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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