Breakneck Ridge Survival Team Run/Hike by Ben Nephew
Earlier in the winter, or should I say the extended fall, I was thinking that this run on the Breakneck Point race course might be relatively snow free, or at least have somewhat fast conditions. How things change! I can easily say that that was my slowest, uh, attempt at forward motion, ever!
The day started with me waking up Steph, which would normally be strange, unless it is for a run, so it was normal. Fitting with this winter, our drive from New Paltz to Beacon involved me getting the Outback stuck in a snowbank in the front yard of Steph’s mother’s house. I’ve never gotten that thing stuck, and have been using the front bumper to clear 4 foot snowbanks from the end of our street to liberate our neighbors. Luckily, it didn’t take long to get out, and we were soon drifting our way down to Beacon, with commentary about not needing to drive so fast.
By the time we reached the lot with Elizabeth, Lenny, Jim, Silas, and Carlo, I was thoroughly confused on whether to wear Microspikes or my Dion snowshoes. I was also a bit, possibly severely, conflicted about what to wear. The others didn’t have all that many options, where I had an expedition pack full of clothes. I finally decided on the snowshoes and enough clothes to keep the snow off me.
I had initially considered trying to do a different route than what Elizabeth proposed to get GPS data on the last 10 miles for Ian Golden, the RD, but with the recent snow, I figured it might be nice if our group (me, Carlo, and Silas) break trail for the rest of the team. The start of the run straight up Breakneck Ridge was a blast, with Carlo leading the way and Silas illustrating how easier that terrain would be if I was a foot taller. The traction from my Dion’s with my custom deep snow cleat was surprising good up the ridge. While the race course does omit the last rock scramble to the summit, it includes the majority of the fun climbing.
The initial descent towards Cold Spring was a steep, twisty, deep snow slide through the trees. I was definitely still happy with my decision on the snowshoes, even when we reached the carriage road section lower down where the snow was not very deep. The shallow depth continued for a while up towards an abandoned quarry, and then things got slow. Tracks mostly disappeared, and we up to our knees for extended sections. We stopped to take in the views off the shoulder of Bull Hill on the Undercliff trail, and search for the trail while we were at it. We stumbled down to Breakneck Brook and headed north towards the ruins of the Cornish Estate on trail that was somewhat tracked.
This did not last long, and the conversation stopped on the hands-on-knees climb back up to Breakneck ridge. The ridge trail looked untouched; any recent tracks were long gone to the wind. Knee lifting was becoming exhausting by this point, hip flexors were shot, and we were all hoping for a packed section of trail, even if it was just a few hundred meters. I was just glad one of us had snowshoes, even if it was me and it meant I was the chosen one to be sacrificed to the snow gods.
Just as we were beginning to really tire of the wallowing, the snow got a little deeper and the trail disappeared. That first time we lost the Wilkinson trail, it took a while and some significant wandering to find the next marker. If I had been alone, I probably would have turned back along the Breakneck ridge trail. The relief of finding that next yellow trail marker was very short lived, as none of us could find the following marker, beginning the First Annual Snowy Wilkinson Memorial Scavenger Hunt to Safety. You have to realize that there was no foliage, the sun was out, and even our best pace was slightly faster than a crawl.
It should have been easy to follow the markings. Silas and Carlo were both awesome at fanning out and figuring out the general direction where the trail should be, saving us a great deal of time. My specialty was walking forward while facing backward to spot the markings heading north, which were more common than the southerly markings. I really appreciated having Carlo and Silas there when I fell and burrowed into the snow after getting my snowshoe caught under a rock. I probably could have gotten the leg free, eventually. My leg wasn’t injured, but I was facing downhill with my snowshoe jammed under a rock behind and uphill from where my burrow was.
We were relieved to finally head downhill into a ravine that led to the final climb up Sugarloaf and the trail down to route 9D where we started. If anyone is wondering where all the deer in NY state spend their evenings, it is in this little ravine between Breakneck ridge and Sugarloaf mountain. I’ve never seen so many deer tracks in my life, they were everywhere. That last uphill to the top of Sugarloaf is only about 300 feet, but the last 100 feet involved swimming through waist deep drifts. I was bringing my knee up to my chin to take the next step. Tree hugging was a key technique here.
Our last challenge of the day was brought to us by the folks that decided to hike over to Breakneck ridge from Sugarloaf instead of heading down to 9D. We followed their tracks and had to wade through one last stretch of pristine powder, which was getting heavy as the temperature increased. Only the last half mile or so of trail was packed, but we took full advantage of it and passed a skier and a snowboarder. 4.5 hours for 12 miles. I’m actually slightly impressed with our moving time pace of 18 minute miles! As the rest of the crew came in from the Breakneck trailhead, I was jealous that they got to do that descent, but not enough to head back up there; I was done.
Thanks to Elizabeth for planning the adventure, and Ian for designing the course! A good and safe time was had by all!