Recently an adventure presented itself, the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run. A 13, 30, or 70-mile hike/run, the SRT is organized by Run Wild, a non-profit dedicated to preserving open space. The 70-mile starts at High Point on the NY/NJ border, the 30 at Sam’s Point and the 13 at Peterskill all finishing at the restored train trestle in Rosendale.
My buddy Freebird suggested the 30. He and I had completed the 24-mile Devil’s Path in a day earlier this summer so we deemed ourselves qualified. This would be my biggest distance by far. “We got this” was part of our foolish banter. On 9/11 at 9 am, after a moment of silence for the victims of the 2001 attacks twenty years earlier, we took off in a swarm.
I proudly crossed the starting line last knowing I wouldn’t be at the finish line first. Making it to Rosendale before dark and enjoying the scenery along the way was my only plan.
The run is a minimalist format. There are checkpoints but no aid stations. No water drops or caches are allowed. You are on your own and must be self supported. Carry in and carry out.
My history with the Gunks runs deep. When I was young, my mom would take us up to Mohonk for the day. She’d wander the gardens as we ran around discovering the hidden wonder. The castle-like hotel, crystal clear lake and gazebos on their rocky perches created a land of make believe. Scrambling up through the labyrinth, lemon squeeze and climbing the ladders of Skytop to Smiley tower was a big adventure. With views stretching across the Hudson Valley, the Highlands, Catskills and beyond it’s a magical place.
The adventure continued as I became an adult. I spent years hiking and mountain biking the trails and carriage roads. The lofty ridges are were I learned to rock climb and paraglide. My wife and I even spent our honeymoon there.
Walking up to Sam’s Point warmed the blood as the views opened up to a beautiful day. After the turn to the Ice Caves the trail turns towards Verkeederkill Falls and one of the most stunning places of the range. Like an island in the sky, across vast pine barrens ravaged by fire, the view drops to the valley over a thousand feet below.
This wild place is now part of the 23,000 acre Minnewaska State Park after being conveyed by the Open Space Institute. Rich in biodiversity this rare natural community is a sight to behold. Scurrying along the single track through the heath, it is easy to see why the Nature Conservancy recognizes the region as “one of the last great places” on earth. We’re fortunate to have this protected space and the freedom to roam it.
Freebird was gone, off with the fitness crew, while I settled into a nice pace with the lollygaggers. Armed with cell phones and extra batteries our downloaded maps showed our GPS coordinates. The Shawangunk Ridge Trail links many trails that have their own blazes. A blue SRT disc is used at junctions to show the way.
Moss, wintergreen and a diverse mix of blueberries and huckleberries form a dense mat on the white quartzite congomerate rock polished smooth by glaciers. Sweet, Bracken and Hayscented fern grow in thick stands below dwarf pitch pines, some of which are hundreds of years old. Mesmerized by the landscape the forest drew me in. Cairns of rocks and bear scat were scattered about.
Passing Haseco Lake the beavers made sure our feet got wet by flooding the trail. We hugged the ridge above Lake Awosting passing Murray Hill and Margaret Cliff. Down the cliffs above a Spruce glen we squeezed through a cave and started the climb to back up to Castle Point. Hand over hand we arrived on top.
Down the carriage way a missed turn was luckily pointed out by a fellow runner. With the course corrected we found our way up over Battlement Terrace with incredible views of the Catskills.
We plunged down into Huntington Ravine and were replenished by the water of Rainbow Falls. After filtering some water I was back on the trail.
I popped out of the woods on the Awosting Carriageway and found my sister standing there. She had biked in and waited for two hours to cheer me on. It gave me a much needed boost. Back on the Jenny Lane Trail my knee decided there was no more jogging. I managed to get to Checkpoint 1 at Rte 55/44 now 13 miles in.
After some ibuprofen and more water filtered I was on my way up the High Peterskill. Down into the cool of the glen thick with Rhododendrons. Over the stream and passed the old ski slopes of Ski Minne. Up Dickie Barre and passed Lost City I trucked it to checkpoint 2 at Coxingkill and Split Rock and its refreshingly cold pools.
I was now more than halfway, “I got this.” In the 8,500 acre Mohonk Preserve the woods were decidedly different. Oak and Hemlock dominated the space, the trail was lined with a thicket of laurel. On my own I took off up the Old Minnewaska Trail. A blister was now forming on my heel and I resorted to a hurried shuffle mixed with an 80’s power walk. I found the Undivided Lot Trail and the next miles were a blur.
High above the Clove Valley and the Rondout beyond I traversed past the Outback slabs, my solitude broken only occasionally by the raven’s call. The miles kept coming and soon I came upon the Chapel, thank God! I passed the old barn, with fields aglow with Goldenrod and Aster, I found the final checkpoint at Spring Farm. It was 5:30pm with 6 miles to go.
Up through the meadows towards Bonticou I caught up with a barefooter. I decided then that my blister wasn’t so bad. Up the NorthEast Trail the views open again and I took time to enjoy the beauty of the evening.
The Clearwater Trail was next with some deep woods complete with a muddy swamp. I found the rail trail in the fading light and soon the trestle came into view. I made it.
I crossed the finish line at 7:30pm, received a wooden medal and walked away with a T-shirt. It was a journey of a lifetime. Meeting up with Freebird we celebrated our accomplishment. Pizza and beer never tasted so good.
On Labor Day weekend a week before the Shawangunk Ridge Trail challenge, my wife and I took our 3 year old Peanut up to Mohonk for the first time. Hiking up from the gatehouse we made our way up to Smiley Tower.
The Peanut was convinced she was at Elsa’s Ice Castle and the hotel was Arendelle from Frozen. We laughed as she ran around Skytop waving her arms “freezing” everything. As I looked out across the ridge and contemplated my upcoming course I thought of the adventures she will have in life. Clearly for her the magic has already begun.