I've always been driven by athletic challenges and one of my more recent challenges under consideration is to run the entire length of The Highlands Trail (obviously not in one day or one weekend).
|The Highlands Trail Head|
As part of my training for the North Face Endurance Challenge I decided that this weekend I would run a local extension of the Highlands Trail from the start of the trail at the Cornwall waterfront to Mineral Springs Road (also in Cornwall).
The run would traverse Storm King State Park and Black Rock Forest and cross over Storm King Mountain, Mount Misery and Black Rock.
The morning was overcast with thin steely grey clouds with a damp chill in the air. The temperatures were expected to warm into the 40s with partly sunny skies.
|Hudson River view|
The path follows a stream and up to lovely views of the Hudson and Cornwall. About 1.5 miles into the run the Highland Trail merges with the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail.
|Icy Storm King climb|
My trail shoes are great in the mud and for a solid grip on larger boulders but as I found out today, they're a bit sketchy on icy paths. I did all I could to resist the natural foot plants because that's where the ice had collected. I was safer stepping in the softer granulated snow or directly on the rocks that jutted out above the treacherously icy path.
I repeatedly found myself relying on the thinnest of scrub Mountain Laurel branches to help keep me on the path as it wound it's way up the formidable Storm King.
The effort to stay on the trail did little to diminish the spectacular views of the Hudson, Bannerman's Island and Denning's Point below.
The ice and snow disappear as the trail emerges from the shadows of the north side as it turns inward across a plateau of soft copper-colored needles under a grove of White Pines.
The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, The Shawungunk Ridge and the Catskills were now all visible from where I stood.
|Northern view from the top|
The path makes it way west winding through rocky paths surrounded by scruffy winter Mountain Laurel and up some milder climbs and down into softer ground still wet with puddles from yesterday's rains.
We eventually found our way to the far west ridge of Storm King and stopped for a moment to take in the view before we began our descent. We would be heading down to Mountain Road in Cornwall, just across from The Storm King School. There we would cross under Route 9W and head into Black Rock Forrest, leaving Storm King behind us.
At just about 5 miles Milo and I reached the main parking lot at Black Rock. Rather than taking the Reservoir Road on a gentle incline into the forest, the HT heads aggressively up the hill to the left. The trail winds it's way up through rock fields and chest thumping inclines.
With some concern, I thought about a recent run in Black Rock that had ridiculous amounts of climbing and led to a bonking experience deep in the woods. I didn't want to repeat that experience. With that in mind Milo and I pushed on to the top of this steep hill without a name (that I know of) and sat on a log to address our nutrition.
I experimented with a new sandwich idea; Nutella and Peanut Butter on a waffle. It wasn't until we were sitting in the woods that I realized that I couldn't share with Milo (because chocolate isn't good for dogs). I adjusted by giving him some more of his treats and a peanut butter and jelly cracker sandwich. He loved that!
|Icy path on Mount Misery|
Mount Misery is a steep and rugged climb that makes you hear your heart beating in your ears. And that's on a good day. I tried to keep moving as best I could but once again I was hindered by the glare ice on the trail. Again the natural place to step was the place with the worst footing. I continued on without incident picking my step carefully treading on ice-free rocks or corn snow along the edges of the path.
|Descending Mount Misery|
We continued on to the next descent. As most runners know, running downhill is not as easy as it sounds, and this downhill is pretty tough. It's steep enough to thrust you forward against your will and technical enough that a fall here would be pretty painful. I negotiated the boulder strewn trail and hit the bottom for only a moment before a brief climb.
|Aleck Meadow Reservoir|
We traced the edge of the reservoir and up a sloppy grade to one of the fire roads in Black Rock. We were only here for but a few minutes as the HT took a right and started yet another climb. This one was going to take us to the top of Black Rock.
The climb to the top of Black Rock isn't as steep as the Mount Misery or the Storm King climbs, but it's climb is challenging none the less. The the grade is such that it appears you can run it, but as you approach the top, it continues to get steeper until it brings you to a crawl. Relentless Forward Progress gets you to the top.
|View from Black Rock|
Milo and I stopped to enjoy the view for a moment and to have something more to eat. Milo had a few handfuls of his treats and I had a stroopwafel.
I also took a look at my map to get a perspective on how far along the journey we were. It appeared that we were maybe a little more than half way done, but the rest of the way wouldn't be as intense.
As expected the terrain treated us relatively well. There were climbs and there were descents but nothing that compared to the challenges in the first half of the run. We started to make what felt like really good time. It certainly wasn't easy, but we were doing well.
When we arrived at Jupiter's Boulder I dug into my pack and pulled out a bag of Sports Beans. This is the second time in two long runs that these "magic beans" have come to my rescue. They're so great in that they aren't dry and get my glands working and they're sweet... just like magic when you need them. I tried not to let Milo see I was eating (I wanted them all for myself).
We continued along on a slight downgrade for about another mile when I could hear water running. I knew this to be a good thing because I knew of the waterfall at the end at Mineral Springs. I said out loud "Milo, we did it, we're almost home".
The path got a little steeper, a little more uncomfortable and technical, but being so close to the end it was certainly nothing to complain about.
A gentle fire road exited on Old Mineral Springs Road. To continue on the Long Path you would take the right to Mineral Springs Road and down to Angola Road, but we parked just up the road to the left.
Together Milo and I ran 11.53 miles in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Our total elevation gain was 3,277 feet
I put Milo on the leash and we proudly ran back to the car.
|The Highlands Trail Overview|