The Catskills’ Devil’s Path is considered one of the Northeast’s toughest hiking trails–thanks to its 24.2 mile end-to-end length, elevation gain of nine thousand feet, its steep sections which require scrambling up rocks and tree trunks, and in the summer, its devilish lack of water. Hiking it it one-day remains a serious challenge; yesterday my friends, Erik German and Steven Weinberg (the artist, not the Nobel Prize-winning physicist), and I hiked it in 17 hours and 30 minutes. Needless to say, I’m sore and tired. (So are they.)
We began on the hike on Wednesday morning after spending the night at Weinberg’s Spruceton Inn, which is conveniently located a short drive from the terminus point of the trail. Erik and I drove up the night before from Brooklyn, crashed at the Inn, and then awoke at 3:30AM to get organized. (We carried headlamps for the start and end of the hike, lots of snacks to keep ourselves fueled and to avoid the dreaded ‘bonk,’ some extra layers in case it got chilly, three liters of water each; I packed a pair of hiking poles as well.) We parked Steve’s truck at the Spruceton Road terminus, then drove in Erik’s car to the Prediger Road trailhead, which marks the starting point of the traverse. We began hiking at 4:45AM.
The Eastern section of the path (which runs into Route 214) is steeper, craggier, longer, and harder than the Western section. But the Western section is more hearbreaking because when you get to it, you have already done thirteen miles of hiking, which is a good day’s work by itself. The long, steep, ascents have burst your lungs and loaded your quads; the breakneck descents into the notches have banged up your knees. (My hiking poles were of great help in the second half of the trail, by which time my left knee had started to complain.) And you’ve sweated several gallons of sweat.
Hiking the Devil’s Path in the summer means you get long hours of daylight; you also get warm afternoons and drenched shirts. We finished the hike at 10:15 PM, back at Steve’s truck, which we then drove in back to the Inn. (I can highly recommend using the Spruceton Inn in this fashion to facilitate your hiking of the Devil’s Path; the multi-talented Steven and Casey are wonderful hosts.)
Hiking the Devil’s Path in one day requires explanation. This is a trail that is most often done in two or three days. Hiking it in one day turns it into a test of endurance and patience; the body hurts, the mind grows a little numb. But when it’s over, what sweet joy. That sounds perverse, but it’s the same sentiment that underwrites most activities like this: you do them to see if you can, and then you bask in the glow of having done so. Food and drink tastes incomparably better; the world’s intractable tasks seem a little easier.
It does help, that in hiking the Devil’s Path with friends, you enjoy: climbing five of the Catskill’s highest peaks, long walks on ridgelines and pine forest, many epic views from rocky overlooks, and best of all, their company and camaraderie on a strenuous task. I wouldn’t do the hike again–once is more than enough–but I’ll happily hang with this crew again.