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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!