Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Run That Was Not At All What It Should Have Been

A few inches of fresh snow fell late on the Friday night of President's Day weekend. I thought it a the perfect opportunity to get out on the trails with my dog and best running partner; Milo.

3" of snow on the red trail
I decided we would run on Schunnemunk, our local mountain.
The run started from the trail-head with a somewhat intense but short climb (on the red trail) that then proceeds to undulate for about two miles before the real climbing begins.

Snow clouds leaving the valley
We ran through a fresh three inches of snow as the trail parallels the tracks of the Port Jervis train line. I was careful to watch Milo to make sure he didn't venture off to the tracks. The trains are not frequent on weekends but they do pose a threat on snowy days when their approach is muffled under the fresh snow.

Milo and I enjoyed being the first to lay new footprints along the trail. We  crossed over Baby Brook and the intersection of the Hudson Highlands and Jessup trail. Continuing to follow the red blazes past the next intersection with the white trail we continued on to the end of the red trail and onto the black trail.

Climbing the white trail
The black trail climbs the relentless eastern side of Schunnemunk mountain. Within minutes I was reduced to a power walk as my heart raced and my legs ached, I resisted the desire to take a break.

We continued with our forward progress and before too long the fresh three inches turned into 5 inches of snow still clinging to the trees and shrubs.

The snow deepens
The trail was clearly defined as the new snowfall laid out a virgin path as it parted the underbrush with it's white purity.

We  ran when we could and power-hiked through the more intense inclines and rocky scrambles.The landscape lost it's color and the surroundings turned to a black and white movie as we navigated the high-contrast landscape of snow and dormant trees.

Approaching one of the steeper inclines I paused for a moment to put on my Yak-Trax. I reviewed my map and gave Milo a handful of treats before we continued the final climb..

More snow
We scrambled our way up a sketchy portion and admired the beauty of the snowy blanket covering the highlands.

The trail, was now barely recognizable, and the snow was now at an estimated at eight inches.

Purely by memory from previous hikes/runs, we followed the now invisible path. We meandered briefly along the overlook before wandering into the scrub pines dotting the white landscape.

Snowy Hudson Valley Vista
Following the trail was difficult, I lost the markers frequently as the blazes were hidden under the snow. Being somewhat familiar with where I was I sensed  the direction to take as I scanned the landscape for the blazes to follow.

At a snowy boulder I took a moment to check my map before climbing onto the icy crag. Watching my footing I realized I was already at the intersection of the Highland/Jessup Trails (Aqua/Yellow).

Milo and I turned north and proceed through the fresh snow following the Aqua/Yellow markings.

The landscape was white and the contours were lost.

Jessup/Highland Trail Junction
I followed the breaks in the pines and shrubbery and paused frequently in search of the trail blazes often hidden under the snowy umbrella of the pitch pines.

We slowly made our way along the conglomerate ridge until I realized Milo was nowhere to be found.
Milo and snowy pitch pine

I called and I couldn't see or hear him... I back tracked a little and found his tracks where he left the trail. I followed them for a few yards before I realized I the drifts were eight inches or more and the rugged underbrush was not going to let me pass.

As well prepared as I was for a run in the lower levels of the mountain, I wasn't dressed to stand in the deep snow or stand still in gusting winds for long.

Hidden Trail
I called out repeatedly and and listened for any sign of Milo. I got out of the deep snow and stood on a wind swept rock trying to keep my feet from getting any colder (or wetter) than necessary. But as I stood on the rock I was exposed to the winds and I could feel the warmth generated from the previous climb quickly escaping my body.

"Milo! Milo! C'mon buddy..." I called and called for what seamed like fifteen minutes before I started to panic. I knew I had to get moving in order to protect myself from the elements. The wind was whipping and my core temperature was dropping but I couldn't rationalize leaving my dog on the mountain  top.

Like another world
I used my phone to call my wife. I needed another voice to share in my decision to move along. I couldn't justify the decision (by myself) to leave Milo. I had to share the decision because I didn't want to be the guy who left his dog on the top of the mountain.

My wife agreed, she could hear the panic in my voice and said what I already knew... that I should work my way off the top of the mountain and hopefully Milo would catch up.

Poor navigation and footing
But just before I hung up I started to move through the deep snow and eyed the route as it wrapped along the ridgeline, when through the barren brush my eye noticed a color that was familiar.

It was Milo's orange vest! He was on the trail about twenty-five yards away. He stood motionless as I approached. He was panting heavily and his tongue hung from his mouth as I approached him.

It was clear that he was exhausted... I checked him for injury and fortunately found none. I pulled out a handful of dog treats and fed him to restore some of his caloric-energy.

A couple more downhill miles
I suspected he was on the chase. He had probably found a tired deer and given him a chase for a mile or two across the top of the ridge, but I'll never know for sure.

Anxious to warm myself and get off the wind-swept mountain I hurried him down the path. Our progress was slow as we trudged through the deep snow. We circled more than once looking for the trail obscured by the snowfall.

On track again, Milo followed behind, which he normally does when he's tired and hungry. We carefully made our way across the backbone and began our descent.

I cautiously made my way through the steep rocky portions and glided over the more gentle descents. We opted for the shorter route which we're more familiar with than taking the planned route which would take us up another scramble before descending to the parked car.

View before the final descent
Still shaken I was grateful to reach a long downhill that brought us off the mountain and back to the red trail.

We backtracked out way across the eastern side of Schunnemunk and eventually made our way back to the car.

Exhausted I hugged my dog, happy we were done (mentally and physically) we got into the car, put on the heater and headed for the warm comfort of home.

Distance: 7.4 Miles
Time: 3:30:47

Elevation Gain: 1,704 ft

Elevation Profile

The Route