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Long-time Catskills Goal: The Linkup

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  • Long-time Catskills Goal: The Linkup

    Yesterday was one of the greatest hiking days Iíve ever had Ė and there have been a lot of hiking days. It had it all: Excellent weather, great trails, good company, and a fantastic challenge. It couldnít have been better.

    I very rarely share online any of my hikes (or anything else for that matter) but yesterday was special. I really believe this is one of the best possible day hikes in the Catskills, or anywhere else. Hopefully others will seize the momentum and get out and do it as well!

    My experience with the Devilís Path stretches back many years. It has always been one of my favorite days in the mountains and Iíve hiked it in a day multiple times. I usually start at Prediger Rd fairly early in the morning with the goal of getting to Spruceton Rd around 3-4pm in the afternoon, as other hikers are finishing their days. Iíve never had a problem hitching a ride back to my car on Prediger and have met some interesting folks along the way.

    Some years ago I was hiking the Devilís Path in a day with a friend of mine. It was his first time on the Devilís Path, but he had hiked the Escarpment Trail in a day multiple times. We got to discussing the differences between the trails. They are both similar lengths, both have some fantastic scenery and great terrain, but they are very, very different experiences. Most importantly, they are, for all intents and purposes, right next to one another.

    My background is climbing. In climbing, linkups are the norm. Whether itís linking pitches on one climb, or linking multiple routes on El Capitan in a day, or perhaps linking three desert towers in a day, linkups are a part of the climbing culture. When my friend and I were on the Devilís Path a few years ago, somewhere along the way while discussing the Devilís Path and the Escarpment Trail we got the idea that it might be possible to link them in one really big day. We spent the rest of the hike talking strategy, training plans, and what would make it work.

    The linkup, as my friends and I started referring to it, grew in importance to me. I really wanted it. Unfortunately, my friend injured his ankle in a bouldering fall, then moved away from the area for work. I knew I could probably do it on my own, but that Iíd prefer company, at least for the first half. I know a limited number of folks who have the ability to put down a solid time on the Devilís Path (which we agreed had to be done first), and even fewer who would be interested/willing to suffer through it in the dark. Regardless, I went ahead, planning to go for it when things felt right.

    Last year toward the end of June I knew I was in shape and could give it a solid go. I hadnít recruited anyone to join me, but had sufficient psyche to go for it. I cached water, had my nutrition for the day set, and was going to go for it. On my last water cache, at Dutcher Notch on the Escarpment Trail, I ran into Catskill Kev, a member here on these forums. It was nice to put a face with a name, and we talked for a bit.

    Unfortunately, two days before my attempt a family member got seriously ill and was admitted to the hospital. This of course took priority and I cancelled my plans without a thought. Thankfully the recovery was swift and everything worked out with no issues. The following week I was headed to California to backpack the Sierra High Route, do some rock climbing, and also fit in a bit of sailing. I knew when I got back it would be too hot to give it a go, so I abandoned the plan. I went and pulled my water caches and had a great trip in California.

    This year I was set. I trained the best way I know how. I firmly believe that the best way to train for Catskills hiking is by Catskills hiking. In April I hiked the last 28 peaks remaining for my Catskills Hundred Highest finish. I really loved that experience and saw some of the best seldom-traveled places in the Catskills. While finishing the Hundred Highest I hiked a number of 3500s as well, since I was in the neighborhood. I took May off from hiking to pursue other interests, but then in the beginning of June I thru-hiked the Foothills Trail. Then, from June 9th to July 9th I hiked a total of 49 Catskills 3500 peaks, along with some other non-3500 hiking.

    I knew that for the linkup to work I needed to travel light. My food needed to be light, but most importantly I needed to not be carrying much water. Accordingly, I cached water in quite a few places along the way. My caches were all out of sight of the trail and buried. I will be going back to these caches this week to retrieve the empty bottles. At no point on the hike did I carry more than two liters of water.

    An interesting development is that while hiking the Peekamoose 9 two weeks ago I randomly bumped into a fellow hiker on one of the bushwhack sections who was out there doing the same thing. We joined up for the rest of the hike, and while talking I mentioned what I was training for. He expressed interest, and I agreed that he could join if schedules aligned. My brother was going to be visiting from California, and he wanted to hike the Devilís Path with me, and perhaps would join for the entire linkup. The weather was right yesterday, July 14th, and the plan was set.

    I had given a lot of thought as to the best strategy. I knew that the Devilís Path is by far the tougher of the two, and that Iíd rather tackle it while fresh. I also decided that Iíd rather finish in the daylight, figuring that mentally Iíd have an easier time pushing hard in the daylight. The tradeoff would be that by starting in the evening Iíd be starting tired, giving up a night of sleep. Lastly, I devised a schedule, knowing that having something to adhere to would help push where necessary, while also aiding in not overdoing it in places. Here is what I came up with:
    • 9pm start at the Spruceton Rd. Devilís Path trailhead.
    • 11 hours for the Devilís Path. 5 hours to get to Devilís Tombstone/Notch Lake. 6 Hours from there to Prediger.
    • 2 hours to eat, rehydrate, bike the 10 miles to the Escarpment Trail trailhead, change clothes, and resupply food.
    • 10 hours to hike the Escarpment Trail

    This allows for a one hour buffer at the end. From past hiking experience I know that 40 miles is my ďCinderellaĒ mileage. After 40, things can start going wrong. The one hour buffer would allow me to significantly slow down if necessary toward the end.

    The three of us met at 6:30pm on Saturday to sort the last few things, cache bikes and cars, etc. Our start time at Spruceton was 9:08pm. This meant we needed to be done by 9:07pm on Sunday to meet the self-imposed challenge I had created. With the daylight as it is right now, we just barely had to turn our headlamps on to start. We would have the full possible amount of daylight in which to finish on Sunday.

    I took the lead starting off, emphasizing that itís important to start slow. At the beginning of a long day psyche can be very high, which often leads to setting an unsustainable pace. When playing the long game, slow and steady wins. As a famous climber said on a speed record attempt on El Capitan, ďStart out slow, go go go. Start out fast, just wonít last.Ē

    Hiking at night is interesting. Your world is reduced to the small bubble of light that your headlamp casts. The woods are quiet, still, and peaceful. About a mile up from the trailhead we ran into a couple who were completing the Devilís Path in a day. We congratulated them on their accomplishment, and they expressed surprise that we were just starting hiking. Because neither they nor we ever stopped, we didnít have to explain, and didnít share our plan. No reason to perhaps take away from their very worthy accomplishment by saying that we were doing something a bit bigger.

    We arrived at Devilís Tombstone in only four and a half hours, thirty minutes ahead of schedule. While this would seem like a good thing, I was concerned that we had perhaps overdone it. My new friend who I had met on the Peekamoose 9 had taken the lead from Diamond Notch Falls up to Devilís Acre lean-to and his psyche was super high. The pace was quicker than I would like, and I think this is where our half hour came from. We made certain to stop talking and sneak by as silently as possible while going past the Devilís Acre lean-to so as to not wake anyone sleeping. The lean-to was empty, which surprised me.

    I led us up Plateau, and we all welcomed the easy hiking that followed the summit. Even though the moon was almost full it did nothing to illuminate the woods through the thick forest. It would have made no difference if it was cloudy and with no moon. We had been hoping this would be different, but it really didnít matter. After Plateau, Sugarloaf and Twin passed quickly. We did pass two tents that were 3-4 feet off the trail. If we woke the campers I apologize, but at least we werenít a ranger writing tickets for sleeping too close to a trail.

    At Indian Head, now light out, we were starting to feel it. The nutrition plan was to eat 100 calories per hour, every hour. We were good about calling this out and ensuring everyone always ate. In addition, we had several larger ďmealsĒ along the way.

    We finished the Devilís Path at 7:37am, half an hour ahead of schedule. My brother was still getting over a cold and made the decision to stop. His breathing was stressed due to nasal congestion. This certainly was not a failure, as his initial goal had only been to hike the Devilís Path anyway. After eating and drinking, my friend and I hopped on our bikes and started off.

    It was important to me that I bike between the two trailheads, and this had always been part of my plan. I wanted to keep this adventure human-powered. It would certainly be ďpurerĒ to hike between the trailheads, but Iím not a fan of road-walking, and I also didnít think I could do this and keep it within the 24-hour timeframe.

    I stopped at Stewartís, purchased a Snapple and a bag of potato chips, and also washed my face. This was great since sweat had been dripping into my eyes for a while. The bike ride went well (Iím not a cyclist and hadnít been on my very old Craigslist bike in years) and after changing, rehydrating, and eating, we got underway on the Escarpment Trail at 9:22am.

    The first five miles of the Escarpment Trail went great. It was a change seeing so many tourist-hikers, and we wished everyone a cheerful ďGood morning!Ē After five miles things slowed. My friend was starting to hit the wall. I encouraged him to eat more. At the Dutcher Notch water cache a group of four women backpackers was having lunch on the trail. We refilled our water and chatted with them. They were low on water and we happily shared our extra. I also helped them with blisters with supplies I had in my small first aid kit. This was our longest stop of the hike and re-energized me significantly.

    At the top of Blackhead Mountain my body and mind must have smelled the barn. I suddenly felt 100%. My legs didnít feel sore, my feet didnít hurt, and somehow I wasnít tired. The last 10.2 miles flew by. For the first time on the entire hike I ran. I ran down Windham and arrived at the Elm Ridge parking area at 6:29pm, 21 hours and 21 minutes after starting. Goal accomplished!

    By the time I got back home after having dinner in Windham and retrieving vehicles, it had been around 40 hours without sleep, a feat I hadnít ďaccomplishedĒ since my Undergrad years. I learned a lot on this hike. The strategy of starting at night and finishing in the daylight works for me. Eating 100 calories per hour, every hour, kept me from ever bonking. I only used two Gu packets, one on the Devilís Path and one on the Escarpment Trail. My training seems to have been adequate and appropriate. I finished feeling fresh and that I could keep going. My feet never had any issues. Iím also psyched that it looks like I have a new friend with whom to share long days in the mountains. Our paces are compatible, and we seem to hike well together.

    Iím not much for sharing pictures online, and anyone reading this is very likely extremely familiar with Catskills scenery. Instead Iíll post the silly signs I created that we took pictures with at each stage.

    As far as difficulty, this is certainly up there. Iíve done a number of other ďbigĒ days. The traditional ďbig dayĒ most people think of is the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in a day. When I did that I wasnít in as good shape, it took a little under 17 hours, and wasnít nearly as hard. The difference is terrain. While the Grand Canyon certainly has elevation gain (and loss), the trails are essentially perfect. Theyíre smooth, wide, and with no obstacles. The Devilís Path is very rarely suitable for striding. Every step must be placed carefully. There are times you have to use your hands as well as your feet. Itís rare that one gets to take a full stride. While the Escarpment Trail is far easier, it too holds challenge.

    I do want to thank the trail maintainers for the Devilís Path and the Escarpment Trail. Iíve never seen the trails in better condition. There were zero deadfalls. The folks taking care of these trails are doing a stellar job. Conditions couldnít have been better. In fact, in all the time Iíve spent on the Devilís Path this is the only time Iíve seen the mud almost completely dried up. I was able to walk through all the usual mud pits without having to worry about getting my feet wet.

    There are a few other Catskills personal challenges I have in mind, and Iím always looking for suggestions. If anyone wants to give the linkup a shot, Iíd be happy to share where I made water caches and my reasoning behind my strategy. Give it a go Ė I think itís the best long day hike in the Catskills!

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    To Go and to See
    Is to Know and to Be

  • #2
    A fantastic report and an incredible hike! Thanks so much for sharing.
    We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing ~ Satchel Paige


    • #3
      Holy cow!!!! what an adventure and an excellent write-up! Huge congrats on the feat and thank you so much for sharing. this is one hell of an adventure and I can absolutely appreciate the planning that went into this. any chance you may be interested in adopting this for the Canister?
      46/46 as of August 1st, 2014!


      • #4
        Great story, 11th. Lots of good information in there for us. I especially liked the description of the night hiking and the thought process you used to devise your plan. Well planned and executed!


        • #5
          Congratulations 11th on your long-time goal! Have others done a hike and bike and hike? I like to bike first, so don't really think of this kind of thing, myself. It does inspire to simply bike and hike one of those trails, though. Its all a bit of a commitment, if you're not in to hitch-hiking.
          Last edited by CatskillKev; 07-20-2019, 07:47 AM.
          I might be kidding...


          • #6
            By my numbers, just looking at Acme Mapper quickly, 8200 ascent for the Devil's Path, 5400 for The Escarpment, adds up to 13, 600, which is 100 more than Manitou's Revenge race (my numbers from a map), and then add in your 500 feet on the bike, so you've got over 14,000 feet. 5 miles less hiking, 10 miles biking. Pretty comparable. Your adventure arguably harder due to bike transitions, and just being out there without 100 of your closest friends.

            Edit;Escarpment may be no more than 5000 gain.
            Last edited by CatskillKev; 07-18-2019, 11:38 PM.
            I might be kidding...


            • #7
              Wow, what an accomplishment! Big Send!


              • #8
                Thanks for the kind replies. I thought that I'd share my report of the double Devil's Path as well, which I hiked yesterday.

                Yesterday I put to bed my longest-standing Catskills hiking goal, the Double Devilís Path in a day. Back in December of 2010 I hiked the Devilís Path in a day for the first time and posted a report here on these forums. At that time, while hiking the Devilís Path for the first time, the idea of doing it twice in a day occurred to me. I had hoped to do the double in spring of 2011, but that never came to fruition and the idea went on the backburner.

                Iíd chatted about the double Devilís Path with friends over the years. I moved around the country, found different hiking goals, but always had it in the back of my mind. Then, a few years ago the idea of doing the linkup of the Devilís Path and the Escarpment Trail in a day came to mind and seemed much more alluring. After completing the linkup a few weeks ago, the double Devilís Path was the next logical thing to do.

                Surprisingly, I had no recovery from the linkup at all. I didnít feel sore afterward and did some hiking that same week. I wanted to give myself two weeks before doing another big day but after two weeks I cached water, formulated a plan, and decided to go for it. I was set to begin last Saturday but strong thunderstorms moved through and I decided to postpone, instead doing a fairly significant day of peak bagging on Sunday.

                This week the forecast just kept getting better and better for the weekend. I spent a few days in the Adirondacks at a friendís lake house and didnít get back to the Catskills until 1am on Saturday morning. I hadnít intended to leave the Adirondacks so late but my friends and I ended up out and about having fun. I went to sleep and was undecided if I would give the double Devilís Path a go. Waking up in the morning I still wasnít certain what I should do. It was between the double Devilís Path and hiking North Dome, Sherrill, and Halcott. Nettles or the doubleÖI chose the double.

                Iíd been trying to find someone to hike the double with me, or at least the night hiking section of it. While Iím certainly not afraid of the dark, Iíve found that I move slower at night when Iím alone. Unable to find anyone crazy enough to find enjoyment in such things, this became a solo adventure.

                The first order of business was putting in caches at Devilís Tombstone and Prediger Rd. I hung a cooler in a tree at each place, using the bear-hang method to keep them safe from any bruins. Each cooler had a sign on it that it was for a hiker, that it would be removed, and to please not bother it.

                After the caches were set I drove to Spruceton. Iíve hiked the Devilís Path in a day many times since my first crossing in 2010. I know that the eastern section is significantly harder and takes me a lot longer. I didnít want to have to face that near the end, when I was at my most tired. When doing a single traverse in a day I start at Prediger, to get the hard section done first.

                My start time at Spruceton was 6:46pm on Saturday, August 10th. I utilized the same strategy as on the linkup, getting the night hiking section out of the way first while Iím fresh, and then also the mental aspect of finishing in the daylight. I signed in at the register and then set my own pace. On the linkup we took turns setting pace. Itís nice to be able to turn oneís mind off and simply follow along when doing a long endurance hike but this time there would be no such luxury. I made it to the summit of Westkill before I had to turn on my headlamp.

                The strategy was much the same as on the linkup.
                • 11 hours from Spruceton to Prediger (5 hours to Devilís Tombstone, 6 hours from there to Prediger)
                • 12 hours from Prediger to Spruceton (30 minute break at Prediger, 6 hours and 30 minutes to Devilís Tombstone, 5 hours from there to Spruceton)

                I knew that for the double to work, and to keep it under the 24-hour timeframe, Iíd have to be conservative in my hiking but also determined. I didnít want to push it too hard anywhere and risk burning out, but I also knew that I couldnít afford to take breaks, enjoy views, or lose focus. The 23-hour schedule had a 1-hour buffer built in to allow for any issues that might arise. As long as I finished by 6:45pm on Sunday I would be happy. My plan was for a 30 minute break at Prediger Rd where I would eat, rehydrate, and change clothes. I also had a fresh pair of trail runners at Prediger, an added luxury.

                It took me a little while to adapt to hiking by myself at night; just me, the dark woods, and a dim headlamp. I had misplaced my main headlamp so was using my backup which is not as bright. As on the linkup, I made certain to pass by the Devilís Acre lean-to as quietly as possible. It was full and I donít think I disturbed anyone who was sleeping.

                The descent down from the Devil's Acre lean-to went well and I reached Devilís Tombstone in only 4 hours and 15 minutes, solidly ahead of schedule but not feeling that I had overdone it anywhere. I had a bite to eat, refilled my water, hydrated, and began the ascent up Plateau.

                On the way up Plateau I met a couple descending by headlamp. I remarked that it was a nice night for a hike, and we all stopped and chatted for a few minutes. They had been camped at Mink Hollow and a young bear had bothered them. Apparently they had yelled at it and shooed it away a few times, but it returned. They made the decision to leave, which I can understand. Itís very likely they would have been fine if they had stayed but it would not have been a restful or fun night. Talking with them pulled me out of my night-hiking trance and boosted my spirits, which resulted in an increased pace.

                The rest of the way to Prediger passed in a bit of a dream-like state. Alone with just my thoughts in the dark woods, I found it a bit difficult to maintain motivation. Usually when doing a big day I feed off a friendís energy and talk about the most ridiculous things we can think of, to keep us laughing and having fun. This time, on my own, my mind wandered.

                At 4:30am I came across two hikers who were getting an early start on the Devilís Path in a day. We chatted for a few minutes, and they told me they planned to finish by 5pm. I relayed the information about the bear at Mink Hollow (even though I did not see it), completely spacing on the fact that not only would it be daylight when they got there, but that it would be mid-day. Once again, the encounter boosted my motivation and increased my pace.

                I made it to Prediger at 5:06am, still ahead of schedule. I ate, rehydrated, changed, and got back on the trail within 25 minutes. Still using my headlamp, I was very much looking forward to sunrise. Not long after, the birds began chirping and I knew daylight was fast-approaching. Climbing up Indian Head, this time in the light, seemed like a completely different experience, even though I had just been there a little while ago. The difference from night to day made each mountain seem entirely different and provided me with some appreciated variety.

                Owing to the perfect weather, as well as the ever-increasing popularity of the Catskills, I started coming across hikers and backpackers as the morning progressed. With temperatures ranging from the 50s to the low 70s and very low humidity, I couldnít have asked for better weather. It was as if late September was affording me a sneak preview.

                Arriving back at Devilís Tombstone at 11:29am, I knew that the toughest part was behind me and it was just a matter of maintaining focus and getting it done. I was starting to feel a bit tired, more from lack of sleep than from physical exertion. After eating and drinking I started the climb back up to the Devilís Acre lean-to and noticed that I was really dragging. I also met a hiker from Canada who was hiking the Devilís Path in a day. He said that he had a bike cached at Prediger and planned to cycle back to his car at Spruceton. I asked him what time he planned to finish (6pm), and said that itís possible I would be there to retrieve my cached cooler, and if it worked out Iíd be happy to give him a ride. I clarified that he shouldnít count on me, but that if I was there it wouldnít be too much trouble.

                The climb up Westkill also dragged by fairly slowly, but at the summit I knew it was practically all downhill from there. I ate my first Gu of the hike and felt like a new person. This was definitely a mistake I made. I had plenty of Gu with me and should have taken them earlier when I first started feeling tired. After reaching the summit of St. Anneís (well, technically the actual summit is a bit off the trail) I let loose and ran for the first time on the entire hike. I flew down St. Anneís, and then at the sign I really opened up, running as if I was completely fresh.

                I reached the Spruceton parking area at 4:31pm, completing the double Devilís Path in 21 hours and 45 minutes. Goal accomplished!

                The double Devilís Path is a significant step up in difficulty from the Devilís Path/Escarpment linkup. Even though the double is approximately the same distance (not even counting the 10 miles of biking on the linkup), the Devilís Path is just so much more physically demanding than the Escarpment Trail that the difference becomes rather profound. On the linkup everything was fairly relaxed. We took in vistas, enjoyed some breaks, and didnít really push it. I believe that if I did the linkup again I could get it down to under 20 hours, maybe 19 hours if I really wanted. With the double I feel that I gave it a solid effort and canít say with certainty that I could take much time off it if I did it again. That said, it felt really, really good to put in a solid effort by myself and meet my goal. There was definitely a feeling of accomplishment all these years after I first had the idea.

                The way my caches were set I had water every 6 miles and food every 12 miles. I usually carried one and a half liters of water at a time, drinking a liter at every cache and then drinking approximately one liter between every cache. I carried my usual easily-digestible food/snacks, consuming a minimum of 100 calories every hour. Every 12 miles I ate a larger ďmeal.Ē

                After I took a few pictures at Spruceton I drove into Tannersville and got a burger and ice cream at Mamaís Boy Burgers, my typical after-hike choice. When I got to Prediger and retrieved my cooler I saw that the cached bike was still there. I decided to wait around a little bit, as I know itís a long ride from Prediger to Spruceton and doing it after the Devilís Path would be rough. A couple who had the car next to where I was parked finished their hike and cracked open a few beverages. We chatted for quite a while and I decided Iíd wait until 7pm. Around 7:15 I was just about to give up and the Canadian hiker appeared. We loaded his bike and I gave him a ride back to his car at Spruceton.

                If youíre considering doing a long Catskills hike, Iíd recommend the Devilís Path/Escarpment Trail linkup over the double Devilís Path. The linkup is more interesting, certainly more varied, and a bit easier. That said, the double Devilís Path is a challenging and rewarding day. These two hikes, the linkup and the double, conclude my major Catskills hiking goals. Iím looking for suggestions for the next 24-hour goal. If anyone has any ideas Iíd welcome them. I may have come up with a general idea for another fun and long day but still need to map it out a bit more and see if itís actually possible for me. Thanks for reading and see you out there!

                Attached is the silly sign I made and used for my selfies at the beginning and end.

                Click image for larger version  Name:	doubledevil.JPG Views:	18 Size:	24.9 KB ID:	499943
                To Go and to See
                Is to Know and to Be


                • #9
                  Dang! This is really incredible! Huge congratulations!!!

                  How about Fire Tower to Fire Tower? Start with Overlook, go over eastern DP, take Warner creek to Tremper? If that's not enough, you could throw in a bit of road walk to get to Lane street and hike the Burroughs range over Cross and Romer mountains? Loop to woodland valley and that's one hell of a day.
                  46/46 as of August 1st, 2014!


                  • #10
                    Congratulations! I thought Yana was going crazy, until I just noticed that you did the double. That's amazing that you didn't even get tired from your link-up.
                    I might be kidding...


                    • #11
                      Wow, that is truly amazing and inspiring. So well written and packed with tips and tricks and useful information. It was so nice of you to stick around and give a fellow hiker a lift at the end. Well done!

                      Iím wondering whether a Double Catskill Nine would be a suitable challenge for you. You could do one loop clockwise and reverse directions for the second.