STEPHEN REGENOLDThe Billings Gazette | Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:05 am
At just 27 miles long, the Devil’s Path, a route through New York’s Catskill Mountains, has earned the title of the “hardest hiking trail in the East.” It gets this name not from its length, but from the vertical nature of the trail — in those 27 miles the precipitous path climbs and descends six major mountain peaks for more than 14,000 vertical feet of elevation change.
Last week, with two friends and a backpack of lightweight gear, I struck out from the Devils Path’s western terminus on a mission to hike it as fast as I could. We trekked into the darkness at 10 p.m. the first day, our plan to hike through part of the night and finish by the following evening in a 24-hours-or-less effort.
Backpacking trips like this, often dubbed “fast and light,” are becoming common in the outdoors. Distance goals of 15 miles a day or more are attainable with today’s lighter gear. Companies know this and now put emphasis on cutting ounces and trimming products to make the essentials easier to carry in a pack.
In New York last week we attempted to embody the “fast and light” way in its extreme. Our packs were half the size of regular backpacking models. Zero luxuries and nothing extra was toted on the trail — we did not even bring a tent. Instead, waterproof bivy bags, which pack to the size of an iPhone, would serve to protect us from rain at night.
Our clothing, including tights and running shirts, skewed more“aerobic” than “outdoorsy.” I wore a pair of arm-warmers, the Windbreak Sleeve model from Wigwam, which are like socks for your arms. The removable sleeves, favored by bikers and triathletes, worked wonderfully as we hiked fast, allowing for instant adjustment and temperature regulation on my bare arms.