Volunteer Roundup and Overnight at Silver Hill (with new gear reviews!)

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

Last weekend saw a lot of trail activity for me – which was just what I needed! We kicked off our Connecticut AMC Chapter trail season with our annual volunteer roundup. This consists of a morning meeting where we do recognition/awards over coffee and donuts, and discuss trail issues and any other pressing chapter issues and interchapter issues. Then we break up into several groups and head out on to the trail, doing as much trail work as possible on each section and then reconvene for a brief social in the late afternoon.

This year I achieved my 250 hours of volunteer work award, and my son received his 12 hour award. That felt good, and I am glad to be getting my son out there to help as well.

My 250 hour patch and my son's 12 hour pin

My 250 hour patch and my son’s 12 hour pin

I went out on the section from West Cornwall Road south to Caesar Brook campsite with that section’s maintainer, our overseer of trails, and a new volunteer. We used a hazel hoe to clear water bars and drainage ditches of leaves and duff. We met a few hikers out enjoying the beautiful weather and even gave one a ride into town when we returned to the trail head later.

We also cleared a log jam at Caesar brook that was causing the water level to be too high to cross using the stepping stones. We noticed some animal damage to the chum privy at the campsite as well as a few larger blowdowns we couldn’t clear with saws. All of these get reported so that a sawyer or structure specialist can get out there and remedy those problems. Our trails overseer maintains the next section south to Rt 4 so he continued on to check over his section and we headed back.

Creek on Surdan Mountain

Creek on Surdan Mountain

After some paperwork for the maintenance and a few snacks and refreshments, I carried on with the next stage of my plan which was to head up to the Silver Hill campsite for the night to meet my friend Brian, as well as our trails overseer who by coincidence was also planning to camp up there that beautiful night.

The climb from the road is a short .9 miles but its all uphill, and I loaded up on water at the spring in case the pump was out of service, and some refreshments from the social. So it was a bit tough until I got my flow back. Its also always tougher to hike several hours, then stop and then start again. Especially when switching from a light day pack to a fully loaded backpack! It was fine though and before I knew it I was at the campsite.

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Brian was already there, and had been a few hours. I was eager to set up a new piece of gear: the REI Flash Air Hammock. This was my first time with a hammock setup, and I watched a video the night before that had convinced me to buy it in the first place, about how to set it up. So when I found the right trees and spot, I was able to set it up without issue. However, the hammock does have full instructions in the packaging.

We also had a troop of 25 boy scouts and leaders show up at the campsite around dusk, just as we were finishing our dinner. I tried out my new GSI soloist cook set, with good results. I have a decent titanium cook pot but its getting a little beat up, and the larger handle and capacity of the pot in this set means its easier to eat out of and prepare food in, as well as being able to boil enough water for multiple meals when we have friends along.

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

It also has a large plastic bowl which fits the same lid as the pot. The pot lid has a strainer for liquids and a pour spout area. It comes with a bag to protect your stove, as well as a carry bag for the pot that can hold water, with a rigid wiry structure that keeps it standing when holding liquids. This could come in handy in many ways. The spork isn’t all that great, but it did the job for eating my peanut butter ramen out of the pot. If I was having a mountain house meal out of the bag, I’d want my longer titanium spork. But all in all it was hardly heavier or bulkier than my existing setup, so I will probably stick with this one unless I have a particular reason to go back to my original pot setup.

Arriving at the campsite

Arriving at the campsite

As the scouts fought the sunset while getting dinner cooked and all their tents setup, we enjoyed a conversation on the wooden deck with the mountain view. We answered any questions they had about their upcoming trail itinerary and then checked in on the privy conditions which we had heard might have included a raccoon stuck in the privy hole! Luckily for the raccoon, he was able to dig himself out. But we may need to check the foundation for damage or instability. The note in the trail register from the initial discovery was quite amusing.

It was now approaching hiker midnight and time to hit the hammock for its inaugural use! The most appealing factors of the hammock were its ease of setup for a newbie, and its compact size and weight.

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

While not optimal for people over 5’8″, its a great first hammock at 2lbs 14oz and $179! I also knew that if it was not for me, I could return it to REI. I got it for my birthday and was excited to finally be able to try it out. Brian is also a gear geek like me so he watched while I set it up and took note of all its great features, remarking too that they seem to have thought of every detail. I’d say the only one they didn’t do is make the bag for it a tad larger. Squeezing it all back in was tough. But another great thing about the hammock is that every piece of gear is included, so there’s no handicap or learning curve to get all the necessary parts. I toss and turn a lot and am a side sleeper so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

I know larger and wider hammocks allow you to lie more diagonally and flat, which might be more enjoyable for a sleeper like me. Even though my pad was secured by the pad loops, I still had trouble getting used to being in a confined space like this, and not making it rock heavily while I attempted to get into my sleeping clothes and sleeping bag. When I did finally accomplish this, it took 10 minutes for it to stop rocking me like a baby.

Each time I rolled to one side during the night I was worried I would throw off the balance and roll it over, but I never did. New hammocker fear I guess! I did get a bit used to the balance after a few hours and a few position changes, but I didn’t get used to the feeling my body was being squished from the top and bottom like an accordian.

Moonlight at the campsite

Moonlight at the campsite

This may be a better hammock for a smaller person, but I will give it a few more tries before I make a final decision.  If I decide not to continue using it, I may give it to my son. The bug net design is very nice, but I am not used to having it so near to my face. It is held up and away by a crossbar, but compared to a tent, this was definitely foreign to me. I suppose if I had experience sleeping in a small bivy I’d be more used to it.

Ultimately I did like it but my tent is a pound lighter. It had its benefits over a tent but a tent also has its benefits over a hammock. So the jury’s still out. I didn’t sleep very well however, and Sunday night I slept a solid 12 hours in my bed!  It was nice hearing the owls out at night, it’s one of my favorite sounds. And it was fun listening to some of the scouts’ conversations as my son is the same age and was on a camping trip himself in North Carolina that night with his school. So it made me think of him a lot.

Brian heading up Silver Hill

Brian heading up Silver Hill

In the morning, packing it up was easy, except that part about getting everything to fit back in its bag. We were all rising around 630 am, so I headed to the pavilion building and heated up my water for a nice cup(bowl) of coffee. We answered a few more of the scoutleaders’ questions about their planned mileage and campsite for the day, and when the three of us were packed up we headed out of camp and up and over Silver Hill. It’s not a long climb from the campsite till you reach the ridge, but there’s a fun scramble or two on the way. We took photos at the view on the ridge, and then Brian had to race ahead because he was meeting a group for a day hike of another 11 miles north.

Brian and I on Silver Hill

Brian and I on Silver Hill

On the way down, we brushed in some areas of trail around steep parts where hikers would choose to go instead of the trail, causing erosion. We also cleared any fallen branches and reported a larger blowdown up top for the sawyers to address later.

We took an old portion of the A.T. back to the car, and that was very cool for me to see where it used to go. It however was loaded with ticks. Luckily my pants had been treated with permethrin and I only found one on my pants.

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

I had a BBQ planned in the afternoon so I headed home from my car once I got dropped back at that trailhead. You would never know from the heavy rain that Saturday morning on the way up, that it would be such a beautiful weekend. The rain didn’t return until I was long gone.

I learned a lot of new trail maintenance skills, and I just bought the same saw that our trail overseer Jim has, the Silky Big Boy 2000! My saw that was given to me by the ridge runner coordinator last year has taken a beating, and I had some dividend money left to spend at REI.

Miles total: 6

  • Linus

 

 

 

 

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Case Mountain Family Hike, Manchester, Connecticut

Falls and bridge at the lot

Falls and bridge at the lot

Last weekend we had a happy occasion thankfully, in the form of celebrating my older brother’s 50th birthday. As you may know from reading this blog, we have been doing a bunch of hiking together over the last year. On this day he and his girlfriend, my little brother and his son and partner from Colorado and my uncle from Virginia who were all here for the occasion too came along on the hike. I was elated everyone was in the mood to spend a few hours of this bluebird day to hit the woods, and I didn’t have to do much convincing.

Broccoli tree?

Broccoli tree?

The hike was at Case Mountain Park in Manchester, Connecticut. It has an extensive (10 miles) system of trails up and around the peaks of Case Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Birch Mountain. We managed a loop including the first two, at about 2.3 miles. The blue-blazed Shenipsit trail traverses the park for a few miles, and we connected a bit of that with several other trails including the carraige trail, the pink trail, and the blue/yellow trail.

We only had about an hour and a half so I had picked this route and led the hike. It was a great way to spend time together, and while it was short and not very challenging, it had a very nice view from Lookout Mountain.

Trail break

Trail break

This view makes it a popular hike for locals, and one I’m glad I finally got to do. At around 750ft, these peaks are not very high, but they are high enough over the valley below that you get long views to Hartford and beyond to the west as well as the hanging hills to the south.

Our backpacking season is starting very soon and I’m excited because this weekend is not only our trail work season official kickoff day, but I am joining my friend Brian and a buddy of his for an overnight on the trail afterwards.

View from Lookout Mountain summit

View from Lookout Mountain summit

While I’m only hiking a short ways in to the campsite to meet them because of the trail work day beforehand, I get to try my new hammock for the first time and get a much needed night on the trail with friends. It’s also all uphill to the campsite, of course! And at the trail work party I will be receiving my recognition for 250 hours of volunteer trail service to date, and my son will be receiving his 12-award! We do it because we love it, but of course a little recognition is always nice.

Our route

Our route

With any luck, Fielden Stream and I will be heading out to do another overnight backpacking trip on a section in New Jersey near the end of this month. Our first together for the season. If not for all the occasions lately, we probably would have gotten out already.

Miles: 2.3

Family members: 8

Smiles: countless

  • Linus

Humpback Rocks and Appalachian Trail, Virginia

Humpback rocks from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Humpback rocks from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Last weekend we were in South Carolina suddenly for a funeral of someone near and dear.

That was a particularly hard time for me and my friends, and while seeing them helped in the way of support, there is one other prime way I get my therapy… the woods!

I do a lot of processing and thinking out on the trail, and at the very least, a good hike just clears your head and makes you focus on the challenge and the experience in front of you right at that moment.

This was much needed as well, because distractions from the loss were much welcome. With a 700-mile drive, I was also happy to split it up on the way back and stay in a trail town and get a nice hike in in one of my favorite areas. That would be central Virginia, near Shenandoah.

Humpback rocks from the blue trail

Humpback rocks from the blue trail

Much of the Skyline drive was still closed for post-storm blowdown cleanup, so we aimed just south of the park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway at the trailhead for Humpback rocks. I had researched a few hike options of course and this one looked perfect for time and distance, with a big payoff view.  This of course also means crowds on a weekend. We arrived on a late Saturday afternoon. Late enough to find parking, but not late enough to miss all the crowds.

I was hopeful as we started up from the picnic lot that all these people leaving would mean we would have it mostly to ourselves. Well, that’s not how it turned out. There were large groups of students from nearby James Madison University coming to hike. I am sure this is partly because Skyline was half closed.

Linus atop Humpback rocks

Linus atop Humpback rocks

But I think its great when anyone hikes and loves it as much as I do so I try and grin and bear it with the crowds. I knew it would likely be the case.  Glad to see kids in their 20s take in nature in place of an afternoon kegger!

We took the blue trail from the lot which climbs quickly and somewhat steeply to the ridge line. Rocks were plentiful, as were views of Humpback rocks above. We paused many times to catch our breath and wait for hikers to pass on their way down.

The Blue Ridge Parkway below Humpback rocks

The Blue Ridge Parkway below Humpback rocks

Luckily it was only .8 to the rocks so we preferred to get it over with first and do a gentle longer descent. I explored the rocks as much as I could with the crowd, and got some pictures both from Fielden Stream and a student. The views were glorious and I tried to walk a bit farther out than I was first comfortable with, and this approach seems to be working. I get a little sketched out on some of the bigger straight drop offs, and since there’s a lot of those on the trail, I’ve worked on addressing that by pushing my limits and picking hikes with a lot of that so I can get over it 100%.  A work in progress, but I enjoy them a lot more now.

We talked to a family who had a Beagle (or mix) with them as we have a Beagle, and then there was still another .25 miles to climb to where the Appalachian Trail intersected.  The summit was not much farther but I figure I will hit that when I come through this section anyway.

Linus on Humpback rocks

Linus on Humpback rocks

It was a nice, long, gentle descent of switchbacks down the A.T. on the back of the mountain.  We chatted and even got to hold hands in some wider spots! It was just as we were getting down to the final trail junction that we heard a crashing in the trees down the hill. We started banging our poles together and singing songs out loud and just then I spotted a black animal in the tree branches where we heard the sound. We had continued to move and just slow down and remain alert. It scurried off and so did we. As it’s likely it was a cub, momma was probably not far off.

At the trail junction I found a child’s backpack, forgotten on a rock. It was full of food and a water bottle so I picked it up and packed it out the last half mile up the carriage road to the lot.

Humpback rocks

Humpback rocks

I emptied the food into the bear proof trash container and left the bag at the kiosk, hoping it would be reunited with its owner. I’m not holding my breath though because if it was a tourist they are likely long gone and not going back to see if someone carried it out for them. A student or local, maybe… always in ridge runner mode out there!

We reached the lot within under 2 hours. It’s been a while but not bad at all for our first outing together in months! That’s for 4.2 miles including a big steep uphill and time playing around on the rocks.

View of Shenandoah National Park from Humpback rocks

View of Shenandoah National Park from Humpback rocks

The sun was beginning to set and we enjoyed views of Waynesboro from the Blue Ridge Parkway and then went to our hotel and favorite Chinese place across the street. We passed the Devil’s Backbone Brewery on the way to the hike and really wanted to go there but it was in the opposite direction quite a bit from our hotel. But we were excited to spot it and will definitely go there when we hike this section for real.

 

A great hike, and a night in a trail town, is good medicine indeed.

FIelden Stream

FIelden Stream

Miles: 4.2

Bears: 1 (and probably more we didn’t see)

— Linus

Ten Mile River Campsites Clean-up with Ray and Jiffy Pop

March 23rd weekend I had my son “Jiffy Pop” home from school and in preparation for some trail volunteer work he will be doing there, I wanted to get him back out for some more volunteer trail work up here in Connecticut. A few seasons back he helped me for half a day, and he was eager to go out and hike and do some work. I am more than happy to encourage that! With this volunteer time under his belt he has now also earned his first volunteer award with the club!

We met up with Ray, our friend from the Connecticut chapter, and member of the Bull’s Bridge task force. They are there to keep Bull’s Bridge from being the trash pile it once was years ago, and manage crowds at this busy area.

We did a loop down to the Ten Mile River Campsites and Shelter, to pick up trash, clean up fire rings, and anything else that awaited us.

There was a good amount of trash and evidence of rogue fires at the shelter, and so we cleared all of that and checked the bear boxes and privies, filling up duff buckets and checking the water pump.

Unfortunately folks (suspecting locals) are still up to a bunch of bushcraft nonsense at this campsite. While that’s a neat skill, cutting down young saplings to do it, is not only illegal on National Park Service land, but just wrong. We will be addressing this with the town and the ATC so we can get some signage in place to that effect, and hopefully it will make a difference.

Curious about some colorful ribbons along the Ten Mile River, Ray told me the princess from the nearby Schaghticoke tribe placed these at many of the river confluences in the area to bless them in a ceremony. Fascinating! Please if you see them do not disturb.

Pictures below.

Miles: 2.6

– Linus

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull's Bridge

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull’s Bridge

 

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

Schaghticoke River blessing

Schaghticoke River blessing