Devils Path, Part 2: Descents

Posted: February 21, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , , ,

In the previous Devil’s Path post, I spoke about the ascent (going up) of Indian Head and the similar Twin mountain. Full of ice, snow, rocky ledges and steep slopes – an overall dangerous situation without crampons or an ice axe. Let’s see if I can convey the even more precarious descent of the two.

Despite our nasty ascent of Indian Head mountain, we traversed the summit and confidently began walking down the path that would lead us to a valley between Indian Head and Twin mountains. That confidence was immediately dashed against the rocks as I took my first tumble. I slipped quickly on the steep ice, falling on my side. As I righted myself onto my back and butt, I realized I was still moving, and even worse, picking up speed. As I quickly approached a rock slightly on the side of the trail, I readied my legs and braced for impact. With a grunt and a sudden stop, I had successfully stopped my descent. Grateful, I took a deep breath and realized this was going to be way more dangerous than the steep ascents. We had to self arrest all our falls on a rock strewn trail without ice axes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure and the thrill of doing exciting outdoor challenges, but this was

Slippery, exposed ice

becoming serious. A wrong fall, a missed self-arrest, a slip off the trail could quickly result in serious injuries. The gravity of the situation began to weigh heavily upon us.

On the summit of Twin mountain (the ascent of Twin was very similar to Indian Head; see last post), we decided to take a look at the map and see how much longer we had ahead of us. After some quick calculations it turned out the ascent and summit of Twin took longer than we imagined. In the last two hours we had barely gone one mile. To arrive at Mink Hollow lean-to we still had three miles to go. It was already approaching late afternoon and within a couple hours the sun would begin to set, and the temperature drop. Descending and ascending these icy slopes would not be easy, or any safer in the cold dark.

We weighed out all the options. Three miles wasn’t that far. Twin’s summit is around 3600 ft (1097m). Sugarloaf, our next objective rises to about 3800 ft (1158m). The ravine between them drops to below 3000 ft (914m). Finally, the lean-to at Mink Hollow, goes down a couple hundred feet from Sugarloaf’s summit. So over the course of three miles we had to descend 600 feet, ascend 800, traverse the ridge to he summit and then descend a couple hundred feet. At the pace of our ascents and the dangerous speed we could pick up on our descents it seemed like a bad idea to continue. Yet, we were indecisive because the mileage didn’t seem that much – what’s three miles? We knew we had to go somewhere because we would have been really uncomfortable sleeping on the summit of Twin (as well as broken a few laws). I looked closely at the map and noticed something that I hadn’t seen before. I pointed it out to Paul. Just past the summit of Twin mountain was a little dot with the word “cave” next to it. I told him let’s start going down, check out the cave and come to a better decision. After a couple sketchy slides and a squeeze through a small rock passage, we found the cave. Small, but with rocks on all sides and a 12+ ft overhanging rock to protect us from rain, wind and snow. We discussed it all over again, and checked the time.

After the cave we took a right on PN (Blue)

5pm. The sun was going to set any minute now and, reluctantly, we admitted we were done with day 1. Cold, tired and wet, we huddled in the back corner of the cave, the rocks already covered in a layer of thin ice crystals. It reminded me vaguely of Cory Richards‘ tent in his award-winning movie, “Cold”.

We tried making a fire. Even the dry wood left over from previous campers was covered in ice and wouldn’t light. By 7:30pm we were in our sleeping bags trying to stay warm. Paul described the situation best, “Now that I know my sleeping bag is keeping me warm, I’ll be comfortable. I think it was the anticipation of being cold and waiting out the night that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to sleep.”

Luckily, we did fall asleep. All night. Despite getting kicked in the head once by Paul and the normal waking-up-to-adjust-your-position, we slept relatively well. Even enough to discuss our dreams that we remembered. Ironically, I dreamed about being in a warm, desert-like country. When I awoke, it was still just a dream.

  1. Dale Hughes says:

    Thanks for the trail info. With a group of firends we’re planning to do both Indianhead and Twin from Jimmy Dolan Notch this weekend. We will all have crampons and Microspikes and there will be a rope and an ice ax for the group. I’d be even more interested, however, to hear about your 1200′ descent from Sugarloaf to the Mink Hollow Lean-To. With a friend (crampons, but no ice ax or rope) we went up that route a couple of weeks ago and had no desire whatoever to attempt going back down that way. We went down to Pecoy Notch and back around to Mink Hollow.

    • Good to hear, Dale! And I wish you the best of luck – at least you will be better prepared than we were. I’ve heard some real horror stories about that descent into Mink Hollow from Sugarloaf. This is what CNYHiking has to say about it: “In the next mile, the trail descends 1,600 vertical feet to Mink Hollow. The rock chutes here are some of the most challenging on the entire Devil’s Path, and they have led to the nickname “Suicide Mountain” by those using it as a route up in winter.”

      We read that post-trip so we were definitely glad that we didn’t continue. I’d be really interested to hear how your trip goes so be sure to drop a line when you return!

      P.S. – Rumor has it that Mink Hollow is haunted….

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