Taconic Rim Run

Yesterday’s Taconic Rim Run was truly spectacular. Debbie and I were both in need of a big adventure and as she put it (regarding me) to “exorcise the demons.” To use a computer analogy, a big day in the mountains is my preferred method of hard drive (brain) defragmentation.

The Taconic’s did the job. We hadn’t been up that way since Thanksgiving Weekend 2020 when we took our kids on a trip up Mt. Frissell. Debbie was last on Bear Mt. in July of 2020 when she ran the Appalachian Trail (AT) from the New York/Connecticut border to the Connecticut/Massachusetts border. I crewed her on that adventure.

Amazingly, neither of us had been on the section of the AT just north of the Massachusetts border. So yesterday we trekked to the southwestern Berkshires for a little run. Shepard had his first Scouts overnight campout (much needed) since the start of the pandemic, so we dropped him off at Camp Johnson in Bolton early on Saturday morning. Then we drove Dahlia to Mémère  and Papa’s (my parents) for an overnight visit, also the first since the start of the pandemic.

After the morning logistics, we made it to Catamount Ski Area in Hillsdale, New York, by 11:30 A.M. The South Taconic Trail descends from the ski hill and crosses Route 23 just over the state-line on the Massachusetts side. That was the end of this particular FKT (Fastest Known Time) Route. We locked our bicycles to a tree. Then we drove the 3.5 miles to the the Appalachian Trail trailhead on Jug End Road/Guilder Hollow Road in South Egremont.

The Taconic Rim route makes a big “U” and we chose to run it counter-clockwise starting in Massachusetts, looping south into Connecticut, then back north through New York and then returning to Massachusetts. In the past it has also been referred to as the “Tri-State U.” It crests some amazing peaks and has miles of rugged ridge running. You ascend Mt. Bushnell, Mt. Everett, Mt. Brace, Bear Mt., Mt. Frissell, Alander Mt., and Catamount (Ski Area). There are additional descriptions of the route on the FKT site.

Ben Nephew has the fastest time, set in 2017. At a little more than five hours, the mark is scorching fast. The beauty of an FKT attempt is you choose the day and the conditions. There is no perfect time, especially when running something at the ultra distance. You simply have to deal with the conditions on that day. For us, we had awesome running weather with the air temperature in the high 40’s and low 50’s (Fahrenheit). The challenge for us was the remaining ice and snow. It was worse on the north facing slopes and in the deep hollow of Sage’s Ravine. The descent off of Catamount was also marked by snow (the deep man-made base layer remained). Other rocks were just wet. Mercifully, neither of us fell during the run. We had several close calls, and a fall would have been bloody horribly. I’m glad we stayed on our feet.

The trails were generally in good shape with some loose sticks and dead leaves adding to the challenge. However the biggest challenge was the rocks, of which there were many. I got over 63,000 steps, which was about 3,000 more than Debbie. I have a longer strider, but not when descending. My studder-steps pounded my legs, and particularly my quadriceps. I was strong running south on the AT. The views from the ridge were unbelievably good and we can’t wait to take the kids there for a hike. There were sheer drops to the east side that had to have been 1,000 feet down.

I hung tough through Sage’s Ravine, where there was no way to keep your feet dry. We had to ford the stream, which was rushing with cold water. The falls were lovely. I stayed strong going up Bear Mt., but coming down the southern rocky side was rough, and Debbie ripped that section. I did all I could to keep up. We stayed on Old Bear Mountain Road until we reached Mt. Washington Road as the Bog Trail through the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Northwest Camp was blocked off. The trails were really wet in this section. They were also very wet at the start of the climb up Mt. Frissell. That’s where Debbie was hurting a bit. It is no secret that I’m stronger on the ups and she is better on the downs.

I really started to struggle around the 18 mile mark, on the big descent down from the summit of Brace Mt. That was the most “runable” portion of the route and the hard downhill beat me up. Debbie was cruising. My stomach wasn’t great and the jostling made it feel worse. Things improved on the brutal climb up Alander, but in a cruel sort of way. It was only a mile but it took more than 23 minutes. It stepped a bit at the top with a few false summits and a lot of granite slab scrambling.

It was the long rocky descent off Alander where I really cracked. At the 18 mile mark near the summit, you hit 2,300 feet and then gradually descend and climb intermittently for a mile before a massive plunge downward to the 21 mile mark where you hit the low point on the route at 800 feet. My legs were toast. This marked the start of the Cedar Brook Trail, which was beautiful. Over the next two miles, we gradually climbed back up to 2,000 feet as we made our way towards Catamount.

I’m sure that Debbie could have run 20 minutes faster, but I slowed us down. Over the final three miles of undulation, I did OK, but then suffered again on the huge final descent down the ski hill. The footing was awful and my stride was about six inches long. It kind of sucked. She encouraged me and we stopped the clock at 7 hours, 3 minutes, and 11 seconds. I really wanted to break the seven hour mark, but we came up short. A few wrong turns, the snow/ice, and wet trails slowed us, but as noted, there are no excuses when running an FKT.

All our gear worked great. We both ran in Altra Lone Peak 4.5’s shoes and Injinji socks. I’m disappointed in the durability of my pair, but they felt good. Debbie used her UltrAspire Zygos 3.0 pack and I used an UltraSpire Momentum. My lungs were strong, but my breathing was labored throughout the day. We covered 27 miles and more than 7,800 feet of elevation gain. Though it was the elevation loss that killed me! Quad pain aside, the route and trails were challenging and amazing. We were thankful for the blue sky and bright sunshine. The wind was light. The trails were filled with smiling hikers. We didn’t see any other runners, and everyone we came across was courteous. There were some tight spots and the trampers always yielded for us.

Our timing was perfect. We finished just before sunset at 7:00 P.M. We unlocked our bikes, swapped shoes, added a layer, and rode the mostly downhill 3.5 miles back to the car at the AT trailhead as the full moon was rising. The ride was chilly but felt like a victory lap.It took about two hours to drive home with a 9:00 P.M. pit stop at Chipotle in Canton to refuel. This was a good adventure.

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