Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Last weekend we brought our friends out on their first backpacking trip, and first trek on the Appalachian Trail. As they live in Central Pennsylvania and we live in Connecticut, we decided to choose a section right in between.  We were preparing to start New Jersey either this season or next, as we are closing in on the end of Massachusetts. So it seemed a no-brainer to start New Jersey, but from the south, at Delaware Water Gap.

A great idea

A great idea

The area is incredibly scenic, and has 100 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. section provides some of the best views in the park as it follows the ridgelines of the New Jersey highlands. You are treated to views of the Delaware river and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to the west, and New Jersey to the East. It turned out to be even more beautiful than expected, and a great first outing for our friends.

We started in the Dunnfield Creek natural area, less than 1 mile east of the Pennsylvania border in the DWG National Recreational Area. The Appalachian Trail passes through here after it crosses the I-80 bridge over the river.

Placing stones

Placing stones

The state line is painted on the bridge and many a hiker have a photo there. We contemplated starting on the PA side for this very reason, but ultimately decided that starting right into the woods would be more the experience we were looking for after 2 hrs driving the interstates and just plain needing a nature fix. Shortly after we headed into the woods the red dot trail branches off the A.T. and ascends mount Tammany, the dramatic mountaintop on the east side of the gap. We will come back for that hike on another occasion when an A.T. section isn’t the goal. They had these great carry out bags for trash, which I think we need to employ on our section  and will be recommending to my committee in Connecticut.

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

We ascended gently up an old carriage road, passing the creek and then many side trails as we headed to Backpacker’s Campsite. There used to also be a campsite on the junction of the Holly Springs trail, as there is a spring there. Not sure if it was for reasons other than the view that that campsite is no longer and the current one is a mile farther up on the mountaintop with epic views. But either way, Backpacker’s campsite 2 has great views as it rests right along the mountaintop’s western ridge.  Just bring water up for the night. I researched it in advance per usual so we hiked up with lots of water. I knew there would be a bunch of cairns at Sunfish pond but was surprised to find a bunch in the woods just off the Holly springs trail. We had fun adding a rock or two here and taking photos.

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Sunset was dramatic to say the least, and we also saw a hawk land on top of an old leafless treetop at dusk, which made for a great photo. The caretaker told us that all the bare trees here is because there was a fire from an illegal campsite and it burned much of the north side of the ridge. I’ll just leave that there. It made me felt better about why I enforce the rules I do in our part of the trail. There are actually many legal dispersed campsites for thru hikers along the trail here, so I don’t feel it’s out of utter necessity that these problematic stealth sites pop up in most cases. A lot of times, folks see a nice view and decide that they will break all the rules and make camp there, and a fire, and its always been in these instances that devastating results happen.

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

We had a nice chat with the caretaker and a thru hiker staying there, and then set up our camp. I helped my friends with their tent and using the stove and the bear box. We took in the sunset view over dinner and had fun talking until bed time. Entertainment included chasing away a black snake slithering around our tents. I believe we must have set up near his home…

In the morning, we were in the clouds we saw hanging over the next ridge the previous night. Any raindrops seemed to fall just on our tent, as they always seem to find it. We had some coffee and packed up and hit the trail, headed for the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center.

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

This day’s hike provided view after view from the ridgelines as mentioned above. They really didn’t stop until we headed down into the gap to Mohican camp road. On top of one ridgeline you got a 270 degree view and a large cairn marked it’s summit. A hawk watching group was stationed there with various telescopes and cameras and a fake owl on a branch to bait the hawks who apparently like to swoop down and taunt their bird of prey rivals. We took some great photos up there and headed down to the road and to the MOC.

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

It’s about a half mile road walk from the trail crossing up to the main lodge. We checked in with the super friendly staff and got the keys to our private cabin, which it turns out is another half mile up the camp road. It was a great cabin with a dividing door but also the option to open it up to a suite until bedtime and for privacy. We had electricity, a fridge, a heater and fan, and a microwave. The rec center next door had full bathrooms with showers and a large room which was formerly a dining hall when this was a Boy Scout camp, filled with AMC pamphlets and miscellaneous educational collections of flora and fauna. The AMC has year round outings and camp type experiences for people of all ages and I imagine this space and these collections are part of that.

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

They had skywatching programs and astronomy lectures on this particular weekend, though we did not end up participating because we were sitting around the large fire ring between the cabin and the lodge with a bunch of the other hikers and families we met at dinner. Dinner was a homemade family style affair, which was quite filling and tasty. Afterwards we got a ride into town to pick up a few groceries and beverages. We got to bed late but it was worth sitting around the fire with new friends and the milky way above. Next time we go back we will take out a canoe or kayak. Catfish pond was very inviting.  With the 3 walks to and from the cabin I’m sure we clocked another 3 miles that day!

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

The next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, home fries and various breads. And of course, lots of coffee! We picked up some nice items at their shop and hit the trail a bit earlier on day 3 as we had to be back at our cars by lunchtime.  Again we woke in the fog, but today it didn’t break until we were off trail. We climbed back out of the gap and along the ridges; some quite close to the edge and with a significant drop. With the clouds all around it was almost a bit spooky, but eased any real vertigo because you couldn’t see how far the drop was.

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

We did throw a rock off one though to see how long it took until we heard it land! Far enough… In a few short miles we reached the Catfish fire tower, but it was closed. Still we enjoyed a snack at the picnic table before our final walk out to the road where we parked on the first day. They occasionally have someone there who will bring you up for the views, but as it was a whiteout still, I imagine they waited until later in the day so there was an actual view.

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

Still, we had lots of views the previous days so it was no big disappointment. I look forward to going back to Mohican as well as exploring some of the other AMC lodges in New York, New Hampshire and Maine for family trips. The only downside was there was no signal at all at the cabin so we had to walk the half mile to get wifi. They also had a phone in the main lodge for emergencies.

Our friends also got their trail names: Skippy (for his skipping stones at Sunfish Pond) and Bird Bitch (because she’s really into birds and birdwatching).

It should be added that before and after the hike, we enjoyed spending time in nearby Blairstown, NJ — both on its quaint historic main street and a modern brewery after the hike.

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

It was a huge success and we are excited to continue the march north through New Jersey together staring in the spring. Now that we know they’re naturals at it, we will do longer miles next time. They were on the short side for this first trip. But not lacking in fun and adventure one bit.

Miles day 1: 3.5

Miles day 2: 5.8 (+3 miles in camp)

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus

 

 

Advertisements

Ridgerunner Weekend #5 – Salisbury to Sages Ravine

No rain, no pain, no maine!

No rain, no pain, no maine!

This was my final weekend as a summer ridgerunner for the 2017 season, and it was full of excitement!  I knew there was rain in the forecast but wow did it rain. I hit the trail Sunday morning around 10am in Salisbury, headed for Sages Ravine just over the Massachusetts border; about 7 miles and change. It was raining when I drove up and raining when I started and raining when I got to Lion’s Head an hour later. It was raining hard. I know this is part of the job and I’ve been lucky considering this is the first day I was out in weather this bad the whole season. Lion’s head was completely socked in so there was no view. I pushed on to Riga shelter to take a snack break and get out of the rain for a bit and dry out my raincoat which was no match for this kind of rain and wet through partially in less than 1.5 hrs.  I called my friend Brian from the shelter to see if he could meet up to hike later while I had some trail mix and let the coat dry out. There was a tiny bit of a view at Riga but not much. Not the amazing normal view anyway.

the "trail" up Lion's Head

the “trail” up Lion’s Head

I set out about 30 minutes later when the rain diminished a bit. Often times the forecast says rain but the estimate is over what actually occurs. Not the case today. A few minutes after I hit the trail again the downpours continued. Luckily no one left me any trash at the shelter or in its bear box I had to carry out.

The trail was literally a river. There was no way, nor is it recommended, to walk around as there is laurel right up to the edge and doing so can damage them and the wildflowers along the edges. It was colder in the morning but by this point was in the low 60s so walking through them was just kinda like walking along the beach in boat shoes. Trail runners are great in this scenario though because the water flows right out and it was actually kind of refreshing. My only concern was swamp foot from hiking for hours with wet feet. I wasn’t hiking long enough for it to get that bad, thankfully.

Socked in Lion's Head "view"

Socked in Lion’s Head “view”

I made another stop at Brassie Brook shelter to take a bathroom break and spoke to a section hiker taking shelter under its roof. I had already seen about 14 backpackers braving the weather. After all, this weather is not all that uncommon for regular backpackers.  I was moving as fast as I could to get to camp and out of the rain. I was lucky enough to have been permitted use of the caretakers tent so I was looking forward to being able to set up and unpack without the rain bearing down on me. I would be luckier than most on this day.

The rainy "view" at Riga

The rainy “view” at Riga

I made the judgement call to take the Undermountain and Paradise Lane trails from Riga junction rather than go over the many steep and exposed rock faces on Bear mountain, particularly the north side. This added a mile but was far safer.  I need to get a new otter box because my phone was not responsive to my squishy wet fingers and the humidity also made it act up again like in Harpers Ferry in July.  Somewhere in the process of my mad 8 mile dash in the rain, I managed to jam my big toe so the bone feels bruised if not fractured (hopefully not). It hurts but is functional so hopefully it’s just bruising. All that rushing meant I made good time though and was at camp by 230.

A tent inside a tent

A tent inside a tent

When I arrived at the campsite, two hikers were in the caretakers tent drying out gear. This is not allowed, please don’t do this, the tent is for staff only. However given the horrible conditions, and the friendly nature of the two men, I allowed them time to pack up their wet things in the shelter of the tent and we chatted a while. I gave them some advice on the upcoming section as they wanted to push much farther, having zeroed most of the day waiting out the rain. As there are some precarious bits ahead, especially when wet, I let them know about the campsites before those areas should they need to pull back and wait out the rain again. And of course, the rain began again shortly after they left around 330. When it finally ended it was around 630-7. I enjoyed listening to it on the roof of the tent as I always do. I enjoyed it even more this time as I was finally out of the rain.

Exterior of caretaker's tent

Exterior of caretaker’s tent

Despite seeing a decent amount of backpackers on the trail, no one else came in to spend the night at the campsite. I was surprised as it’s a very popular one and there was a group there just the night before in addition to the two men I met. I think given the rain they all opted for a campsite with a shelter and a roof.

I had dinner and setup my small tent inside the large canvas tent, so I had effective bug protection. This was the final weekend for that tent so my coordinator informed me the bug net and cot were already packed and they’d be packing the tent the next day after I left.  So I was grateful to have access to it, even in its most minimal state. It did what I needed most, kept me dry!  I changed out of my wet clothes and hung everything to dry out the best they could.

Dawn at Sages Ravine

Dawn at Sages Ravine

I had managed to get a little reception on my phone by going up the hill so I did a round around the campsite and checked the privies, bear boxes and other tent sites and coordinated with Brian to meet him the next morning at the intersection of the A.T and the Northwest road. He and his friend were planning to hit the state high point on nearby Mt Frissell, so we planned to hike over Bear together and then they could do the Frissell trail next as it was right across the road from the Northwest road and Bear Mountain road where they’d come out.

Some screech owls and other critters lulled me off to sleep… sorta. I also read the register book to help!

Monday, Labor day, was a gorgeous one. And the challenging scramble up the north side of Bear was a lot more fun with friends. It was also mostly dry at that point being so exposed to the sun and so vertical. I made quick friends with Jodi, and we met the other ridgerunner I knew was also out for his final weekend as we neared the summit. We spent some time on the summit tower with some day hikers and then headed down the south side of Bear, with its great southern and western views. I pointed out Frissell to them and some of the other mountains on their next hike.

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

When we got to the trail junction for Bear Mountain road, we made plans to see each other at our CT chapter’s A.T. day in October,. exchanged photos and headed our separate ways. I made quick time to Lion’s head and remarked to myself how quickly all those rivers on the trail were already dried up.  I passed large numbers of day hikers and quite a few more backpackers. Everyone was out in force enjoying the gorgeous day. Funny, I had said “beautiful day isn’t it!” to all the hikers as a joke the day previous, and today it was in earnest. Lots of hikers had their dogs out with them, and one family at Lion’s head were visiting with their son for the first time since they had gotten engaged there. The warm, dry weather also allowed me to dry out my shoes, socks and clothes which I had to put on damp in the morning. Luckily I had lots of sunshine instead of another day of rainy hiking in my wet clothes.

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

I recently purchased a new pack (Osprey EXOS 48) with my gear discount and I love it. It performed flawlessly on it maiden voyage, and is super comfortable. I highly recommend it. Many thru hikers use it as a superlight pack, though at around 50 liters most use it for a few days out at at a time. I just needed a little extra space than I had before, and wanted it as well for its ‘airspeed’ suspension which allows your back to be ventilated as well as the ‘stow and go’ trekking pole loops. Those were super convenient for the scrambles and the flats where I didn’t want or need the poles.

All in all the trip was a great success. I stuck it out through some very bad conditions. It’s great to know you have the skills to persevere and make proper judgement calls in inclement, dangerous weather. And I was rewarded with a perfect day the second day.

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

I am still a year-round volunteer so you will likely still see me out there either patrolling (volunteer ridgerunning) or doing improvements to the CT section as part of a work party. I love fall and spring hiking as well, and the woods are my happy place. I plan to return as a weekend ridgerunner in the 2018 season if they’ll have me.  I hope to see you out there soon. In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I have section hikes planned with friends in New Jersey and Massachusetts in the coming weeks so look for reports on those adventures.

Miles day 1: 7.6

Miles day 2: 6

– Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #4 – Kent to West Cornwall

Another great weekend out! The heavy rain predicted for Saturday was all but gone by the time I arrived at the trail head. It was quite humid still that day so it slowed me down a bit but I managed to get 10 miles in which included an extra 1.5 miles to check out 3 campsites. It got down to a brisk 50 at camp that night and it pushed the limits of my summer bag. Was not expecting it that cold on an early August night! My bear bag rope went missing so 2 lovely hikers let me share their line and their tacos! I met the other weekend ridgerunner as well who’s very cool and we became quick friends.

I enjoyed my stay at Stony Brook group site and hiked the 8.6 back to my car on Sunday, treated to cool mountaintop breezes and then I treated myself to a Reuben at Cornwall Country market! Met lots of wonderful thru hikers heading north at the end of the bubble and a few sobos now heading through as well as lots of day hikers and families.  Lots of great wildflowers as well. Pics below!

Miles day 1: 9.9

Miles day 2: 8.6

— Linus

Fried egg mushroom?

Fried egg mushroom?

Mohawk Mountain from Pine Knob

Mohawk Mountain from Pine Knob

Which way to the pool?

Which way to the pool?

The "trail" up Silver Hill

The “trail” up Silver Hill

Along the Housatonic

Along the Housatonic

Wildflowers along the trail

Wildflowers along the trail

Guinea Brook

Guinea Brook

Hatch Brook

Hatch Brook

Ridgerunner Weekend #2 – Kent to Cornwall

Last weekend was my second weekend out as a staff ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail with the AMC. I covered a ten-and-change-mile stretch out and back from Kent to Cornwall including the never boring St. John’s Ledges (more fun up than down for me), the scenic Caleb’s Peak, the bucolic river walk and one of my favorite campsites, Silver Hill.  I don’t bother to show pictures of the ledges anymore because cameras never capture how crazy they are, you’ll just have to hike them yourself and find out!

I met many great thru, section, and day hikers along the trail on my 21 mile weekend, got to hike and camp with one of our other ridgerunners, and discovered I really liked a new brand of dehydrated meals I picked up in Harper’s Ferry a few days before at an outfitter. All the hikers I met heading northbound Saturday and who I had recommended push on to Silver Hill were very pleased when a large thunderstorm passed through just minutes after we all congregated in the covered pavilion there.

Nobody left me any fire rings or huge piles of trash to clean up and all were respectful and thanked me for what I do out there. One even said “you’re not so bad for a ridgerunner!” A lot of great conversations were had and a few new friends were made.   There was a bright full moon after the rainstorm and things were thankfully cooled off for a bit on Sunday morning thanks to the rain. I enjoyed some nearly-ripe blackberries, met some trail dogs, frogs, a snake, heard some more barred owls as I slept, and got my first almost-blister. Below are some photos from the adventure. This weekend I am out again in Kent, maybe our paths will cross!

Rocks from the start!

Rocks from the start!

Fuller Mtn view of Kent

Fuller Mtn view of Kent

On Caleb's Peak

On Caleb’s Peak

Berry nice

Berry nice

Indian Pipe seems late this year

Indian Pipe seems late this year

Lean on Me ... after that climb!

Lean on Me … after that climb!

Goin up Caleb's Peak after the ledges climb

Goin up Caleb’s Peak after the ledges climb

Good camo on this frog

Good camo on this frog

Fossilized dino print? Maaaybbbeee

Fossilized dino print? Maaaybbbeee

Miles Day 1: 10.5

Miles Day 2: 10.5

  • Linus

 

Appalachian Trail: Shenandoah National Park and West Virginia

Appalachian Trail to High top

Appalachian Trail to High top

Just got back from my second ridgerunner weekend, and can’t wait to share it but first — the family went for a vacation in Virginia and West Virginia over the holiday. We visited places like Monticello, some great vineyards, and some great BBQ joints! But since this is a hiking blog I will stick to the hiking bits!

On High top

On High top

We did two hikes in Shenandoah National park, a favorite place of ours for sure. The first one we took the kids to was High top mountain, in the southern district close to where we were staying the first few days. It was a 1,000 foot climb from either side of Skyline drive. (at least the road did the other 2,500 feet!).

No bears!

No bears!

We set off late afternoon to avoid the scorching heat and catch the dusk. It was not easy, and since we started out from the wrong side we headed the wrong way into the woods which added 1 mile round trip before i realized when we weren’t climbing up the whole way!). But when we reached the top, everyone thought it was worth it. We took lots of pictures and enjoyed the views before returning the way we came. This is one of the less popular hikes but certainly a great one. It’s not really steep just consistently uphill the whole 1.7 miles. We all sang songs the whole way down which was a lot of fun and a little embarrassing when a thru hiker appeared just after us at Skyline drive!

the other black rock, Big Meadows

the other black rock, Big Meadows

A few days later as we were heading northwest to the town of Luray where we would stay for the next night and enjoy the fireworks, we passed through Thornton Gap in the central district and stopped at Skyland to have lunch and visit the gift shop before hitting Stony Man summit so my daughter could see one of the best views in the park. That’s a short easy hike from the wayside.

Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop

But then I heard from some of my hiker friends who were also down in SNP doing another section and they had already left Skyland for Big Meadows, 10 miles or so south. The restaurant at Skyland still wasn’t open for lunch for another 30 minutes so we decided to head down there so I could meet up with them for a bit and we’d be just in time for lunch there.

Rain dancer

Rain dancer

We got to the lodge and sat down for lunch including their famous blackberry ice cream. Only problem was the wayside restaurant was a mile down the road from the lodge restaurant. I waited 45 minutes before I realized they might not have a signal so I drove over to the wayside and caught them just as they were heading out. We talked for a bit, took some photos and I headed back to the lodge to finish lunch. But where to hike here? Do we go back to Stony man? I wanted a nice view and no one wanted a long hike today. Turns out there’s a .2 mile trail to a fantastic view right behind the lodge! They also call it black rock but it’s not the famous one farther south in the park. The view WAS fantastic and we really enjoyed the minimal effort and rewarding views today. Jiffy Pop really helped me push my fear limit a little and be a little more daring about where I’d stand on the ledge!

We had a great stay in Luray and Fielden Stream and I visited a local outfitter where I got some speed laces for my trail runners (the laces always come untied when hiking!) and we chatted with the friendly staff there.

Nature's bounty!

Nature’s bounty!

The next day we drove up to Harper’s Ferry and while we were going to hike the next day before we left, weather was moving in and I was worried no one would want to hike in a downpour. So we drove right to the trail head at Key’s Gap, for this easy 4.5 mile hike along .the ridge saddling the Virginia/West Virginia line and down so we could finish our West Virginia section. I arranged our shuttle with the awesome HalfApp shuttle, my friend and awesome artist Rhonda Adams.

Fielden stream at 4 mile campground

Fielden stream at 4 mile campground

There was an abundance of blackberries though most weren’t fully ripe we did pick out a few and it lifted energy levels and spirits right away. About half way, the possible light drizzle turned into a full downpour with thunder ! I was waiting for the complaints but everyone wanted it to cool things off, and my daughter even did a rain dance and wanted a new trail name so we dubbed her rain dancer! The trail became a river but the hiking while a a bit rocky was easy and we all had fun. We got picked up by Rhonda and she gave us some of her special A.T. art pieces she makes from wood and leather including a very special yo-yo she had 30 years and recently also painted and give to Jiffy Pop. We then went to the hotel to unwind before dinner at a fun hibachi place.

A happy soggy hiking family

A happy soggy hiking family

The next day it was still pouring so either way we would have been hiking in the rain. I was really pleased by their great attitude about it. We walked around Harper’s Ferry and visited the ATC headquarters, spoke with some of the great people that run the organization and bought a lot of merchandise which helps support the trail. Including a West Virginia patch which is now done and Massachusetts which will be soon!

It was a lot of great hikes and I am so glad we all got to do them all together. Jiffy Pop had been to both parks before and loved them and Rain Dancer also fell in love with them so I was a happy dad. I am going to take both kids out individually with me on an overnight later this summer up here in Connecticut, and Jiffy Pop will join us when we do a New Jersey hike in the fall.

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 6 (and end of 7)

The Tyringham valley

The Tyringham valley

Just got home from another great weekend on the trail in Massachusetts. Luckily the rain came at all the right moments for us. We had specifically planned to do the section southbound so we could spend Saturday afternoon at Upper Goose Pond and cabin and wake up to the hiker pancakes and coffee. So that would not have been as much fun in the rain. We set up a shuttle with one of the local A.T. community shuttle drivers to pick us up where we left off at the Tyringham Cobble lot and drive us up to Rt 20 in Lee around 2 so we could hike into the cabin at primetime — around 4pm. We planned to hike from here back to the Cobble lot, with 2.1 miles on day 1 and about 9.3 on day 2.  We would be up early on day 2 and could crush those miles and get back to the car by 230 we figured, finishing off section 7 as well as doing all of 6.

More wild Iris

More wild Iris

As we drove up I realized we would get there more like 115 pm. I knew us and I knew that last 1.7 miles from the bottom of Baldy Mountain would be likely be just enough to be too much. So I got an idea. We would park at the main road and do the 1.7 miles from there to the Cobble lot by our 2pm pickup time and finish section 7 before we got the ride up to Lee.

The hike planned for day 1 was only 2.1 miles and only the first 1/3 of it was uphill. We found a spot at the lot and hit the trail as fast as we could.  I almost rolled an ankle on the first .1 on a root because I was rushing and not paying attention. Classic. This section went through some bogs and meadows on many planks with very high grasses on either side and lots of mud between the planks. Though thankfully it was very flat.

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

We then went into the woods a bit and started climbing the eastern shoulder of the mountain. We climbed over two stiles around a farm, complete with barbed wire. A mis-judgement or a slip here could mean a trip to the hospital. But the cows couldn’t be bothered and as we made it over the second stile we noticed a farmstand down the road. Or rather Fielden did. More on that farm stand later. We cranked up the speed to reach the cobble loop trail and raced down to make it to the lot by 2:05. A young family on the trail in front of us said another hiker they met just saw a bear and its cub on the way up the other side of the cobble.

Trail sign!

Trail sign!

We received word at the cabin that there were bear sightings at Shaker campsite just west of where the hiker saw the bears. And something about how they should have put their pizza boxes in the bear box? Hmmm….

We had a quick pleasant ride up to Rt 20, passing all the big outlet stores in Lee and the Massachusetts turnpike, arriving at the trailhead by 230. The first part of the trail was easy and went through some swampy bits over boards as well, then climbing up to two bridges that crossed the busy turnpike. Fielden did the arm honk and got a passing truck beneath to honk Always fun!

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Then it was right up. It was fairly steep but not too challenging or long. And as we reached the top, passed two naked hikers. That’s right. But naked hiking day was 3 days before! I grinned and kept moving and the man made pleasant small talk as they passed Fielden stream to remove any akwardness. We had a good laugh and signed the register atop the ridge.

Trail Register

Trail Register

The trail followed the ridge down through laurels and we passed several more day hikers. This is also a popular day hike. As we reached the half-mile side trail to the cabin, we met the first of many thru hikers of the trip.

We headed down the side trail passing a few thru hikers who had clearly waited out the morning rain and enjoyed most of the day at the cabin and pond. They were likely heading only the 2.1 miles to catch a ride into Lee to zero and resupply.

At the cabin side trail

At the cabin side trail

We arrived at the cabin and scoped out the tenting sites before introducing ourselves to the caretaker and taking a tour of the rest of the grounds as she spoke to some day hikers at the cabin. The heavy rain was originally forecast to last until 4 or 5 and I was very happy to see it was ending before we even got to the first trailhead. And while it was in the high 70’s the humidity was low and it was very pleasant out. So while we set up our tent in our chosen site, we pondered a swim and a canoe ride. We were going to leave the rainfly off as it was a beautiful clear day now, but that just doesn’t ever seem like a good idea to me so we put it on and opened all the doors and vents.  Then we checked out the docks.

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

I was about to put my foot in the cold water at one dock to soothe my sore ankle when some of the other visitors on the dock pointed out the largest spider I’ve ever seen in the wild. A gigantic fishing spider. I mean 3 inches in diameter easy. While it was minding its own business, I didn’t want to get it wet by wobbling the dock and upset it. We took a quick look at the canoes and went to the other dock.

HUGE fishing spider

HUGE fishing spider

While there were one or two more spiders on this dock they were not radioactive sized so I moved to nearby rock to cool my ankle. There were lots of fish in the water and they didn’t seem to like my stinky foot in their water too much. At that point I wanted to just go back and eat some dinner as we were getting hungry. So we enjoyed our meal at the picnic table in our campsite and headed to the cabin to meet the many more thru hikers passing our tent site as they headed in to the cabin.

The canoes!

The canoes!

Overall there were about 10 that came in before nightfall. We spoke with them a bit to hear some of their stories until we got tired, and then retreated back to our campsite for bed. About an hour or so after we fell asleep, the rain started!

Fielden Stream at camp

Fielden Stream at camp

I remembered our packs and shoes were on the platform outside the tent so I quickly pulled them in and zipped up the vestibule doors. The group in the next site had not put on their fly and were scrambling to get the fly on and keep as much rain out as possible. It picked up quite a bit before finally tapering off an hour or so later. I love when I’m in the tent in the rain at night, it lulls me right to sleep.

The Cabin from the back

The Cabin from the back

The next morning we woke with the birds and the sunrise and headed to the cabin for the 7am pancake call. A few more thru hikers had come in overnight, including two dads and their teenage sons. We enjoyed sharing more hiking stories over breakfast. One thru named Monkey (he’s a tree surgeon) had bought some eggs at that farmstand in Tyringham and the caretaker also cooked those for him. It was nice having this special breakfast with all the other hikers and the caretaker was great.

Calm Upper Goose Pond

Calm Upper Goose Pond

We hit the trail around 8:20 after packing up our tent. The trail skirted the pond for about a mile, passing an old cabin chimney from an outdoors club once on the location who later donated the land to the National Park Service. Soon the trail headed back up into the woods through a series of hemlock groves, bog bridges, and beautiful brook crossings. Not to mention a few boulder piles to scramble over. We started passing the stream of thru hikers headed north from their last campsites about two hours into our 7.5 mile hike.  We took several breaks along the stretch and met other thru hikers at our stopping spots and chatted with them briefly. We also hiked with one of the guys who stayed a the cabin. He was also doing a southbound section hike, albeit his was 4 weeks not 2 days.

Pancake breakfast

Pancake breakfast

We were disappointed to find the view listed on the map atop Baldy mountain was now grown in. We had a tough but quick little climb up it from Webster road, but glad as we began our 2 mile descent down to Tyringham that we didn’t choose to come up this way. The knees groaned on the long downhill, some parts quite steep though never dangerous.

Old chimney

Old chimney

As we reached the bottom we remarked to our section hiker friend that it felt like rain might be coming and let him know about the farmstand about a mile ahead where Monkey got the eggs.

Club site plaque

Club site plaque

As we got to the car to head to lunch at an old 1700’s inn and restaurant, the clouds turned black and opened up a torrential downpour of rain lasting a good 30 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel for our new friend as he was clearly getting hammered with rain and we made it out just in time.

Some laurels were blooming

Some laurels were blooming

But at the same time, I was envious he got to continue on for weeks while I had to go home and back to day jobs, bills, and stress. Hiking in a downpour suddenly sounded great. I am sure though that I will get my fair share of that in the future!

Miles day 1: 3.8

Miles day 2: 7.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 7

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Last weekend we finally got back and did the rest of section 7. Well except the last mile because of where we parked and we will tack that on to our section 6 hike next weekend. We meant to do this section in early May but the rains were epic, so we opted for some R&R at an inn and sampled a small scenic portion of this section on a day hike over Tyringham Cobble via that park’s loop trail with the A.T. We will pick up there next weekend and hike north in to the one and only Upper Goose Pond Cabin for the night – with its hiker breakfast, lake views and canoes. Here’s hoping for nice weather! It’s about 8.5 miles from the Cobble lot though only one really big climb at the start up Baldy Mountain. There’s supposed to be a nice view up there at least. The next morning is only 2.2 miles out from the cabin to the endpoint.

Ready for climb #2

Ready for climb #2

Just before the hike I had a ridge runner meet and greet in Egremont and rather than sit around waiting, Fielden decided to get a head start so I dropped her at the trail head on the way. I hit the trail in Great Barrington almost three hours later, armed with lots of good information from her on the climbs, the water sources, and knowing camp would be set up and waiting for me. (We shuffled our pack contents around when dropping her off so she had the whole tent and the food kit.)  My friend and former thru hiker and CT AMC Patroller coordinator (Patrollers are our local chapter version of a ridge runner and what I do the rest of the year) followed me over from the BBQ to drop off my car at the endpoint in the Cobble lot and drove me back to the start at Rt 23.  Someone had stolen the map on the kiosk and had literally cut it off the rest of the information placard. Really, folks, this is NOT how you acquire a map!

The climbs began immediately.  So did the bugs!

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

There would be 4 climbs before reaching the shelter. Just before the third climb you reach the beautiful Benedict Pond, which sits at about 1600ft in Beartown State Forest. It has a beach and a campground and a loop around it that connects with the A.T.  though the A.T. is at the opposite end and its a half mile walk to the beach area. Still the A.T. has a nice little rock area along the lake where you can sit and drop your feet in to cool them off or sooth some sore spots. A small brook flows into the pond here so I stopped to fill up my water. Incidentally I heard something crashing down from a tree just before reaching the pond, and being in a place called Beartown State Forest you can imagine where my imagination took me.

Approaching climb #3

Approaching climb #3

Next came the third climb up “The Ledges”. You don’t really climb any ledges you just skirt the rock wall to get around to the top where you then follow the edge of the giant rock walls on the edge of the mountain. There are many spots that seem very bear friendly in the massive jumble of rocks.  As I approached the ledges a small raccoon was in the path walking the trail and I followed it while keeping a safe distance in case it was sick. I spoke to it a bit in a soothing voice to not startle it or make it feel threatened. When I was a kid, raccoons were my favorite animal, and Ranger Rick my favorite magazine. Still, I’m aware of the risk of rabies, so I was cautious.

And now climb #4

And now climb #4

Then I took in the sweeping early sunset views from the ledges across East Mountain, Mts Race and Everett in the Taconics, and could see the distant peaks of the Catskills though I don’t think the photo captured it. The raccoon was still foraging just ahead and found an acorn in the middle of the ledges and was content on staying there so I negotiated around it carefully and carried on ahead. One thing I would NOT do is feed it as that would destroy its natural foraging instincts and likely cause it to follow me the entire last half mile to camp!

Rocky Raccoon?

Rocky Raccoon?

It was getting closer to dark and I wanted to see Fielden Stream and check out the campsite shelters and do the last climb before dark so I kept moving. I stopped at a brook to fill up as she said the water source at the campsite was a bit of a hassle as its in a small hole in a jumble of rocks.

View west from the Ledges

View west from the Ledges

I made the final short steep climb up to the Wilcox South shelters which sit on the edge of the ridge. Fielden Stream had a cup of wine waiting for me and the tent all set up so I threw my sleeping gear in the tent and toured the old CCC (Civil Conservation Core)-era shelter and the new 2007 shelter with her, also making note of the privy and bear box locations. There was one other person there, a thru hiker who was already asleep in the new shelter by the time I got there around 8.

Be bear aware

Be bear aware

We went to sleep later than usual as we usually get into camp by 4 having started much earlier. Being June however meant the sun didn’t set until 9pm or later so I was able to hike the 3.3 miles up from the trailhead before dark and still have time to enjoy some time in camp before dark. I didn’t really eat anything though because my Burger King lunch and BBQ dinner just before 4 climbs in under 2 hours left my stomach not feeling its best. Some Vitamin I and wine helped relieve any remaining pain.

Potty humor

Potty humor

It turns out it was a full moon so it was pretty bright the whole night and I couldn’t sleep much until my body just decided it was time. I listened to my favorite Barred Owls hooting in the valley below and the various chipmunks scurrying about. There was a slight chance of rainstorms but they never came and we had a very nice night in the tent with the vestibules open.

In the morning we opted to just stick to snack bars and coffee and hit the trail early rather than make a hot breakfast. The digestion doesn’t seem to like a steep climb right after loading up on food.

Beaver work along a swamp

Beaver work along a swamp

I had been wondering if we would run into a thru hiker couple I had been following on Facebook as I saw they’d be in the same area at the same time and had commented on their page that we’d be at South Wilcox for the night. They didn’t turn up here for the night but I DID see another that I was following had been in the shelter just two nights before – Reddmage! So that was cool. It seemed like that was a busy night at the campsite, and one I would have liked to have been there for.

I filled up the water from the spiderweb-coated rock hole which while it wasn’t convenient and involved some crouching, was clear and cold. I signed the register and we headed up the hill, after the campsite side trail of course took us downhill a bit. As we reached the top of the hill, a couple was walking up behind us. And it was the couple I had been following – Poncho and Idgie!

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

I was thrilled and we made the connection right away and ended up hiking with them on and off for the next 5 miles, which helped all of us! We also ran into one of our DCR ridge runner counterparts on the trail who I had met at the BBQ the night before so we stopped and talked to him a bit and I reported the stolen map. We ran into Poncho and Idgie a few more times before we decided on a longer snack break before the last big climb. They were pushing for Goose Pond cabin so they had many miles more to go but from what I’ve read on their page, it was worth it. We were happy to have made these new friends.

Beartown bear condos?

Beartown bear condos?

Right before the last big climb was a steep descent down Wilcox Mtn through Fern gullies and what were without a doubt many bear caves on the steep side of the mountain. The last climb wasn’t much and we descended again into the valley past Shaker campsite, named after the former community here of Shakers (Google it!) and then through Hemlock stands and sunny open meadows with views to the North and West and their old barns.

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

The trail took us a bit farther up the side of the Cobble than we expected before the intersection of the loop trail which dropped us back into the open fields once more to the parking lot.

In hindsight it would have been almost the same effort and distance to just go over the summit of the Cobble once more and finish the section but it won’t be much to do next weekend. You can watch our video of the hike here.

Shaker barns

Shaker barns

Miles day 1: 3.3

Miles Day 2: 7.6 (with loop trail section to parking lot)

— Linus