Devils Path, Part 3: Is it working risking?

Posted: February 24, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
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Our Humble Abode

When I finally peeked my head out of my sleeping bag, I could hear a wind blowing through the trees. When we fell asleep there was no wind, so this was not a good sign – wind = cold. After scarfing down some oatmeal and warm water, we put on our boots and packed our stiffened bags. Our pants from the day before, frozen solid, remained horizontal. Despite my best efforts to dry my gloves, they too were frozen. Wearing them was out of the question. I would have to face the day without them.

Right before taking off we took a look at the map. Our options were to continue up Sugarloaf and try to make it to Devil’s Tombstone campground or at least our original Mink Hollow lean-to for another night. Most of our gear was already wet. Our spirits, despite sleeping well, were quite low as we had at least two descents ahead of us and descents were what got us the most wet. We also had the option to bail. In the valley between Twin and Sugarloaf mountains the red Devil’s Path trail intersects with the Blue trail which leads to roaring kill parking area. The last thing we had to consider was the 90% chance of rain and snow that was supposed to start that evening.

Were we willing to risk a couple more dangerous ascents and descents today? Would we be risking hypothermia by staying an extra night? If we did stay, did we have another “out” in case things got bad? To those reading; what would you have done?

Before we left the cave we decided we were in over our heads and did not have the technical gear to complete the full path. Considering we only made it a third of the entire path on the first day, the next 3-4 days were too unknown – and too treacherous – to venture into confidently. All we needed was some freezing rain that afternoon, plus below freezing temperatures at night, to leave us really in a dangerous situation.

That last descent down Twin turned out to be extremely precarious. Thin, icy trails with rocks on the uphill side and steep slopes going down hill forced us to walk slowly and carefully. Glissading (mountaineering term for sliding) stretches were much longer than the descent down Indian Head, meaning we were picking up a lot more speed. On top of long stretches of sliding, the trail often took switch backs; which meant if you didn’t hit the turn just right there was a good chance you’d miss the

Down Climbing backwards was often needed

trail and go sliding down into trees. This proved twice as dangerous for the second person as the first person would clear the snow, leaving a trail of slippery, exposed ice. At one point we had to face backwards and down climb a steep, icy rock face, carefully holding onto a small tree as our only anchor. Sweating, wet, and panting for a breath after barely an hour of descent, we were happy with our decision that it was time to go. When we finally reached the intersection of trails in the valley, it began raining.

As we drove away, I took one last look at the Catskills. The summits of the mountains were obscured by thick clouds, with larger, grayer, more ominous looking clouds quickly rolling in. As I pointed out the sight to Paul, we both exhaled a sigh of relief that we were again warm and safe. For all we know, we just skirted out of the path of the devil before he would really unleash some hairy conditions on the mountain. The rain only fell harder as we drove further away.

Usually when Paul and I go on adventures, we complete them. This Devil’s Path taught us some valuable lessons – most importantly, the thought of underestimation and it’s dangers. When traveling

Confirmation that we made the right decision

into the wilderness, especially during the dangerous months for that specific environment, you can never over prepare. Even over packing, despite carrying a heavy pack, can save your life if the gear is practical to the journey; that extra liter of water, the crampons you might not use, the waterproof shell. It can all become valuable depending on the situation that presents itself. Lastly, we learned how even the most unassuming hills and mountains can be dangerous places. The most mild winters at sea level can drastically change after a few thousand feet of elevation.

Most of all, it left me wanting more. I can’t wait to get back outdoors.

With the adventure said and done, we were grateful for the experience and the chance to get out of the house. In my last post on the Devil’s Path, check in for a mini-gear-review session with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the gear I used.

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