Wings of Manitou – May 16, 2020

Wings of Manitou

Guest post by Tom deHaan

The Catskill Long Path is an 89-mile section of beautiful and rugged trail that runs north / south through the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Two well-known trail races, the Escarpment (18 ½ miles) and Manitou’s Revenge (54 miles) share the first 60 miles of the Long Path trail. In total, the Long Path climbs 11 of the Catskill High Peaks (Over 3,500 feet) and travels over a half a dozen smaller peaks, totaling approximately 25,000 feet of climbing. Only three roads intersect this nearly 90-mile section of trail. They are at about 23 miles, 34 miles and 60 miles. For a self-supported attempt, these are the logical locations to cache food and supplies which is what I had done. To me, this is the premier long distance trail route within the boundaries of the Catskill State Park.
I had completed this section of trail over three days about five years ago while training for the Superior 100 trail race. Those three days also helped me through a personally tough time in my life and inspired me to want to return for a complete continuous push. Due to the Corona virus and subsequent cancellation of this year’s Massanutten 100 trail race, things fell into place for me to give it a go.

I started at the Northern terminus, the Windham Trailhead at 6:00 am on Saturday May 16th. A beautiful day it was, with nearly the best conditions I’ve experienced throughout the entire section of trail that makes up the Escarpment and Manitou’s Revenge racecourse. I kept a comfortable pace and completed the escarpment course in 4:50. With the exception of the swampy plateau around Kaaterskill High peak, it was pretty much dry, sticky rock and beautiful views the whole way. The summit of Twin Mountain provides spectacular views of the Catskill range and beyond. From this vantage point, the final summit of this journey, Peekamoose Mountain, could be seen 50 miles in the distance. I reached the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain, at 41 miles which I had thought to be about the halfway point in eleven hours. Nighttime came as I was traveling the summit ridge of Edgewood Mountain. The section that descends to Warner Creek had lots of blow down but still pretty clean conditions throughout.

I arrived at the Mount Tremper roadway, just shy of 60 miles in seventeen hours. It was now 11:00pm and up to this point, I had felt consistent and comfortable throughout the day. I spent the next 45 minutes scouring the trail side looking for my last cache of food and supplies. Unable to locate it, a sickening sense of despair swept over me. I feared this was coming to an abrupt end. All my effort wasted. I assessed what I had in my pack and decided to continue with what little food was remaining. As climber Yvon Chouinard is known to have famously said, “It’s not an adventure till something goes wrong”.
Music helped shift my mindset. The section up Romer Mountain and Mount Pleasant went relatively well. Lights illuminating from distant houses perched high along the mountainside gave the illusion of civilization being just minutes away. Later that night, heavy fog rolled in along the Cross Mountain ridge line. As familiar as I am with the trail, the density of the fog really limited vision and made for some route-finding challenges I was not anticipating. I was certain at one point that I had completely turned around and was traveling in the opposite direction. I eventually reached the summit rocks that offer sweeping views in daylight and was assured of my position.

I arrived at the junction for the Boroughs trail at about 5:30am and was thankful for day light. The conditions of the Boroughs range were completely different than that of the Escarpment and Devils Path the day before. The mountains were fogged in and despite the absence of any rain the night before, the trail was surprisingly wet. At 6:30 am, I came upon two hikers just waking from a sleep on the summit of Wittenberg Mountain. With the mountains still in fog, I continued on to Cornell and then to Slide Mountain. I’ve trekked through the Boroughs range in every sort of weather and for the first time, in this fatigued state, gave pause to some of the climbing that lay ahead. To me, the Boroughs range is on par in beauty and challenge to any other trail in the Catskills. I saw no one as I traveled to Slide. I took a photo of the John Burroughs plague on the summit and headed on. A ribbon of ice led the way down to the Curtis-Ormsbee trail. I was grateful to be going down. Every so often, a memory came to me of the many years I’ve passed through these mountains with friends and ever loyal companions.

A light mist and cool breeze hung in the air. I put my jacket on, took it off, put it back on. Peaceful solitude. To my disappointment it appeared my GPS watch had died at 80 miles but that was fine. The experience had become so much more than the numbers.
The climb to Table Mountain teases you. It goes up, then down; up and down again. I ran into someone named Steve who was with two of his buddies. They were going for a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on a route called the Catskill 9. Funny, he didn’t know what the Long Path was. The summit of Table and the final summit, Peekamoose Mountain, were uneventful. Beautiful peaks but uneventful. I was happy to know I was close and no longer going up.

From the summit, I saw that I had 1:15 minutes to be finished in under 30 hours. Part of me didn’t care but then I did. Once I got moving, the running felt good. I met a few hikers and near the last mile ran into the droves of people that come up to enjoy the roadside swimming hole. I arrived at the Peekamoose trail head in 29:48 amongst the congested, party like atmosphere that has become known as the Blue Hole. What a contrast to the thirty hours spent in relative solitude.

The people who routinely crowd this tight, environmentally fragile notch have been a source of contention for the local community and understandably so. What I saw was a lot people, enjoying their own Catskill experience, as I had mine. It has been forty years since my first experience in the Catskill Mountains and that experience, was much like theirs today. And what an inspiration it was. The allure, beauty and opportunity to explore these mountains are never ending. I thank the Gods.

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1 Response to Wings of Manitou – May 16, 2020

  1. Pingback: Notes from New Hampshire – The Long Brown Path

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