Ives Trail – Bennett’s Pond to Pine Mountain Out-and-back

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

The oh-so-convenient-to-home Ives Trail continues to provide new scenery each time I hike it. This time around I again had a time constraint so the 25 minute drive was perfect. I managed to squeeze in a nearly 6-mile hike in under 3 hrs and be back by noon to do what was needed at home!

This time I wanted to complete the southwestern section from the terminus in Ridgefield back to the Pine Mountain overlook, one of my favorite views around. I have done a tiny bit of the trail west of the overlook on our first trip up here, when we came up from the Danbury side via another trail a year or two ago.

But I never get tired of the view from this spot. It was a tougher hike this time to the summit, but one always worth the effort. I noticed even more lightning damaged trees this time, including on some lower elevation ridge lines as I reached the end of my hike. Clearly this area sees a lot of this activity.

Meadow with a view

Meadow with a view

This area of Ridgefield open space, known as Bennett’s Farm, has many trails, which then lead into the Hemlock Hills trails and Danbury trails, all which surround and intersect with the Ives Trail at one point or another. There is a nice trailhead lot here with a kiosk and map as well as other information. I found the beginning of the Ives trail at the Kiosk and headed into the woods.

Quite soon it opened into a hilltop meadow with nice views and a parking area which seems to be open seasonally for picnicking. As I descended the small hill the trail passed through more meadows which I suspect were once Bennett’s Farm, and then along side the pond. I’ve seen smaller bodies of water named lakes.

Bennetts Pond looking west

Bennetts Pond looking west

The pond stretches all the way from Rt 7 to the base of Pine mountain, and was full of beaver lodges, cattails, and even trees. Half iced over, it was very scenic, and calming. The trail follows the perimeter, crossing over a bridge and a rushing brook at another trail intersection along the way. I did not see any beavers but there were several geese on the water, filling the air with their calls.  Owls and other small birdsongs also made for a soothing soundscape.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Though the snow had almost all melted off since the last hike here, there were patches, and where there weren’t any snow or ice patches, there was mud and more mud. I felt like I was hiking Vermont in the spring! As its not good to hike along the edges of the trail as this can expand it too much, I did my best to follow it, but I came off the trail with quite a muddy bottom half, especially my boots. But I gotta say I am impressed with how well they handle it. At no point did I feel wet in my boots. They’re going on almost 400 miles now if not more but I hope to get another 400 out of them.

Old stone foundation

Old stone foundation

Soon I reached the base of Pine Mountain and a formidable ascent from this aspect. It looked to be about 650 feet of elevation gain in a fairy short distance. So while there were no significantly steep sections, it was definitely a workout reaching the summit. On the Ives trail it ascends the western flank from the base at the pond right to the summit with a series of switchbacks. The large boulder and rock outcroppings below the overlook were visible the whole way, as well as similar topography to the west of the trail where a gurgling stream also snaked down the mountainside. In fact this section of trail had many very active water sources from the runoff, and I almost stopped to filter some of the mountain water. There was also the foundation of what seems like an old silo or other grain storage type of building. I don’t think it was a shelter though someone had made a fire pit in the middle. There were several nice viewpoints on the climb and I stopped for a break to have some shot bloks and re-energize. My hurried breakfast before I left had consisted of a granola bar and a tangerine, which didn’t provide much calories compared to my usual pre-hike carb load! I was definitely hungry by the end of the hike, but didn’t have a long trip home to lunch.

Reaching the Pine Mtn overlook

Pine Mtn ledge with scorched tree

This time I had the summit to myself so I sat to take it in and explore more of the nooks and crannies. Someone had also made a fire ring here. I continue to lust after the crooked summit in the distance which I think is Seth Low mountain in nearby Seth Low Pierrepont state park, but I don’t see a trail up it on their map. I need to research that more. It seems like it would have a nice view. But perhaps there’s private property on the other side which is not visible from here.

Bennetts Pond from above

Bennetts Pond from above

As I didn’t have much time, I ventured on over the remainder of the summit and took in a nice easterly view of Bennett’s pond from another outcrop before descending another of the Bennett’s pond trail system routes back to the pond to pick up my return route. This handled the elevation difference with many more switchbacks, and great scenery of more dramatic rock walls that are hundreds of feet high.

I took several alternate trails back, avoiding the longer route of the Ives trail this time to reach the parking lot quicker. The last of these is where I saw the additional lightning damage, and this was along a stone wall with only a small elevation difference along the ridge it marked. This trail too was quite muddy and had mountain bike tire tracks for the length of its mile distance which connects at either end with a car-width trail blazed green and makes a good loop. The trail I took is not blazed, and is narrow, so I’d worry about coming around a turn to a biker speeding at me but I don’t know if its allowed. I know some of the trails say you can, even on the summit of Pine Mountain, and they suggest you carry your bike up the steep trails to its top. Not for me folks. I can’t see how carrying a large bike 600 ft uphill would be very much fun!

Dramatic rock cliffs

Dramatic rock cliffs

With the exception of the Pine mountain climb and descent, there was little elevation to contend with on the rest of the hike so I managed a swift pace and did the entire hike in under 3 hrs, with a few breaks. This completes the trail for me from its beginning in Ridgefield to just west of the Bethel and Redding borders where I left off last time. I have about 6 miles left to do of the entire trail. Maybe when I do that one I will get a ride to one end so I don’t need to make it a 12-miler to complete solo.  While I’d love to do 12 miles, its not something very easily fit into my schedule and would require most of a day.

Mud-ville

Mud-ville

However I manage it, I look forward to completing this beautiful trail, and bringing friends and family back to explore favorite spots when we are nearby and have limited time. This weekend I’m exploring more of the Mattatuck trail with our AMC group. This section includes Buttermilk Falls which are supposed to be raging at the moment.

I signed up for a wilderness first aid course training weekend at the end of April which will be a great skill set to have for my trail patrol and our family hikes. I was also down in Florida last week and we planned our dates for our June section hike with our friends from there over Mt Race and Mt Everett in Massachusetts on the Appalachian Trail. I can’t wait! And before bed last night I planned out the logistics of our completion of the New York A.T. this summer. Happy trails.

Total miles: 5.7

— Linus

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Ives Trail Winter Ramble

Frozen Parks Pond

Frozen Parks Pond

Last weekend I was back on the Ives trail, aiming to complete the remainder of the trail’s section through Tarrywile Park. My daughter was taking a standardized test in nearby Bethel, so I had a few hours to enjoy in the wintery woods. Fortunately, it was not as cold as it is at the moment, though it started off on the chilly side and gloves were required. I made sure to layer this time, so I could shed as needed and wasn’t sweltering in the down after a few minutes’ activity.

Connecticut rocks

Connecticut rocks

I used my favorite Houdini wind shirt for the outer with my long-sleeved wool base layer and a synthetic tee to keep my core warm. This worked great and I never did end up shedding as it was cold enough whenever I stopped to want that wind-breaking layer on. I also brought my microspikes this time, and was glad I did. While we’ve had two more rounds of snow since last weekend there was still 2-3 inches of depth on the trails from the previous storm, and significantly more in a few spots. The snow was deepest in the meadow by Parks Pond, and I actually saw snowshoe tracks there which momentarily concerned me.

View to Mountains End

View to Mountains End

I parked at my usual starting point in the lower lot and hiked up past the conservation barn and through the meadow to the pond, which is where the Ives trail cuts a 180-degree loop around the pond. It’s also where a side spur over a hill called “Mountains End” takes you past a deteriorating stone fortress called Hearthstone castle and then down across another meadow to the eastern end of the park where the birthplace of Charles Ives still stands. I’m not quite sure but Mountains End may be the shoulder of Town Mountain, or its own lesser peak.

Snowy path

Snowy path

The trail from the eastern side of the pond skirts closely to the water for a bit before climbing the aptly named Middle Mountain. It does, after all, sit in the middle of the park, and in the middle of two ponds. I have been up this hill from the other side on earlier hikes here as the Ives trail also skirts its western flank after it descends Thomas Mountain. On the way up I passed through a lovely marsh which was especially scenic in the snow.

Shelter and Kiosk

Shelter and Kiosk

After summitting the modest peak the trail reaches a junction complete with a map kiosk and a small shelter about the size of a bus stop. The kiosk was devoid of any posted material at the time, so not much use to me. A map would have shown me that continuing west here like I did would take me to where I’d already been on the Ives trail on an earlier section and that heading south was the way I wanted to go. Almost a half mile later I arrived at the junction that confused me when doing that hike as well. I then noticed these blazes were white on yellow instead of red on yellow, so I realized this was a spur, for making a loop around the pond. I headed back to the intersection and down the other route which winds past a residential area and quickly out of the park boundaries. I climbed one more hill but realizing I probably didn’t have enough time to make it to the next road crossing and back and still do the spur to the house before I had to pick up my daughter, I turned around here.

Walking with deer

Walking with deer

There were deer tracks all along this portion and I enjoyed walking alongside them. At the top of this hill there was an area that would be very nice in summer to sit and have a snack but the snow was thicker here. Even the deer tracks turned at this spot, as it then went for a steeper turn down to a brook and parallel to it for about 2 more miles before reaching the next road. However, since there was a residential road abutting the trail a mile north of here, I knew it would make for an easy re-entry point to complete this next section at a later date.

Snowy Mountain Laurel

Snowy Mountain Laurel

While heading back on the route I came, I stopped for lunch in the shelter. This would definitely protect you from rain as long as it wasn’t coming sideways into the shelter. There’s room for 3 to sit on its bench, and in an emergency you could probably lay out on the bench and sleep overnight. But since there are houses visible 100 yards from here, that would be unnecessary. Besides, I doubt they want anyone spending the night here. I made it back to the pond quickly and took the side spur to the Ives house. There is a museum there but it was closed at this time of year so I just read a few of the exterior plaques on his life and achievements and then walked the roads back. The trek through the eastern meadow and its deep snow had done a number on my already tiring legs so I thought this prudent. Though to be honest, the walk up the road was almost as much of a vertical gain as going back over the mountain!

Fall and Winter Colors

Fall and Winter Colors

The climb up Mountains End was fairly quick and steep, though easy footing. At the top was Hearthstone castle and its old wooden water tower which was covered in graffiti. I stepped briefly inside the tower to snap a photo and then over to the castle which was surrounded by wire fence and looking quite decrepit and haunted! This castle was purchased for the wedding reception of one of the original owners’ daughters. As I headed down the other side of the hill from the castle, I got a very nice view of downtown Danbury.

Danbury vista

Danbury vista

I also ended up on another side spur which led up to Town Mountain and Bogus Mountain, blazed again with the white on yellow. The blazes at the intersection of this spur and the red-blazed main Ives trail did not indicate a split and only pointed right to the white-blazed spur. So after realizing this after a few minutes I did another turn around here. I actually thought this was the main route of the trail, though it seems to be a planned future route to stay on the ridges and at the moment is just a spur. So, did I technically finish all of the trail in the park? Hard to say. I did finish all the main trail as it is currently blazed in the park!

Hearthstone castle

Hearthstone castle

And while it seems like I must not have, I DID have the official map but it didn’t really differentiate the two blaze colors as clearly as it could have. And only when I reached a large kiosk at the other end of the east meadow did a map there differentiate them. And only here did I see the next red-blaze indicating I was on the trail I wanted. Only because I knew the trail went through a meadow in this area did I venture across it and eventually find my way. The blazing definitely needs improvement here, especially for winter hiking!

Charles Ives Birthplace

Charles Ives Birthplace

All in all though I did really enjoy the hike and find this to be a beautiful park with some nice varied terrain. I love that it’s close enough for me to have a real trail experience, while also having some nice historic landmarks to keep it interesting. At some point soon when I also have a shorter amount of time to hike I will keep working on the southeast and southwest portions to complete the trail. I believe it’s 20 miles total.

I am excited because Fielden and I have just picked tentative dates for our first A.T. section hike of the year together, back in southern New York where we left off. It’s in about 6 weeks, and it seems that our hiking together seems to be becoming a new wedding anniversary tradition (followed by appropriate pampering, of course).

Total Miles: 6

— Linus

Trail maintenance and a little Appalachian Trail history

Housatonic River

Housatonic River

If you’re reading my blog regularly you know by now I am a volunteer for my local Connecticut Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, who are responsible for maintaining the section of the Appalachian Trail in our state. For those of you who don’t, I do a job very similar to the seasonal ridge runners employed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and state maintaining clubs.

I believe it is the Berkshire AMC chapter in southern Massachusetts that hires the ridge runners for these two states. You can apply online to do this role in your region each year at the ATC website. If you get the gig, you are paid to be out there for around 5 days at a time, and off a few days for the duration of the season, something like April to October. You go back and forth along assigned sections of trail, interacting with and assisting hikers along the way. The only main difference in my role is I am out there when I can be or when occasionally asked to be at a peak time, and I’m not usually paid for it unless I am called up for these specific times. I’m pretty new on the job so this summer is when that will likely be the case for me for the first time. And pay or no pay that’s ok by me. I’m just happy to be out there giving back and taking care of the trail while doing something I love.

Fun Scrambles

Fun Scrambles

And as much as getting paid to do this all season long sounds like a dream to me, as a parent and full time employee of a marketing company, this is what works for me at the moment. Maybe one day I can work full time for the ATC. In the meantime, this role and my hikes with my family keep me happy on the trails. (See what I did there?)  The job also includes some manageable trail cleanup, campsite cleanup (including official sites and stealth sites), leave no trace education, and reporting any larger issues to the organization that are out of the scope of my responsibilities or abilities. You may also know from reading this blog that I also join the AMC for work parties on other state trails besides the A.T. when I am able.

So last Sunday I was back up on the A.T. to do some of my trail volunteer work. Despite being early February, El Nino has made for an unseasonably warm winter with little snow to date save for one blizzard (though it is currently snowing as I post this). It was in the high 30s by 9am and warming up quickly to the high 40s on this clear, beautiful day. Though I didn’t end up running into any hikers on this section of trail, just folks walking their dog or going for a walk/run on the flat river portion which begins just south of my starting point. I did my training on that section and another day walking the section from the state line to Bull’s Bridge recently, so I thought I’d pick a different area, and one with a camp site I haven’t visited recently.

Arriving at the camp site

Arriving at the camp site

I made note of blowdowns (fallen trees obstructing the trail) as I ascended up to Silver Hill campsite. This also happens to be the campsite Fielden Stream and I spent our first night on the trail together. And t’s a great one, about 800 feet up the side of the mountain, and complete with covered pavilion, deck, porch swing, water pump, and a new mouldering privy. There used to be a cabin where the deck and swing are, but that was burned down accidentally by some careless campers in the late 90s. The deck is all that remains and at some point the swing was added. I don’t know if the covered pavilion was there at the same time but it would make sense.  The campsite is only about a mile in either direction from a road and is easily accessible other than a bit of uphill hiking.

The deck & swing

The deck & swing

I enjoyed doing this section of trail again, even though it was short, and didn’t recall it being as much uphill as it was. There were a few spots where minor scrambling were required and I was proud of us for having done that on our first backpacking trip together, fully loaded up with heavy gear.

I stopped in to the campsite and cleaned up a fire ring, or should I say a fire site, because they didn’t even bother to put rocks around it! The ATC and AMC crews had recently downed a large evergreen that was a hiker risk, and the remnants were still there as the cleanup process was not yet complete. So unfortunately it made for easy firewood.

Silver Hill Pavillion

Silver Hill Pavillion

I also swept the privy and then checked for other campfire spots before sitting down to sign the register and try out my new MSR Micro Rocket stove and Toaks titanium cook kit — finally. I forgot the little peizo lighter the stove came with, but I had a mini Bic and matches along, and I was thrilled to be using it for the first time. It’s an even more compact version of the Pocket Rocket and fits perfectly in my new cook kit, allowing the lid to close fully. Ahhh, OCD. My original Pocket Rocket stove still works great and will be a great backup or loaner for friends hitting the trail with us that don’t want to make the investment for a one-time outing or the rare trip.

Coffee Break with the new stove

Coffee Break with the new stove

I had my Starbucks Via coffee and Tic-Tac container of powdered creamer and sugar (the backpackers spice and condiment hack!) and really enjoyed having the time to make a hot beverage. My only oversight was I forgot my homemade windscreen and since it was windy, efficiency on the stove fuel was compromised and I will need a new canister soon. Not to worry, as I was just out for the morning and any chance to use my backpacking gear is a good time. The stove performed exactly as its big brother, so it was familiar while being new and more streamlined. What a great product, in both cases. I then enjoyed my coffee on the swing before heading up the trail for one more ascent.

My down jacket being overkill, I wore my Patagonia Houdini wind shirt this time with a synthetic long sleeved base layer and an REI safari tech shirt (my ‘uniform’ shirt) and was plenty warm, even to the point of shedding the Houdini early on the climb. It is probably my favorite piece of gear I own. While not entirely waterproof it has a good DWR coating and I haven’t soaked through in it yet, either from rain or perspiration. It breathes despite not being ventilated so it keeps warmth in but doesn’t boil you from the inside out. And at 5oz, you can’t go wrong bringing it even if you never use it.

Camp fire cleanup

Camp fire cleanup

Besides I did some research over the last few days and almost everyone says you shouldn’t long distance hike in down (especially with a pack on that prevents room for air to travel between) but instead use it for a layer in camp after you’ve shed your pack and are not moving and generating excess heat and perspiration which can then cause moisture and freeze. I can certainly attest to this moisture accumulation on the last few hikes. It’s just too warm and wets with sweat too easy. I suppose your mileage may vary but I’m pretty warm-blooded. And over long periods of time this could become a safety risk as cold + wet = hypothermia danger. Synthetic is a better choice for this application. You could probably get away with skiing and snowboarding in a down coat as long as its got a waterproof coating and you’re not carrying a backpack. So that question has been answered for the time being. And I can layer either my Houdini or fully waterproof raincoat with my fleece and wool or synthetic base layers to achieve the warmth I need and shed them accordingly to avoid overheating.

Exped Trekking Poles

Exped Trekking Poles

I also got to try my new Exped trekking poles. These things are super light, and highly collapsible, which is great when every ounce counts. I guess my only negative feedback was they popped into the unlocked position a few times during use, and particularly when I was bearing weight down on them. This makes me think either I’m not using them right or they’re not strong enough to handle the weight of my body when using them to support it without disengaging, While it was only inconvenient on this hike, it could become downright dangerous. I’m going to reach out to the company to make sure that this isn’t a defective pair. Light and compact is great, if they do as good a job for me as my current REI Traverse poles or other more stout models.

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

On the hike I enjoyed extended views we did not have on that first overnight due to there being no leaf cover this time except for evergreens and the occasional Beech. I had great vistas almost 360 degrees around from the ridges.

The descent down to the road was on the steeper side, and with the heavy leaf cover I opted to walk back on the roads rather than reverse and retrace my steps when I reached the trailhead. While I prefer trail over blacktop any day, I had done what I came here to do, had a time restraint, and I felt there was no need to re-traverse rock scrambles on slippery leaves when I had an alternate, safer option. Though one could argue which is worse, slippery leaves and slick rocks or a mile walk on Rt 4, where cars heading to and from New York seem to maintain a 75mph average speed! Fortunately the second mile was alongside the Housatonic on the portion of River Road that is still paved, yet only used by residents. Along this road walk I could see part of the old town of Cornwall — it’s old church, historic homes and train stations — across the river, now nearly invisible from the modern bridge above which connects Rt 4 and Rt 7.

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

I passed many gorgeous country homes I would happily retire in, and disturbed a large family of blue jays along the walk back to my car. I made a detour to the stunning Kent Falls State Park on the drive back, to take in the beauty of the frozen cascade, and without having to pay the park entrance fee as it was the off-season. The A.T. in Connecticut at it’s earliest route passed behind the falls on its way north.

I got the 1968 Connecticut trail guide I ordered from a rare book store in the mail the other day, and while it didn’t have this 1930’s original route behind the falls (a massive hurricane in the 30s washed out the bridge once near my starting point and forced a reroute over Silver Hill),  it did have the later original route east of the river from Rt 4 in Cornwall over Mohawk, Red and Barrack Mountains. This route is now known as the Mohawk Trail. In a similar turn of events, a serious case of bad weather — this time tornadoes —felled the famous Cathedral Pines on this section in 1988. And at that time, with local residents also worried about the implications of what a now federally-protected trail would mean for their land ownership, the trail was re-routed west of the River from Route 4 to the Great Falls in Falls Village.

An icy Kent Falls

An icy Kent Falls

The book also includes the original trail route through Macedonia Brook State Park (see my last post) in Kent which took a large circular swing out of the way for the epic views I showed in that post all the way to the Taconics and Catskills. Apparently there was also a lean-to on Pine Hill. What a spot for it. I wish I had this book a week earlier — I would have looked for the location of the old lean-to. Oh, and that first southern section over Ten Mile Hill in Sherman to Bulls Bridge in Kent? Not on the original trail. I am still trying to find out when they re-routed that amazing section.

For a map geek like me, seeing this old map was like finding dinosaur bones on an archaeological dig or a pirate’s treasure map. It’s my favorite new book. I am hoping to find an even older guide or at least a map from that very first route from the mid-1930s.

Total Miles: 4.5

— Linus