Saturday, April 25, 2015

Viking Hill Obstacle Course

Sunny Hill Resort, in the Catskills of Greene County New York, is home to the Viking Obstacle Course, a fixed obstacle course covering 5.5 miles and consisting of 35 obstacles. Twice a year, they host races, but I have never been able to make it up to Sunny Hill to check out a race and the course. I had heard rave things about Sunny Hill, a family friendly resort, and the obstacle course they had there, created by none other than Shale Hill's owner, Rob Butler. Today, the stars aligned, and I was able to go up Greenville, New York and check out the course during their free training day for Bone Frog Challenge participants.

I got up bright and early to head out to Lee to meet my Spahten friend (and FIT Challenge carpool buddy), Matt. He lives west of me in Massachusetts and we were planning to head to the Viking Obstacle Course training day together. After a quick meet-up in Lee, we were on our way to Greenville, New York, a little over an hour drive west. 

When we made it to Sunny Hill Resort, it was immediately clear why this is a popular destination. This is the most family-friendly place I could imagine. There were tons of playgrounds, golf courses, pools and water parks, and cabins to stay in. If I had a family this would be a definite destination. (ie. Kids enjoy the water park; I enjoy the obstacles.)

We were able to drive right up to one of the club houses where we checked in with Tinker, who is in charge of Viking Hill. She was welcoming and clearly knew Matt, who living an hour away is somewhat of a regular. After we changed our shoes, she said we were welcome to head out on the course by ourselves. It was a day of training, and we were free to roam. 

Matt is a lot faster than me. (Those who read this blog regularly might recall that he qualified for OCR World Championships at F.I.T. Challenge a couple of weeks ago.) He was very kind to stay with me the entire training day at Viking Hill and show me the whole course.

Overall, the course features some nice trail running through the woods around the golf course. There are some rolling hills, but you're not going to have to worry about elevation much. Everything is well marked using yellow arrow markers, in the style of Shale Hill. The placement of the obstacles is truly excellent! They are pretty evenly distributed and you never go more than a fifth of a mile without something to tackle.  

Below is a list of all 35 obstacles with descriptions. As you can see form the map, and as I said before, distribution of the obstacles is excellent. There is some mud and water on the course, so be ready for that, and wear your OCR shoes -- for me, the Icebugs that I don't mind getting dirty with water and mud. Upperbody strength is key for this course. There are a lot of walls, so you're going to want to be efficient at tackling those. The course features a lot of unique and fun obstacles you won't see anywhere else, so it's worth the drive!

1. Troll Traps: A spiderweb of knee-height ropes. Agility required to jog your way through. 
2. 5' Wall
3. 4' Wall
4. Loki's Ladders: A rope ladder with wooden rungs. Some of these ladders are actually tied down at the bottom (unlike the similar ones at Shale Hill), which makes them a bit easier. You climb up the ladder, ring the bell, and then go back down.

5. Helga's Hurdles: Three chest-height logs that you had to pull your self up and over. 
6. Freya's Cloak: A webs of netting (plastic) to crawl under, down a slight decline. Matt gave me a good tip, which was to do this one feet first. I managed to forget to take of my hydration pack and got a bit tangled, so I would recommend doing this one with your pack off, like you might with a barbed wire crawl.
7. 5' Wall
8. Odin's Tables: Absolutely awesome obstacle! You climbed up a ramp and then climbed down the rope hanging off the other side. There were two of these back to back. This obstacle really impressed me because it was the opposite of one of my favorite ones at Shale Hill. On the Shale Hill obstacle, you have to climb the rope, and hoist yourself up onto the platform and then take the ramp down. It was fun doing this in reverse. Plus there were two of them. Proper technique with your feet on the rope (j-hook or s-hook) is key.

9. Tall Wall: The Tall Wall was probably around 12 feet and featured a rope. You used the rope to climb over the wall and then lower yourself down on the other side.
10. Triple Walls - 5', 6', 7'
11. Cargo Net: This was a nice large a-frame cargo net. It was well secured and a fun climb.
12. Runestones: The Runestones were a use of a natural feature on the trails. This was a set of boulders that you had to climb over and weave your way through.
13. 10' Walls
14. Down 'n Dirty: This was a crawl underneath some logs and through some wet mud.
15. Asgard Skywalk: Another amazingly fun and innovative obstacle. (I wish I was able to find a picture!) This obstacle is actually three parts. The first is a set of three or four logs that you have to walk across like balance beams. You then transfer to a rope, where you do a fairly short rope traverse. From the traverse, you have to lower yourself back down onto another balance log and complete a set of two or three more balance logs. You are probably off the ground for over 100 feet!
16. The Norse Poles: This obstacle had you climbing up a wooden log with small foot holds and then transferring to a rope for a rope climb. Be warned, you have to do the rope climb with just the strength of your arms. The log weighs down the rope, so a j-hook or s-hook is impossible. I wasn't actually sure I'd be able to make the climb, but it's a short one and not too deep into the course, so I did. Pretty exciting!

17. Triple Walls - 5', 6', 7'
18. The Hull: Another fantastically interesting and innovative obstacle. This was an inverse wall with a difference. First the wall was more inverted than what you normally see. Second, there were no rungs underneath. You had to grab the top, get a foot over, and muscle your way up. For fellow short people, like me, you're going to need a bit of a jump to grab the lip, but I was able to do it by myself. From there, you slide down the other side of the wall before climbing up and over a wooden ladder. Again, take note, the ladder was on a slight angle, so you were leaning back a tiny bit on the way down. Awesome!

19. Tree Bob: Matt and I had been avoiding getting really wet for the first part of this course; the Tree Bob would make that impossible. For this obstacle, you had to walk across a set of logs that were bobbing just above the surface of the water. This balance challenge was made more difficult by the pieces of bark that sometimes flew off underfoot. The Icebugs saved the day and we both made it across the slippery logs. 

20. Creek Culverts: Time to get more wet. This obstacle had us walking up a small creek and through a culvert. Brr. (I used to be able to feel my feet.)
21. Traverse Wall: Most raced have one traverse wall. Viking Hill has five. Three back-to-back traverse walls, followed by a balance beam, followed by another wall, followed by an overhead beam (that you have to walk up with your hands), followed by a final wall. This is a very similar set-up to the Great Wall at Shale Hill, but there are many more hand and foot holds on the wall at Viking Hill. I've never made it past the third wall at Shale Hill without falling off, but I was able to make it through all five walls at Viking Hill. I am actually pretty thrilled about this accomplishment. My forearms were pretty tired after the fourth wall, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the overhead beam. However, I made it, and then I had to do the last wall. I will say that this entire obstacle pretty much trashed my arms for the rest of the course. I need to do some work!

22. Loose Logs: Another balance obstacle. This one featured logs, suspended by ropes over a small stream. These logs moved forward and back quite a bit. I almost fell off at least once. 

23. Arnie's Armbusters: This obstacle was a log carry. They had a lot of different sizes and most were dry and pretty easy to carry. The loop was fairly small. This was the only "work obstacle" on the course, something that I enjoyed since I am not one for carries, and it was not overly difficult. It served as a nice break from all the walls!
24. 4' Wall
25. Over-Unders: The Over-Unders featured a 4' wall and then a log to roll under followed by another wall and log. 
26. Frigg: Frigg was a giant inclined wall of around twenty feet. There was a rope that you grabbed to help you walk up the incline. Then, you got to climb down a ladder on the back. After the obstacle, you had to wade up a swampy area of freezing water to get to the next obstacle.

27. Dragon's Tooth: Dragon's Tooth is no ordinary set of monkey bars! The obstacle featured a set of flat bars, followed by uphill bars, then downhill bars, and finally a last set of flat monkey bars. My arms were still feeling it from the traverse wall, and my hands, which have not yet developed their mid-summer-frequent-obstacle-course-enthusiast callouses were not having it. I made it through the flat set of bars but could not do the uphill ones. The rungs on these do not move (thank goodness!); however, the uphill and downhill bars are fairly widely spaced, making it a challenge for shorts arms. I definitely want to improve the endurance of my grip and forearms, but this obstacle would have been a challenge for my reach on any day (though not impossible -- more work is needed!). First failed obstacle of the day.

28. Old Futz Xing: The crossing has you walking across a pond, guided by a rope. This one wasn't set up yet for the season, so we skipped it.
29. Climbing Culvert Pipes: Here we had to crawl up a small hill through a plastic pipe. The pipe wasn't too narrow or too long. Not too bad. 
30. 21' Ropes: A 21' rope climb this late in the course! I love a good rope climb, and usually consider this to be a strength, but I know from the Beast that a late course rope climb can be a challenge. I made it about half way on this one, making this my second failed obstacle of the day. A killer long climb at a killer place in the course. 
31. Raster Grid: As the name implies, this obstacle is grid-like in structure. It's an open rope construction between two trees that you climb up and over like a rope ladder. At Shale Hill, it's called the Abacus. I wasn't able to find an image from Viking Hill of this obstacle, but here's a picture of the Shale Hill one to give you an idea. I find this obstacle to be a lot of fun, and it's always one of my favorites because I really enjoy climbing. 

32. Valhalla's Moat: Wet! This section of the course has you go under a log into some mud and then navigate through a set of Troll Traps through a very muddy region. 
33. Viking Gate: Finish line! One climb over the a-frame ladder and it's across the finish line.

I enjoyed my trip to Viking Hill immensely. They are going to be doing their first race of the season on June 13, and I definitely recommend signing up. (The price is super reasonable and includes a shirt, medal, food, and free parking and spectators.) If, like me, you're unfortunately busy that day, know that the course is open for training from spring through fall and is a very affordable $25 for the day. It's worth the drive. 

As Matt said, Viking Hill is like Shale Hill's little brother. The course is obstacle heavy, but has around 25 fewer obstacles than Shale Hill. There are tons of walls. If you want to practice some moderately sized walls, go no further. The course had me pretty tired at the end, but it was fun all the way through. We were going at a relaxed pace and stopped to chat with people along the way and still finished the course in just under two hours. (For comparison the 6.5 mile, 60 obstacle course at Shale Hill takes me probably 3.5 hours.) 

Viking Hill has innovative obstacles that will challenge any level of athlete. At the same time, a lot of the course is very approachable for first-timers because of the flat terrain and the fact that you can come and train and spend as much time as you want on any obstacle. You might not get every one on your first time through -- I certainly didn't -- and that is part of the fun. 

As you've seen throughout my post, comparisons to Shale Hill abound. These are more Rob Butler obstacles, so naturally they don't disappoint. I highly recommend a trip to Greenville, New York to Sunny Hill Resort to check out this course. 

(Note: All photos from the Viking Hill Obstacle Race website. Thank you for their use!)

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