Macedonia Ridge Trail

Park Entrance

Park Entrance

Last weekend, despite the mega blizzard (and only blizzard so far) of the year, I got to finally complete a trail I’ve been wanting to since reaching its prize summit on a few previous shorter hikes. Despite the record snowfall Winter Storm Jonas created in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as the 16″ of snow it left in my town, it did not make it much farther north in our state. So for once I was able to drive north and have better conditions. I like hiking in the winter, but this was not one for doing in the snow and ice.

The summit views are worth the climb up from any direction, yet this time the effort was substantially higher. And hence the remaining portion of this trail is one I’ve been putting off for just the right moment because of its quite steep scrambles in the Northwestern corner of the park. I wanted to do the remainder at once, as its not high mileage and is convenient to complete with 1 vehicle doing a loop. It was just a matter of when. The reverse weather being what it was, this day was perfect for it.

Cobble Mtn Trailhead

Cobble Mtn Trailhead

As it was the off-season, I had the woods almost entirely to myself since the campground was empty and the temperatures were too low for most day hikers and families. It also meant I wouldn’t have a bunch of people lining up behind me if I was taking my sweet time on the tough ascent. I attribute part of my original hesitation on my first attempt over Squaw Peak to crowds of people behind me on the hike that added just too much pressure and did not allow me to assess the challenge properly to where I felt it was safe to proceed. I also wanted to do this one solo for this reason so it wasn’t my own family adding that pressure.

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

But I was excited for the challenge as I enjoy pushing my comfort zone and I definitely needed some me time. All the research I had done suggested I tackle the climb upwards vs down, and the experience reinforced that. We came down the northern face of Bear Mountain on the A.T. in Connecticut last summer and it was as steep and long as this. While looking back up at that ascent from the bottom was daunting, gravity treats me better going up. In that case I didn’t have a choice really as NOBO and down was our route.

The only other uphill climb I’ve done that was this steep was the Major Welch trail on another Bear Mountain, that being the one in N.Y. We did it in 2013, just before we started hiking the A.T. together. The Major Welch trail was originally one of the earliest sections of the Appalachian Trail and was very similar to this one I was about to do. Also just as steep, just as long, and just as exhausting. The only difference on the Major Welch being I didn’t have to first climb up into a crevice with a 50+ foot drop on one side and then hand over hand out and up the first steep portion of the 650-foot rock face.

CCC road

CCC road

The whole Macedonia Ridge trail is a 6.7-mile loop over about six peaks that flank the steep eastern and western shores of Macedonia Brook, with Cobble Mountain being the highest and having the grandest views. When I mean grand, I mean grand. You can see 40 miles easy in any direction, including the high peaks of the Catskills to the west, the Taconic Range to the north, and more of the Appalachians to the east and south. At this point you are just shy of 1,400 ft up on the side of a ridge just a few hundred yards east of the New York border. I can’t help but think this and the mountain ridges north and south of here had something to do with where the state line was drawn — Natural features often dictate boundaries.

View south from Pine Hill

View south from Pine Hill

On our first overnight outing in 2013 to test our new backpacking tent we stayed here and climbed up an unmarked side trail to the western side of the trail and to the summit of Cobble Mountain along this ridge. To be fair we thought we were still on the white trail but were not. We were so enamored of the view from the summit, we took my son “Jiffy Pop” back on A.T. day a year later with our local AMC club but did take that steeper white-blazed trail to the summit. It’s much shorter but is definitely steeper. It was a dramatic hike as a thick fog blanketed the valley that October afternoon, so the mountainside seemed to disappear into the mist and a light rain began to fall. It was a family hike and there were lots of fearless and adventurous little ones along for the fun, practically running up the trail, my son included. He loved this hike and it was great to see he shared the enthusiasm with me. We completed the southwestern section of the Macedonia Ridge trail that day on our descent from the summit, crossing South Cobble as well, with its sweeping views south and east and some beautiful ridge walking.

Coming down Pine Hill

Coming down Pine Hill

If you are familiar with the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut you will recognize Macedonia brook as the one you cross just north of Mt Algo in Kent, CT. In fact, in earlier times, the western and northern parts of this loop were also part of the Appalachian Trail. It was later rerouted east to its current location.

As I mentioned above, there is also a campground here with many sites both wooded and on open fields as well as along the brook. There are many modern pit toilets with solar panels on the roofs – but there are no flushing toilets inside or shower facilities like at nearby Housatonic Meadows state park. So while it’s not a completely primitive campground, its not one for those that demand modern comforts when camping. Along those lines, there’s also next to zero cell phone coverage unless you are up on the ridges, as the peaks really box the park in. There’s a large open-to-the-elements stone pavilion with a fireplace you can rent out, and our local AMC club does exactly that for its annual A.T. Day events. There are RV sites too, if that’s your preferred method of camping.

Climbing up Cobble Mtn

Climbing up Cobble Mtn-looking down – steep!

Camping is allowed mid-April through October, and rangers are on duty that whole time. Trail maps and firewood are available at the Ranger station. Alcohol is not allowed. If you really need modern comforts and fine dining and drinking, downtown Kent is 10 minutes or less by car and can provide all of those amenities. There are many other side trails throughout the park that connect up with the loop trail and facilitate hikes of all levels and lengths. Check it out!

The Taconics to the North (on the right in distance)

The Taconics to the North (on the right in distance)

The area was once a hotbed of local iron activity for the area, and Kent Iron Company’s furnaces, forges and charcoal pits dotted the landscape, fueled by local trees. Remnants of the forges, pits and stone walls are visible in the southern end of the park.

There was also a CCC (Civil Conservation Corps) project here in the early 30’s which built roadways and buildings for park management. An old Dover, NY to Kent, CT. stagecoach road passes through the northern end as well. The brook and several other streams and ponds traverse and surround the park.

I was pleasantly surprised at the views on Pine Hill, the peak just north of Cobble. The southern side of the peak provided a beautiful vista south into the Housatonic River Valley, with Mt. Schaghticoke and Mt. Algo towering beyond. And the route down this face had some nice rock scrambles of its own, though not as tough as Cobble. A great lunch spot!

Catskills to the West (in distance)

Catskills to the West (in distance)

I headed counter clockwise from the beginning of the loop on the south side of the park and because there was no leaf cover, the first peak also provided some nice views south and also east to Pond Mountain (natural area) and Caleb’s Peak on the A.T. I really enjoy fall and late winter hikes when you can get views, sometimes 360 degrees from a ridge, that normally would be invisible in summer. Really gives you the sense you’re ridge walking and not just in the woods. A bit more payoff for all those climbs to get to that spot.

The green trail traverses the park from the notch between Cobble and Pine Hill on the western side to this eastern peak and then onwards to the Pond Mountain Area. I believe this is the original A.T. route, or part of the original route east to the river from Cobble’s summit. I’ve bought a book on the Connecticut section online from 1968 so I’m eager to find the original route.

Macedonia Brook

Macedonia Brook

I had hoped to try out my new MSR micro rocket and Toaks titanium cook pot set as it was definitely cold enough for some coffee, but the route did not bring me as close to any of the campsites with picnic tables as I had hoped and I didn’t really find any good spots on the trail where I felt it would be safe to do this. With some time restrictions and a good deal of anxiety about that scramble ahead as well, I did not make the extra detour to a picnic table. Also, it was cold enough that the water was freezing in my hydration tube, so I figured it best to keep moving for that reason as well. On the upside it also kept me drinking more often which was good! I tend to not drink as often as I should when I have the hydration bladder in the pack, and learned a hard lesson at Harriman last summer.

White trail on Cobble Mtn

White trail on Cobble Mtn

I needed my gloves for most of the hike, with the exception of that climb, where I took them off so I could really dig my fingers into the rock’s nooks and crannies for a good grip. I also had to repeatedly toss my collapsed trekking poles up the rock face ahead as they were useless on that climb and I didn’t have my new Exped folding poles that I got later that night for my birthday! Those would have fit in my pack. Not knowing how steep this truly was, I didn’t push the issue. In hindsight I wish I had. I’m looking forward to using them on the next hike – they are SO light and we got them at an absolute steal. The only downside to them is they have a set length, which makes them more compact, but not as adaptable when using to prop up a tarp or tent. I need to test them in both uses to see if its a problem at 115cm but I know that when we did the A-frame tarp setup I maxed out all our poles to 140cm. We shall see. Maybe just pitching the tarp differently is the solution. I really hope I didn’t freeze my sawyer filter again. I did wrap it in a shirt so it should be ok but I hope I don’t find out the hard way on an overnight in the spring.

Trail snack!

Trail snack!

I did however get to try a trail snack I’ve read a million stories about on the various hiking forums which is to wrap just about anything in a tortilla! I had one left over from our ‘Mexican night’ dinner at home and instantly the idea popped into my head to make a wrap. Thru-hikers love them and will stuff just about anything in one for a quick and easy meal – cheese, sausage, other cold cuts, peanut butter, honey, granola, banana; you name it. They don’t squish like bread or get stale as easily. And, no crumbs!

One thing that concerns me is my back is still wetting out in my down coat when using this pack. Perhaps my day pack is too snug to my back. It certainly feels that way sometimes. I will try to loosen it and see if it helps. It wasn’t as severe this time as it was much colder out. But I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off with a synthetic, if I sweat too much and render the down’s insulation unusable. At 11oz, I can get a synthetic at the same weight or close.

I love this coat and its great around town but I want to insure I’m getting the most out of every piece of gear. I haven’t tried it with my bigger pack yet but until I do more cold weather overnights, I can’t imagine I will use it much backpacking. Maybe just on cold shoulder-season nights where I can’t make a fire. Experienced anything similar? Any suggestions are welcome.

I could have stayed on the ridge after summiting Cobble but decided to take the white trail down and give my legs a wind-down with a road walk on the beautiful old CCC road. Mileage-wise, it came out pretty much the same however. I definitely recommend checking out this hike and this park. It’s so beautiful. Where to next?

Total Miles: 6.5

– Linus

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First hikes of 2016 on the Metacomet Range

Mt Higby summit to Chauncey Peak

Mt Higby summit to Chauncey Peak

Happy New Year!

I’ve had the chance to get out a few times since 2016 hit, and enjoyed some great hikes and mountaintop views in the area. While not high, the traprock ridges of the Metacomet Range provide some exhilarating terrain along steep dropoffs, and long views over cities, valleys, and all the way to the Long Island sound from many of them.

Trap rock

Trap rock

The traprock is essentially cooled volcanic lava and is very evident by its red tinge. (see photo). It’s also characteristically a bit crumbly and you will find it in pieces of all shapes and sizes. Make sure to watch your footing when walking on the traprock! The Metacomet range extends from the sound northwards to southern New Hampshire and is the spine of the Mattabessett and Metacomet portions of the New England Trail in Connecticut as well as the Massachusetts portion of the New England Trail.

Spot the icy blaze!

Spot the icy blaze!

The first hike was back on Mt. Higby in Meriden. There were short portions of that section on both the north and south ends that I did not end up covering on those original hikes, and as I am also working on completing the Mattabessett trail in the next year or two, I wanted to make sure to connect the dots.

Old cart path on Westville Feeder

Old cart path on Westville Feeder

Last time I did it, it was in a bit of a snow squall, and that made the hike along the ledges a bit more intense. This time it was on a beautiful clear day with the weather warming to around 40 by noon when I reached the north peak summit via the northern end of the trail. There are two peaks to this mountain, with Preston Notch in the middle. You have more of the ledge walking on the southern peak, and that made for good training for me to work on my (now diminishing) fear of sharp dropoffs!

Judges Cave Exterior

Judges Cave Exterior

As the group I was with that time turned around a mile before the northern end due to the weather and a significant amount of postholing required, I covered that and added the extra half mile back to the top each way. This northern portion of trail from the road to near where we turned back looks like it was formerly an off-road four wheeling track or trail system and in several spots the roads that parallel and intersect the trail were littered with old tires, fuel cans, and other trash.

George Henry Durrie's 'Judge's Cave West Rock' 1856

George Henry Durrie’s ‘Judge’s Cave West Rock’ 1856 (source: The CT Walk Book)

I found this to be really unfortunate. Hopefully the CFPA will get in there, or rally those responsible for these if its on private land to clean it up. Furthermore, the roads were roads of ice, and where the trail shared these old dirt roads, walking was difficult and i had to skirt the edges and do a lot of hopping over ice patches. My poles were not effective on the ice and I did not bring my microspikes as this was completely unexpected.

The cave is actually a jumble of glacial erratics

The cave is actually a jumble of glacial erratics

I then went down to the southern portion of this section along Rt 66 where there’s a short spur from Guida’s Diner to the CFPA lot 3/4 of a mile west that I had not covered as the last hike south of there ended at the diner and the next one started at the lot. This was a much easier and quicker hike with no more than 150ft elevation gain or loss as the trail headed up the base of the mountain. There are some who would have not bothered covering such a small piece but I’m a completist, I admit!

Guida’s is a great little diner with a nostalgic feel. I just wish it wasn’t cash only because I keep getting hit with the ATM fee. But after some good hiking a mushroom swiss burger and root beer hit the spot! I was able to get some great photos with the new camera, which you can see here. I just wish that quarry wasn’t so visible. The northermost portion of the Mattabesset ascends that mountain – Chauncey Peak – and the one to its right called Lamentation mountain before ending and becoming the Metacomet Trail. I will get up there soon. The views FROM Chauncey peak are supposed to be nice.

Me in the cave

Me in the cave

I brought my down hoody for the hike but by the time I was doing the real climb, it was getting way too hot and my sweat actually soaked through the back of the coat due to the pack! I wore it with my long sleeve wool base layer so maybe next time just a short sleeve synthetic wicking layer will be better. This is my first down coat so I am still learning how to layer it. I swapped the down coat for my trusty Patagucci Houdini and was perfectly comfortable.

View off the ledge to icy Konolds Pond

View off the ledge to icy Konolds Pond

I have to say the Houdini is worth its hype. It has not let me down yet. Even better is I got it for about $60 on clearance since I guess no one likes the yellow. For me it also makes a great blaze-color layer for hunting seasons. For that matter so does my bright neon blue hoody which is the Cayush from Westcomb and which I also got for half price on clearance as a last season model in a less desired color!

Juniper

Juniper

I also hiked up West Rock in New Haven again, completing more of the Regicides trail with the same AMC hike leader Tom who maintains the trails there. I wasn’t able to do the pre-hike trail work this time due to prior commitments and just joined at mid day for the hike. It took us up a feeder trail past some old cart paths and spotted wintergreen to the top of the cliffs and along the Regicides trail to the Judges Cave. The cave, and the trail, are named after Edward Whalley and his nephew William Goffe, two of the 59 judges who signed the warrant for the death of Charles the first in 1649 in England.

Heading up to the South Overlook

Heading up to the South Overlook

At the restoration, they fled to the New Haven colony to escape persecution by Charles II. They hid in this cave with the protection of other anti-royalists here. Two main roads in New Haven were also named after them. They eventually escaped to Massachusetts. There was a whole movement of landscape artists painting scenes of West Rock and East Rock in the 1800’s, and these paintings were in high demand.  They are on display in the New Haven museum and Historical society. Thomas Cole was one of these artists and he eventually became one of the leaders of the Hudson River School art movement.

We then proceeded on over the highway tunnel and tower and past the beacon to the Konolds Pond overlook we visited on the November hike. From there we descended back to the southern end of Lake Wintergreen through some beautiful forest of Scotch Pine (identified by my arborist friend) and then back uphill through a Mountain Laurel and Hemlock forest until the trail leveled out for a final mile or so past a summer camp to the parking lot.

Along the southern ledges of West Rock

Along the southern ledges of West Rock

Only my friend and I were hoping to hit the southern overlook which the route did not include. We got the OK from the leader who showed us the path back up just before the final walk to the lot. We broke off and headed instantly upwards as the trail skirted the traprock ledges with many viewpoints along the ledges of downtown New Haven, East Rock, and Long Island sound and then finally a sweeping view north which included the full profile of Sleeping Giant. These viewpoints from the steep rocky outcrops also allowed me to push my comfort level a bit more.

Sleeping Giant in the distance

Sleeping Giant in the distance

At the southern overlook the park road ends in a loop where there’s also a large picnic pavilion. We took in more views here and then picked up the southern end of the Regicides trail. There is a nice overlook at a railing along this section. Sometime last year a young man who was goofing around after drinking and went past this railing unfortunately fell to his death. Please be careful and responsible here. It is safe if you stay behind the railing.

East Rock/New Haven from West Rock

East Rock/New Haven from West Rock

We took the Regicides trail back to the feeder and back to the car, and saw a family of deer along the way. We were glad to have added in the extra hike, with some of the best views of the day. I will be working on the northern portion of the park and Regicides trail and Tom said he would put together some hikes for us to complete it.

I am heading to Killington, VT this weekend for some skiing with my family for my annual birthday trip, but will be back out on the trails the following weekend — not sure where yet. This weekend I just have to resist the temptation to hike the A.T. to the top rather than take the lift!

Total Miles:

Mattabessett Trail: 5.1

Regicides Trail/West Rock Trails: 5.88

— Linus