Foliage Hike on the Ives Trail

Heading up the meadow

Heading up the meadow

Only about 30 minutes from home, Tarywile Park in Danbury, Connecticut offers beautiful ponds, farmlands, gardens, an environmental education center, a Victorian mansion and some great hiking. This includes a segment of the Ives trail, named for the late classical composer from Danbury. It traverses the park for about 6 miles. The trail starts in Ridgefield and travels about 20 miles through Danbury to Redding.

Even though I was feeling under the weather and it made the climbs a bit tougher, I was not going to sit out an opportunity to experience the peak of fall colors and not hit the trails this weekend. And nature did not disappoint me.

Mootry Peak, Thomas Mountain

Mootry Peak, Thomas Mountain

Last November my son and I did part of this same section of the Ives trail in the snow. Though we didn’t complete the climb to the top of Thomas Mountain because he got wet during a stream crossing and it was cold so we turned around promptly. I had previously ascended the peak on the trail from the west and that hike with him would have linked the summit east to Parks pond, but it was not meant to be. Still, that was a great hike and we felt good having made the safe and smart decision to head back to the car.

I did a few variations this time, ascending on the Mootry Peak trail to the sweeping lookout of the same name on top of Thomas Mountain. I went down the Ives, and then took a trail on the east side of Back pond, as we had already covered the western edge of it on the Ives Trail last year. Overall it was a 4-mile loop and despite the modest elevations, the terrain was fairly steep and got my heart pumping multiple times by way of several ups and downs. Thomas Mountain itself is about 1,000 feet high but the hill before it was a good climb in its own right, as was as the small hill on the east side of the pond where the trail went straight up for a short distance.

Nice fungus

Nice fungus

There are several summits along the Ives trail including Pine, Moses, Thomas, and Middle Mountains. It features some great vistas, lovely park, forest and pond walks and some challenging terrain, as well as one major road crossing. I’ve covered about 6-7 miles of it so far. I have really enjoyed the views from Pine Mountain and Thomas Mountain and the ravine between Moses and Thomas Mountains provided a challenging, A.T.-like experience. I intend to complete the rest of the trail in a few more pieces as its not far and offers enough challenge and solitude for me when I only have a few hours.

Fortunately on my hike I managed to get a few minutes by myself at the Mootry Peak lookout, hang my legs over the rocks and have a snack while taking in the view. I also had a garter snake slither right past me on the way down, which definitely surprised me.

Back pond

Back pond

There were two fire rings along the route I took, which I am pretty sure is not legal here. And sadly by one of them there was graffiti on the large rock nearby. I am glad J.S. loves R.B, but I don’t need to see it written on a rock, no matter how romantic your evening was. Have some class people. I am going to be optimistic and hope that they wrote it in charcoal, not black paint.

The views all around Back Pond were gorgeous. The rainbow of leaf colors reflecting off the water painted a beautiful, peaceful scene. Thoreau would have been rapt. I was. I hope I managed to capture some of the magic in my photo.

— Linus

Advertisements

A day of volunteering with my local AMC club

 

Painting white blazes

Painting white blazes

Every year my local Connecticut AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) chapter puts together their “A.T. Day.” This day consists of multiple activities. There are of course hikes of various lengths and difficulty along all 53 miles of our section of trail, as well as some in Macedonia Brook State park, including family hikes for small children and beginner hikers. We did one of these last year up Cobble Mountain in the State Park, a peak formerly on the A.T. with sweeping views west to the Taconic and Catskill Mountains. There are also boundary and trail maintenance workshops, rock-climbing lessons on St. John’s Ledges, training for trail patrollers, and road bike rides close to the trail. The Connecticut AMC is responsible for maintaining the portion of the Appalachian Trail in our state.

Birch forest

Birch forest

At the end of all of these activities, there’s a grand chapter BBQ at the main pavilion at the park. Camping season ends there September 30, as do the crowds generally, so its a great time to take over that space, and connect with other members and management. Group and chapter leaders work the grill, meet and greet longtime and new members, welcome non-members, and spread the word about volunteering. And with temperatures dipping into the 30s at this time of year, there is always a much-appreciated roaring fire. The cost is only $6 and that includes the food and drinks.

This club, and the Appalachian Trail, are what they are because of volunteers. I’ve always wanted to give back to the trail and the club but I am usually using whatever time I have off exploring new trails and sections of the A.T., as these adventures also provide much-needed therapy and balance in my hectic life.

Working on a blowdown

Working on a blowdown

This year I gave in, because I truly feel the need to give back to the trail is something I and everyone should do whenever possible to keep it the way it is. I’ve avoided more laborious maintenance job opportunities because my back is just barely strong enough for a lightweight multi-day backpack, with new gear thankfully as advanced and light as it is. But lifting of heavy rocks and tree limbs is not something I can do.

This work party however, included something I could, and something I think every A.T. hiker would love to do — re-paint the white blazes! It was so much fun, and the day hikers and backpackers we met along the way thought it was just as exciting, and thanked us for our work. There was also a blue bucket of paint, so we could touch up the campsite side trail blue-blazes along the way. There were some in our group addressing and clearing large blowdowns with heavy saws and chainsaws, and some with ‘loppers’ to help trim back overgrowth where needed. And I will be doing some ‘lopping’ I am sure, as I spent most of my childhood helping in the family gardening chores.

Liner's Farm, Silver Hill beyond

Liner’s Farm

Our group also created some new posts for campsite markers because some of those were formerly on unhealthy trees that were cut down so no one would be injured by a widowmaker. Another part of our group, some Yale environmental studies students, also cleared some water bars that had been congested with leaf cover and were getting jammed. The leaders also educated us on the new mouldering privies, why they have the rules they do in our section of trail, and a bit about the overall needs and characteristics of this particular part of the pathway.

Colors on parade

Colors on parade

While very likely the easiest section of the whole A.T., the famous 5-mile river walk along the Housatonic is also stunningly beautiful. With leaves nearing peak here, the foliage was practically glowing orange and red. This is also the first section Fielden Stream and I backpacked together, as it provided time to get the feel for our packs and make adjustments before we made our first climb up to our first overnight campsite on Silver Hill last year. Our maintenance crew finished at the end of the river walk just before the climb so there wasn’t any elevation change on this hike. But that is not why I was out there this time and it was good to just be out there and still get some scenic hiking done while giving my time to the trail.

Housatonic RiverI posted a picture of me painting a white blaze on one of my Facebook A.T. groups and got a barrage of thank you’s and likes. It’s great to see how many people appreciate volunteer work. I highly recommend getting out there a few times a year to give back to your local trails with a maintaining club.

My chapter are also short trail patrollers so I am going to take their training to be a volunteer trail patroller in the coming weeks. I am really excited about this because I can continue to give back doing what I love — hiking and backpacking! I’ve been seeking something in my life where I can contribute to preservation and conservation, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for me at this time.

 

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 9

Lunch at Appalachian Market

Lunch at Appalachian Market

Where are all the owls? Several more nights on the trail later and still not a hoot. I’m no owl expert but that seems a little odd. Plus, I miss their songs at night. Crickets are great and all. But no coyotes lately either. I fear our planet continues to change for the worse, to the detriment of all its creatures.

Last weekend we finally made it across the mighty Hudson and to the newly-renovated Bear Mountain Inn where we planned to celebrate our second night on the trail in a lovely room on the occasion of Fielden Stream’s birthday!

We’ve done the section of Trail from the top down to the Inn so our goal was really to just make it to the Inn before the end of the season and anything more than that was just a bonus. We’ve now got only 28.8 miles left of trail in NY and about 60 in the state since April that we’ve traveled! This section also had some bigger ups and downs than we’d done in a while so it definitely got the heart rate up, but with views to match the effort.

Prepared for rain!

Prepared for rain!

The weather forecast was originally quite grim, with a hurricane potentially bearing down on us. But fortunately it moved east over the sea and took all the crappy weather with it. While it was still raining as we arrived at the trailhead the forecast at this point was for it to end by midday, and that it did. We were properly decked out in our rain gear and had our pack covers on, but as we enjoyed a quick lunch at the hiker-friendly Appalachian Market on Rt 9, it stopped raining and within the first mile we shed our rain gear. That’s definitely appreciated when doing a big climb like this one started with, as one tends to perspire more in rain gear and slippery rocks are a lot less fun.

Day 1 took us over a peak called White Rock and another called Canada Hill before crossing a mountain road and a well-flowing brook, slightly brown in color, just before our campsite. Turns out that brook is called Copper Mine brook, which would explain it. So many of the water sources were dry this summer so it was nice to see one that was flowing and reliable, even if it’s a quarter mile downhill of our campsite. Could be worse…

A-frame tarp shelter

A-frame tarp shelter

We had our first somewhat limited but not overgrown view of the Hudson, which brought us a thrill. Coming down Canada Hill the descent was on the steeper side, with a few of those steep wet rock surfaces that were not that much fun going downhill either. We also heard gunfire but this is not surprising as we were approaching the northern boundary of Camp Smith, a National Guard training camp. The camp has its own hiking trail which we would utilize partially for the climb up Anthony’s nose, which the A.T otherwise only skirts the side of.

Our campsite, Hemlock Springs, was a rather primitive one adjacent to a former military road that eventually leads (or lead) to the training camp. For .2 miles the road coincides with the AT and then later parallels it for a bit longer. There’s not much forest separating the trail from the campsite or road so you see hikers going by, and there’s an area right along the trail where it leaves the road that they ask you NOT to camp at, but its perfectly flat, on a ridge, and there is clear evidence that people have been. Though it looks like someone’s been scattering the fire rings there so I guess no means no here.

Looking north - Camp Smith Trail

Looking north – Camp Smith Trail

There is no privy here or shelter but this spot would be perfect for one of those and the spot we camped at would have accommodated a shelter as well. The old road past the campsite makes for an easy route down to the brook if it is necessary for water or should weather become severe or someone get injured. Its likely the proximity to the main road and a military property is why there is neither. Clearly the parking and easy access at the bottom of this section of road also makes it easy to party at and broken glass shards were scattered about the fire rings. Why must people be such idiots.

Anthony's Nose vista, Camp Smith Trail

Anthony’s Nose vista, Camp Smith Trail

But we had a great time at the campsite, which we had all to ourselves. A few section hikers did pass by but none were staying the night so we picked our top choice of the camping spots, which ended up being the one right by the campsite water source. That water source would be great if we weren’t in practically a drought for 8 weeks this past summer. It amounted to a puddle and a trickle, but that’s okay cause we were in good shape having brought extra water, didn’t have long miles, and oh yeah that brook down the road.

Crossing the Hudson

Crossing the Hudson

We set up our tarp in an A-frame pitch this time as there was no strong rain coming back or much wind to speak of so we just wanted another place to take shelter should it quickly sprinkle again. We set up some rocks around the stakes where needed as those lines we seemed to keep wanting to trip over. Yesterday at REI I bought some reflective line to employ in the future since it works so great on our tent and MSR groundhog stakes. Two stakes short for this pitch, I used rocks to weigh down the mid lines which also gave them a bit of flex if a gust did come along. And the final piece of the setup were our trekking poles which raised up the corners to a perfect height.

The biggest challenges at camp were getting the fire going since all the wood was still wet and my new sleeping pad confirming its failure on an unseasonably cold night. We did employ some drier lint for starting the fire, but that was no match for the wet wood and so another trick I learned – the hand sanitizer trick, brought success after much persistence. It is essentially the same as what you find in a sterno — gelled alcohol, and is quite flammable. We always have extra on hand for bathroom visits. I could see my breath on a later pee-break so a fire was a good thing. So much for a low of 49! I know temps are different in the mountains but we were only 500 ft up. I blame the closeness to the river.

End of section 9 - Historic!

End of section 9 – Historic!

Clearly it was sub-40, and my pad was indeed defective or damaged after the last overnight when it failed. I just wanted to confirm on this visit, and did. But this sucked because I was essentially sleeping on cold ground and if not for the fact that I brought my winter bag, fleece and base layers, I’d be miserable. Even with them it was still pretty cold. As much as I wanted to love that pad, I returned it when I was at REI yesterday and bought a foam one like Jiffy Pop has. I doubt it will be as comfortable, but it wont deflate!

We enjoyed our dinner under the tarp and got to bed after the fire went out. We went to sleep to train sounds from the nearby metro-north and the CSX train across the river that I heard all night on West Mountain a month ago on my solo trip.

A 2,000 mile-plus trail?

A 2,000 mile-plus trail?

The next morning the trail put us right to work with a steep down and then an even steeper up back to a point just a few feet shy of the old road again — which took a much gentler route up the mountainside. If I wasn’t such a purist for every step of trail, I’d have had us follow the road up farther to get back on the A.T here!

The trail continued to climb mercilessly up a challenging but fun scramble to additional views of the Hudson and then followed another old jeep road. The sky was clearing and warming, and soon we came to the intersection of the Camp smith trail, with the A.T turning to descend.  This side trip is more than worth it, with several sweeping lookouts over the Hudson. It eventually turns back into a more rugged and steep traditional trail down to the camp on the other side of the mountain. But that is after the summit views we were seeking. And, a wrong turn if proceeding down that trail can land in you in trouble for trespassing.

Finally a bear!

Finally a bear!

We were first treated to views north to West Point, Storm King and Gertrude’s Nose upriver. And then to the view atop Anthony’s Nose, down to the Bear Mountain bridge and the Inn at the foot of Bear, with most of the lower Hudson valley laid out before you in glorious fashion. I could see every mountain I had traversed on my solo trip as well as much more of Harriman and Bear mountain state parks, Fort Montgomery, Iona Island, and our friend the 100-car-long noisy CSX train. Also atop Anthony’s Nose is a military memorial with an American flag and beneath it a P.O.W flag, some P.O.W bracelets for soldiers missing in action, and a memorial stone at the base for a soldier killed in 2013. Very moving. I believe there is another further up at the top of Breakneck Ridge, though I am less clear on the connection there since this one is on an actual military camp trail.

Tough truth

Tough truth

We met a nice local hiker who snapped some photos for us and then suddenly the peak the 3 of us had to ourselves was inundated with day hikers that all arrived at once. So we made our way back from our snack spot to retrieve our packs from the rocks above and headed off to finish the hike and relax over some cold ciders at the Inn and begin the celebrations.

After the steep knee-hating descent down the A.T. from the Camp Smith trail and the bridge crossing, we strolled through the trailside museum and zoo, swearing to come back and enjoy it in more detail when we didn’t have large packs on our backs and little energy. But we made sure to visit the coyotes and of course, the bears. Our first on the trail! (the joke of many a thru-hiker who miraculously didn’t encounter any in Shenandoah or New Jersey!)

White Blaze on the playground

White Blaze on the playground

The bear den is also the lowest point on the whole A.T at 124 ft.  We got a few choice looks from tourists visiting the zoo, who apparently didn’t bother to read the multiple signs all along the path about the A.T. and how it goes right through the zoo and got started here. One older gentleman in a blazer and cravat gave me a rather puzzled look – perhaps wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to carry all their things on their back for days or more on end, or dress the way we were dressed in public!

This section officially ends at the western end of the Bridge so the trip through the zoo and the path up past the Inn are part of section 10, as is the ascent up to the summit which as I’ve mentioned we’ve already done. And I’ll probably mention this again when we complete and write about section 10, cause I’m so anal about these things!

Bear Mtn Inn with Anthony's Nose in distance

Bear Mtn Inn with Anthony’s Nose in distance

We had a great time at the Inn, with a marvelous dinner and shrinking crowds, as everyone was heading home from hikes and Oktoberfest by midday for their lives and jobs in the city. So we got to enjoy a quiet Sunday night. My only complaint about the stay at the Inn is that it didn’t have a fireplace going that night, and the ones in the rooms were those fake electric ones that don’t even put out heat.

 

Old Doodletown

Old Doodletown

The next morning I also did a nice 3.5-mile loop-hike of the Bear Mountain-Suffern, Doodletown Bridal Path and 1777 trails while Fielden was being treated to a birthday massage. A steep initial climb halfway up Bear Mountain started the hike but then it was a beautiful stroll through the old roads of this once-active mountainside community. There are old foundations of the homes to see though I didn’t manage to see them all this time around. To return to the Inn I took the 1777 trail, which traces the route of British troops on their way to storm forts Clinton and Montgomery that year.

This may be the end of our overnight season, but let’s hope for an Indian summer. If it is the end of the overnight season, we accomplished our goal, and there will be day hikes for sure!

Next weekend I’m volunteering to help re-blaze a portion of the Connecticut A.T. with my local AMC chapter and then enjoying their BBQ for A.T. day. I can’t wait!

— Linus