I started hiking in 2018 with no experience and even less knowledge. I didn’t know I liked hiking. I didn’t know anything about hiking. But I was so depressed, so stuck — just sick of working in front of a computer all day — I only knew I needed to get the hell out of my house.
My first hike was a failure. I googled and found The Devil’s Path. “Perfect! Sounds great!” I thought. So I took my daughter to Indian Head and we climbed the Jimmy Dolan Notch trail. This isn’t even the right trail to take. It’s boring. It sucks. We climbed in sneakers, with no water, no snacks, no map, no compass, and wearing cotton head-to-toe. Just the absolute worst, the noobiest. We didn’t even make it to the col. We were so tired we had to turn around just below the notch.
But we had such a great time.
A few weeks later, having researched a ton and prepared a little better, I tried again. This time, I made it to the col. But I was still out of shape and, again, the hike up nearly killed me. I sat on a rock and caught my breath. When I was ready, I started up the final section. The next 30 minutes changed my life.
I came to an unexpected, spectacular boulder and fell in love with it on the spot. Jutting out of the mountain like a Devonian space cruiser about to launch, the trail has no option but to wind respectfully around it. Water trickles across its shattered surface from an unknowable source and, in the late fall and winter — I later saw — it gets iced-up in odd and beautiful ways. There’s nothing else like it on the mountain, or anywhere else in the Park. This rock is my bellwether for the seasons in the Catskills. It’s a sentinel, a steward, a soldier, an altar, a harbinger, and a herald of everything that happens in our divine wilderness.
Around and above the boulder, I entered a completely new environment. On most of the Catskill mountains, above 3200’ or so, everything changes. For someone who’s spent 30 years writing code, inside, on flat two-dimensional screens, the intensity of the extremely three-dimensional mountain universe feels almost like too much reality: the wet dirt, the cold rough rocks, the roots, the moss, the cliffs, the stunted gnarly trees, the pungent the smell of Christmas in the heat of July, the insane views — all the sensory inputs are so rich, I can literally feel my world expand.
Expand to where it should be, to its natural human proportion, expand back from its modern shrunken state.
This is why I hike.
I pushed on and navigated my first ledge, awkwardly pulling myself up between the rocks with a branch assist. When I got to the summit, it was unexceptional, and fully socked in: thick cloud, no views, I couldn’t see twenty feet. But all around, drifting slowly between the hemlocks and balsam pine, fat water droplets hung in the air. Not mist. Droplets. Droplets you could touch. Globs of water just wafting by. And it was so, so, so quiet. I didn’t know clouds were like this.
I felt something change right there, on that spot. I looked around for someone. I wanted to ask, “Are you fucking kidding me? No-one told me about this?!” I knew I was going to do a whole bunch of this.
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