Beyond my Strength on Devil’s Path

Previous Post… Part One: My Quest to Complete Devil’s Path

After two days on Devil’s Path, I stood at my bail-out trail from last year. I felt strong though and ready to conquer Sugarloaf Mountain and its double sized descent. Johnny beamed at me, knowing what crossing this threshold meant to me and that we would walk off into the unknown together.

Johnny Null on Devil's Path

Trying to take your pack off while stuck in a crack is always a challenge.

The trail was purely mud as it went straight up with no rocks or roots to hold the wet earth together. I smiled despite the ragged breaths and leg lifts that took me to the summit. The other side had huge boulders to navigate. There was one point where the trail seemed to go right off a cliff and into the trees. Johnny attempted it with his pack on but ended up removing it half way down to turn around on a small step and reach his leg to the bottom. The slate that marked our descent required him to crab walk backwards for a few hundred feet to avoid a fall and possible slide.

How Johnny got down the mountain

Crab walking

IMAG2199When we got to camp at the Mink Hollow lean-to, we still hiked the quarter mile down a side trail to the piddly water source (don’t count on it if you camp here). I was so exhausted that my journal looks more like bullet points than my usual prose about the wonders of nature. We slept in the shelter that night and bear bagged our food through a patch of strange looking nettles. A fire, even with the wet wood, warmed us as we ate our dehydrated beef and crunchy plantains.

Slippery trail on Devil's Path

If you look closely you’ll see the trail marker.

In the early morning hours, the soothing sound of a downpour hit the shelter. Soothing at least until I had the thought that climbing the next mountain could be near impossible in that torrential rain. Luckily, by the time we started up Plateau Mountain it had dwindled to a sprinkle. The ascent was steep despite the welcome switchbacks near the top. As we came around a corner Johnny stopped and stared into the trees to the left of the trail. Winking back at him and cocking its head was a small Eastern Screech owl. The three of us looked at each other for a few minutes before the owl flew off silently into the forest and we continued up the mountain.

DSC00529_twitterThe top was a luxuriously flat plateau with a carpet of pine needles that our feet thanked us for all day. You could smell the fog around us, moist and cool. Bright orange mushrooms shined among green clovers and the trees were all a dark, wet brown. We practically skipped through this section except of course when we were squatting to get the perfect picture or at the end of the plateau when I sat by a cloudy lookout eating beef jerky with my tank top pulled up to let the sweat drift away (thank you Robb Wolf for the maple sage inspiration)

DSC00539DSC00526Once we started down the mountain, my knees began to ache for the first time. My arthritis just didn’t want to hold my weight on three foot step-downs for one more descent. But they held up until the thunderstorms began. The canopy opened up in the most inconvenient way at this moment. It was hot enough to forgo the rain jacket, with its nice little cap, so the water flooded my eyebrows and poured down my neck to soak my every inch. The “safe” rocks that weren’t covered in moss became incredibly slippery and they moved when you stepped on them. As I caught my weight from a misstep with my bad left knee, I became aware of the need for more support.

DSC00544We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who came running down the mountain behind us, with only water on their backs and light sneakers, while I wrapped my knee in an ace bandage. Much better. It felt like an instant extra muscle…poof!

Signing the trail register in Stony Cove Notch was near impossible with the downpour but I managed to write something resembling my name, phone number, and where we were headed. Thoughts of being lost on the trail with this being the last thing I ever wrote were fleeting.

IMAG2210Hunter Mountain was the first uneventful climb of the trail. There were many more switchbacks, and while steep, it was more than manageable. Grouse played on the hillside, only revealing themselves with wing flaps and strange clucking and squeaking. Shortly after, Johnny seemed to hit a wall. He was sluggish and felt nauseous. I had seen this many times in hiking companions. He had to take a salt break. We allow ourselves to be salt fiends at home because we consume almost no processed foods but out on the trail, without any prepackaged foods, we had somehow managed to hold back too much. Once he ate a few spoonfuls and washed it down with a gulp of water he felt much better.

DSC00533We continued up and the summit of Hunter Mountain came before we knew it. Our path was lined with intricate brown coral mushrooms in wet bunches and empty raspberry bushes. There were two early ripe berries though, sour but welcome for their freshness. The sky switched between rain and swirling clouds. Purple wildflowers drank in the moisture.

DSC00525At this point we were pretty exhausted. We were nearing the nine mile mark on our descent and it had been a challenging day. We didn’t say much as we marched toward the freshly built wood bridge at the bottom and Diamond Notch Falls. The water ran through the swirl patterns on the flat grey rocks that supported it and tumbled off into the distance. The roar stayed with us for most of the half mile on the blue trail that brought us to Diamond Notch Lean-to and a secluded camping area a little further up the trail.

Diamond Notch Falls

Diamond Notch Falls

The sky was still threatening more rain so we opted to stay in the dry shelter instead of pitching our tent. Shortly after eating our dehydrated chicken curry, as we were attempting to bear bag our remaining food, the sky opened up. We were wearing our dry sleeping clothes so Johnny finished putting up the bag as fast as he could while I gathered our gear into the shelter.

DSC00555This was our last night on the trail and it was bittersweet. I was so excited to check this off my bucket list but then it would be checked off, completed and done. No longer the goal that sometimes felt like a fantasy. I couldn’t say “if I was strong enough I could finish it”. So I laid in the dark in Johnny’s arms and dreamed about how it would feel to see our car at the end and I wondered what adventure would be next. I also thought about what could happen in the next eight miles to prevent me from reaching the end? It was difficult terrain and even though it was the last day, I still had to face it.

Next Post… Devil’s Path: The end of my Story and all the Links you Need

2 thoughts on “Beyond my Strength on Devil’s Path

    1. znara Post author

      Thank you, Mark. The rain we had on the trail really made for an eerie atmosphere. I am glad that we were able to share some of that.

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