It’s easy to become overconfident when you’re spending most of your weekends outdoors. But the thing about exploring these wild places is that eventually you’ll encounter a situation that humbles you.
Such was our own experience a few weeks ago on the Devil’s Path—a 22ish mile hike that winds up and down six peaks in the Catskills. The challenge became both mental and physical as we attempted to climb Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, Hunter and Westkill mountain in a day. We’ve been on a few long distance backpacking trips and thought this day-hike, while not easy, wouldn’t require more than just some extra sweat and motivation to get through.
We quickly discovered this wasn’t the case. Those trails are steep and while the treks uphill were a struggle, it was the hours and hours of downhill hiking that really thrashed us (we continued to pay for those downhills every time we had to amble down the stairs from our 4th floor walk-up over the next few days).
Needless to say, we were miserable as we crawled down the fourth peak of the day (Plateau, which everybody says is the most difficult descent due to the loose, flat rock that makes up the trail). But our spirits really took a blow when it was decided that we’d have to stay behind with a hiking partner who was having trouble maintaining the pace needed to finish before dark while the rest of the group went ahead.
We wish we could tell you that it didn’t matter that we couldn’t finish and that it was still a great day because we got to spend it in the beautiful outdoors. But that would be bullshit. If you’re attempting to do something like Devil’s Path in a day, it definitely matters if you finish. While we’re still annoyed that we didn’t complete the hike, knowing what we’re in for makes it hard to try again—we haven’t recovered enough to voluntarily put ourselves through that much misery.
If even after this review you’re still thinking “I definitely want to do that,” we recommend you jump on a trip with either Destination Backcountry Adventures or Adventurers Untamed (REI makes a three day trip out of it which, while a bit pricey, is probably the more sane way to do it). Employing a guide service will increase your chances of success because they’ll help with logistics like pointing out water sources (so you can keep your pack light) and making sure you’re on pace to finish before it gets dark. They’ll also take care of transportation—the hike isn’t a loop so two vehicles are needed unless you want to hike back to the trailhead after you’re finished (you do not).