Pre-Season Newly Acquired Gear Testing- Part 1

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

As we get ready for the 2018 backpacking and my ridge-running season, I took advantage of the beautiful spring conditions on Easter Sunday to test some new gear I purchased over the winter. Of course it was snowing the next day and we ended up with half a foot of snow on the ground. April Fools a day late. (Easter was also April Fools day). As of this writing there were two more snowstorms followed by warm spring days since! Good old New England.

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

The first item is my new (used) Lightheart Gear solo tent. I bought it from a hiker on Whiteblaze.net. I am always researching gear, and especially great lightweight solo options for my ridge-running and volunteer weekends. Last year I bought a new REI Quarter-dome 1 for a great price on sale, and which at 39 ounces is a super-light option.  And I love the tent. They have since tweaked the design again. I guess my one issue with it was that the weird pole design always left me a little confused at set up time. And when you’re tired after a long day and setting up camp, you don’t wanna be fidgeting with the poles too long. Especially if its in the rain or the dark, or both. I did get used to it but there were still some times when I was doing it in a situation like those and did it backwards the first time. Plus its rather embarrassing when you’re fussing so much with your own tent when surrounded by other campers! The unusual design of that tent pole setup allows for a wider interior in the tent so it’s worth it but I just wanted something a little more of a no-brainer. And more room if I could get it.

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

On my many nights on the trail I see just about every tent design and model out there, and often ask the hikers about their tents. I then go about reading or watching reviews online and asking questions on hiking groups and forums as well. The Lightheart Gear solo is one of many ultralight options from cottage manufacturers on the market. They also make a slightly longer one for taller hikers called the solong.  I explored other options from Zpacks, Mountain Laurel Designs and more. When I saw the listing on whiteblaze I quickly did more research and found it to be not only a full 12 ounces lighter than my REI tent, but also more spacious and easier to setup. And it was at a great price so I jumped on it.

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

It uses trekking poles rather than included poles to pitch, but you can buy those if you don’t hike with trekking poles. This helps cut down on the weight. It’s also all one piece so you can set it up from the inside without the interior tent getting wet. While I know many 2- piece tents have a feature where you can first rig just the ground sheet and rainfly to avoid soaking your interior tent in the rain, I have to confess I’ve never tried that and it didn’t seem completely full-proof. I got this tent for about 45% off and it was in great shape. It has tons of room and is high enough to sit up in, as well as the ability to be quarter/half/three-quarter or fully vented. The manufacturer advised against spraying it with permethrin spray as did many on the online forums as this chemical doesn’t adhere to sil-nylon and voids the warranty. So I did not spray this tent like I do my others. Seam sealing is recommended for this tent, but the previous owner had the manufacturer do it at purchase. It costs a little extra ($35) but is worth it having a pro do it right the first time. The only negative feedback I’ve heard on this tent is that at 133″ long and 65″ wide, finding a camp spot can be tougher, as well as setting it up on a platform as it is also not fully free-standing. These things I will test in the field.

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Regarding the trekking poles: As you know from my last hike, the handle broke off one of my poles on that hike so I had bought a new pair at REI the next day. So it was time to test them, and this tent together for the first time. Well I didn’t test them by hiking but I did expand them and compare all the features to other brand models at the store to make my decision. I know these REI poles last a long time and that the cork was the weak spot and so I replaced them with poles with hard plastic/rubber handles- the Passage model.  They are not super light but that’s the reason I bought them as well as price. I found the super light super expensive poles to not support my weight as well.

The only ding with the tent purchase was that the stakes I got from the seller were a bit heavy, and when the tent requires ten stakes to fully pitch it, you want lighter ones. I didn’t expect him to send me his best, lightest stakes at this price. He didn’t even charge me shipping. He just wanted to pass it on to another hiker who would enjoy it and make some of his investment back.

This Dove came to check out my tent

This Dove came to check out my tent

So I ordered a set of four more super light titanium stakes from Zpacks, with their microfleece beanie (which I will review later) to make my set of ten. I find these hook-shaped stakes more effective than my MSR groundhogs for guylines. Or at least, they are my preference. I still use the mini groundhogs for staking out the 4 corners of the tent. The other hook stakes I had previously purchased from Amazon — they are Vargo. They are close enough in size and this setup overall should take the stake weight down a bunch. In the process of deciding how many more stakes I needed,  I also spent a while in the garage gear closet to take inventory and make sure all my other tents have the right number of stakes in their bags.  I don’t want to loan one out and we realize later I had taken the stakes from it!

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

I love the Lightheart tent and everyone who saw it set up on Easter and then got to hold it in their hands and feel how light it was packed up were as impressed as I was. Fielden Stream laid down in it for a minute and tested it too. I enjoyed reading “Balancing On Blue” from thru-hiker Fozzie while lying in it and trying out another new purchase. That’s in part 2: Kylmit Massdrop Pillow and JetBoil JetGauge. A dove even came to visit me in my yard and checked out my new tent!  I will keep the QD-1 for a while and if the LHG solo pleases me as much on the trail as it did in my yard, I will return the karma and sell the QD-1 to another hiker. I have one other solo tent which I like because you can pitch the fly like an awning. So even though its less roomy on the inside and a little heavier, Its very convenient if you need to cook when its raining. So I will keep that one for now.

Lightheart Gear Solo Tent Specs

weight: 27oz (before seam sealing)

floor space: 30 sq ft.

head room: 43 in

width: 65in at center

length: 133 in

single/double wall: double

doors: 1

Full specs and more info from the website

— Linus

 

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Back to the Shawangunks and Minnewaska-Winter hike

Getting ready to hit the trail

Getting ready to hit the trail

As planned we headed back to the Hudson valley for our anniversary weekend so we could finally visit Hyde Park on Hudson and do more hiking in Minnewaska State Park. We visited here back in January, right when the Government shut down went into effect and effectively shut down our visit to the home of President Franklin Roosevelt. We are big history buffs, and also fans of the wonderful things his New Deal created such as the Civil Conservation Corps. Not only did the CCC help stabilize the economy after the great depression by providing thousands of jobs, but it also created some of our favorite state and national park buildings and roads. The more parks I visit, the more I see their handiwork and am grateful!

At the trail junction

At the trail junction

We had a great visit to the home on Friday and very much enjoyed our tour. These guides have a passion for their subject; I think I would love a job like that! We enjoyed a great lunch and dinner in Poughkeepsie as part of Hudson Valley restaurant week, and hope to get back in the fall to visit Eleanor’s house, Valkill, a few miles east of the main house.

The next morning we went back to New Paltz on our way to hike. We called Mohonk preserve from the hotel before we left as we were going to try and hike there but they said they only had snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and no hiking. By that I deduced they just meant guided outings. This is a place where the very wealthy play and are pampered so I imagine this type of guided activity is the norm for their guests. I later realized as we passed one of their gates while entering Minnewaska S.P. that you can hike their trails if you so desire, you just won’t have a guide. No problem. No guide needed. That parking area had lots of outdoorsy folk getting out into the snowy wonderland and no sign of a guard station or entrance fee.

Fielden Stream

Fielden Stream

We stopped into the outfitter in New Paltz called Rock and Snow to look at maps of the rest of Minnewaska S.P. and see if they had any idea on the trail conditions. Given all the recent snow, we didn’t want to be postholing and didn’t have deep snow gear. We did have our microspikes (I recently picked up a used pair for Fielden Stream on a used hiking gear forum) and so as long as the trails were not knee deep in snow we wouldn’t need more than those. They didn’t have a lot of information on trail conditions and I found the map a little too minimal, so I checked my trusty AllTrails app and found many short loop options. As we drove west to the park, we could see that most of the mountainsides were snowless give or take a few spots. Of course this doesn’t always mean there’s not snow on top or on the trails. But it didn’t look too foreboding.

High Peter's Kill /SRT

High Peter’s Kill /SRT

We picked a loop in the Peter’s Kill (the Dutch word for a river) area that circled the rocky craggs of Compass Rock and then followed Peter’s Kill back to the park office. I didn’t realize this area had a park office/ranger’s station until we got there so while we did have to pay a $10 parking fee, I am always fine with giving my money to support these parks. Plus, they had information, detailed maps of the area’s trails, a nature exhibit, bathrooms, and snowshoe rentals should we have needed them. The ranger was also able to tell us the trail conditions and that spikes were fine for the conditions. We saw many people out there with no spikes who said ‘we should get those’ when they saw ours, but they all managed without. We like the extra security knowing we wouldn’t slip on icy spots and had traction in the snow on the climbs and descents.

Classic Gunks rocks

Classic Gunks rocks

We got our spikes on and headed up the Bullwheel trail to start our loop. The climb from here was easy and not much of a grade. To the east, several rock climbing and bouldering trails branched off the main trail but you need permits for those and no one was out rock climbing considering the snow was 3-4 inches deep everywhere. These were indicated by blue/yellow blazes, though I didn’t figure that out till later.

Linus playing beneath the boulders

Linus playing beneath the boulders

We reached an old concrete foundation which we learned from the ranger was part of an old ski resort up the side of this hill back in the day. There were several runs, one of which we hiked up at the end of the loop. This was likely the support for the lift tower. At this point we were skirting the eastern edge of the rocky summit, and in better weather with a bouldering permit you can scramble up to the top. I was enticed for a second but without a permit, I don’t really believe in breaking rules. Especially when I ask others to follow and respect these kinds of rules as a ridge runner. I also wouldn’t want to have my wife deal with a fall! I will come back later when its dry and warm and with a permit.

Incredible view of the Catskills

Incredible view of the Catskills

The trail intersected here with the High Peter’s Kill trail. It is part of the longer Shawangunk Ridge Trail which follows the ridge lines for the length of the park. The trail continued east to the Mohonk Preserve but we continued west on the High Peter’s Kill portion around the summit of Compass rock. There were amazing views from its western slope to the high peaks of the Catskills just to the west. It descended sometimes steeply for a snowy trail to the banks of Peter’s Kill, a beautiful river nestled between the two mountains. It was wide and deep and had watering holes and a nice waterfall we passed. In the summer this would be an ideal place to cool off.

After following the river for a bit we opted for the shorter (but we would learn steeper) route up the red trail back to the parking area. This took us up the side of an old ski slope to where it met the Bullwheel trail we climbed earlier. A family with young kids was descending this trail and slipping all over the place because it was steep. So we were again glad to have our traction devices. We got a nice workout climbing up the hill and then enjoyed the gentle decline back to the trailhead.

Peter's Kill

Peter’s Kill

It was a short loop but very scenic, with all the typical flora and rocky crags you expect in the Gunks. With the snow, it was much more of a workout than in normal conditions. It wasn’t too cold and we had a great time. We then made our way to our friends’ beautiful home in nearby Cragsmoor, where we enjoyed a roaring campfire before a great dinner together. One day we will live that mountain and country life full time. For now, it’s always a pleasure to be in the mountains and the woods

More Shawangunk Ridges

More Shawangunk Ridges

Tomorrow I will be joining our overseer of trails with my Connecticut AMC chapter to inspect a section of our portion of the Appalachian trail and report back to the crews what work needed to be done. We will cut small blowdowns and clear what we can but we have larger work parties to do the heavy lifting, as well as sawyers to cut the big trees. It will be good to see the condition of the trail in Northern Connecticut as Fielden Stream and I will be out doing a section hike in Northern Massachusetts in 2 weeks and I was a bit anxious of the snow depths having just had our fourth Nor’Easter in a row. Last I read someone had to be assisted off the A.T. in that area of the Berkshires due to deep snow he wasn’t prepared for. Temperatures look like they will be in the 40s-50s until then so I’m hoping we will need nothing more than spikes. I will also check before we go with my contacts that maintain the Massachusetts section as they will know better than anyone.

We were planning to overnight it on that trip but it depends on if there’s snow up there as we don’t have much overnight winter gear. I know many thru’s are making the trek in deep snow in the Smokies right now with not much more than normal hiking gear, but there are shelters there. This section would only have a primitive campsite. If there’s a bunch of snow up there we will do it as a day hike, and this hike in Minnewaska was a good intro for Fielden to using her microspikes should we need them. I will do an entry on tomorrow’s trail maintenance hike as soon as I am able.

Miles: 2

– Linus

Exploring Topstone Park, Redding, CT

Off we go!

Off we go!

I can’t always make it to my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail. It’s at least an hour drive in any direction. So when I have less time I enjoy finding new closer spots that provide the serenity I love as well as that have at least some challenge in the terrain. A view from an overlook is always a bonus.

In early January I explored a park in Ridgefield I had on my radar, and also learned a little bit more about this park when looking at the options for that morning. Ridgefield is about a 25-minute drive for me which is doable, and I’ve done much of the trails there. I will go back and explore more of the trails on that last hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State park, as well as the Hemlock Hills trails. On the way up route 7 I’ve noticed signs for a few others like Bobby’s Court and Topstone Park. I get excited whenever I see a trailhead, and make a note to explore those when I get the chance.

One of the streams that feeds the pond

One of the streams that feeds the pond

Having the afternoon off last Wednesday and needing to clear my head of a lot of extra baggage, I was once again looking for a trail to explore. I thought about finishing the Housatonic Range trail in New Milford. But that is 5.7 miles, almost an hour away, and challenging enough that I just wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be racing the sunlight and hence moving too fast on the tough parts and risking injury.  One feature known as “Suicide Ledges” entails a 10-20ft scramble through and over large boulders and ledges as I understand it.

While I’m up for the challenge I was also concerned that time pressure and potential leftover ice and snow would make it unsafe without a hiking partner. I did try a few of my friends in the area but as it was mid week the best I could secure was a shuttle back to the start.

Topstone Mountain in the distance

Topstone Mountain in the distance

In hindsight it warmed up significantly by this time and I likely could have made it work but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’m a husband and a dad and bravado and risk taking doesn’t just affect me anymore. I’ve read way too many backcountry disaster stories to feel good about my decisions when I play it safe and wait for the right conditions to approach a challenge.

 

Along the pond edge before the climb

Along the pond edge before the climb

So I re-focused my attention on closer areas and looked up Topstone park in Redding. Right off Route 7 just east of Ridgefield, it was just over 20 minutes away and a very pleasant surprise. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, with a beachfront and canoes, kayaks, dinghies and what looked like a jumping platform.  The gate to this area was closed for the off-season though you are permitted to walk around it to enjoy the trails that circle the pond and above on the eastern and western hills and ridges.

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

I parked in the main lot and checked in on my alltrails app which has all of the trails marked within and I was on my way up the Saddleback trail. Also called ‘the west way’ as it climbs and follows the ridge of a 650ft hill due west of the lot. I was amused that the trails here were white-blazed like my favorite trail.  Technically this trail is east of the pond but facing due south in the lot it is indeed west. It climbs quickly up the hill then levels off as it skirts the edge of a wetland and a few homes in the woods before winding through more forest and over streams that feed the pond. This trail, known as Boulder Top, also has two connectors to a nearby road and eventually reaches the pond trail near the beach. This trail, or rather all the trails in this park, are white-blazed but well marked with fresh blazes and signs at each intersection.

Too bad no camping here!

Too bad no camping here!

I followed the pond trail around the perimeter, enjoying nice views of the beach and pond at water level. It reminded me of Sunfish pond on the A.T. in New Jersey. Another trail or two led up to the road from the pond trail before I reached the turn off to start the climb up to the views on Topstone Mountain. The Pond trail continues around the perimeter of the pond, but I planned to come back that way once I saw on my app that there was a trail known as the Base Trail which would bring me back from the summits on a connector midway up the mountain.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I headed up the Topstone trail and after going a bit past the next turnoff, turned around and found the next junction I missed. To be fair it was marked; I was just in the moment and walked past a little bit. I made the turn back up hill and climbed up the trail to the summit between large walls of rock that made up the base of the ledges I’d soon be standing on.  They were dramatic and very attractive to look at. My heartbeat began to pick up from the scenery as much as from the modest ascent. While only a few hundred feet in elevation gain, It was just as good as many a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I reached the first viewpoint which looks east over the pond and beach below and took a break to process a few things while perched on the rocky ledge. I imagine in summer the scene below is one of much activity and that this spot too would have been occupied by a few of the more adventurous kids enjoying the day with their families.

Knowing there were more views to be had I moved on and took a left on the long view trail which leads .2 miles to the edge of another of the rocky prominences I saw on my walk up here. That view is known as long view and has an equally if not more impressive view all the way across Route 7 to the hills and farms of Ridgefield as well as south to West Redding’s other hills.

The Long View

The Long View

Here I sat longer under a pitch pine taking in what was indeed a long view and had a snack. My sadness I came to address had lifted and a big grin came across my face as I took it all in. Like the views at Pine Mountain or Seth Low Mountains in Ridgefield, these were no disappointment. They required only a small effort to reach and provided the kind of views you’d expect from larger hills and mountains.

Trail junction

Trail junction

I headed back down the other side of the mountain and picked up the Base trail which would bring me back to where I was previously but only briefly before I descended back to the pond trail. The base trail is aptly named as it follows along the base of the long high walls of rock that made up the mountain’s body. Here the temperature was at least twenty degrees cooler, as the cliffs shaded me from the sun, and I bathed in cool breezes.

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

I smiled again and recalled when we did a section in Beartown State Forest along the A.T. in Massachusetts which also skirted walls of rock caves and represented a significant temperature drop. Those caves were surely home to bears, and I did spot one small cave in the wall here but for obvious reasons opted not to try and get a closer look!  It was very unseasonably warm and in the mid 60s — hotter in the sun. So this small stretch was a nice relief not to mention quite beautiful.

Swimming spot

Swimming spot

After reaching the bottom I followed the pond trail along its western edge and past a small swimming area and the drainage causeway that emptied the pond into another large stream. Here there was the platform as I imagined to be for jumping from. I am not sure though as the pond empties just behind it and while there may be a grate, perhaps that would be too strong a current to swim next to. The trail then climbs back through woods to the parking lot of the beach area and then follows the entry road back to the lot I parked in.

Pond spillway

Pond spillway

It was a lovely hike, with nice views and just enough challenge. There were several spots in the forest where I wish I could have just set up my tent for the night , but that is obviously not allowed nor was an overnight in today’s plan or I would have gone elsewhere!  I highly recommend this park. I don’t recall the parking fees for the beach or if you have to be a resident, but if you just want to walk the trails I don’t think there’s any restrictions year round. I think the main issue would be finding parking on a nice weekend. That said you could access the trails from the side trails to the road I passed on my loop. I am sure they have small parking areas along the road for a car or two.

Miles: 4

— Linus

Sam’s Point Preserve, Minnewaska S.P., New York

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Yesterday we were up in the Hudson valley to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We like to mix it up with a few different activities… a nice stay in an inn, a dinner somewhere nice, some history, and of course, some hiking!

The area has all that and more. There’s a booming winery and cidery business all over the county, as well as plenty of historical sites and outdoor activities. There’s no shortage of nice inns and hotels as well as restaurants and great towns to visit and explore.

Sam's Point from the parking area

Sam’s Point from the parking area

Despite a warmer spell we weren’t quite ready to backpack as there was still almost a foot of snow on the ground in many places we would go. But we wanted to keep in shape and do some hiking so we are ready for the season. Also, because we love being outdoors.

Various hike options

Various hike options

Our hike this time was in the dramatic Shawangunk mountains of New York. Just west of the Hudson river the range stretches from west of New Paltz (a great town!) south to Cragmoor about 15-20 miles south.

Fielden Stream below the Crags

Fielden Stream below the Crags

The northern end holds the famous Mohonk Mountain House and preserve, a dramatic Victorian era castle resort hotel towering high on a rocky peak and surrounding a sky lake.

They have many trails there as well as other activities. It is however quite a bit expensive with its award-winning farm-to-table dining, epic views and fancy spa, and if you are not staying there you have to pay a hefty $22 to park in their lot and enjoy their grounds. It was started as a retreat to enjoy nature and study ecology by a pair of Quaker brothers and has grown in size and popularity ever since. They have dedicated time and money throughout the generations to help with local stewardship and to improve the conditions of native peoples. So at least some of that money goes to good causes.  I have to say we’re curious and as we are going back here in March for our anniversary because the F.D.R home we planned to visit was closed from the government shutdown, and so we may also visit here to check it out. I’m afraid the cost is likely too prohibitive for an overnight stay for our current budget. But we will see if there’s any deals to be had at the time!

Couple selfie

Couple selfie

The rest of the Shawangunk range comprises what is known as Minnewaska State Park. It contains a large trail system, a sky lake of its own, the highest dwarf pine habitat in the region, ice caves, a dramatic waterfall and sweeping views from steep cliffs of stone all along its perimeter.  There is a visitor center at the southernmost end known as Sam’s Point.

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

They have a small exhibit on flora and fauna and geology in the area, guided tours with local naturalists and you can rent snowshoes. We really should have on this day but didn’t realize until after. Fielden Stream has always wanted to try them and I didn’t bring my microspikes and the snow was 6″ deep, though there was a trodden path about a foot wide which helped.  Being only .6 up to the viewpoint, and on a gravel road covered in snow, we managed…

A good view of the cliff edges

A good view of the cliff edges

There isn’t a tremendous vertical gain, maybe a few hundred feet. My phone was on the fritz so I could not use my tracking app to get that information. The only real steep angle was at the end, and it wasn’t bad, again because it was really just a gravel road.

On the western-facing ledge

On the western-facing ledge

The views to the south and then to the west from the second viewpoint were amazing. And our car did all the real climbing on this day. The elevation at the southern point is about 2,200 ft. The dramatic drop-offs and long views were well worth the minimal effort. I highly recommend it. When we go back in March we also hope to do one of the guided tours here on the native peoples, landscape and wildlife and check out the ice caves and the falls as well.

Miles: 1.2

– Linus

 

First hike of 2018

History in the area

History in the area

As I sit here writing, the winter cyclone rages outside. Knowing it was coming, and doing what I could to escape the many plumbers and contractors in my house fixing busted pipes and walls from our recent deep freeze, I made my way to a trail yesterday to get some much needed time in the woods. It had been too long.

I have several local park or preserve options with nice trail systems, but I have done them so much and for the first hike in months, and of the year, I wanted to try something new.

I explored a bit on Peakery and AllTrails and found some other slightly farther peaks and trail systems, including one I had already looked up in the past – Seth Low Pierrepont State Park in Ridgefield.

Ready to head UP

Ready to head UP

In my past hikes over the peaks on the Ives Trail in Ridgefield and Danbury, Connecticut, I caught views of many other mountaintops that I was sure had to have some kind of way up because they had to have some kind of view. This was one of them. And i was excited to finally check this park out and see what it had to offer.

Just south of Pine Mountain and the Ives Trail, it has 4-5 trails that skirt a small lake and culminate on the summit of what is either Barlow or Barrow Mountain. I believe Barlow is the summit and Barrow is a smaller nearby prominence you crest on the way up Barlow. Either way, it was a nice hike with surprisingly good views and a few steeps that got the heart pumping!

Ice fangs!

Ice fangs!

The area is also wrought with history. As I approached the park I drove through historic Ridgefield, where the only inland battle in Connecticut of the Revolutionary war occurred. I passed many original homes from the 18th and 19th century, as well as the cemetery where those who fell in the skirmish lie beside the original colonial settlers. Just before the entrance were placards marking where the first of the three skirmishes of the battle of Ridgefield occurred, and where the American General David Wooster (nearby Wooster mountain is named for him) fought and died while taking on British General William Tryon.  We did manage to push back the British in that conflict, and no more battles occurred inland in Connecticut after that because of it. Nearby streets had the names Hessian (the German mercenaries the British employed to fight) and Continental (assuming after the army) in tribute to what went on here.  I am as you may know a huge history buff so I found this all very exciting.

Following the icy ledges

Following the icy ledges

Pierrepont himself lived in these lands in the 20th century, helped to create the lake from a former swamp and deeded his 300+ acres to the town for the park in his will upon his death. He also was fascinated by the local indian lore and relics he discovered on the property, and specifically requested the lake be not named after him but after one of the indian chiefs from the area who signed the original deed to their land to Ridgefield. HIs name was Naraneka.

From the main trailhead at the park entrance, a white trail follows the perimeter of Lake Naraneka for just under a mile. The blazing here needs re-painting, but the footprints in the snowpack helped me follow the trail adequately. I saw a man practicing ice hockey on the frozen lake, and another cross country skiing.

Western view, sun-shaded

Western view, sun-shaded

Many nice houses skirted the edge of the lake, and many more overlooked it from the rocky summit ledges of Seth Low Mountain above.  I hope one day to have a house on or above and near a lake where I can enjoy 4 season recreation right from my front door.  This is a particularly affluent area so the houses were quite nice, but I’d be happy with even a small cabin or house that had all the necessities while still being a retreat to the simpler life. We will see how that all goes!

The white trail then intersects with both blue and yellow trails, which form a loop up and over the main peak. The blue is the steeper of the two trails, and with about an inch of snow on the ground, I opted to go up the steeper slope and go down the gentler one. In hindsight I should have brought my microspikes but I managed this time around. I didn’t realize there’d be snow and ice here still.

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

The blue trail climbs fairly steeply up the southern flank of the mountain to a series of ledges on the western side. Here the best views were had, looking west and south over the lake. I met another hiker there and expressed my appreciation for this new discovery not all that far from home, and recommended Pine Mountain for her next hike. The trail then climbed again to the summit and while there was a view north and east, it was more obscured by trees and not as rewarding. I decided to do a slightly longer loop and continued on the white trail which had intersected on the summit with blue and which I’d take back in a bit. After descending the upper slopes of the mountain I took the yellow trail back along its western edge to the white trail which took me back to the base of the lake and the walk along the perimeter.

The final push up to the summit

The final push up to the summit

There were some lovely rock outcroppings throughout the hike, some towering hundreds of feet above, and where I previously followed the trail along their edge. And an old shelter someone had built against a large fallen tree’s exposed trunk.

Only about 30 minutes from home at the most, and filled with history and charm, I will be back in the area with family when we’re looking for a nice day of activities indoor and out. There are many museums and tours of the areas historical sites, as well as great options for food and drink afterwards.

Despite my love for travel and discovering new places each time I go on an adventure, its good to find gems like this that I can re-visit easily.  And it was good to get back out on the trails and start the new year with a great hike.

Miles: 3.3

— Linus

 

Chilly Day Hike on the Mohawk Trail

trail crossing on lake road

trail crossing on lake road

Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.

Red Mountain Overlook

Red Mountain Overlook

So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.

Red Mtn shelter

Red Mtn shelter

At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.

We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.

Cool glacial rock feature

Cool glacial rock feature

At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.

Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night.  Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T.  There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked.  We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there.  We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.

As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.

Miles day 1: 6

— Linus

Exploring new trails and roads in Massachusetts

Last weekend we finally made it up to our friends lake house in Otis, a town located in southwestern Massachusetts. We had meant to get up there earlier for some summer enjoyment of the lake and some hiking of course. But summer turned to fall and fall has practically turned into winter with these recent temps.

When we were up last weekend the weather was rather nice for November and we had highs in the high 50’s and lows only in the 30s, but by then we were sitting by a fire and having comfort food.

After a slight detour to the middle of Tolland State Forest thanks to a GPS mixup, we arrived for dinner Friday and began making our plans for the next few days. A hike was definitely in the agenda but as we were attending a cider festival in the north the next afternoon, we were looking at hikes in the northern Berkshires. I of course suggested one on the A.T. but the distance was too long for us to do and still get to cider days on time.

We consulted our book, “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires” and my friend found one called Spruce Hill in a state forest named Savoy, just east of North Adams. It was about an hour drive from Otis, and then another hour to Turner’s Falls where the cider festival was, but my friend new the area well so we figured we could make it work.

We drove through many of the towns we’d been hiking through all summer – Washington, Beckett, Lee, Dalton… and found the trailhead kiosk after some exploring around the state forest camping areas.

At first the Busby trail started out as a typical woods walk, occasionally joining an old woods road, and some pretty boggy portions as well from all the recent rain. We crossed a power line once or twice and then the trail started to climb. We saw some old cellar holes and reached the bottom of a ridgeline with some rock steps carved out of the rock wall. We wound along the edge of a ridge, now eager for what seemed would be a great payoff. When we came to the first overlook, looking north and east, we were thrilled. You could see at least 50 miles, and I’m quite sure I saw Monondnock in the distance towering above many of the other hills. Wind turbines dominated the immediate mountaintop landscape, and rolling hills stretched on and on.

But there was supposed to be a great view of Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and there was none here. I left my pack and continued up the ridge. A short while later I came upon the grand view. A rocky ledge provided its own 270 degree view, from the hills south in Dalton, as far as Monument Mountain and Mts Race and Everett in the far southwest of the state, and directly west sat Greylock, across the Pioneer valley with Cheshire, Adams and North Adams below. You could see the Green Mountains of Vermont beyond and Mass MOCA in the valley below. I was excited to get such a great view of this stretch because we will be doing this section next year and completing Massachusetts on the A.T. and it was all laid out before us.

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

We were all amazed at the view and took some great photos and panoramic videos before heading back and driving down to the cider festival. That drive was stunning as well, as we took Route 2 — the famous Mohawk Trail — to get there. This road meanders through valleys and over passes through Mohawk State forest and follows the Deerfield River past orchards, campgrounds, ski hills, and native American shops and waterfalls before we turned off in Turner’s Falls just east of Greenfield.

I had been through Greenfield and about 5 miles of Rt 2 for decades on our way to ski in southern Vermont, but never knew this beauty rested just minutes farther on either side of 91. The town of Turners Falls itself is a national historic landmark and is one of the few places on what was then almost the Canadian border that Native Americans and Colonists lived together peacefully. It had a dramatic waterfall with the spray reaching 50 feet high, and many quaint old buildings. The cider festival was in a large tent on the lawn by the river with a view of the top of the falls.  After a quick lunch at a local diner, we headed to the festival and tried many different kinds of cider, some I didn’t even know existed.

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

We went back satisfied and had dinner and a fire and tried to watch a movie but passed out halfway through!

In the morning Sunday we wanted to do one more short hike and we opted for Bartholomew’s Cobble. It’s one I’ve always known about but never visited because the A.T. was right next door and so I always opted for the more challenging hikes. Well I’m glad they took us.

Only about 1,000 feet high, and resting on the CT-MA border, all the trails lead to a large mowed mountaintop similar to the balds in the southern Appalachians.  (It seems the landmass’s true summit is called Mt Miles and is on the CT side.) There are some trails that weave along ledges and the Housatonic river on their way up or around the premises but for this hike we just walked the tractor path to the top. My friend told us not to turn around until we reached the top because the view would be behind us.

It was a good constant elevation gain so we definitely were getting some cardio even if the road was an easy route. When we reached the tree line which was right on the state line we turned around, and wow.

East Mountain from Bartholomew's Cobble

East Mountain from Bartholomew’s Cobble

Wide views of Mts Race and Everett and the Taconics to the west, the plains of Sheffield and Great Barrington in the middle, and East Mountain and the hills of Tyringham beyond to the east. It was breathtaking. How did I ignore this hike for so long? We took a lot of photos and I plan to bring family back here on summer or winter adventures in the area. The rangers’ station also has a small museum with local fauna including a small Ornithological exhibit highlighting the local birds. I really enjoyed that as I’m a fan of birds, have some Audubon art on my walls, and am reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt and his peers and how they created the first natural history museums in New York and Washington with their own collections.

We had a great BBQ lunch at Bash Bish brewery (the falls are another spot I’ve yet to visit can you believe it?) in Sheffield and headed back to Otis to pick up our things and head home. We had a great time and not only were the hikes amazing and the drive along Rt 2, but I got to see a lot of new towns and parts of the state as well via all the back roads we took. It really was a tour of Western Massachusetts at its peak foliage.

Both hikes were short but had a big payoff and the highest elevation gain of the two was only 680 feet so moderate at best.

The Taconics from Bartholomew's Cobble

The Taconics from Bartholomew’s Cobble

I hope to move up to these hills one day and maybe even have a lake house of our own, so this trip certainly strengthened that desire.

Hike day 1: 3 miles

Hike day 2: 1.5 miles

— Linus