Weekend Family Backpacking Adventure

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Last weekend over Labor Day weekend we finally got the whole family out for a backpacking overnight. We’d taken my son “Jiffy Pop” out for an overnight last year in New York, and it was time for my daughter “Ratchet” to do her first! She’s done some day section hikes with us before, and lots of car camping but she was excited to try backpacking and you know I was excited for her to as well. We got her fitted for her first pack earlier in the summer, and it was just a matter of picking the right weekend.

We had planned on doing it earlier in the summer before school started again, but with the heatwave we’ve been having the last few months, and some of the unbearably hot conditions we had to hike in to get in some therapeutic miles, we put it off until now.

Packs on, lets do this!

Packs on, lets do this!

It turns out we picked about the best weather weekend in a long time, and I am thankful for that. Mid-70’s and no rain, with a nice breeze. We worried about the hurricane down south affecting the weather up here but it moved out to sea and never happened.

We had also originally picked a section in Massachusetts which traverses a favorite ski resort in Great Barrington, but it’s known for some steep scrambles and ledge walks and after some really unexpected terrain on our last New York hike, we thought it best to not take chances like that with the kids. We plan to complete that section later, and take the kids there next year once we’ve checked it out.

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Still, the alternate section I picked provided enough challenge to keep it interesting for sure, and prepare them for that trip next year. Fielden Stream and I did this Connecticut section about 2 years ago, and it has some of the best views on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail — Rand’s View and the Great Falls.

I knew there would be some moaning and groaning on the uphill, and in fact it was a long uphill for us as well.  I didn’t recall it being such a long uphill to the summit of Mount Prospect. Selective memory, I guess. Just like the previous weekend going up Fuller Mountain. I did however remember the precarious ascent and descent into the Limestone Spring Campsite, and surely that at least would mitigate any potential for the hike being perceived as boring or too easy by the kids!

The Great Falls

The Great Falls

While most would go out on a multi-day over the three-day weekend, this was still a first time experience for my daughter and I just wanted it to be a short, fun one this time.

We got up to the parking area by the Iron Bridge around lunchtime and got our packs on. One of our trail chiefs was up there removing some graffiti from a kiosk there and he helped my son adjust his pack, as he had grown quite a bit since the previous year. We ended up having to do another adjustment half way up the mountain, which ultimately got it riding comfortably for him.

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

The Iron bridge was closed to cars last time we were here, and this year they had finally finished it. There used to be a concrete barrier at either end with a famous quote from Lord of the Rings — “You Shall Not Pass” — spray painted on it. While this was amusing, the beautiful new bridge, painted in red, was wonderful to see. As we crossed the bridge, we had a nice view up and down the Housatonic River.

The trail travels on and off between Housatonic River Road and the woods between the falls and the road until reaching a viewing platform and several entrances to the rocky flats along the falls. We walked along the rocks and took in the views. The falls were raging and dramatic as I’d hoped. The kids enjoyed the falls as it provided a scenic, early break, and cool breezes. Unfortunately parts of the rocks were marred by more recent graffiti.

A nice moment of flat trail

A nice moment of flat trail

We headed across the road and back into the woods for the long, steady climb up. We passed some amazingly large glacial erratics left here thousands of years ago as the glaciers receeded, and the trail then passed through a few meadows as it continued climbing. It was hotter here in the sun, but pretty and luckily it was not too long before the trail was sending us back into the shady woods for the remainder of the climb. We took another break just past a piped spring at a broken glacial erratic with lots of crevices that made fun spots to lean our bodies and our packs against.

The trail climbed for another mile, sometimes steeply, sometimes gently. Jiffy Pop took a spill after tripping on an almost invisible root and this is when we realized we needed to adjust that pack again. His ego was a little bruised but luckily not his body. We had some snacks and after the adjustment he was feeling much better carrying the weight and we made quicker time.

Cracked boulder

Cracked boulder

The school backpacks are heavy these days as the kids have to carry multiple heavy binders and textbooks, so at the end of the day they were at least somewhat accustomed to the load. Of course carrying loads like that is different when you’re climbing 1,000 vertical feet, and for many miles. So it’s important to have all the straps adjusted to properly place the weight on your hips. Despite lots of necessary breaks, everyone managed beyond expectations.

There was a nice western view through a little clearing about three quarters of the way up. We came up with stories to pass the time, and one of them my daughter came up with inspired me to put my art school background and passion for writing to use to start a children’s book based on it. Stay tuned on that front!

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

We finally reached the summit of Mount Prospect, at 1,450 feet. We started at about 400 feet by the bridge, so it was a good ascent for sure. There are nice views of Canaan Mountain and the eastern Litchfield Hills and beyond. We met a hiker up there and let him know about the even more spectacular view ahead, and we later met him there where he thanked me for telling him about it, and when we got there he also listened as I pointed out each peak from west to east, and a few in southern Massachusetts that I love that are not along the A.T. like Monument Mountain.

There was a short detour just before the campsite side trail junction due to a nest of hornets over the trail. When we got to Rand’s view we took in the spectacular scenery and I was elated when my daughter said it reminded her of the French Alps, which she saw when she went to visit her great-grandmother there. We sang the song from the “Sound of Music” as she rolled down the field.

Hornet detour!

Hornet detour!

We also saw a group of college-aged kids farther down the meadow who we would see later at the campsite.

We left our packs up at the trail junction since we had to go a bit farther down the A.T. to get to the view and didn’t feel like hauling them back up again. We got back up to our packs and made our way down the side trail to the campsite. The kids were I think a bit shocked about how steep the descent was here. It all came back to us quickly. Luckily, it wasn’t raining. There was some talk in our trail crew about re-routing the trail but that takes many years of surveying the land for ecological and historical impacts of a re-route, so it could be a while if it ever happens.

A break atop Mount Prospect

A break atop Mount Prospect

We finally got into the campsite which was empty at this point. We set up our tents, I went to get water from the piped spring, and use the bathroom. Then the group of college kids began coming into camp.

There were about 14 of them — a co-ed freshmen orientation weekend for Williams College students. I greeted them, let them know I was in charge for the night and to please not make any fires which they acknowledged and happily went on their way to set up camp. I chatted with some of them at the spring and they nicely let me fill up in between as they had a lot of water to fill. They asked me if they should filter and I said absolutely yes.

Linus at Rand's View

Linus at Rand’s View

I suddenly heard my favorite sound – Barred Owls! This is one of only two places I’ve heard them on the trail, and last time one of them swooped down over Fielden Stream in the morning as she got packed up in the rain in the cover of the shelter.

When I heard it, I did the famous “who cooks for you” call that they make and one responded to me! The college kids thought that was pretty cool and we did too of course! I was super happy.

The kids taking in Rand's View

The kids taking in Rand’s View

We had dinner and Ratchet had her first Mountain House meal, which she loved. We enjoyed the rest of the evening and I pointed some of the students to the bear box as night had fallen. Turns out they were cowboy camping so they laid out large tarps to lineup on and under, in a row like sardines!  They were up a bit past hiker midnight though and we didn’t get to sleep until almost ten because of the conversations and headlamps. I don’t be-grudge them that. They’re kids out on a special weekend and on their third and final night of their trip. And they weren’t partying by any means.

The campsite piped spring

The campsite piped spring- a luxury

I heard a few more owls in the middle of the night and got faint recordings of them on my phone. I have to see if I can use an app to boost the sounds so I can listen to them more. I also heard a few privy door slams and the college kids stumbling around camp in the middle of the night trying to find the privy. One of them did manage to break the latch though trying to open it in the middle of the night so we will replace that.

My real only grudge is that they woke up at 5am and started loudly conversing and shaking out their tarps. This could have been done more quietly for sure. I did ask them if they could try and be a little quieter as they packed up and then I wished them well on the rest of their hike. I was not able to get back to sleep so I went and got our food out of the bear box and checked in on the real world for a bit until everyone else in the family was awake.

Home for the night

Home for the night

Still, it was a beautiful night and I was glad I was able to be helpful and everyone was having a nice time.  We had breakfast and prepared ourselves for the climb up the ledge. It was tough going back up and I was nervous about someone falling, but everyone did great and we were all proud as we made our way back up to the summit. We took in the views one more time, made some silly videos, and then made quick time of the descent as we skipped a real breakfast save for the coffee so we could eat well in town. We were headed for the amazing Toymaker’s Cafe.

Stove S'mores!

Stove S’mores!

Two years ago when Fielden Stream and I did the 9 miles in the rain to here from Pine Swamp Brook shelter, we’d had enough for the day. They allow, or at least used to, hikers to tent on their lawn. Before that all day downpour we were considering that and hiking on the next day, but our spirits were low at that point and the Falls Village Inn told us they had no room to stay for a pampered night either.

To this day we still don’t believe that was true. No one was there that we could tell.  We couldn’t get hold of Salisbury taxi, but the owner of Toymakers was just closing up for the day and gave us a ride back to our car at the starting point. We gave him a nice tip and we’ve loved them ever since.

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

They were crowded when we arrived with the kids as there was a car show at Lime Rock and there was a 45 minute wait for hot food. So we opted for their muffins and cookies and loaded up on these before heading home. I was so happy that everyone had such a great time, and Jiffy Pop was even saying to me that now he wanted to do it more and asked when we could go again.

We stopped at a farm stand on the way home to get veggies for our Labor Day BBQ, which was also my mom’s 74th birthday party. I’m already planning and dreaming up the next time I can bring the kids along.

Update: the video of this trip is here!

Miles day 1: 4.2

Miles day 2: 3.9

— Linus

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A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Algo Shelter to Skiff Mountain Road

 

Algo shelter

Algo shelter

Last weekend I was back out on a volunteer hike, and certainly pleased to have the milder weather conditions. It really didn’t get over 85 degrees, and in the shady spots it felt considerably cooler. I had a good share of uphills though which did warm me up a bit more.

I always like to check out campsites and shelters when I can because usually those are the areas that need addressing most, both in terms of cleanups and hikers with potential questions. So in this case this meant I had an added steep-ish jaunt southbound to the Algo shelter before covering the area north of here that I wanted to.  It’s only .6 up to the shelter, but its a good pitch, and one that definitely gets the heart pumping. Nothing too crazy, though.

Stupid rule? Discuss

Stupid rule? Discuss

I parked on route 341 at the bottom of Mt. Algo, and popped on my new trail runners and my new REI Trail 25 pack (watch that gear review video here). I was eyeing a bunch of Deuter, Osprey and Marmot day packs because the one I have is just too small at 18 liters to handle all my gear I tote along and that which I need to pack out. I went into REI the night before this hike and tried on a whole bunch of them. Many nice packs, but many were also expensive, and a lot more bells and whistles than I needed. I was also not nuts about the trekking pole loops on all the ones I tried.

Then I remembered the new Trail line of packs REI made, because I bought my daughter the 40 liter model for her first overnight pack. Besides all the great storage compartments, one feature that really impressed me were the trekking pole attachments. I fell in love with the system on this pack, and at $70 for a roomy 25 liters of space, I was sold. I took it on its maiden voyage on this morning and I’m very happy with the purchase. As I mentioned above you can click the link to see a video review.

Country turnstiles

Country turnstiles

I grabbed my trekking poles and hit the trail. I debated doing this part of trail at the end of the hike but if I had any chance of meeting hikers at the campsite it would be in the morning. Luckily the shelter is only about 1/3 of the way up to the summit. I did the whole climb a few weeks ago and its quite a workout. But luckily it wasn’t 100% humidity or nearly that this time. I was literally pouring sweat that morning! I hope this heatwave continues to break, it’s been rough.

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

I arrived at the shelter side trail and the water source there was completely dry. To be honest this came as little surprise to me. But of course it’s bad news to anyone staying there. The next source is either back down the hill and .8 more miles down the road into town, or up over the summit of Mt. Algo and down to Thayer Brook, a regularly reliable brook in the saddle between Mt Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. This dry water source is something I report to the trail managers so they can post it on various sites like Whiteblaze, so more hikers are prepared if camping there for the night. There were no hikers here this morning when I arrived.

Jewel Weed - good for bites!

Jewel Weed – good for bites!

I then did my routine look around, and cleaned up trash and forgotten clothing I found in a few campsites. There was some food left in ziplocs and some duct tape left in the shelter which I packed out. I have to do this because while it seems like a nice gesture, this will attract animals and habituate them to the area if they think they can regularly find food left here. This becomes dangerous to humans, and affects animals’ natural instinct to hunt for their food so it becomes dangerous for them as well. So that nice gesture causes more harm than good, and you should always pack out what you don’t finish. While the duct tape won’t attract any animals per se, It’s still not leave no trace to leave things in a shelter. Wait for the next town or shelter with a hiker box and leave it there.

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

I checked the privy which was nice and clean. And nobody had thankfully made any fires I had to clean up. THANK YOU for following the rules and keeping our campsite beautiful. Which brings me to what I found written on the register. You can look at the photo above to see it in detail. Now I know there are many who feel this way, but I think it’s even more an example of how entitled some new hikers have become that they would deface the cover of the register to say what they think about our rules. Its these rules that keep our campsites free of trash, scorched landscapes, and brush fires, of which we’ve had several. I ended this hike at the site of the most recent one from late May. The scorched tree bottoms and deadfall were still scattered everywhere.

AMC trail work stairs

AMC trail work stairs

While some new growth is coming in, and it will eventually recover, this was not a planned burn. This was a stealth camper who made a fire and it got out of control. I hope that when people walk through here and see this they understand and respect the potential for disaster if they break the rules anywhere they see fit. Anyone who’s been to the Riga Shelter lately, or had been to the cabin on Silver Hill before it was destroyed by an out of control fire might appreciate this more.  But its a sad state of affairs when people feel the need to do graffiti and mock rules that are there for a reason. Connecticut is only 53 miles of trail. Any seasoned thru hiker can make it through in under 3 days. I don’t really think they are the culprits here though because most of them don’t really care about fires at the end of a long day. Too much effort. I think it’s more locals and weekenders. And the register is a place to leave positive thoughts and reflections and communicate with your fellow trailmates.

Real or fake?

Real or fake?

I headed back down to the car and put the trash and other items in the car, then headed across the street, over the turnstile and into the meadows below Fuller Mountain.  I enjoyed the same bucolic views of the Mountains on all sides, and the wildflowers along Macedonia Brook, which you cross on a log bridge. The trail then heads quickly and steeply up the south side of Fuller Mountain. We did this section a few years ago and I don’t remember it being quite so steep. There’s a lot of great stairs our trail crews have made, and fortunately unlike the New York section we did the previous weekend, the trail goes around the cliff walls.

Rocky trail

Rocky trail

But there’s quite a large amount of rock here and dramatic cliffs next to the trail. I startled the first of three garter snakes here. And I did pass a SOBO through hiker and informed him of the dry water source at Algo, and to go ahead onto Thayer Brook if he needed to refill. As I made my way to the top I took several breaks to catch my breath and take in the dramatic landscape. This climb would likely have been easier had I not just done Mt. Algo.

It eventually levels out on the shoulder of Fuller Mountain, just past a large glacial erratic known as Glacier Rock. This rock is a bit off the trail but you can see it when it’s not as leafed out. I took in the first nice viewpoint a bit farther up the trail, which faces east to the Kent valley below.

1 of 3 snakes todayFrom here the trail climbs a bit higher up to the peak of Fuller Mountain, and then down into a ravine before skirting the side of Pond Mountain, which I believe the original trail used to go over to get here from its former route in Macedonia Brook State Park. There was a small stream in that ravine but it too was completely dry. There is one more viewpoint here so I stopped for a quick break and then headed for the road crossing at Skiff Mountain Road. They have been working on new steps north of the road and I thought they were going to be out there today but got the dates mixed up. There was a small stream just before the road and that was actually running enough and clearly to be a good water source. A source this size can dry up quickly in continued heat though, so please rely on more permanent sources listed in your guides.

Fuller Mountain vista

Fuller Mountain vista

There was also a flat area here which we brushed in as people were using it as a stealth site. Many years ago when Fielden Stream and I came through here we saw an open, empty tent surrounded by large empty liquor bottles. Clearly a squatter of some sort. I debated filling up at the stream but I had enough to get me up to the brush fire site and back without issue. I also saw a pair of northbound section hikers here who were headed up to Caesar Brook campsite, many miles ahead.

Brush fire remnants

Brush fire remnants

I crossed the road and ascended the beautiful new steps and arrived at the brush fire site. As I talked about it above and in the previous entry I won’t go on about it anymore. But please take away what the lesson is when you see the results. As Smokey says, “only you can prevent forest fires.”

At this time I decided there was not enough time to go up to Caleb’s peak for that last view. I had to be back home in a few hours and had to go all the way back first. As thru hiker volume was low and so were day hikers this day, there was no reason to go up except for the view (though it is nice!)

More rock walls!

More rock walls!

I made my way back and passed a few day hikers heading up to the Ledges, who had some questions about the ’96 stairs’. I told them it was totally doable, even fun, and not to worry , to just take their time.  I made it back to the car pretty quickly, in one go of it. Though I did quickly pause to admire the views again on the way down. It was time to head home, but I knew I’d be out again the following weekend, so that always makes it easier on the soul. I get withdrawal pretty quickly once I’m off trail.

I also made another video, where I address some of these same issues I encountered as part of my duties. The sound gets a little noisy at times, I’m still working on that. But I thought it would be good to have a visual component to my blog entries when I can. I also made the short gear review on this hike.

Mt Algo from the north

Mt Algo from the north

… It’s now Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, and I’ve been packing most of the night for an overnight with Fielden Stream and both kids, which I am super excited about. I know there will be complaining, but I know it will be something they cherish when its all said and done. The forecast looks great, and I look forward to my daughter seeing what backpacking is like, and how I help hikers out there in camp and on the trail. We leave in a few hours so I better get back to preparations. I’ll report back on it next week!

Miles: 7.7

— Linus