"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Escarpment Trail Run - Adventure in the Catskills

I woke up with the roar of thunder and pouring rain on my tent hours before my scheduled wake up time. I knew the rain was coming, so I just turned over in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep for a while. 5 am rolled around and the rain was still going strong. My plan of waking up, having coffee while putting my tent away seemed doomed, so I decided to sleep more, and deal with the wet tent later. Finally around 6, I got up, grabbed the rain poncho from my car and packed everything away. I sat in the front seat eating my breakfast and thinking about the race to come. My Escarpment Trail Run adventure was about to begin.

Mountain Goats Only!
The Escarpment Trail Run is roughly 30km race from Windham to North Lake in Hanes Falls, NY. I learned about the Escarpment Trail Run few years ago when the description from the web peaked my interest: 
THE ESCARPMENT TRAIL RUN IS FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS ONLY!!! The Escarpment Trail is a very remote, rugged hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains in New York State. This single track trail crosses no roads, has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet, and requires all aid to be backpacked in by volunteers. This is not for your average runner but for the runner who trains 12 months a year, and has spent years building a base and gaining long distance experience. Therefore, qualifying standards are required to insure that all participants have experience with endurance events and have a reasonable chance of completing the course within 6 hours. - Quoted from Escarpment Trail Site
The trail
If that alone is not enough for you, the trail description is what takes it to another level. Dick does such a great job explaining it that it would not do me any justice trying to recreate his words:
THE TRAIL... is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance. Contestants must be prepared to deal with any of the forest's natural barriers, such as bees, slippery rocks, porcupines, black bears (not probable, but possible) and anything else that can be found in the forests of the Catskills. There are numerous places where runners must climb hand over fist to scale a rise, conversely, extremely steep downhill sections add not only challenge to the course, but also a high degree of unwelcome danger. There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you're not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. Most runners take many. Believe me, you're going to take a flop or two, or more. Bees!!! In 1987, we ran into lots of them. If you are allergic to bee stings, you MUST run with your own medication. - Quoted from Escarpment Trail Site
The bib pickup at the start
It wasn't until this year that this race seemed to fit just right into my schedule. With the family being away, I decided that a weekend camping in the Catskills before the race was a perfect way to spend time. I arrived to Devil's Tombstone campground on Friday afternoon after a long drive up from PA. The campground was primitive but very cozy and I made the best of it. I was so excited that it was cool enough for a jacket after living in a disgusting, humid weather for weeks. I spent the next 2 days relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. If you are ever in Tannersville, NY you much check out Mama's Boy burger joint. Yum! One of the great features of the Escarpment is an annual gathering of all runners at RD's house on Saturday. It is a welcoming open house type of environment, and a great way to spend Saturday afternoon.
Where we are headed to from the start
I drove to the finish line at the North/South Lake Campground around 7am together with Phil from Australia who was also staying at the campground with his family. It was nice to have some company on the short 20 minute drive. From the finish line, we took a bus to the start in Windham. The race was starting at 9am, but with me being in Wave 6, I would not start until 9:25 which gave me some extra time to socialize and get ready. The atmosphere at the start was great. Everyone seemed very excited for the race. With light rain falling on and off runners seemed genuinely happy to greet new and old friends and to discuss race day strategy and projected finish times. I knew that the race would be difficult and technical, and with me already having run over 45 miles that week, I really didn't know what to expect time wise. All I knew was that I was going to cross that finish line before the 6 hour cutoff.
The views
Soon enough wave 6 was called up and we were off. Each wave had 15 people in it due to some NY State regulations. The start was flat for a little bit before starting a gradual climb to the Windham High Peek, a distance of about 3 miles and 2000+ ft. I started off running but soon transferred into a fast hike as my calves were starting to get sore. Not a good start. I pushed on and made it up to the top in about 1 hour. The run contains 3 major climbs with Windham being the first and longest, but not the steepest. From the top we followed the trail over rocks and roots before starting another climb up to Blackhead. This was a tough climb with over 1500+ft in less than a mile. Not only was going up tough, but going down was even tougher with steep pitches, wet rocks and places where you had to climb down using your hands. From Blackhead there is one more major climb up to Stoppel. On the way up to Stoppel you get to see a downed airplane which was really cool. The views during the entire race were absolutely incredible. I even took time to stop and peak at few vistas along the way. Breathtaking scenery.
Valley below in clouds
After Stoppel it is all technically downhill to the finish line at the North Shore Lake. My feelings during the race went from sore and tired to feeling really strong toward the finish. I would pick us speed when possible, and try not to fall down some crazy downhills. It felt great crossing the finish line. I still had a lot in my legs which was great considering that my 100 miler is coming up. I made it across in 5:29, which honestly was a little slower than I wanted, but still a good time. I knew I could have went a little faster perhaps in spots, but I also did not want to get hurt before my A race. Few near misses a slip on my butt but overall not bad. Since it had rained that morning all rocks were very slippery and my shoes really did not have any traction on the downhills. We were lucky not to get rained on during the race, even though thunderstorms were in the area. It was sticky. It was humid. It was hot. It was hard. It was awesome.
The plane
The Escarpment Trail Run is not for everyone, but I had an incredible time. If you like technical terrain, rocks, roots, steep ups and downs, you will not want to miss this race. It is very challenging but a great course. Bonus for the race is the lake at the end. What a perfect way to wash up after running for 6 hours.  Dick Vincent (the RD) and all the volunteers are absolutely incredible. They make the race special and I am sure that is what brings people back year after year. While I know that I will never compete for the top spot here, I know that I will be back for more of the Catskills very soon.

Go forth and run.

Few more photos:
Race profile

Beautiful up top

Yup, its hot

Keep on going

1 comment:

  1. It looking very exciting trails to go on. But all should concentrate while hiking. Any miss step can cause you serious injury. So you should carry your walking frames to become aware of yourself from the upcoming steps.


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