Last Hike of 2015 – The Year in Review

Trail along Sugar Hollow Pond

Trail along Sugar Hollow Pond

I can’t believe it’s almost 2016. What a year of hiking! In 2014 I believe I did about 125-130 miles, and about 45 miles of it backpacking with Fielden Stream. This year I can happily say I covered 172 miles of trails, 70 of it on our backpacking trips. A total of 42 hikes which means I got out there almost every weekend!  I got our butts back up to Salisbury to finish the final sections of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and proceeded to cover another 60 miles of that trail in New York with Fielden Stream. We even got the kids out there a few times including an overnight backpacking trip with my son. And I learned some new things this year.

Stairs from the road

Stairs from the road

I learned that my legs will really feel it if I don’t hike for 2 weeks. I learned I wanted to volunteer to keep our state trails clean and safe, and completed over 12 hours of trail work, training, and patrolling this fall with our local Appalachian Mountain Club chapter.

I definitely learned the first spot I get blisters on my feet. I learned the names of many new mountains, up close and personal. I learned to use microspikes. I learned to use a tarp for an additional shelter. I learned what dehydration is like and to be more careful when its very hot and dry out. I learned to push my limits of comfort so that I can enjoy tougher trails. To that end I went back a few weeks ago and conquered a trail that was once too much for me. And on this last hike of 2015, I also learned that when I see a mountaintop nearby that wasn’t on my original planned hike but has a trail up it, I must summit it!

Signing trail register

Signing trail register

On this day I was connecting the Ridgefield and Danbury sections of the Ives Trail. I am enjoying this trail recently because It is closer to home than the A.T. and other major trails in the state but also provides enough challenges and views when I don’t have as much time. It’s about 20 miles long and goes through 4 towns. This hike makes it about 1/3 of the trail I’ve covered to date in day-hike sections. Possibly a teeny bit more. The out-and-backs and loops on side trails I do to keep it interesting make finishing a trail a bit longer, but definitely are a more flexible option.

I also tested some new gear and products I got for the holiday on this hike. I got a new mountain hardware baselayer shirt recently when purchasing some gifts, so that was my shirt for the day. I feel it worked really well to keep me warm but ventilated.

GU energy gel

GU energy gel

I tried a GU gel when I was low on energy and had a few climbs left. The jury’s out on that one. I mean, I’m sure it helped but I sure didn’t feel a sudden burst of energy. Maybe its more about endurance than a boost. I didn’t have many more miles to go at that point and most were downhill so I will test another time with a longer stretch ahead.

I also tried a new beef jerky that was in my stocking, which was tasty but a bit drier than some. It was good, but not my favorite. I had a tangerine with me but ate that first and was wishing I had alternated a bit to help wash down the jerky. Best and most exciting of all for me to test was my new Sony RX100 camera.

Sony RX 100 (base model)

Sony RX 100 (base model)

My new friend Rich Wanderman turned me on to the camera on an A.T. hike a month ago, and I asked Santa for one. It comes in 4 models of increasing feature sets, but I went with the basic model which has all I really need. I am sticking with the size and resolution of photos here for now despite the higher capabilities of the camera, so I don’t use up all my storage space. All these shots are from the new camera except for the product shots. Hopefully the higher quality of the camera will come through in the photos going forward. If not I will revisit the size of the images I post here so you can see more detail. Let me know! I have a lot to learn about all the camera’s abilities and just bought a book with extensive tips as the manual it came with is not very detailed! I look forward to exploring it more in depth.

View from the ridgeline

View from the ridgeline

My main goal for this hike was too make it from the base of Moses Mountain to the top of Pine Mountain where the amazing lookout is, and back again. I have been up there from the other direction before, and knew I would come back many times more. And I wanted a good view to test the camera. There was only one other person on the summit when I arrived and when he left I got to enjoy the views alone for a good 15 minutes. It’s just under 3 miles from where I began to the lookout, but as I did it as an out-and-back and also took some of the aforementioned side trails to bag some other summits for fun, I covered 6.4 miles overall.

Chimney on Pine Mountain

Chimney on Pine Mountain

The trail is named after the late local composer Charles Ives, and so the trail symbol is a G clef. As a musician myself, I appreciate the connection!  There used to be a lean-to around 1905 on the summit that Charles and his brother built, and all that remains today is the stone chimney. He would often retreat there and write music. It’s an inspiring view for sure.

Field Trip Beef Jerky

Field Trip Beef Jerky

I noticed lots of burned areas on the trees on the summit. Clearly lightning strikes are common on this summit, so something to be aware of if in a storm pattern and planning to head up there. I explored two side trails on the way back to also summit Wooster Mountain. While on the first trail I realized that I was not in fact on the trail to the summit, but instead it was the one I saw across the pass. So naturally I headed across to bag the true summit.

As I approached the top I saw a hunter outfitted in camo gear with I believe a compound bow. I was no longer wearing my blaze colors as I was overheating in it but he saw me and made eye contact so I knew I was safe to proceed to the summit and then head back. I didn’t think hunting was allowed there but after checking I confirmed it is. There’s also a shooting range at the base of Wooster Mountain.

Spotted Wintergreen

Spotted Wintergreen

Despite a system moving in, it held off and I only felt one raindrop land on me. And I was prepared with a rain layer should it have turned for the worse. This section also crosses the very busy Route 7, where people drive very fast. There is a light and crosswalk at the crossing, but just be warned, when I pressed the crossing button on the way back, at least one car saw the changing light as an opportunity to speed up and through the red light. So don’t assume that red light means you’re safe until the cars stop!

Pine Mountain Lookout

Pine Mountain Lookout

There’s a very short section of road walk before a flat section of trail along Sugar Hollow Pond to the lot at the base of Moses Mountain. Although it is flat it is scenic, as it has impressive high walls of rock on one side and a body of water on the other. And I enjoyed seeing spotted wintergreen along this part of the trail.

Now I just need to cover the rest of the Ridgefield section which is about 5 miles, and the section from Tarywile Park in Danbury to the eastern end in Redding which I’m estimating at 8 1/2 miles. Those are guesses though as its not really laid out in sections with mileage in any maps at this time as it’s a fairly new trail. I am hoping that it eventually becomes a CFPA trail and makes it into the walk book. Happy hiking in 2016! I plan to be out there again the first weekend of January if I can.

— Linus

 

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Lillinonah Trail

Pond Brook

Pond Brook

Saturday I got back out on the trails for a much needed hike. Two weeks in my insanely hectic life is more than enough time to leave me dying for some nature therapy! I also had to work over the weekend and attend a late night party in NYC for my friend’s birthday – all the more reason for me to make sure I got out there to keep balanced.  My wife was wonderful to give me so much time to myself last weekend as she too is feeling the stress of crazy schedules, so I’m sending her to hang out with her sister this weekend for some fun of her own. And I am glad we got to do the last hike together as it had been awhile.

I am really missing our backpacking trips already and spring is too far away.  Although thanks to El Nino, the east coast has been experiencing late spring conditions and last Saturday and Sunday both had highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 40s. For this reason I had briefly considered an overnight backpacking trip but ultimately decided against it. That would mean skipping my friend’s birthday, and anyway hiker midnight at 430pm would make for a very long dark night… However had my wife been able to join things might have been different.

Pond Brook view

Pond Brook view

But this one I had to do as a day hike. This time I opted for something other than the A.T. and skimmed through the weekend hike offerings from my AMC club. I had originally settled on a group hike on the challenging northern end of the Mohawk trail (once the A.T.’s route). But distance from home and a late start to the hike meant I’d have barely enough time to change my clothes, kiss my wife and kids and rush to the train station if I wanted to make the party in time.  Another of their group hike options was with Tom, who I’ve done several hikes with including the trail work at West Rock a few weeks ago. It was a circuit hike on the Lillinonah trail and was only 45 minutes away. The trail is in the Upper Paugussett State Forest, in Newtown, CT. and is about 6 miles long. This choice also meant I got to check a full trail off my completed list!

Rocky ledges along the Lake

Rocky ledges along the Lake

I pulled the map for the trail out of my Connecticut Walk Book from the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) and gave it a quick study. It’s always good to have your own copy and be somewhat familiar with the layout should you get separated from the leader. These books cover all of the trails in our state, now adding up to over 800 miles and filling two volumes. The original blue-blazed trails added up to about 400 miles and one book. There is another hiking group I do outings with who are actually called the Connecticut 400, and coincidentally, they were out doing the same hike that day and starting just a few minutes earlier.

The trail begins by skirting Pond Brook from the boat launch and then makes a good climb over the first high point to the edge of Lake Lillinonah, which it then follows along a ‘scenic area’ for just over 3 miles before going back into the woods for one more big climb and descent. The scenic area is closed from December 15 to April 15 to let local families of Bald eagles nest, so that may explain why there were a few groups out on this December day.

Lake Lillinonah is actually part of the Housatonic River that was created in 1955 by the Shepaug dam, which we saw from our lunch spot along the lakeside. It’s the second largest lake in the state after Candlewood lake. There were many boaters out on this day, and a few of the hikers in our group also enjoy kayaking and fishing there. Swimming here is discouraged due to heavy boat traffic.

Blue blazed blowdown

Blue blazed blowdown

There are a lot of ups and downs on the trail, even if the elevations aren’t that high. All in all there was about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, so it was enough of a work out. While I enjoy a flat trail over an office any day, I like challenging myself, and staying in shape especially for those longer hikes I want to have the stamina for. I definitely felt like I got a good workout, and we added about another half mile to the distance by taking a side excursion to a nice lunch spot overlooking the dam.

While I don’t know if its legally permitted, there were some great camping spots along the lake edge by the trail, and signs that said ‘no fires’, so I’m assuming hunters and fishermen frequently camp there. We did see a hunter out that day, and one of the campsites had a fire ring or two with actual abandoned cooking grills and what looked like an old platform of some sort. There is an official camping area with charcoal grills by the boat launch.

Tree sap network

Tree sap network

One really interesting sight was a network of what must amount to miles and miles of blue tubes that were hooked up to and around many trees in the area. Apparently this is a new system for collecting tree sap; I’m assuming for a maple syrup operation down the road that I passed on the way home. I was surprised about how extensive the system was, and somewhat impressed and intrigued by this new method of transporting the sap. But I have to say it was very visually unattractive. Considering there is a popular hiking trail adjacent to the property that the tube jungle traverses, it’s too bad that it marred the natural landscape. But for all I know this business owns some of the land the trail is on and allows its use as a trail.

— Linus

Monument Mountain, Squaw Peak and the White Whale

Optoutside

Optoutside

Last Friday while in the Berkshires for Thanksgiving, I went back to Monument Mountain to settle some unfinished business.

A few years ago, when we were there to get our season passes at Ski Butternut and ride the chairlift for some fall leaf-peeping, we also did a hike up Monument Mountain and its second summit called Squaw Peak.

The mountain is located right on Route 7 between the towns of Great Barrington and Stockbridge, in Massachusetts. I found the hike in a book about great hikes for kids, which makes my freakout story all the more amusing, and we will get to that.

I was not quite as A.T.-obsessed at the time, believe it or not. So I didn’t realize that my now-favorite trail traverses the ridges just a few miles to the East and West of this mountain. And that sweeping views of the many summits on the A.T. and far beyond are laid out in all directions from its rocky peak. So this time around, I really appreciated the those views. We will be traversing those very ridges next summer as we head northbound into Massachusetts from where we left off last summer at Sages Ravine.

Now before I get to my story, here’s a little bit of the fascinating stories the mountain has to tell.

Granite walls

Granite walls on the Squaw Peak trail

Legend has it that Squaw Peak was named so because a Squaw was flung from it for falling in love with a brave from another tribe. Whether this is true or not, and there are lots of similarly-themed stories involving other local peaks, its a captivating one for sure. And while standing at its ledges, one is sure that the significant drop from these precipices including those across the chasm from the ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ are surely dramatic and life-ending. I will leave her story there for you to research further at your convenience.  And since I’m sure you’re probably curious about the ominously named structure called the Devil’s Pulpit, it’s a tall rock pillar that hangs off the sheer wall of granite on the southern end of Squaw Peak. You can see it in the shot behind me below, just to my left.

Then there’s the other legendary story on Monument Mountain, and this one is known to be confirmed. In 1850, local author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his friend Herman Melville (maybe you’ve heard of them?) were hiking the mountain when they were caught in a nasty lightning storm, forcing them to seek shelter overnight in a cave. It was at this time that perhaps a combination of the two authors sharing seafaring stories that they enjoyed like any literary 1800’s New England-er would, as well as the humped shape of Mount Greylock which is visible in the distance, that the idea for Melville’s famous novel, Moby Dick was conceived.  Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this. I prefer to believe these legends and the romanticized notions they hold.

Though all the way at the other end of the state near the Vermont border, Greylock is Massachusetts’ highest peak at 3,491 feet and this is why it is visible nearly 50 miles away from the 1,642 foot summit of Squaw Peak.

Mt Everett and the Taconic Plateau

Mt Everett and the Taconic Plateau

Heading up the Hickey trail on that first hike, the beautiful yet typical wooded path led us to the base of the peak. From there at “Inscription rock,” it climbs up a steep root and rock-strewn line a hundred or so vertical feet to the summit. At that point, all you see are a few boulders and the straight drop offs on either side of them. I have a bit of a fear of heights that I’ve worked hard on since this original hike to conquer, by traversing many miles of local trails with similar topography. 100 more miles of the A.T since has also helped with this, and obviously as someone who wants to complete the whole trail before I die, I have to get over these things. I was very pleased with the improved results this time around. Under different circumstances I might have just braved it then and there and been done with it.

Me at the Devil's Pulpit overlook

Me at the Devil’s Pulpit overlook

But on that beautiful day as on this one, the mountain was crowded with adults as well as many a fearless child, including my own. Ah to be young again… I learned to ski as a toddler so I will ski just about anything no matter how hairy. Its a funny mental phenomenon. I am also a snowboarder, but since that sport was not introduced until my late high school years, I never learned or dared learn to do things like jumps or half pipes on my board. This of course is because gravity, and my rational near-adult fear just wouldn’t allow such bold actions that I would surely have done, and would have been much easier as a younger child. Any time I’ve tried them since have resulted in pain.

Greylock to the north

Greylock to the north

Anyway, I digress. Back to the humor. The adults and kids were lining up behind me and scrambling around me from both directions. My own kids moved on ahead and posed for photos together upon the highest boulder I could see on the summit. At this point I froze. I shrieked for them to stop, not knowing that they had already tackled the most dangerous part at that point (which really wasn’t that dangerous if taking a little time) and there was no threat whatsoever at this point that they could fall off this boulder thousands of feet to their deaths. As I now know, beyond that was plenty of wide berth and plenty of other rocks that would prevent any danger. All I could see from my particular vantage point was my kids perched upon a cliff.

So at that point I begged them to turn around to prevent any further harm to them or my pride, and we headed back down taking another flatter trail to the lot. I felt defeated, but also that my protective impulses were warranted as a parent and I could live with that. But it didn’t sit well for long, because I felt silly, humbled and beaten by something everyone else had no problem at all achieving. I guess we all have to learn somehow. I still saw the same perspective on this hike as I descended from the other direction and felt a little better that it still did look a little sketchy. But I let my fear of the unknown win that day. And I was back today to finish this and enjoy it in full.

Atthe summit of Squaw, Everett beyond

Atthe summit of Squaw, Everett beyond

This time we came up the other direction, starting on the flat trail but ascending the peak in a much steeper, faster route on the Squaw Peak trail.  I enjoyed the challenge, bolstered by the experience I had built since our first time here. I ventured out many times along the trail to other steep ledges to take in the Western and Eastern views as we ascended.

At the Devil’s Pulpit path I scrambled down to the very edge of that perch, alone at first to prove to myself I could, then with Fielden so she could take in the view and get great photos, of course! At the main summit we climbed onto the same boulder my kids did and got a nice shot that some other hikers took, and some panoramic video. I was so excited I forgot to have a snack and couldn’t wait to get back down to meet our families for lunch and let them know I had conquered what was my own white whale. Melville would have been proud. I feel ready for anything the trail throws at me, Well, almost anything.

Inscription Rock

Inscription Rock

It was also great that despite hearing they were now charging parking in the lot, REI’s #optoutside campaign to encourage people to enjoy Thanksgiving and Black Friday in the outdoors instead of having to work, had inspired those that manage this reservation to give free parking as a reward for doing so. I’m proud to be a member. Many other retailers also followed suit and closed their businesses at least for Thanksgiving day.

Before we left the Berkshires, I took the whole family to the Shay’s Rebellion monument (Google it, people, this thing is getting long!) on the A.T crossing nearby for some history, white blazes, and more views of what we had in store next summer.  I highly recommend this hike.

There ARE several dangerous drop offs as a matter of fact so keep any very small children close by, but you are all guaranteed to have a great hike and even greater views as a reward!

— Linus