Monday, November 19, 2012

Devil's Path - First Leg

The Catskills Await
I took my son up to Rensselaer in Troy for a college visit a couple of weekends ago, and we thought that we'd turn it into a quick two-night backpacking outing.  We would be passing right through the Catskills along the Thruway, so I pulled out my maps and looked for a trek that we could turn into a loop.  The Devil's Path (DP) starts right near exit 20, so that worked.

We got a bit of a late start on Friday afternoon, after the college tour, so we didn't get to the trailhead at Prediger Rd until after 5:00 and we were loosing light fast.  I had prepared for getting delayed, and only  set out to hike the easy 1.75 miles up to the Devil's Kitchen shelter.  It got a bit more interesting when we found that we only had packed one headlamp...we ended up hiking slowly, with the headlamp in the rear lighting the way for both of us.  A bonus is that the DP is excellently blazed with reflective markers - so there was no chance of getting off course.  By 6:30 we were at Devil's Kitchen, set up tent behind the shelter, and heated up some quick soup for dinner.

Dinner was one of the new Campbell's Go soups - Moroccan Chicken with Chickpeas.  It was quite a bit heavier than I'd normally like to carry, being ready-to-eat in a soft pouch; but it was delicious - I'll have to try dehydrating a batch, or try to reproduce it with dry ingredients and pouch chicken.  We skipped the campfire, and just hung out a bit with the radio before retiring early (about 9:00) so we could get a early start.  In the second week of November, with the overnight temperatures dropping into the 20s, I thought we might be alone at the shelter; but surprisingly, a group showed up with headlamps of their own around 10:00 pm.  I didn't venture out of my warm bag to greet them, but it sounded like a good-size group.  From the sound of it, they set up tents fast, had a quick bite to eat, then turned it - not a noisy bunch.

Provisioning to the anticipated overnight temperatures was an experience, too.  The only real cold-weather sleeping bag that I had was my old LL Bean 0-degree, synthetic - a nice bag for car camping, but a monster for backpacking.  So, after doing some research, I was excited to order two Snugpak Sleeper Xtreme bags, rated for 19-F degrees comfort/11-F degrees low (a tight range).  Unfortunately, the processing and shipping time was longer than 7-days, so they arrived too late for this trip.  So, I ended up packing my old LL Bean bag (which filled my 35L pack almost by itself), and we looked for a last minute bag for my son.  EMS was having their members sale, with 25% off everything in the store, so amongst some other things that I couldn't resist picking up, we got a EMS Solstice 20-degree bag...I'll review the Solstice and the Snugpak bags in another post.  Both bags worked well on this trip, keeping us very warm down to 28-degrees.

Fog and Clouds
The next morning, I was up around 5:30, but I couldn't get my son out of the sack until 7:00...teenagers.  In the meantime, the other late night crew of what turned out to be 7 college students and a puppy, got up around 6:00, ate quickly, packed up and were on the trail with a wave by 6:45.  So, after feeding my son his morning oatmeal in bed, we were able to get on the trail at 8:00 (so much for an early start). 

That's the path?

We did the meat of our hiking on Saturday, following the DP west from the shelter to Pecoy Notch.  It is claimed that the DP is the hardest day hike on the whole east coast, and I'd believe it - we only covered 7.5 of the 24 mile trek and it was probably the most strenuous 1-day stretch that I've done.  The 4.5 miles from Devil's Kitchen to Pecoy Notch crosses four peaks (Sherman's lookout, Indian Head, and Twin Mt), two of which are greater than 3500 ft; and total elevation change of about 5000 ft.  We started the morning in a moderate fog, which was eerily cool; and as we climbed to Sherman's lookout, we would emerge from the fog only to enter low cloud cover in the morning.  The colder weather of November made for some picturesque frozen waterfalls on the trail, and crusted over the top of muddy traverses.  The ice was less of a hinderance on the climbs than on the descents, which were tricky in spots.  The push up to Indian Head required scrambling that bordered on mountaineering - climbing from root-to-root and rock-to rock.

The day began warming up as we descented Indian Head, then began the climb of Twin Mt.  We stopped at the lower of the twin peaks for lunch at 11:30 - averaging 1 map-mile per hour.  The view from each of the peaks is fantastic - and by lunchtime the fog was burning off and the clouds were rising.  After some more Campbell's Go soup - Chicken & Quinoa and Chilies this time (also excellent)- we pressed on across the second twin peak.  We reached Pecoy Notch at around 1:30, and then we had to make some decisions.  If we were to continue on DP over Sugarloaf Mt to the next shelter, then our legs would hate us and we would have to re-cross it the next morning (and maybe Twin Mt, too) on the way back to the car.  If we headed down the Pecoy Notch Trail, then we would have the option the next day of re-tracing our steps back over Twin Mt to Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail, which would take us back to the parking area; or continuing down Pecoy Notch to Roaring Hill Rd/Dale Ln and road walk back to Prediger Rd.

So, tails between our legs, down the notch trail we went.  Shortly after passing the beaver dam pond, we turned off the trail and set up camp a bit on the early side so that we would have plenty of daylight.  We were lucky enough to find a level spot just big enough to set up our tent amongst the cobbles and boulders underlying Sugarloaf Mt.  A nice quiet evening after a quiet day - the only soles we saw were a couple of day-hikers in the afternoon at Pecoy Notch.  Dinner centered around my new creation - Hawaiian Potatoes (it was awesome, and I'll post the recipe).  

Survived the wind
We checked the forecast for overnight and the following day on the weather band - a warm front was coming through overnight, but no severe weather, and lows in the lower-30s.  Well maybe it wasn't severe weather, but it wasn't typical either.  We turned in around 9:00 since we were bushed, then around 10:00 or so, the wind picked up - and I mean Picked Up.  At first it was kind of cool, because the wind from the front was coming straight through the notch to our east and you could hear it through the trees in the distance like a gale.  Then around midnight, the direction shifted and the wind came through the notch and right over our heads - it sounded like a tropical windstorm.  Lucky for us, Hurricane Sandy and the following nor'easter had already taken all the dead limbs out of the trees, and I had checked for widow-makers before I set up camp.  But still...a little after midnight, I got up with headlamp to survey the situation - it was a little spooky.  There was a tree creaking, but it was downwind and down-slope of us.  We were in a good spot though - close enough to the face of the mountain but down slope, that the wind pouring through the notch was whipping through the tops of the trees above us but was just causing some eddy-like swirling of leaves down at ground level.  I listened to the screaming of the wind for about an hour more, and it seemed to be lessening after 1:30...after that it was just some nice white-noise to help you sleep.

Dibble's Quarry
After the excitement of the night before, and still feeling our legs complaining a bit, we decided to continue down Pecoy Notch Trail to parking area near Dale Ln. and take the flat trail back to the vehicle.  I'm actually glad that we did.  It was a nice hike down the notch, and if not for our tired legs then we would have missed Dibble's Quarry.  The quarry was operational in the 1800's, mining bluestone/slate for the sidewalks of NYC.  Today, it is a weird Tolkien-like place, with barrow-like stone piles, stone walls, and some cool erections from previous hikers.  It's definitely worth a visit - if not trying to bang out the DP in a single day, then this is worth a little side trail visit.

We were back to the car before lunch time on Sunday, and already planning our next visit - Leg Two of the DP.  

We can't wait...

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