“What does the Devil sound like?” — Anonymous
When I was hiking the DCUL “Death March” (Massanutten Trail) last Spring I had a lot of time to think—what do I want to do with my hike? The combination of Massanutten’s never ending rocks, and Twisted Sister’s rock anthem playing in my earbuds, inspired a response—I WANNA ROCK! ROCK! I wasn’t thinking about the annoying little rocks on Massanutten; I was seeking an Old Rag-style rock scramble—but one that goes on and on. I found it in New York’s Catskill Mountains—the Devil’s Path.
Michael Martin (Uturn) wrote in his famous book: “If you are looking for bragging rights . . . the Devil’s Path will not disappoint. [It is] often cited as one of the toughest trails in the east, or even the lower 48 . . .”
I needed no more motivation. I like to brag and I definitely like a theme. I posted the trip. Seven DCULers gamely signed on to join me. Together we would learn if the Devil’s Path was more like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Heck, why hold the suspense? I nailed it with Dee Snider’s “I Wanna Rock!”
The area couldn’t have been less inviting on paper. It was located in “West Kill,” New York, we hiked the “Devil’s Path,” we overnighted in “Devil’s Kitchen,” and then “Devil’s Acre” on “Hunter” Mountain. We drew water from the “Roaring Kill” spring. Of course, we first saw it in the pitch back of the night. To add to the macabre setting, Logan ran over a porcupine that crossed the road in front of his car on the way to the trailhead.
Most of us arrived in carpools very late Friday night to set up the shuttle. It is a brutal drive from DC. Jonathan (Shenanigans), Logan, Holley, Dmitri, and I (Spider-Man) hiked the two miles by headlamp on a seductively easy stroll to the Devil’s Kitchen shelter where we made camp around midnight. Susanne arrived later and slept in her car. Haigang arrived even later—the next morning to meet us as we broke camp.
The campsite was nice and the soft sounds of a creek, plus the exhaustion of a long drive to New York, immediately put us to sleep. The stars were shockingly brilliant, but we were too tired to do more than glance at them.
That morning, as one would expect, the easy path we enjoyed by moonlight to our campsite turned. Immediately, the trail became a never ending ladder up Indian Head Mountain. Our calves screamed as we rose straight up the first peak. At points, it was necessary to grab rocks and roots with the hands and feet to scale upwards. Good footing was essential at each step. Happily the morning air was cool and comfortable. However, this was work! Imagine how hard you breathe when sprinting—then imagine sprinting all day, up a ladder. That approximates the effort for our climb. Fortunately, the rock scrambles distracted somewhat from the exertion. However, my penchant for scoring “10 before 10” (10 miles before 10:00 a.m.) was not possible. I settled for 5 before 10, which still sounds cool. At the top of this first peak I belted out the chorus of “I Wanna Rock.” Those with me gamely joined in. Encouraged, I continued the practice at the top of each subsequent peak, with the increasingly waining enthusiasm of others. Weirdly, I reached the final peak on my own with no one to share my song.
Most of the peaks followed the same pattern—climb up the “ladder,” amble for a short time on the peak, then climb down. The weather change from each peak to base was dramatic—cool and breezy at the top; hot and humid at the bottom. In this manner we worked our way up and down Twin Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain. The next peak—Plateau Mountain—lived up to its name and featured a very long, flat stroll. The walk on the plateau was delightful. The fragrant balsam fur tree forest there swayed in a gentle, cool breeze which felt great against our shirts, sweaty from the climb. Our feet sang as they tread on the soft ground covered in evergreen needles.
In advance of Plateau Mountain, most of us tanked up at a nice spring not far off the trail. After filling my bottle I desperately looked for the valve to turn off the spring so that I wouldn’t waste water, before remembering one does not turn off a spring. Later, I asked everyone if they had this problem. No one admitted to it.
Since this was my first DCUL trip with my new trail name, I proudly wore a new Spider-Man shirt. This was the trail for it! It inspired other people hiking the trail to joke around with me. And, when no one was looking, I spun a web to swing over a rock scramble or two.
We hiked in different combinations of DCULers Saturday. True to his practice, Dmitri eschewed breaks. So, we kept passing him and him us. Shenanigans and I hiked together because he is very funny and his pace was just a bit faster than mine, which kept me motivated.
We would all meet up at overlooks. At one rest stop, Shenanigans took on the persona of the Devil when describing a brutal climb. Interestingly, he used the voice of a pirate for the Devil, prompting me to ask: what does the Devil sound like? He clearly thought of a cartoonish pirate. Holley thought he would sound sweet, but quickly qualified her answer pleading a poor theological education. Someone else thought he would sound like Marvin the Martian. Dmitri didn’t chime in but he should know—his childhood sounded like Hell. He told us of his days growing up in Siberia. His parents had him walk to school in the wilderness, whereupon he would regularly get attacked by wild dogs who, fortunately, could not kill him because he wore so much clothing in the minus 40 degree weather. I mentioned the time I almost missed the school bus, which was a bit less impressive.
What wild dog would mess with Dmitri?!?
We arrived at our campground in Devil’s Acre before 5:00, with plenty of daylight left. Dmitri arrived first and we scouted out the secret spot on the path to the peak of Southwest Hunter Mountain that Jen (Shuttle) told us about prior to the trip. The spot was perfect—just beyond a stream, tucked in the fur trees, with plenty of room. Shenanigans and I used the extra time to bag the Southwest Hunter Mountain peak. If you like the view from the peak of Mount Rodgers you would love the view from Southwest Hunter Mountain! (Spoiler alert: neither has a view—the peaks are in the middle of a flat forest).
When we returned from the “peak,” we saw that Holley and Logan arrived and set up camp. We were still waiting on Susanne and Haigang. Dmitri helpfully wrote out a cryptic note on toilet paper that he left at the Devil’s Acre shelter directing them to our site. However, in retrospect, this was not needed. Dmitri had hiked with Susanne and her sisters on a prior trip and learned they had bird calls for each other. He belted out a call—that sounded to me like a dying Siberian wolf—and Susanne responded with the proper sing-song call she uses with her sisters until she found our camp site. (This could be a good trail name for you, Dmitri—DSW!)
With extra time to spare, I sought out alone to bag the peak of Hunter Mountain—the highest peak on our trip (4,040 feet). I climbed a fire tower just past the peak for an amazing view.
Upon returning to the camping spot, Susanne and Haigang were there with the others cooking dinner. Not wanting to miss the fire tower experience, Shenanigans and Dmitri separately hiked up to bag the Hunter Mountain peak.
We climbed 6,363 feet that day over only 18.18 miles.
On Sunday we woke early to close out the hike. A steep decent led us to Diamond Notch Falls. Susanne stripped down and immediately went swimming. Haigang took artistic photos of the rushing water over the interesting rocks. Everyone else refilled water bottles and enjoyed the cool air off the falls.
Upon leaving the falls, we tackled a punishing climb up West Kill Mountain before the long decent to our cars.
Several of us followed Logan’s lead and cooled down in the West Kill creek before we drove the short distance to a nearby brewery. The beer was good; the food selection was not—unless you like lobster rolls and oysters. That was all they served. Logan was happy.
We reversed the shuttle, Shenanigans jumped Suzanne’s dead car battery, and we all settled in for the long drive home.
We climbed 1,695 feet over 8.77 miles. So, the grand total was 28 miles with 8,394 feet in elevation gain.
I do not recall DCUL running a trip to the Catskills in the past six years I’ve been a member. Holley and Shenanigans were glad they hiked the Devil’s Path, but it was the third and last time for one, and a perfect “one and done” for the other. Others of us would do it again. Because the “driving-to-hiking ratio” is so bad, a future run of this trip should be over a long weekend. Hike the Devil’s Path west to east, and continue from the eastern terminus onto the Long Path trail to add another day or so. Don’t let the Devil scare you away!