I woke up on the first day of a long weekend with a bit of a hangover. I had a beer (or two) too many on Friday night, but I had committed myself to doing a trail run and since I'm registered for a 50k at the end of the month I needed to improve on my previous two trail runs.
I drove over to the trail-head feeling semi-transparent and in denial about how much of an effect the beers from the night before was having on me.
I parked my car and hoisted my trail-pack (heavy with fluids) onto my back and entered the woods, I made sure to take a moment to start my Garmin.
I made my way down the reasonably flat portion of the trail appreciating the morning cloud cover. I was afraid of dealing with a strong sun and figured that if the clouds prevailed I would be ok.
I settled into a comfortably easy pace while adjusted my gear and stride to suite the gently rolling terrain. I spotted the ruts and rocks and felt reasonably confident that I was able to overcome the lightheaded feeling I had back at the car.
Climbing Dark Hollow
I scrambled up off the unmarked trail and onto the railroad tracks that ran along Schunnemunk. I carefully ran briefly along the tracks watching my steps on the irregular grey stone lining the tracks.
Within a few minutes I spotted the Otterkill Trail (red) on the other side of the tracks. I crossed over to the gentler trail that followed the eastern base of the mountain.
Yet another climb
Before the second mile the Otterkill trail finished and I crossed over to the Dark Hollow Trail (black). Dark Hollow is a brutal trail that climbs Schunnemunk's eastern ascent.
The thing about the eastern-side of Schunnemunk is that the climbs are relentless. Just after you think you've reached the top, you've actually only reached a brief plateau with yet another climb behind it.
Eatern Ridge looking south
I scrambled/power hiked my way to the top of the second plateau and took a moment to sit down and rest while I admired the views. I drank a bit and took a few photos while I wrestled my heart-rate back into submission. Once I gained my composure I continued on the black trail, shuffling my feet as I waited for some strength to return after the previous two climbs.
As the trail leveled for a few moments I regained my strength just in time for the next scramble. The wall was steep and I had to use my hands to grab handholds in the rocks and push off slender trees along the side of the trail.
Conglomerate with trail markers
I eventually conquered Dark Hollow and merged left onto the Jessup Trail (yellow)/Highlands Trail (Teal). I was still heading south (away from the start). The trail pushed along the crest of the eastern ridge across a purplish conglomerate speckled with pitch pines and seemingly misplaced conglomerate boulders.
The trail offered little shade and I could feel the sun's rays as it burned away the morning haze. I drank water from my Camelback as I consciously conserved the sugary sports drink (for when I really needed it).
I watched my footing on the rough stone ridge as I saw a Flintstone's style message painted on the rock indicating the the Megaliths were just a short detour to the right.
I took this as an opportunity to fuel up. I took a salt tablet, an organic baby food in a pouch (I have been experimenting with nutrition) and some more water. I was drenched with sweat and knew it was going to be critical monitor and replace the fluids I was losing in the heat.
Megaliths looking south
I stood and easily made my way down the short white trail to the Megaliths. I've been here before and everytime I visit I'm re minded of the granite cliffs of the Shawungunk ridge. The view is lovely and the size of these rocks is staggering.
After a moment of awe and a transparent effort to sneak in more rest, I returned to the run.
I had a brief climb from the Meagaliths, across the conglomerate back to the Jessup/Highlands trail.
I resumed my southern trek contemplating abandoning the planned route and starting my return trip early by traversing the Western Ridge Trail (Blue). Determined to extend my training, I opted to continue southbound till I reached the Long Path (Aqua).
Another 1/2 mile and I could sense I was getting close to the transition. After several small descents and a twist in the trail that was obviously reflected on my trail map the intersection appeared. The aqua blaze on a pitch pine turned me to the west and onto my return route.
Turning onto the Long Path
The Long Path offered a quick view of a western vista before descending steeply into the deep cravass that defines the eastern and western ridges of Schunnemunk.
I cautiously followed the trail across a gnarly boulder field and to the bottom of the descent. The trail rounded the southern tip of the western ridge and gradually increased in elevation.
Not nearly as intense a climb as Dark Hollow and I was grateful for the lenience as attempted to manage my body temperature and energy level. The sun was getting stronger and I was now falling victim to it's wrath.
My shirt was soaked and my backpack felt like it was a heater on my back. I drank till the bladder was dry and all I had left with were two 500 Ml (16.9 oz) bottles. I was hot and searching for a cool shady spot to rest, but there were none.
Looking across to the eastern ridge
I was on a trail cresting the ridge and as such there was little shade to be found. As I navigated the dry underbrush and pitch pines I decided it would be better for me to try to maintain my momentum than stall it and extending the suffering with a rest.
I was pretty miserable, yet I managed to keep trudging along as I rationed my fluids and wished for a cooling wind or rain, but most of all... I wished for this run to be over.
"The Long path is a very long path".
With each vista or intersection with another trail I used the opportunity as a feigned excuse to take a break, and take a photo, drink and/or check my map for an extended moment of rest
From the Trestle trail looking North
I eventually returned to familiar trails which lifted my spirits. It did little for the excruciating heat but I knew my way home. I could now gauge how much I could drink and how often. Best of all, I knew that I would soon transfer to the Trestle Trail (white) which is predominately downhill and in the shade.
The Trestle Trail is far from an "easy" descent, the trail is strewn with loose rocks, roots and irregular ruts warn into the mountain by storm wash. It's by far not relaxing, but it's downhill, it's in the shade and taking me home.
I made my way to the northern nose of Schunnemunk and began a brutally steep descent. With every step my toes slid to the front of my trail shoes and my knees creaked under the exagerated impact.
I followed the endlessly zig-zagging trail. More than once I caught a toe that sent painful shock waves through my aching body.
Managing to avoid an ugly face-plant I finally arrived at the street. I turned to the right and followed the road but a few hundred yards to where my car was parked.
I stopped my Garmin at exactly 10 miles and peeled the back pack from my saturated back.
A brutal workout that tested my ability to continue but I made it. My pace was horrible but the terrain was some of the most challenging in the area.
Distance: 10 Miles Time: 4hr 05 min Elevation Gain: 1,760 ft