A Day In the Life of a Trail Patroller: Ten Mile River Overnight

Housatonic Rapids

Housatonic Rapids

Last Friday night I wasn’t planning any hiking trips. We’ve just bought a new home, and when I say there’s a lot to do, its the understatement of the year. But, when my friend Ray from our AMC chapter told me he was going to do some camping at one of my favorite campsites and invited me, well… I was in.

As it’s summer and dark isn’t until 9 or so, I knew I could drive up there after work and get into camp by 7 and be back at the house by 10 the next morning to do what needed to be done. It was a beautiful night so there really was no chance of argument from me. Last time I was at this campsite to check things out, I spent a sub-freezing night by myself. Not that I minded the solitude, but that was very cold for April. Luckily the river lulled me to sleep just as it did last Friday night. I really don’t think I sleep as well as I do when I’m sleeping next to a rushing river like that. At home the A.C. unit has that white noise effect too, but its not a natural one and is a second-rate substitute. That time, I had a 9-plus mile hike with just shy of 2,200 ft elevation gain the next day to warm me up!

My favorite spot

My favorite spot

I got to the parking area around 645 and headed down to the campsite. I can never resist the beauty of this area and I snapped what are probably the 500th round of photos I’ve taken here. It’s that beautiful. I took video too, as I’m experimenting with my video channel. Forgive me for the noise from the camera. The GoPro is a great piece of tech gear but audio is not it’s strong suit, and the movement from the trekking pole creates too much noise. In our Connecticut video and New York video (coming this fall when we finish the state – check our links tab), I was able to cut and edit and overdub music a bit better. On this clip, there wasn’t much I could do to cover all of it up without cutting out all the good scenery.

Goats eating invasives!

Goats eating invasives!

My brother and his girlfriend got me an iKlipGrip for Christmas last year, which uses the iPhone instead of the GoPro. I think I will use that for shots with dialogue, and the GoPro for shots I want wide angle views I can put music over. So bear with me on this one video cause there’s some cool stuff in there.

I got to the campsite and met Ray and a few other backpackers in for the night. This campsite is popular because of its beauty and this time of year I knew there would be several in for the night.

Filtering method - meh

Filtering method – meh

I was hoping to run into one of the thru-hikers whose channel we’ve been following but like last time on Bear Mtn, I missed this guy by hours too! I bet he stayed here the next night and I need to go back and check the register. I should have left him a note in there now that I think of it.

I set up my new tent in my favorite spot, and we all had dinner together then hung our bear bags. We talked about their hikes, and our volunteer roles for a bit and then Ray and I went to visit with some local goats whose humans lived nearby and were down for a stroll. The humans also had their own kids there, and their dog. We really need to get these goats involved with the AMC chapter as they did a fantastic job on eating a lot of the invasives! Then my new friend and ridgerunner Kellie arrived at camp. You may remember her from my last few entries.

In my tent

In my tent

I knew she’d also be here for the night and so when she was set up she joined us after dinner and Ray took us over to the Ned Anderson bridge as dark fell. While I always noticed the thousands of spider webs strung between the bridge girders during the day, there was never anything happening in the webs at daytime. They looked abandoned. It was a whole different world at night. Thousands and thousands of spiders were in their webs, having dinner, fixing their webs, and bringing the bridge to abundant life.

The three of us chatted and marveled at the scene in front of us. The moon and stars shone brightly above and I used my starchart app to identify Jupiter and some of the larger stars. We retired to our tents and all seemed to sleep well! When I got up the next morning I checked out the new privy that our trail crews just completed at the shelter and signed in quickly.

Bridge of spiders

Bridge of spiders

There were a few other backpackers staying here in the shelter — maybe a total of seven in for the night between the two camping areas. I spotted one fire ring on the main campsite ‘beach’ which I cleared. Guess I didn’t lift those rocks smart because my back was sore for days after. Thanks for not following the rules people! I packed up and said goodbyes to Ray and Kellie and the hikers still in camp. Since it was such a short walk out to the parking area, I just took my time, took in the views, and decided to forgo making my coffee and breakfast, so I could have a satisfying greasy breakfast with real coffee on the way home. I had told Ray the night before about a bunch of stuff that looked like cotton on the ground that I saw as I hiked in and he told me those were the cottonwood trees shedding. When I got back to the parking area I realized just in front of my car, the ground was completely covered in it.

Sunrise

Sunrise

One other thing to note is I tried a method on this hike I have seen lots of thru hikers using on their channels to drink and filter their water. These short easy trips are great for trying out new things. Basically the threads of a smart water bottle fit the threads on the sawyer filter perfectly. I know these bottles are easier to fill in the stream than a water bladder. And so most of them just fill their water bottles at the water source, screw on the filter, and drink. The output is pretty equivalent to the water bladder valve. I found that as I sucked water out of the bottle, the bottles started to crinkle and deform as I also sucked out the air in the process. This made the bottles unstable and deformed and I just don’t see the benefit. It might save time, but it doesn’t provide a pleasant drinking experience for me. Maybe one day I’ll try putting the filter inline in my bladder hose as many do as another ‘hack’. Or I’ll just go up to the Sawyer Squeeze vs the Mini as I hear the flow rate is faster, to save time when filtering.

Riverside AT carved blaze

Riverside AT carved blaze

This Friday is finally the big first foray north into Massachusetts with our friends. I will be sure to provide them with their own filter to save time when we need to camel up. I cannot wait for that trip. The forecast looks perfect, and this is the first time we will be bringing friends with us, and a couple more specifically, into the backcountry. I feel like a guide! I will be wearing my uniform and look forward to showing them a bit about what I do. I will share those pictures and video as soon as I can.

Goats: 4

Miles: Only about 2.5 round trip

— Linus

 

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A Day In the Life of a Trail Patroller: National Trails Day 2016

Trail map box trail magic

Trail map box trail magic

Last weekend was National Trails Weekend, and Saturday was National Trails Day. For the occasion, our Connecticut AMC chapter as well as the CFPA (Connecticut Forest & Parks Association) led many different hikes all over the state. There were a few work parties too, which comes into my story a little later on. In the case of our group, these activities were of course on the Appalachian Trail.

Meadow Rue?

Meadow Rue?

As this is a day and weekend really targeted to bring out new/casual/family day hikers, I thought it would be wise to be out there to offer assistance at least on Saturday. Also, Sunday’s forecast was bucketloads of rain, and for once the forecast was accurate. I thought the section including Caleb’s Peak and the infamous St. John’s Ledges would be popular on a day like this. And when I ran that suggestion by my team it was reinforced by the fact that the nature & outdoors writer at the local paper had just done a column for trails day featuring our state’s most challenging hikes, and this section of course was on the list. So it was cinched. I would be ascending and descending them both. A formidable piece of trail in either direction.

A view up St. John's Ledges

A view up St. John’s Ledges

I got on the trail earlier this time, by a few hours at least. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the previous holiday weekend was, but it did eventually warm up quite a bit and I did start to notice it as I finished the hike in mid-afternoon. I found some trail magic in the map box, and I had a feeling it would be gone by the time I got back. That hunch was proven to be correct.

As I headed to the bottom of the challenging jumble of boulders and steps, I was very glad that it was not going to be in the midst of the next day’s deluge! Because of the steep terrain here, the AMC brought in the New Hampshire white mountain crews to build the custom steps as its more like their turf!

Linus at St. John's Ledges view

Linus at St. John’s Ledges view

The rocks were still the slightest bit damp from the previous evening’s rain, but manageable with slow, purposeful steps. I had brought my folding trekking poles and left them in my pack for this climb as I knew if I had them out I’d just be tossing them up ahead of me like on Cobble Mountain. This was the first time I’d gone up the ledges, as Fielden Stream and I came down them on our section hike through here 2 years ago. I prefer the up route, to be honest.

Yellow chicory

Yellow chicory

After a quick and sweaty ascent, I crested the ridge and headed to the lookout. The trails crew have done a fantastic job building a graded pathway and overlook where two years ago there was just a dirt path to a precipitous drop off. I made sure to commend them on this work when I saw them later in the day. I met a northbound thru-hiker there, “Portage” who started on Springer in early March. We took in the view and he snapped a photo for me before heading off in opposite directions. I was headed south as far as the road where the work party was, a few miles away. As I walked the ridgeline over to the climb up Caleb’s peak, I cleared some downed tree branches, and met a few more hikers. I remember when we came through here that July and the swarms of bugs were literally everywhere, getting in our eyes, mouths, just about everywhere. I had to wear sunglasses just to keep them out of my eyes.

View from Caleb's Peak

View from Caleb’s Peak

The climb up or down this side of Caleb’s peak is steep in its own right, with some stairs and a good deal of quick elevation gain. But it’s nothing like the ledges. It’s mostly just steep trail, and a much shorter climb. I arrived at the top and took my pack off and took in the view. There was a flower there I was trying to get a photo of but it kept swaying, and blurring the shot. I have one or two but it wasn’t really anything worth posting. It will do for my identification purposes I believe.

Geocache

Geocache

I also found the purple blazed trail which crosses Pond mountain to the west and was the original route of the A.T. from Macedonia Brook State Park. They are going to reopen this trail soon. I checked the summit for stealth campsites and fire rings (it’s nice and flat) and while I didn’t find those, I found a geocache box, and a plaque on a tree engraved with someone’s initials and dates they lived. It was very poignant. As I headed down the gentler south side of the peak, several trail racers were heading up the A.T. and I could see others through the woods on the purple trail. Not really sure what the official route was, and I thought some were taking a short cut! Who knows…

Brush fire damage

Brush fire damage

I thought for some reason the site of the recent brush fire in the area was south of the road, and just then came upon it. It really broke my heart to see the damage. There are those out there who believe these are beneficial in other ways. And that may be ultimately true. But that is up to the park service and forest service to decide, and control burns. It made me angry to see this because this was caused by an irresponsible hiker stealth camping and making a fire where they weren’t allowed. Many animals may have died, and the fire could have spread much farther under the right conditions. This was the second one in the area in a month. Luckily, they were able to get it under control relatively quickly. It was not a life-threatening or even very cold day it happened. This was just ignorance, and arrogance.

Sunbathing snake

Sunbathing snake

As I made my way through the damaged area I found the second garter snake of the day (the first I startled off the trail a bit north of here). This one was enjoying sunbathing on a rock under a burned out tree root. He let me get close enough to get a shot from a safe distance as he flicked his tongue at me. I met another flip-flop hiker named “Whiskers” and told him to look for the snake on the rock.

Anyone know this flower?

Meadow rue also?

As I headed down the hill by the road I met the work crew there who were building some new steps. Many of my friends from the AMC were on the project, and a few from the ATC I had met in Massachusetts. They were on lunch break so I joined them for lunch and we chatted for a while about the project, the fire, other sections of the trail, and talked with other hikers who thanked us all for our work. They were a flip-flop hiker couple known as “Bubbles” and “Sprout”. Bubbles was very enthusiastic and grateful for the work us volunteers do to keep the trail beautiful and safe. She would reiterate that to me two more times before the end of my hike. Our overseer of trails was there leading the work party and he asked me to tend to a few spots on my way back. I took some photos of the group and got out my poles. It was going to be some good uphill to get back to Caleb’s peak. I cleaned up a few spots of braided trail edging and then made good work of the hike back to the peak and met Whiskers, Bubbles and Sprout on the summit.

Rock Stairs Work Party

Rock Stairs Work Party

We talked more about volunteer work, their hikes, the Connecticut trail, and the upcoming ledges they would encounter. Whiskers also confirmed he saw the snake on the rock. I hiked a bit with Bubbles and Sprout and as we reached the outlook we exchanged blogs and she took a picture of herself with me to send her family. It was a day of meeting volunteers for her apparently because as we decended the ledges and I was re-edging the trail on a steep spot up top, one my new ATC ridgerunner friends, Kellie, was on her way up. She helped me brush over this spot and we chatted a bit and she said hello to the three hikers as they headed down slowly. I promised them it wasn’t that bad (though some earlier hikers I met at the beginning of the day said it felt like Pennsylvania all over again!) and chatted a bit more with Kellie while we worked before she headed south. I covered up one more bit of unofficial trail on the way down and made it back to the car in good time. I met a few other day hikers, who thanked me for my volunteer work and chatted with me about my SOLO Wilderness First Aid training as they saw my sticker on my car. Turns out this hiker knows the school well as she was up there often in Conway, NH. However they do training all over hence I had mine in Connecticut.

View down St. John's ledges

View down St. John’s ledges

I hope it was some of my new hiker friends who enjoyed the trail magic on their way through. I smiled and got in my car. While I just bought a home and wasn’t planning on being out at all this coming weekend so I could work on the house, my friend Ray on the Bull’s Bridge task force let me know he’d be out at Ten Mile tomorrow night, and so I am joining him. It’s a quick walk in and out and a very popular campsite which could use the attention on a beautiful weekend night. I’m glad I can fit this in and still tend to my house the rest of the weekend!

Miles: 4.2

Snakes: 2

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: A Weekend in the Wild Corner

Bad place for a nest

Hiker Map Box: Bad place for a nest

My friend Rob McWilliams used the phrase “Wild Corner of Connecticut” when I told him where I was backpacking last weekend, and I loved it. So thanks, Rob, you just made my blog title snap! Check out Rob’s blog here. There’s lots of rugged trail here in Connecticut, but I definitely think this is an accurate description of the Riga Plateau. On the A.T. it starts in Salisbury, quickly rising a thousand feet to Lion’s Head, a very scenic outcropping on the southeastern corner of the plateau. The entire plateau includes several peaks in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Fielden Stream and I completed the Connecticut section of the Appalachian trail through here just about a year ago by completing this final section and ending just over the Massachusetts border at Sages Ravine.

Break Time

Break Time

While I didn’t cover the section up to Lion’s Head or Down from Bear’s summit this Memorial Day weekend, the alternative route up was hardly less strenuous. I was up here to cover the trail between these two very popular peaks and the A.T. campsites in between, to greet and assist hikers during the day and overnight.

If I made any mistake it was not hitting the trail until just after noon, on a scorching hot day. The undermountain trail is a blue blaze that is one of several which climbs from Rt 41 up to the plateau where the A.T. traverses along its eastern ridges.  The others are the Race Brook Falls Trail and Elbow Trail behind the Berkshire school, both just north of the Massachusetts line. At its starting point the elevation of the undermountain trail is about 675ft. When it finally reaches the A.T. its 1,000ft higher. And as my goal this morning before returning to camp at Riga shelter was the summit of Bear Mountain, Connecticut (2,316ft) … well I had a good climb ahead and I knew it.

In this heat, no paradise here

In this heat, no paradise here

It was a busy holiday weekend and luckily I got the last of the spots in the trailhead lot. There were also many cars along the road, which is not a big deal if you’re just out for a few hours. Overnight I’d worry about parking on the road. As I was getting my gear together I chatted with some day hikers headed up the same way and gave them a map and made sure they had plenty of water. I also spoke to a section hiker who just did the entire Connecticut section and was waiting for a ride from a family member, and would then join them for a family get together just over the New York border. He gave me useful information on the water sources, and had lots of enthusiasm post-hike to talk trail, which got me sufficiently fired up to start the long climb. While never really terribly steep, one must not be fooled by the long continuous ascent. While I have done worse, in the heat and humidity it was tough. I was thankful to meet a lot of hikers along the way and stop to chat with them.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

I was more than relieved when I reached Riga Junction and the intersection of the Appalachian Trail. I was 2/3 of the way up now, so I took a snack break here and appreciated the last bit of shade I would get from the forest canopy, as the ascent up the south side of Bear opens up to a series of gentle scrambles along a rocky spine with nothing but a little krumholz and mountain laurel to shade you from the sun. It’s about .9 miles from here to the summit but its a good 600ft ascent. But, at least the views south and west are extremely rewarding. Just like last year, I snapped away on my camera. I love photography so always go a little overboard. Better to have more and filter out the bad ones, than less. I took a break every spot there was shade and kept a vigilant eye out for snakes. I startled one on the way up the undermountain trail which I pointed out to a group of day hikers on their way down. I ran into snakes two more times on this trip. Fortunately they were all garter snakes!

Southern view from Bear Mtn

Southern view from Bear Mtn

I reached the summit and promptly headed to the shady area behind the tower. I spent about an hour alternating between this spot and the hot rocky summit tower, interacting with day hikers and backpackers. This is probably the most popular section of trail in all of Connecticut. We all took lots of pictures and I educated them on the history of the summit tower, the plaque and the past notion that this was our state’s highest point. While it is the highest single summit entirely within the state, the shoulder of nearby Mt. Frissell has the honor of the highest point in Connecticut, even though its own peak is over the border in Massachusetts.

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

From the remains of the stone tower, I reveled in the sweeping views east and north to Mts Race and Everett, which Fielden Steam and I will hike along the trail in just less than three weeks with our Florida friends. I made sure to send them these great shots, and they were happy to see them! I also met my first annoying set of bees and flies of the weekend. They would harrass me for the next 24 hours, either because I was such good company, or smelled half dead. I helped hikers with directions and information for a while longer before taking one more long look and then heading back down the south side of the mountain. I met the day hikers I saw in the lot that morning on the way down and they treated me to some fresh carrots and broccoli they were snacking on at a viewpoint near the summit.

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

Once back at the junction, the trail gently undulates south along the ridge through mountain laurel tunnels for miles until a short ascent to Lion’s head on the southern end of the plateau. I would visit there tomorrow. The laurels were only blooming at the summit of Bear at this time, but the pink honeysuckle was abundant, and I would find some coveted wildflowers in my near future. I stopped briefly at Brassie brook to fill up on water, as I had depleted nearly my full 3 liters at this point. I met a nice couple section hiking with their dog Jimmy and who would be at the campsite with me later that night. Shortly after I stopped into the Brassie Brook shelter and campsites where I cleaned up a stealth fire ring. Boy I was tired at this point, but it had to be done! There was no one at the campsite recently as far as I could tell. Sages Ravine and Riga really draw the most crowds and so this and Ball Brook really handle the overflow when those two are full or for tired hikers stuck in between.

Brassie Brook Shelter

Brassie Brook Shelter

As I headed out of the Brassie Brook campsite, I ran into another section hiker I saw at the summit of Bear and we hiked south together and spoke until we reached the Riga campsites. While we passed Ball Brook campsite on the way, I decided I’d check it on the way back tomorrow. It’s a lovely little group site on the ridgeline, but not often used except by scouts.

She told me she had never met a volunteer ridgerunner before and thanked me for my work. That happened again later as I headed down undermountain trail the next day, and I have to admit, it felt great. We traded stories and reached the Riga site about 30 minutes later.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

As I got into the campsite I briefly chatted with some hikers who were also excited to meet a trail volunteer, and signed into the shelter as we took in the famous view. You can see at least 50 miles east over the mountain tops here. It’s a well loved spot. I then headed to set up my great new tent the REI Quarter Dome 1 for its maiden voyage and afterwards, set about the business of meeting all the hikers and helping them as they settled in for the evening. I talked tents with some of them, fascinated by the cuben fiber options out there though happy with my purchase.  One was a former caretaker for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont.

All in all, there were many flip-floppers (hiking from the middle of the trail one direction, then the other from the middle again to mitigate crowding), the section hikers I met at Brassie Brook, a couple celebrating the second half of their honeymoon hike by doing all of Connecticut and a NYC group who coincidentally was led by an outdoor shop a block from my sister-in-law’s in Brooklyn, NY! Small, small world.I’ve been in the shop often. We became quick friends, as you can imagine. I’m very happy to hear that his business is growing. I showed him the demerit badge I got in his shop of the bee, which Fielden Stream gave me when I was stung by a mud wasp on Sharon mountain and screamed so loudly that she thought I was bitten by a rattlesnake! Another group came in closer to dark as I was finishing my dinner of beef jerky. (left my titanium spoon in my wife’s pack!)

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

I chatted with the girl from earlier and the honeymoon couple while filtering water, then spent the rest of the evening looping around the camp showing hikers to the privy, bear box, water source, and reminding them fires aren’t allowed. It was a full house, but I loved feeling like a helping hand to them all.

The rain never came though a nice breeze blew through the treetops through the night, and I drifted in and out of sleep until I knew I spotted the makings of the famous sunrise. I ran out to the clearing in front of the shelter, and many of the hikers were there snapping the epic photos of the sun rising over Canaan mountain and the misty valley below.

I retreated to the tent to try and catch a few more Z’s since sunrise was at 5:45, but it was no use, and I knew it was going to be beastly hot again. So best to get going and beat the heat as much as I could. I made my breakfast, said goodbyes and inspected the campsites as everyone was leaving, and then headed south to check out Lion’s head.

Linus at Lion's Head

Linus at Lion’s Head

As I approached the northern viewpoint, I spotted the rare pink lady slipper, a favorite flower of ours. It’s also quite rare. Conditions have to be just right, and because of that I haven’t seen one since 2014. I took oodles of photos and then headed to the southern viewpoint with its sweeping views over the twin lakes of Salisbury all the way to Rand’s view in Canaan/Falls Village. I met a nice couple there who were intriqued in what I do, and they took some nice shots of me there.

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

I told them about the lady slippers and the northern view and suggested some hikes for them tomorrow as they were staying in town. As I headed back and took more shots of the flowers I met them there, and a family that was day hiking past who spotted a whole patch of them! How did I miss so many on the way up. Tired, I guess. It was getting hot and hotter already and it wasn’t even 8 am. I ran into the honeymooning couple on the way back up to Riga Junction and one of the groups from the campsite who were hoping to make it another 20 miles to Silver Hill. They looked young and fit enough but in that heat, I suggested some alternates a little closer just in case!

On the way back I managed to irk a bee or wasp sufficiently so that it followed me and quickened my pace significantly back to Riga Junction. On the way I checked out Ball Brook campsites, which were empty. I entertained another go up Bear, but the temperatures were soaring and I was done.

Boundary Marker

Boundary Marker

I headed down the undermountain trail to my car and along the way got many kudos from a day hiker for my volunteer work again. She said “yay, Appy guy, love it love you thank you thank you!” I must have blushed. Her son smiled at me, a little embarrassed. Though it’s always great to be thanked. I also spotted one of the boundary markers I remembered here from last year.

On the drive home I stopped in Kent to visit some of my favorite shops and to pick up some dinner at my favorite bakery there. I had a great adventure, and was ready for my hike the following Saturday for National Trails day. As I’ve been working on this entry a while, that day was today. I had a great hike today and met more great people. I’ll write about that soon. I don’t think I’ll be out next weekend so hopefully I can catch up then on the blog!

Miles day 1: 5.9

Miles day 2: 5.83

Snake sightings: 3!

— Linus