Some exciting news! Since I made a whole video about it, I’ll send you there! I leave in less than a week and I. CANT. WAIT. The last year has been generally very rough — time to go hike it off. Long overdue…
Some exciting news! Since I made a whole video about it, I’ll send you there! I leave in less than a week and I. CANT. WAIT. The last year has been generally very rough — time to go hike it off. Long overdue…
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.
All done! That’s a wrap! After about 6 years of section hikes (and only because I didn’t really focus on finishing the trail much until a year and a half ago) I have finished all of the Mattabessett trail! Some guides say 60 miles, some say 66.7, and with all the reroutes who really knows, or cares? More miles, more smiles!
Once again, even this short section of this trail had plenty of challenges and surprises. What it lacks in elevation and distance, it had in adventures. Three friends joined me on this hike. The first was my arborist friend Brian. He does a lot of hiking and camping with me which you know if you follow me. The second was Norm, an AMC group hike leader and friend of Brian’s and now friend of mine! And lastly was my former coworker and still-friend, Karen!
We have been trying to do a hike together for years. I used to tease her about not being ready, even when she did a tough section of the Camino in Spain. Truth be told I knew she could do it, and this section sure put her (and all of us) to the test in some spots. Norm liked the variety and challenges on this section so much he is going to do it with one of his hiking groups.
We dropped a car at the ample parking on River Road in Middletown and took one of their cars back to where I left off last time, the Asylum Reservoir #2. The scene looked a bit different than last time after several days in the high 40’s and low 50’s. I made an appropriate fuss with Karen that she couldn’t go unless she had spikes, based on last time. My wife’s spikes fit on her cross trainers so we were good to go. However when we got there there was no ice. No problem. Better safe than sorry! But this section had plenty of challenges.
They started pretty much right away, along with the views. Steep scramble after steep scramble, complete with slippery mud and wet leaves. I and the guys made sure Karen had backup on these steeps but she really did it all herself save for one steep ledge we all gave each other a hand to traverse. There were lots more ledge walks in the woods, tracing the contours of streams and brooks below. The views on the hilltops stretched across the many reservoirs here, west all the way to the peaks of the western end of the Mattabessett including Fowler, TriiMountain, Higby and Beseck, which is also known as Powder Ridge ski resort. We could see the snow-covered slopes from these ledges.
Then came the marvelous rock pile caves. As we don’t have many real caves here in Connecticut, most of them are large rock formations overhanging, though some have a few smaller spaces connected. Since I didn’t get to see the cave two sections back, this would suffice. We had fun exploring and taking pictures. Someone had made a little wall of rocks along the edge, and built a fire ring. This spot would definitely protect you from bad weather in a pinch and I said to the group that I was sure that native Americans met or lived here like the nearby caves. Or at least sought shelter. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of the legendary leatherman’s spots on his route. I’ll have to look that up.
After the cave, it was much more gentle and winding through more tunnels of mountain laurel. There were several small streams to cross but they were deep and fast and so even the little ones presented a challenge so we all had to think and find the best route across. There was also a deep bog that a log crossed at a declining angle, and that one gave us all some pause not to mention an attempted work-around. Thickets of wild rose and fearsome thorns all around made the log the only way to go. It was touch and go doing the balance beam for the first few steps but we all got through dry!
After that was a power line section which has been slightly rerouted for construction so the Hartford views were not to be had. But we still got some great views and one or two more steep climbs. Karen was finally introduced to cairns and we enjoyed the play on words with her name’s similar phonetics. We also saw some old cellar holes and a large abandoned campsite which I reported to the CFPA.
The last mile was mostly downhill to the river, swtichbacking the whole way. We were tired. This is a much shorter hike than we usually do but it felt like twice as long with all the challenge. We were hoping for an opportunity to give Karen her trail name, and when she fell on a flat spot of wet leaves near the end and shouted “whoops!”, we knew we had it.
We all definitely got our money’s worth in views and challenge. I feel like I did 50 crunches. Next up I am going to work on the Menunkatuck portion of the N.E.T. It’s 16.7 miles and I’ve done about 7.7. This is the section that connects the Mattabessett portion to the Long Island Sound and is fairly new, thought it may be made up of older trails in the area. Much of it right by the coast is roadwalk. But it sounds like its a nice road walk, through a seaside town.
I have done the northern half except for a mile or less section where it meets the Mattabessett and I can do that as an out and back from Route 77 or the road crossing just befiore where we turned around on that hike. A small detail that annoyed me much that day! The portion between what I did and the town portion is more woods at least. This area is also much closer to the highway so I can get to it easy and get it done quickly. I’ll plan to do that before spring barring any issues. At that time I will get back to finishing the Mohawk and our A.T. section hikes.
My new trail runners just showed up, and I am eager to put them to the test! I also got some REI Minimalist GTX mitts with a holiday gift card, on my friend Mat’s recommendation. Just the gloves wasn’t cutting it in the real cold, and I like having the layering options for hands, for when I need my fingers to do technical terrain, and the mitts over them when I just want to keep the wind, rain, or snow off my hands a little more. Those I can definitely try soon as it’s winter. The runners I will use on the next hike that’s not a snow or ice hike. Photos of the hike below.
There are those times when you think a hike is going to be easy. Nothing you’ve read about on the trail description to indicate otherwise. You’re prepared, but maybe didn’t overprepare as much as you should have because some items seemed unnecessary. This was one of those hikes.
I always have my ten essentials, but I’m adding my microspikes to the winter list. Mind you I usually do bring them on a winter hike. But this one just seemed like a gentle walk in the woods. In fact, 3 miles of it was road walks. Most of it was just a walk in the woods. Until the two unexpected rock scrambles by a powerline… even more unexpected!
Eagle’s Beak is a long pointy rock ledge, and was the highlight of the hike for me. Easy to reach and you need go only as far out as you like. Covered with several inches of snow and possibly ice I stayed closer to the trail side.
I enjoyed the rock scramble below the powerline despite the cut I got on my finger from the surrounding pricker bushes while climbing up it. The second scramble seems like a new route judging by the blazes, and it was right up a 6-foot ledge, which was dripping wet and covered in snow. There was an outcropping of rock beneath, which provided a 2-foot deep crack up which to climb closer to the ledge you need to then traverse. However this was covered with 8 inches of snow. And if one did not get a good dry grip by stepping on the top of this, and fell, well it would be about a 10-foot fall down that rock outcropping, and another 15 down the hillside into more rocks below.
I climbed halfway up into that crack and assessed every possible way to get up onto the ledge safely. After about 10 minutes of talking myself through any safe route, I deemed there wasn’t a 100% safe route and climbed back down. I have a wife and kids. I also don’t need to prove anything. I can always come back and do it when its dry. I went around, because I correctly assumed the trail would follow the ledge once on top and I was able to walk those 30 or so feet of trail below the ledge without the pointless dangerous climb. I am alright with this decision. It was the right one. Better than pride before the fall, literally! Unfortunately where as my old Connecticut Walk Book mentioned these climbs in the description, the newer single-volume Connecticut Walk Book does not still have descriptions of trail sections. The website does not either.
The spikes could have helped here for sure, and been the difference between safe and unsafe on this section. But I still likely would have made the same decision. It looks like the old route went around this and maybe this is now a bypass trail but I didn’t see the side route if there was one so that needs a sign.
I enjoyed the rest of the ledges section here though I definitely missed my spikes as there was a good deal of sliding around rock surfaces! Mercifully, after the ledges it was a gentle descent. To be honest, besides that ledge, I think Aircraft Road where I parked was the most dangerous section! People take that name a little too literally, like they were trying to get up enough speed to take off. Be careful parking and crossing that road folks. There’s only one little oval trail sign and by the time anyone that is speeding sees it and figures out there might be a trail crossing, they’d be on top of you.
Also keep in mind snow will always slow you down. It’s more effort on the feet and makes any smooth surface slippery. Even the mostly flat sections along the Seven Falls Roadside park were very slippery with the roots wet and covered in snow and wet leaves. Crossing Bible Rock book was quite the adventure as it was a rushing brook, with large rocks for the crossing and a few feet of water in between each. This is enough of a balancing act when dry, but the snow piled on top of each made it impossible to tell where the surfaces were flat or not. It was very tricky negotiating this crossing because of the snow. Spikes would have helped here too, though it would still be impossible to see the flat surfaces on the rock.
Well I wanted an adventure and got one. The road walk was pretty, and there were really some very pretty parts of this trail including mountain laurel tunnels. It says there was a cave but while I saw a lot of overhanging boulder ‘caves’ on the rock walls, I must have missed it if there was a real cave. It was right near the scrambles so I was likely distracted.
I have only 9 miles left of the Mattabesett trail, but based on this experience and that I want to finish it sooner rather than later, its possible I will split it up into two sections so any more surprises (re-routes and unknown technical portions) and the addition of the current winter conditions don’t put me at risk of unnecessary injury. In this case the toughest parts were all in the last mile, so never assume the home stretch means easy trail. Plan extra time! Make sure you have a headlamp always because sometimes these conditions can slow you down enough to to mean you’re hiking at night, especially in the winter months. I hope to finish this trail by the end of the year. I might do another section tomorrow since the temperatures are in the 50s today and raining all day which should take care of the snow. As long as all the rain isn’t ice tomorrow after the temps drop again tonight! This means I will either do half of the last 9 miles or the whole 9 miles tomorrow. Look for that write-up soon.
I enjoyed following deer tracks for most of the route. Seems they enjoy the trail as much as people! Photos below.
A week or so before Thanksgiving I made another dent in the Mattabessett Trail, now part of the New England National Scenic Trail. This part was on the eastern spur, away from the mile-long cliff walks of the western section of the trail. It isn’t always completed by those thru-hiking the N.E.T., as it isn’t required and doesn’t really benefit any thru hiker as its about 30 miles of side trail. However, for me who wants to complete the entire Mattabessett trail, it is necessary. With this day’s mileage, I have just 15.5 miles left, or 16.5, depending which map you trust and how much was rerouted since my last edition of the walk book or the N.E.T. and CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) websites. This section recently had a large re-route to remove a 2-mile road walk, so the section was about 1.5 miles longer. It also removed a big attraction in the process, the Coginchaug Cave.
When the re-route was done, the cave access was now on a side trail. This side trail does connect to the new current route, and the cave was only half mile out of the way. However, given the longer trail distance needing to be still covered in a certain amount of time, we had to pass up the extra mile round trip to the cave this time. My original mileage estimate was about 7.8 miles or just under, but it ended up being 9.3 just to the side trail back to the lot where one of our cars was left at the start. All in all it was about 9.6 miles of hiking. I was not complaining though because the trail was mostly easy, had some very nice rock features like Bear Rock, and a waterfall. And also because I was hiking with a new hiking friend. We met through several A.T. and other hiking groups on social media and have some other friends in common in the hiking community. Brandon and I talked about setting up a hike for a while. When we found a day we were both free, he was happy to help me knock off another section of the trail and get closer to my completion goal. As we live at opposite ends of the state, this was conveniently located almost halfway between our homes.
I’ve been enjoying discovering a lot of towns and state parks along the way that I have never known about or explored before now. Connecticut is my home state. It’s such a small state but this part of it I have been to very few times. The trail runs through many of these small state parks, and the roads past charming and quaint old New England towns. Miller’s Pond State Park was lovely and I’m sure popular in the warmer months. Lots of places to jump in the pond and swim, both from the parking lots and the trails.
Mount Pisgah at the start has some very nice views, but they were all socked in! Oh yeah, did I mention the forecast for no rain ended up being rain for almost the whole hike? Bear rock near the end was a challenging scramble with the wet rocks and leaves everywhere. There is a bypass trail, but we didn’t take it. We got a few views here, and a nice one above Miller’s Pond as the rainclouds began to clear, of course near the end of the hike!
Well we still made good time and had a great hike. We both have a lot of hiking experience and miles under our belts so there was no handicap to slow us down. . We will be back for the cave. Luckily, that’s only 1/2 mile from a parking area, so it would be a fun family hike sometime too. I am hoping to get another 8 miles or so complete this week, and the last 8 or so before the end of the month. I don’t think they got too much snow up there, and besides, its hardly high elevation. The temperatures will be about 40 the next few days which will be fine. Photos below.
Trail miles: 9.3
Total miles 9.6
Today I was supposed to take my friend out to finish her last section of the Connecticut Appalachian Trail. Well, weather turned really nasty, and while I’ve done my share of very wet hiking, this was supposed to be a special day, and we wanted to wait for the right weather, to get all the views. So we postponed it. And the heavy rain will be here all day. So I’m happy sitting here writing about the great hike I did yesterday instead!
While the Appalachian Trail takes up most of my time and attention, I do enjoy checking out other trails. And I’ve been working a bit on the New England Trail again the last few years. Last year I did the Hike50Net challenge, and so I did knock off a good amount more of the Mattabessett, and some of the Metacomet section, with my brother. I hadn’t been back since the end of last year as my trail duties and A.T. section hiking pursuits take priority. But now I’ve got somewhere between 24 and 27 miles left of the Mattabessett. It’s hard to know exactly because of re-routes. My Walk Book from a few years ago is already outdated in areas on this trail. Luckily they have a website with everything up to date. I saw a Forest and Parks association trail crew out doing a re-route on this hike, so it may change again in the near future.
I plan to finish this trail over the winter in 3 or 4 more sections. As the trail moves east away from the traprock ledges, there will me more varied terrain as well as some historic landmarks. I also hope to finish off the Saugatuck trail, as they added a new section right after we finished it. And perhaps the last ten miles of the Mohawk trail, if I can get a day without ice or lots of loose leaves as the bit over Barrack mountain is very steep.
Speaking of very steep, there were several very steep ascents and descents on this section. The trail crew was actually working on a switchback to save you from one of these steep ascents or descents depending on your direction. And the trail here is all red volcanic basalt. So it’s a bit like Pennsylvania here as there’s rocks along most of the entire trail and now you can’t see them because they’re under millions of leaves. I definitely had to pay attention to my footing to protect my ankles. But wow, the views. I was treated again and again to cliff side views of Pistpaug Pond, Ulbrich reservoir, and views south all the way to Long Island Sound and all the way north to the hanging hills of Meriden. The outlooks here didn’t look east enough to see Hartford. I also was treated to a red-tailed hawk doing a fly over the ridge directly in front of me.
There is a shelter about .2 from the road that local homeowners built behind their house for hikers. As this is a relatively newly designated National Scenic Trail, and you don’t have a lot of people thru-hiking it, there’s not a lot of shelters. And since much of this trail is still on private land, that won’t change for a while. I believe you are allowed to camp on trail if you’re thru-hiking but I don’t really see anything encouraging or mentioning it on their site. I’d say that’s at your own risk. I signed the register and enjoyed checking out this great shelter. They even had 2 jugs of water for hikers. While there’s a few ponds in the gaps, these water sources are all at least a short walk off trail to get water. I saw one stream running on this whole 6.2 mile hike. I have not seen a lot of natural water sources on this trail except ponds and resevoirs near the mountain gaps. I though about doing a thru-hike of the New England Trail. And it’s always still possible. But for now I’m enjoying doing it in sections when I have a few hours here and there and need some forest walking.
I’d say the only thing that detracted from the hike was the section along a private road lined with barbed wire and the sounds of the nearby firing range the entire hike. I definitely got a lovely fall day and a good workout and the therapy the trail always provides me with. Photos below. You can see the map of this section here.
Last weekend we finally made good on a promise to our Jersey City friends to take them on a hike and see their new place. What can I say, we’ve been super busy as have they but I’m glad we finally made it happen.
I was tasked the job of finding a suitable hike within 45 minutes of Jersey City. By suitable, I mean that we didn’t know what kinda shape they were in so they requested something not too strenuous. I found the Pyramid mountain natural area, which many great trails and views, as well as a visitor center and nature museum. The ranger there was able to walk us through the different hike options before our friends met us, so we had a hike ready based on the criteria I gave.
While it wasn’t strenuous, our route had a steady rocky ascent at the beginning as well as at the end. They handled the rocks and trail like champs. We were treated to a great view of the New York City skyline from the trail, and would be treated to a much closer view of it from their apartment in Jersey City that evening.
There was another view at “Lucy’s overlook” but it wasn’t as nice as the first. We completely forgot to go a bit farther to the glacial erratic known as Tripod Rock! We got distracted, but we will be back to do more hiking with them and will see it next time. It was a beautiful fall day with friends on the trail. Photos below