Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.
As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.
So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.
At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.
We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.
At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.
Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!
Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night. Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.
We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T. There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.
I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked. We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there. We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.
We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.
As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.
For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.
Miles day 1: 6