation for the first running of the Manitou's Revenge 56M race,
scheduled for June 22-23.  Sharing a special kinship with these mountain harriers
I found myself pausing to talk to every one of them, sometimes at length.  All 
these runners are afflicted with the same passion, and we indulge in each other's
enthusiasm and shared challenges.  My intrigue for the MR56M, run on much of the
Devil's Path as well as the Long Path, has me thinking of enjoining this endeavor
and doing something extraordinarily rough, I mean, really tough.

The social side of doing these difficult runs is perhaps my favorite part of the 
entire outing.  I was amused with a group of Japanese men, the one's previously
mentioned; on my second go by the one fellow hollered at me in broken English,
"You fast"; after passing them I heard another remark in surprise, "He not young".
Cracked me up.  Made my day.

After turning around at Prediger Road for the return trip, I changed into lighter
clothes, chowed down a bit, socialized more, and generally took even greater care
with my foot placement so as not to fall.  As tough and potentially harrowing a 
trail as this was I didn't fall once and only stumbled a few times.  No need for
sutures this time.  The journey back was a bit warmer as I immediately dove back
into climbing the extremely challenging ascent of Indian Head.  For the first, I was
feeling it.  My knees and Achilles were talking to me, begging me to just stop,
sit down, and have a beer or two or.....  The Marine just dug deeper and continued
upward until the pain gave up and stopped sending signals to my brain.

From the top of Indian Head back I ran carefully so as not to sustain injury, drinking
generously, eating lots of Clif Bloks, and hiking more slowly going up Sugerloaf and
Plateau.  The descents of each had my dawgs howling, but my getaway sticks were
generally good.  I maneuvered my Ferrari the rest of the way back without the
wheels coming off, scratching my sidewalls a couple of times, but not adding any 
new dings to my sleek machine.  I was plenty ready to stop when I reached the
car, but knew that I had plenty left if I had to continue.  Time for the roundtrip, 
despite packing extra weight and abundant social breaks, was ten hours and five 
minutes  - humping eight 3500+' Catskill mountains over about 27 miles while 
climbing somewhere around 10,000'. A good day.

From time to time I race on terrain, just as steep and just as rocky as this, but I
cannot recall running such a collection of rock piles all in one place since my glory 
days in the 70's and 80's around Vail, Colorado.  It wasn't all roots and rocks and
climbing; I do recall two smooth, level sections as I ran from the car to the trailhead,
and then back again.  Everything else was just a memorable mountain dance.  

As I sit here dreaming of the next one, hardly even sore from this one, I can feel
that old familiar purr welling up within.  I can hardly wait to do it again. :)