My Quest to Complete Devil’s Path

The view from Devil's Path in the Catskills of New York

Part one of my three part story about Devil’s Path.

Not far from the border of New York State and Connecticut are the gentle rolling hills of the Catskill mountains. This wilderness gives the impression of a great carpeted realm that you could take your socks off and dance across. There are no hard ridge lines or naked summits.The occasional ribbon of mowed grass works its way down a mountain hinting at the favorite winter sport of the area.

Hidden underneath all the softness are trails that roar with elevation gain and test hikers’ limits. Last spring, Devil’s Path’s 18,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over 25 miles was too much for me. After climbing two mountains and hiking through rain and hail, my muscles were shaking and I had to come down off the trail. I wrote about my difficult adventure here. I spent this last year eating paleo and rehabbing my bad hip, hoping for another shot at completing the hike.

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This was the face Johnny made as I reminded him of what was ahead of us.

This year Johnny agreed to accompany me on what we humorously deemed my “Belligerent Quest”. I was determined to try again. We decided to wait until summer to make sure our packs were as light as they could be, but we kept my four-day backpacking plan.

The drive to the center of Tannersville, New York took four hours. A few weeks ago I had found one website that mentioned transportation for hikers in the area. Smiley’s Transport gave me the rundown on what they offer, which involved a reservation the day before our hike and a call from us as we got off the highway a half hour away from the gas station where we would meet them. We followed the driver to the ending trailhead on Spruceton Road to drop off our car and then he took us to our starting point on Prediger Road, off Platte Cove Road. The price was good for poor hikers/artists like us. They have a van and charge little for added hikers so splitting the cost with your group will make it even better.

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IMAG2194My emotions went in every direction, as the mountains flew past the car, from fear to excitement over being on this beautiful adventure with the man I love. We do this together, intertwined as our life is everyday, as our photographs are on my camera, and as we are in our most intimate moments.

We hiked two miles to Devil’s Kitchen lean-to (off Devil’s Path on the blue blazed side trail to Echo Lake), where we camped up among the pines for our first night. I knew what was coming on the trail the next day and it was going to be difficult. What I didn’t realize was that we were camped too close to the river and would end up with a ticket from the ranger the following morning, despite our other meticulous Leave No Trace ethics.

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We squeezed both of us into my one-man Tarptent Contrail for our first cozy camp.

Day two began with that stress which I found hard to shake. It put me right back in the place I was in last year. My body hurt as we began to hike and I couldn’t catch my breath. Johnny knew what was going on though and encouraged me to just keep going and it would pass. Indian Head mountain was slippery and wet with rocks, roots, and cliffs for a trail. Just as I remembered it. But miraculously it was not as bad as I remembered it. I had arm strength and broke through my psychological wall before I hit the summit despite the impending thunderstorm.

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A difficult section of trail, which was standard for the first full day.

The sky grumbled and far off lightning flashed occasionally through the thick cloud cover. We waited under a cliff and ate raspberry/cashew trail mix until it seemed the storm was too far off to justify delaying our hike, so we continued cautiously up and then down the other side. The thunderstorm never truly appeared but it was a wild rain.

We attempted to help a 75lb white and fluffy, soaking wet dog get down a section of trail that had only a sharp root as a hand hold for the long drop or he faced walking the plank down a wet tree. His owner finally turned back up the mountain with us and we had a nice conversation about lichen, solar power, and the merits of owning a Spot GPS.

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Believe it or not this is also the trail.

The orange salamanders and grey slugs loved the moisture. They slithered in our path and one even caught a ride on Johnny’s pack. After a short descent we said goodbye to our new friends and prepared to tackle Twin mountain. Loose slate slid and tipped under our feet but we were rewarded with a little view at the second of the two summits.

After we completed the short descent off Twin mountain, I was standing at the side trail that had taken me home last year. That hike had been so hard, and I had been completely defeated. I wondered if failing again would sour the way I felt in my sanctuary. Would it no longer be home? Would I become obsessed with returning to the hike I couldn’t conquer?

Next post… Part Two: Beyond My Strength on Devil’s Path

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More trail… straight up we go.

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A well-constructed bridge that we encountered on day one.

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Johnny gives a little scale to this section of trail as the sun finally makes an appearance.

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Squeeze on through!

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5 thoughts on “My Quest to Complete Devil’s Path

  1. Daniel Capilla

    The first part of the route seems very hard, looking at the pictures. Even more carrying a heavy backpack.

    The first picture is impressive. In Spain you can only see landscapes like that one in northern regions such as Galicia or Asturias. When I imagine a green and rainy place, I always think “Asturias!”.

    1. znara Post author

      It is wet our here. The moss grows in every shade of green with the lichen and mushrooms in every other color of the rainbow. This can make hiking challenging but beautiful.

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