the shawangunk ridge trail is a beast coast classic - and it continues to improve through the years so i have high hopes for the trail in the coming years. i first stepped foot on the trail in september 2018 as part of the srt race and was blown away by the unique beauty and technical challenge (you can read more about those races here: https://www.runwildhv.org/srtrun - lots of nice pictures and writeups there). there are miles of unobstructed views on top of the ridge, and there are lots of rocks and rock scrambles. i had the out and back on my radar for the past year or so but needed to get into better shape and wait for good conditions on the trail. i actually gave it a shot in december 2020 but the rocks were too wet and a change of forecast to snow for the 2nd day cut that trip short. this attempt happened under much better weather conditions - it had rained/snowed the prior day but the humidity was low and most of the rocks were dry by midday on the 1st day, and temps were in the 30-70 range with lots of sun.
i chose to start and finish at the northern terminus, parking is more accessible there and given my expected time and the park hours around sam's point, it was the only real option (guess i could have started in the middle somewhere but i wanted to design the experience so there was no possibility of bailing out - and i also wanted to go after the 1-way fkt time which is a bit harder when you stuff that into the middle of a run). that also gave me a chance to do the most technically difficult and more picturesque sections in they daylight - so i'd highly recommend that to future travelers if they are on a similar timetable.
i ran unsupported which is always more fun and a bit more of a challenge - but i was pleasantly surprised by the spring conditions. in the fall you can get longer dry stretches (maybe 15 miles) but i was finding fresh water every mile or two for most of the trip. that allowed me to travel lighter - i only had capacity for 1.5L of liquid and in the 2nd half of the run i tended to only carry about .5L at any time since I knew water was easy to find. my focus was to pack light and travel fast - the pack at the start weighed a scant 8lbs which i don't think i could have done much to improve. i packed about 7000 calories, mostly tailwind + granola bars, which took up most of that weight. then some essentials like a charging pack, charging cables, phone, watch, etc. no frills allowed - no extra layers, raingear, squirrel nut butter, duct tape, or anything else i might normally bring. it's nice to travel light and also easier to keep your pack organized - but also reduces your margin for error, and overall comfort.
the 1st half of the run went mostly fine - i kept a nice steady pace, really enjoyed the ridgeline areas, and kept my hydration and nutrition strong. in the southern section there are a few flat road/trail sections where you can make up time - i took advantage of those and headed into nighttime a bit ahead of expected pace and feeling great. once night hit i also hit some really messy stretches of trail - the southernmost 10 miles in particular are less traveled/maintained, and i found myself struggling to navigate a bit more there. the footing also gets really rough in there as you make your way up to high point. but eventually i got through that section and was stoked to see the high point monument all lit up as i ran by it close to midnight.
after the turnaround the wheels started to fall off a little bit - the downhills were too technical to move at a good speed, i ended up having to put the brakes on which was bad for morale and eventually led to some trashing of the quads many hours later. so i slogged through some of those bits and then felt fresher once i hit the runnable road/trail sections on the way back north. then my nutrition started to suffer due to some upper GI issues, which then led to some lack of energy many hours later. i slogged my way north until sunrise hit a bit south of wurtsboro, i was totally freezing at that point (not generating enough body heat, down in the valleys where it was colder, and see prior point about not having extra clothing). once i got up in the hills it warmed up, and the sun came up, which gave me a new lease on life for a time. at that point i was getting pretty gassed on the uphills, and also slowing down on the steep downhills - i just had to mentally readjust to that new reality, which was tough. my feet were also getting very banged up by this point - the sharp rocky surfaces accumulate a lot of wear on the bottom of the feet. eventually i found myself at the bottom of the gully trail, with about 33 miles to go and the last huge climb of the day ahead of me - net of 1600 feet or so spread over 3-4 miles, with some seemingly unnecessary downhills in there to break the spirit. that was not my finest hour (and a half) but i got it done, and getting to the top of sam's point was a big mental victory. it also started heating up there - all sun, no shade, and temps well into the 60s. from that point on i shifted into more of a walk/jog pace - i just didn't have the energy to push and all my supporting muscles felt sapped. i made the most of it but you can see from the splits that my pace suffered quite a bit. the last few miles are easy terrain but it was still mostly walking there, and even after i got back to the rail trail for the last mile or so there was no bounce in energy - i was just completely spent!
so overall, an epic adventure, maybe the most enjoyable to date!