Last weekend, the weather gods were very kind. It was in the 60’s both days, and just shy of that overnight. My first instinct? Go backpacking! I got Brian on board quickly and before we knew it we were meeting in Falls Village to tackle this last 9.6 miles I had to complete. Only there was a reason I hadn’t done it yet. (Mostly, it’s just the northernmost 1.2 miles that struck fear into my and many hearts, but at that distance it was going to be part of a longer hike). This was the portion over Barrack Mountain. A bald Eagle flew just over me as I drove to the trailhead that morning, and I was hoping it was a sign of strength and that this time I’ve got this.
Once part of the Appalachian Trail, the Mohawk was created in the late 1980s (’88 I believe) when the A.T. was rerouted across to the west of the Housatonic.
This meant features like Mohawk Mountain, Cathedral Pines, Dean Ravine and Lookout Point would be no longer part of the national scenic trail’s beautiful surroundings. Tornadoes in 1988 did a lot of damage to the cathedral pines and the trail in the area in general, which was also part of the reason it was relocated. Some of my trail and AMC chapter friends joke that they are glad this is no longer the A.T., because it is a beast. This made me feel a little better that I found it so strenuous and steep. A friend who thru-hiked back in the day reminded me that most of the A.T. in the old days was like Barrack Mountain, that is straight up and straight back down both steeply, with long road walks in between.
I had attempted ascending Barrack via the southbound route a few Novembers ago as well, in similarly leafy and damp conditions. I turned around half way up. It is extremely steep, and with wet slippery leaves everywhere, it was downright dangerous. There are scant few if any actual switchbacks here folks. Same on the way down. And there are a lot of precipitous ledges that you were climbing up and along. Even with Brian there who had done this section and was spotting me, it felt just as sketchy as last time. Though I was glad he was along because as I felt last time, if I fell there, no one would hear me or find me for days. My arms are still sore; I did a lot of hand over hand work on the way up. The view up there is pretty amazing, and I noticed there’s an easier trail coming up the gentler side from a Jewish retreat center, I’ll have to see if it has public access, I imagine it does. We’re friendly people!
Heavy wind gusts barreled across the mountaintop as we took in views of Lime Rock Park raceway and Sharon Mountain beyond. We knew we would have rain and wind overnight and were worried it moved in early, at the worst time. Going down was very steep rock faces topped with millions of slippery pine needles. Wet that would have just been life threatening. It felt close as it was. The rain did not come thankfully, and I did some butt-scooting down where necessary. No shame at all. I like living thanks very much. I’m here to hike not scale cliffs. Sometimes they throw that at you though and you gotta manage. A cool highlight along the way was an old A.T. geological marker like we found on Red Mountain a few years ago.
Also luckily Brian made the best suggestion ever — bring spikes, even if just for the wet leaves. SO we did. Let me tell you, I’m not sure how I would have done Barrack with a full pack and not just slid off the mountain. It was a game changer. Also when we had to cross large wet slippery blowdowns of which there were many. And stream crossings. We stayed off rocks as much as possible so as not to wear them down, but it’s worth keeping an old pair around when you replace or upgrade them because it really made us feel much more confident and sure-footed.
Dean Ravine was everything I expected — stunning. This whole section was. I have around 25 pictures this time because it was even impossible to get it down to that few. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. There is nearby parking access and a short hike down to the bottom of the falls and I recommend it. Breathtaking.
We started around 1:30 and it was a tough hike into the shelter (see the GPS grab though just the red lines because the bit above is not the topo for this bit, i moved it by accident when taking the screenshot). We got in just before dark and hung our bear bags. We knew heavy wind and rain were coming in overnight so we decided to sleep in the shelter… my FIRST time! Good call. Besides, its hardly used because this trail is hardly hiked so not much food around to attract mice or worse. It was very clean, and the shelter log was nearly empty. Someone had a geocache in there but it looks pretty neglected too. This shelter was built in 1988, the same year they moved the A.T off here, just months later I assume. We had the place to ourselves. Some people do the Mohawk as a loop with it’s replacement A.T. portion so I’m sure some people stay here once in a while. It was great. We had dinner and then talked in the shelter till around 9pm.
Overnight heavy winds and rain rolled in. It was heaviest and worst just before dawn, and was still going when we were getting up. But within 30 minutes as we made breakfast and packed up, it began to clear into another beautiful day. I felt safe and warm (if not too warm) in my sleeping bag in the shelter. I may be doing that more, at least when out solo with friends. As a ridgerunner I won’t take the shelter. And my wife isn’t interested in them, unless we are alone. I kind of feel the same way, though I am excited to have more shelter stays now. I got to try the loaded mashed potatoes for a dinner and it was the best! I will be redoing that one, it hit the spot. and you can throw some shredded jerky or meat or cheese you have in there to snazz it up. I brought a little olive oil. Good calories and fat and light.
As we hiked out on day 2, it was much more gentle terrain I dubbed the mercy miles. My arms and legs were shot from day one’s climbs and descents. We did have a few climbs this morning too but it was about 58 degrees, clear and breezy and beautiful hiking weather. We were treated to a large pond full of beaver lodges and dams and handiwork you can see in the photos below.
Driving around this area is also absolutely beautiful. The bucolic views of farms, country houses, pastures, rivers, mountains and covered bridges to postcard-worthy old towns are a treat of their own. We spotted many a home in the mountains that we’d live in ourselves!
We stopped at the Cornwall Country Market in Cornwall Bridge on the way home for what thru-hiker Underdog and his friends call a “hiker smash”. I had a bacon-egg-and-cheese, tater tots, a gatorade, banana and a coffee. You can fill up to 20oz of coffee for $1 at the market if you have a container. As if I wasn’t already a huge fan of their amazing food. Last time Brian and I had breakfast on the porch was after one of my ridgerunner weekends last July or August. I love having so many great hiking friends. And it was an absolute dream to be able to backpack in the middle of January. Sadly it’s pretty much guaranteed a result of climate change.
I am now done with the Mohawk, and I just received my Mattabessett completion patch! I think next I will focus on the New England Trail again and finish the bits of the Menunkatuck and as much of the Metacomet as possible before my A.T. season starts again. I am also just 1.5 miles off from finishing the Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s CT Blue-Blazed 200 Mile challenge! I am continuing my role as a weekend ridgerunner in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts again this year so from late April to Mid-October I will be mostly on the A.T. working or doing section hikes with my wife. I should be able to finish the Connecticut portions of the N.E.T. in the next season or two if I stick to it!
Miles day 1: 4.8 (.5 road-walk from parking)
Miles day 2: 5.3
Many more photos from this hike below.