Last weekend I checked out another (short) section of the trail and stopped into one of the campsites to clean up. The temperatures had dropped from 65 degrees on the previous Wednesday to 19 by Saturday. What a wild winter it has been. It did the same thing in the week since. I had considered a longer route for this hike but would find out after not too long that keeping it shorter was the best plan. Frost bite can really spoil a good time!
I brought along my friend Lisa from our chapter of the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club), who now has a trail name, Chilly Cheeks! One of our senior members gave her the name and she loves it! We’ll let you figure out what it means. I enjoy solitude in the woods but I’m also a social animal so I get lonely out there sometimes and company is always welcome on the trail when I can get it.
In Connecticut, like in several other states, the AMC is the organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail. We have people who do boundary work, trail building, trail maintenance, ridgerunners/patrollers (like me) and sawyers/carpenters to name just a few. It takes many dedicated people to take care of this great trail from end to end. Our chapter is a great group of people, I truly feel like they are my extended family.
The goal was to check out and clean up Pine Swamp Brook Shelter and Campsite. I had considered going on and doing the same at Sharon Mountain Campsite, but the frigid temperatures and the added chill from the high winds made an extra 6 miles round trip low on the priority list. That campsite is very primitive and less used when its not thru hiking season. So while I will get up there next to tidy up, the Pine Swamp Brook shelter was sure to have seen some recent camping. There’s a composting privy, a picnic table (complete with metal area to protect from stove accidents) bear box, water source and clean shelter in great condition.
We started the climb up from West Cornwall Road, which rises quickly 500 or so feet and through a split glacial rock known as “Rogers Ramp”. It’s no Lemon Squeezer but it’s a very cool feature that’s both fun to hike and fun to look at. Another one of those that most of those long-distance hiking the A.T. don’t expect to find in a state like Connecticut. The trail then switchbacks over the ramp to the south-facing ledges above. There are several nice views in the winter, and during the summer there is still one or two that are cut through the leaf canopy. This is the southern ridge of Sharon Mountain, a large mountain that reaches from here in Sharon all the way to Falls Village, sharing the space with its neighbor peak, Mt. Easter.
Once up on the ridge, the trail follows the edge for a bit before dropping down 1-200 feet into the woods to follow Pine Swamp Brook and the shelter side trail is reached just 1.1 miles from the road crossing. We took a bunch of photos both on the ramp and the ridgeline, as well as when we arrived at the campsite. I also made a short video of this hike on my video channel so you can see the terrain and the campsite, as well as a quick review of a sit pad my friend bought me in Iceland!
Chilly cheeks got to sign the shelter trail register for the first time with her new trail name. I did my usual sign in, and the previous entry from a hiker named Kingfisher a day prior contained some beautiful and inspiring poetry.
We checked out the privy, bear box and campsites. In the group site there was one fire ring. We cleared the fire ring the best we could with the ground completely frozen, and covered it up. We had a quick snack and I took a few clips for my video, then we headed out. We talked again about going farther to the next site but it was bitter cold still and so the decision was made to head back.
We had a nice walk back down to the cars and then drove down to Kent to do a quick check on the condition of River road so that our trail crew could get in there and clear the large blowdowns I reported on that last trip. We made a quick stop in town for some nourishment and I was on my way. I had planned to be back out today but the conditions were similar with the added icy conditions from recent snow. While I enjoy winter hikes, frozen ground makes getting trail work done far more challenging, and snow makes it more difficult to see issues.
If not before, I will be back out with the club in early April for our club-wide volunteer kick-off day. We do this annually and cover the entire trail so that we can assess all issues still needing to be addressed before the official hiking season is in full swing. It will be good to see everyone again, and spend another great day taking care of the trail we love.
Miles: 2.4 (with side trail)