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
Advertisements

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

Housatonic Range Trail, Connecticut

Approaching the Suicide ledges

Approaching the Suicide ledges

One of the earliest trails Fielden Stream and I hiked when we were really beginning to get into regular hiking was a 1.3 mile section of the Housatonic Range trail in Connecticut. The total trail is 5.9 miles long and traces an old Native American footpath along the ridgelines south of those the Appalachian Trail follows as it enters Connecticut in Sherman.  That day we did a total 2.6 miles out-and-back, to cover the southern end, where Route 37 splits the trail.

Linus outside the cave

Linus outside a boulder cave

Those mountains, Pine Knob and Candlewood mountain have some beautiful walks through evergreen forests, as well as twisting, piled boulders to scramble through and over, if you’d like to.  (There’s a few views to the ridges to the east from Pine Knob, but the summit of Candlewood is wooded). Luckily, the rest of the trail had beautiful forests and fun scrambles too. And five years later I finally got back and finished it.

Maybe it was the name of the included rock feature “Suicide Ledges” on this portion of the trail that sub-consciously made me pass by so many times on the way to hike elsewhere to be safe? Or maybe it was just that I was falling in love fast with the A.T. and my volunteer work on that trail, so this nice little trail had to wait a bit longer to be finished.

Brian climbing through

Brian climbing through

Either way, it was time. I reached out to my friend Brian who is an AMC-CT chapter member as well and a frequent hiking buddy.  A tree surgeon, he’s also a great source of tree species knowledge and I’m always picking his brain on which bush or tree I’m looking at. Slowly but surely I’m getting some of them memorized.

We dropped one car at the northern terminus on Gaylord Road in Gaylordsville and headed back to the trail crossing on route 37 in New Milford. From there the trail north follows a road about a quarter mile and then through a marshy strip nestled between homes and back yards.  Unfortunately as we passed one giant glacial erratic, someone had spray painted anti-semitic symbols on it. I will not show a picture here. I will not let that message infiltrate any more space than it already has or make anyone else feel bad.

Me in the cave

Me in the cave

But I reported it after the hike to the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association who manages the trail and they are taking action. Being so close to backyards here, I guess mischief didn’t have to travel far to spread their message of hate. Sadly, these messages seem to be much more prevalent in today’s political climate. I’ve never seen anything like this on a trail before. Graffiti, lots ; hate graffiti, none. Let’s hope they quickly cover up the graffiti. But while that made me sad, it’s worth continuing as the trail gets quite beautiful, and challenging. If only I had remembered my micro-spikes! Shortly after reaching the woods proper, you come face to face with a large boulder wall.

Scrambling up to Suicide Ledges

Scrambling up to Suicide Ledges

Here, sooner than I expected, was the feature known as “Suicide Ledges.” It’s really a large wall of boulders with a route through some “caves” made up of gaps in boulder piles similar to Maine’s Mahoosuc Notch. Next it takes you scrambling up to the top of the flat wide ledge, which I hope was not named for an actual suicide that took place from here.  The scrambling was a lot of fun, and we took our time exploring the rocks and then took a short break enjoying the view south to Candlewood Mountain, which is notably pointy and pronounced and easy to spot.

The view down from Suicide Ledges

The view down from Suicide Ledges

Having just been at almost 5,000ft in North Carolina the weekend before, and with no snow on the high summits, I for some reason forgot I lived in New England. Much colder, and with recent snow while I was in North Carolina, I arrived in trail runners to find at least an inch of snow down in places. Luckily, while it added a little more effort to the long plods through snowy trail, it wasn’t deep enough to really tire me out.

Deer tracks

Deer tracks

We crossed a few brooks, following the tracks of turkeys, deer, and later, raccoons and passed through Hemlock forests, Mountain Laurel stands, and a half mile street walk (with a rather confusing re-entry to the woods) before descending off the first ridge. There, after one more very short road walk, the trail climbs higher once more to the top of a ridge which is adjacent to Gaylord road below. We saw a couple hiking with their dog there, but other than the wildlife we were alone on the trail that morning.  The trail followed this ridge to another boulder pile along the northwest crest of the mountain, and this feature is known as Straits Rock. From there, a quick steep descent that challenged me the most without my boots and micro-spikes, took us past another ‘cave’ in the towering boulders.

Not to be confused with Tory Cave, off the trail a bit on a side trail

Tory Cave is off the trail a bit down a side trail

This one the trail doesn’t go through as it’s too small for an adult to pass through easily. The trail was narrow and still following a steep drop off here so I took it slow and used my bottom to slide in one or two places so I wouldn’t slide off the mountainside. Here it reminded me a lot of Cheshire Cobble on the A.T. in Cheshire, Massachusetts.

As we reached the bottom of the ridge, the trail passed a few nice little cabins that we gladly would have called our own had we the means and then across another brook and up to the road. Our section hike was only 4.6 miles, but came out to about 5 with our wandering around a bit on the rocks and the road at the top of Boardman Mountain trying to find the trail again after the road walk.

Straits Rock, which also has a small cavern

Straits Rock, which also has a small cavern

If you don’t mind a little civilization in between your forest walks, this is a nice local trail I recommend. There is an actual marble solutional cave along Route 7 called the “Tory’s Cave” where Tories in the Revolutionary war hid. And there is a connector trail to it and the road parking from the Housatonic RangeTrail and vice versa. It is believed to be the only actual cave in Connecticut. Everything else is really just boulder piles with spaces in between. But it’s not open to the public at this time, to protect the bat population.  There is now a steel gate installed there.

I really enjoyed following the path once trod by native people, and at one point felt that I, like the deer, were following their spiritual path through a historic forest and through history itself. This trail was as fun as I expected it to be, and I got a few of my hiker friends excited about it too through sharing photographs.

Raccoon Tracks

Raccoon Tracks

With this trail done, my next non-Appalachian Trail adventure is to finish the northern ten miles of the Mohawk Trail. This bit was once the A.T. itself, and this is the steepest, most dramatic section. It will make for a great warmup to my ridgerunner season, so i will fit that in late in the spring.

Miles: 4.9

Wildlife: Deer, Raccoon, Turkeys (we saw the actual deer later…)

  • Linus

Appalachian Trail Connecticut: Bulls Bridge to Ten Mile Hill Loop

Last weekend I finally got back out on the A.T., and brought along a good friend of mine, Crista. She and I are in a band together, and we’ve been talking about doing a hike for about a year and we just never were able to coordinate it until now. Several of my friends in our AMC chapter were trying to get together with me to hike over the weekend but it worked out that they all had to go Saturday. When Crista reached out that she was free and looking to hike on Sunday, it was a done deal! We have both had a pretty tumultuous year with family and personal matters. So as usual, the trail provided the necessary therapy.

It was a great hike, and I counted almost 50 others enjoying the trail in the 3 hours we were out there. There had been some light snow in the morning but it stopped before we arrived and the temperatures warmed up to around 40. The spikes stayed in the car. We enjoyed a snack on top of Ten Mile Hill, and a break at the shelter. The Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers were raging from the winter run off, and we saw some kayakers braving the rapids where the trail follows the river. They knew what they were doing!  We look forward to hiking again this season, and maybe her and her kids joining me on an overnight.

I am gearing up for another big year. I managed 239 miles in 2018, my annual personal best to date. This season Fielden Stream and I plan to finish the last 18 miles of New Jersey, and then start Vermont or Pennsylvania. I have also been signed up again as a weekend ridge runner for the season. And last but not least, I am also dreaming up some big solo hike plans, if I can work out the time off in this new year. Photos from the hike below.

Miles: 5

  • Linus
Bandmates on the Anderson Bridge

Bandmates on the Anderson Bridge

Frosty blazes

Frosty blazes

Ten Mile Hill

Ten Mile Hill

On Top of Ten Mile Hill

On Top of Ten Mile Hill

Frosty Lichens

Frosty Lichens

The Raging Housatonic

The Raging Housatonic

Mattabessett/New England Trail, Net50 Challenge Completion

On Saturday I hit the New England Trail once again with my brother. While I never managed to get out there over the Thanksgiving holiday, this past Saturday was a beautiful day for a hike. Temps hovered around 45 and felt warmer on the exposed rocks. It was clear, dry and visibility was grand. We could see all the way north to Hartford and south to Hamden and Sleeping Giant, West to the Hanging Hills of Meriden and East to The Connecticut River Valley. This was also the last hike I needed to complete the New England Trail 50 challenge. You can achieve it in a variety of ways, including hikes, volunteering, overnights on the trail, advocacy, donations to trail organizations, and social media sharing to raise awareness on the trail. It has been a lot of fun and I am glad to have helped in any way I could to raise awareness of the trail, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act.

After a slightly sketchy crossing of the outlet of the Hubbard Reservoir at the start (did manage to sink a foot into the cold water a bit), the ascent up Chauncey Peak was quick, and easier thanks to a series of new switchbacks. These are also to benefit the hillside as the very steep original route contributes to erosion. The top of the ridgeline criss-crosses from the western to the eastern edge, where a large quarry operation exists. While that view wasn’t as scenic due to the mining site, there were still nice views beyond. And the western facing ridgeline walks were the real treat, with more of the dramatic basalt (trap rock) ledges to explore and trace as you make your way north , with Lamentation mountain just to the west and the Hubbard Reservoir directly below between the two mountains.

After descending the mountain, the trail winds through some rolling hills in the northern end of Giuffrida park, and then a lovely Hemlock forest before a short road walk (with great views of Chauncey Peak) over to the Highland Pond Preserve which makes up the last of the wooded portion of this section. The last 1.4 miles of this hike was along the paved Country Club road, but this is already an improvement as it used to be almost twice as much of a road walk before they got the portion through the forest and the preserve added in the last few years. Its great to see the hard work of trail organizations, continuing to work on improving trail conditions and acquiring new land for the trail. This is another reason why it’s a pleasure doing volunteer work myself with the AMC, because I experience the joy first-hand.

Now that I’ve completed the challenge, I want to get back to more of my favorite trail – the Appalachian Trail! But I also plan to finish the last 11 miles of the Mohawk trail In the coming months, as well as doing more hikes on the New England trail. I’d like to finish off the Mattabessett section next. I hope to have my brother along on those hikes as the location is central for both of us, and we have a lot of fun hiking together. Photos below.

Miles : 5.7

– Linus

Ascending Chauncey Peak

Ascending Chauncey Peak

My brother near the peak

My brother near the peak

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

 

Metacomet/New England Trail, Penwood State Forest, Connecticut

Trap Rock cairns`

Trap Rock cairns

About 2 weeks ago I got in another hike on the New England Trail (NET), in my quest to complete the NET 50 challenge. My brother joined me again and we took part in a led group hike through Penwood State Forest, using both the New England Trail and the orange and yellow trails to complete the loop. We completed all but about 2 miles of the complete NET section through Penwood S.F., and will be back to complete the rest.

One of the observation towers

One of the observation towers

In this area of the state this part of the New England Trail is made up of the Metacomet trail. This section is the one just north of Talcott Mountain, which features a popular trail destination, Heublin Tower.

It was cold and overcast when we met the hike leader Mat in the lot. His company is called “Reach Your Summit,” and I had actually met him a few years previous on the exciting St. John’s Ledges, on the Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trail. We caught up a bit and when we had the full group assembled, we headed up the trail. It was just Mat, a retired state trooper (who I think I’ve also hiked with before – she seemed familiar), and us.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Mat was full of knowledge on the park founder Curtis H. Veeder and the park history, and we stopped at many of the observation towers or remnants he created when it was his land. We stopped at lake Louise as well which was flooding over the trail in a few spots including the dock, though we were able to walk out on it safely. We saw where Veeder formerly had his cabin overlooking the lake as well. There were some nice ridge walk views along the orange trail heading back but the best view was the spot known as the Pinnacle, on the NET portion.

Climbing the "Stairway to heaven"

Climbing the “Stairway to heaven”

There’s a wonderful, expansive view of the Heublin Tower, and the ridges of the Metacomet trail south of here. A brisk swirling wind kicked up as we reached the summit, as well as snow squalls. Not an hour sooner had I told Matt about my hike on the ridgelines of Mt. Higby in a snowstorm a few years back! I guess I jinxed it. That was our first snow of the season, and I drove through a few more squalls on the way back home. Nothing really stuck to the ground so it was no big deal.

All in all it was a 6.5 mile loop, and as connector trails are included in the challenge, I’m a bit closer now to completion! I’ve enjoyed using the challenge to explore more of this great new National Scenic trail. It really has many great views, and challenging terrain in spots. It just needs more overnight sites to facilitate thru hikes, and I know those will eventually come.

Me and my bro on the Pinnacle

Me and my bro on the Pinnacle

I was hoping to get out on the trails again over the holiday weekend but with all the family visiting I did not get a chance. I definitely plan to this weekend, and am aiming for one of two short sections left on the western spur of the Mattabessett section of the New England trail.

Miles: 6.5

  • Linus