I went for a dog walk this morning and ended up on top of Devil’s Slide. I did have to put my Moose Alley Cones ceramic mug into my jacket pocket as I forged up the steep, leaf and lichen covered gully that led to the top, but otherwise the unseasonably warm, misty, conditions allowed for this impromptu escapade to be quite uneventful.
My too large of slippers shuffle down the stairs and I navigate the dark living room with Cora’s jangles leading my way, mostly hoping she wouldn’t stop and cause me to step on her. I hit the first convenient light switch then make my way to the kitchen and fill the tea kettle. It is still dark and the dripping eaves foretell of dampness and clouds. After some staring, Cora retuns to the living room, resigning herself to her newly adopted place on the rug. I move through a vague morning routine, and decide that a gray-ish dawn light dog walk is in order. I pour boiling water over the Bigelow Earl Gray teabag, splash in some half and half then give the squat, speckled green mug a quick stir. Cora’s electronic collar hangs on a knob near the door and as I extract the collar from the remote, the familiar jingles cause her to pop up and trot to the kitchen with an inquisitive, hopeful look. A hand gesture gets her to sit and I quickly secure her collar. A few sundry tasks later and we walk out the door and across the lawn. It’s not quite dark, but not quite light. Cora, white tail flagging high and fast, beelines it for a distant bush to pee.
Around Stark, the least stressful and most effective way of walking Cora is heading across the railroad tracks and up into the woods at the base of Devil’s Slide. On leash walks don’t always provide her with the exercise she wants, particularly if those are done at the walking speed. When walking Cora in Lander, it felt easy to hop on my bicycle and give Cora a solid bit of exercise without having to move too much myself. Walking her on the Stark roads without a leash is fine, but I find the stressful nature of her getting too far ahead and cars going too fast to be less than ideal. So we cross the tracks and make use of the snowmobile and ATV trails that cut through the rolling, Northeastern Highlands, mixed woodland forest. There aren’t as many trail options as the Fern Hill homestead in Marlboro, so sometimes it feels a bit routine.
I hadn’t really wanted to climb Devil’s Slide that morning. It has been on my mind as something to do in the coming days, but I had envisioned a backpack, a thermos of tea, some food, and maybe a rain coat or additional layer. Dressed in untied, worn out approach shoes, some sort of cotton pant, and two collared shirts with a heavy NOLS puffy jacket, I was scantily prepared. I had even left my phone on the charger, though for some reason I did have my camera in my pants pocket. The other pants’ pocket, much to Cora’s delight, had a handful of dog treats.
So across the road and tracks we amble, cup of tea in hand, and take the high track. On the low track, the white cedar, black spruce, and larch grow thick in the wet areas, but higher, the firs, beech, and maples dominate. We walk through the latter, up into a wet, deciduous rimmed cul-de-sac, where something inside me says, just go straight. Looking up through the bare trees I see the saddle between the east face and the main face. It’s probably a bad idea, I say to Cora, but she is nowhere around, probably zooming off somewhere, staring up trees, and smelling holes in the ground. I think she would disagree anyway.
I peel off the swath and pick my way around moss covered rock and downed branches. Wet leaves combined with steep 35-45º terrain prove the cruxiest part. I zig and zag while Cora beelines, claws scratching at the steep leaves and mud. Various trees and stances bring back memories of the wintery descent Andy and I did a few years back; this time though, it was an ascent, light out, and not snowy at all. With deliberateness and awareness to my ratty, treadless, and untied approach shoes, I move intentionally through the most attention grabbing spots, pocketing my empty mug to keep it from breaking when it inevitably would hit the ground with my flailing hands.
Soon enough we crest up on to the saddle, and Cora, no worse for the wear, excitedly tears off after the first squirrel she has seen all day. I give a wide berth to the summit knob, wandering lower and westward through open forest before running into flagging tape delineating the official hiking trail. Without much hesitation we follow it southward and quickly emerge at the overlook on the southwest side of the main face. We aren’t in the clouds, but they aren’t far away. I snap a few photos and turn around.
The descent proves easier, but still requiring attention to my footwork and route choice. I navigate a new line along the base of the smaller, south face and drop into open flats of beeches, maples, and birches. Cora sits and waits patiently for me as I take tentative steps through the steep, slippery trees.
It wasn’t my typical dog walk but it was a good change of pace. The adventure isn’t what it used to be, but for a moment, the spirit of going a little bit further and “why not” was still there. Back at the house, I wipe off her paws, feed her some food, and put more water on to boil and settle back into the morning routine of staring at a screen and feeding the fire.
Featured Image: The view of Stark from Devil’s Slide, December 28th, 2023