Family Holiday Hike to Pine Mountain

My nephew at the trailhead

My nephew at the trailhead

In 2016 we finally bought a house. While a stressful process, of course its been worth it and we love our home. It also meant that we were expected to host for the holidays. So for Christmas 2016, we had the whole family here including my younger brother and his boys who stayed with us at the house. We had a great visit and spent a lot of time together in the same space.

My brother and I

My brother and I

So when I suggested we do a family hike the day after Christmas to get some exercise and fresh air, my younger brother and his boys were as excited as I was to get out of the house for a while and have an adventure. They live in Colorado near Boulder/Denver, so mountains are not something they are missing. And I can’t wait to hike with them when we visit them in Colorado. But today I was taking them out in my neck of the woods!

While I wanted to take them to my favorite trail again (you know, the Appalachian Trail), time was limited and so I took them to the nicest lookout and section of trail I knew about in the area; and its about half as far a drive. Incidentally it’s where I did a hike around the same time the previous year! I guess this is my holiday hiking spot. A place to go and perch myself on the edifice and reflect on the year coming to a close.

My brother and his boys on Pine Mtn

My brother and his boys on Pine Mtn

Pine Mountain and its fantastic lookout are now part of the relatively new Ives Trail, named after a famous composer from Danbury who loved the outdoors and built a lean-to near this lookout so he could enjoy the view whenever he wanted and share it with his friends.

I’ve done the entire 20 miles of the Ives Trail from West Redding to Ridgefield, but this view and part of the trail is my favorite so I come back often.

Linus on Pine Mtn

Linus on Pine Mtn

The view is amazing and on a clear day you can see all the way to Long Island Sound. But on most days you can see the Ridgefield lakes below, and Seth Low Pierrepont mountain and state park in the near distance (you can see it in the distance behind me in the picture here). The rocky precipice at the Pine Mountain lookout reminds me a lot of my favorite ones on the Appalachian Trail, with a view nearly as good, especially considering you’re still in the posh suburbs of Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Old fireplace

Old fireplace

The hike was perfect for the amount of time we had and also good for smaller hikers. The distance from the Pine Mountain trailhead is only about half mile up to the lookout and with some fun little scrambles and great ridge walking views along the way. To reach the true summit is about another quarter mile so all said and done it was only about 1.5 miles round trip, though rewardingly scenic and fun. After taking in the view at the lookout we headed up to the fireplace (Ives’ picnic fireplace I believe) and then the true summit where a small cairn demarcates the otherwise wooded peak. On the way back down we stopped again at the overlook for one more view, before hiking back down to the car for a family lunch to follow. There was a small amount of iced over snow on the lower part of the trail near the road, but the rest was clear of any real hazards.

Me and my nephews at the summit

Me and my nephews at the summit

Pine Mountain reserve is its own open space but is tied together to the other trail systems of Hemlock Hills and Bennett’s Pond as well as by the Ives Trail. At around 1,000ft Pine Mountain is also in fact the highest point in Ridgefield. At this time of year we were also able to see the view to the northwest from a western shoulder of the mountain along the trail on the way up, because all the leaves were off the trees. Though it’s not a great view in that direction.

I look forward to my first hike of 2017, in a few days I hope… life has been making me wait a little longer lately.

Miles: 1.5

— Linus

 

A Day In The Life of a Trail Patroller: Ten Mile Video Journal

Video Journal

Video Journal

I realized I was so chatty in this video that you probably will learn all about this hike by watching the video! The new setup with the phone worked better than the GoPro but I do need to remember to keep the same horizontal orientation throughout so please pardon the switches to the vertical shots. I’ve almost got this video thing down! I know I’ve covered this section before but it was not a great quality video… This hike was a windy and wonderful Veterans Day, and I got to cut my first blowdown! Thanks veterans for your service.

Click here to watch the video

Miles: 4.1

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 8 (part 2)

The game plan

The game plan

A week ago we made it back to Massachusetts to finish the Great Barrington section of the trail. I got some unexpected time off, and was considering an overnight solo adventure in the area. It wasn’t until I found out Fielden Stream could come along that I deviated from that plan and took advantage of this good fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I love a solo overnight adventure. But I do them a lot in my role with the AMC. The decision to make it a day hike was based on a few things…

This time of year, especially before daylight savings time kicks in, the sun sets by 6 and doesn’t rise again until 7. That is a LOT of time alone in a tent. I love having time to think, and I do a lot of it while I walk the long miles.

Rock scramble up East Mountain

Rock scramble up East Mountain

But I often look forward to company at a campsite. It’s just in my nature and one reason I like it when I’m assigned to look after a campsite for the night. I love interacting with other hikers, or family and friends and sharing stories of our adventures or just riffing on the topics of the moment until bedtime. I admit I get a little lonely when I have 20+ hours to myself. I don’t need THAT much time to think things through. The places I had planned to hike and overnight were particularly remote and it was unlikely I’d have anyone to talk to. I’m a social person at heart.

Fielden crossing the bridge

Fielden crossing the bridge

Also while it was unseasonably warm for November, this can be a cold and wet time of year to hit the trail. That just comes with the territory but when you have the choice, why subject yourself to discomfort if you don’t have to? At the higher elevations I was considering there was a good chance of nighttime temps being far colder than those forecast at ground level. I’ve been out in my tent when temperatures dropped into the low 20’s and it was not comfortable. Though it was certainly an adventure I came out of feeling stronger and more skilled in the backcountry. There was a forecast for rain and that could mean snow on a mountaintop. I don’t really do winter overnights yet. That could change I suppose. I guess I’m best suited for the section hiker title.

First real view of the Taconics

First real view of the Taconics

I have my dreams of doing a thru hike, but that’s something I can’t even consider at this stage in my life with work and family demands and schedules. So I ( & we) enjoy day or multi-day outings to cover the trail bit by bit. I would like to try to spend a whole week or two on the trail at one point, as I know it will provide a lot of time to process things in my life and really connect with nature. I certainly feel shortchanged on day hikes sometimes, as I was just getting into it when I had to leave the trail. But I think a week would be a good experience and also mean I can cover longer sections of trail. A few years from now, I should be able to make that kind of time available. But for this instance, I was happy with a day hike and and then some creature comforts with my partner and best friend.

Happy blazes!

Happy blazes!

We drove up both of our cars and spotted the first at the end of the section, and then drove to the start where we last left off on Homes Rd. We still had a climb ahead of us but the last one left us atop June mountain, which accounts for half the climb from the valley below.

The trail climbed quickly up the western slopes of East Mountain. We crossed a bridge over a little channel in the rocks which I imagine is sometimes filled with water. Not today; it’s been a very dry season until recently, and that’s not been enough to get everything flowing again. We scrambled up a rock face that reminded me of Harriman in New York. We then began getting views of the Taconic range through the trees as we reached the ridgeline we’d be traveling for the next few miles.

Full color on the trail

Full color on the trail

About 2 miles in we reached a large rock outcropping with full views of Mt Everett north to Jug End as well as Alander to Catamount on the ridges to the west. This outcropping, while you can climb up on it, is a big smooth slide that you wouldn’t want to roll off as it will send you right off the cliff. So use caution when having a seat up there.

We took a break here to shed some layers as the sun was up now and the day was heating up to the mid-60s forecast. Onward we went along the ridgeline, with occasional views now south and easterly. We arrived at another opening in the treecover where a rock outcropping provides a great view of the pond in the valley below and the Litchfield Hills just over the Connecticut border beyond.

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

You could see the eastern shoulder of the mountain we had climbed and it was painted a bright orange in full fall glory. We met a local hiker and his dog, Everett, who was named after the mountain! We had a snack and he snapped a great photo of us. Turns out he grew up in our town — small world! A few other day hikers with their dogs came up as we were heading out and we made our way back along the ridge in search of the Tom Leonard shelter. We crested the summit and headed back down into the saddle between East and Warner Mountains, which we would not officially summit as its peak is to the north of the trail. You know I wanted to peakbag another summit, but it was not in the cards today!

Tom Leonard Plaque

Tom Leonard Plaque

On the north side of this landmass is a favorite ski resort where I and my kids learned to ski – Butternut. It was originally named Butternut Basin in the 60s when it opened, and that’s named after the large basin between the summits that we were about to pass by. Also for the Butternut trees. We passed the time talking through important issues in our present lives, as well as trying to identify any Butternut trees in the area of the basin. It wasn’t until we finished our hike that we saw a photo online of the leaves.

Tom Leonard Shelter

Tom Leonard Shelter

We had not found any. But the basin itself was an interesting change in ecology that was noticeable as we passed by it. We crossed another trail which looked like an old fire road or narrow mountain road.  It likely goes down to the wildlife management area to the south, and may also be an access for hunters. Not sure. There is a tower of some sort atop the mountain so my first guess is its a fire access or mechanical access road.

Tom Leonard poem

Tom Leonard poem

We finally reached the shelter. We had thought it would be much closer to the middle of the hike but its actually about 2/3 of the way in, just before the ice gulch. We saw the sign as we crested a large rock outcropping and wall. The shelter could be seen below and I of course wanted to go check it out. Fielden took a break at the top of the rock ledge while I walked down to the shelter, which was nestled between another ledge on a plateau, with the mountain’s edge falling away a few hundred yards south. It was a glorious shelter, with bunks for four and then room for another 6 on the overhang. There’s a plaque on the back about its construction. There was a picnic table and a fire ring, and the privy and tent platform were indicated by a sign to be to the south, just towards the mountain’s edge. I didn’t go to check those out but I’ve seen photos of the platform which is right near the edge and has a fantastic view if you get there first. Just don’t be too groggy or clumsy when tenting there.

Ice Gulch

Ice Gulch

There looked to be what was a stream behind the shelter but there was nothing in it and in fact the water source was .25 miles down the hill from the platform area. I have read its not a whole lot of fun to get down there for water and then back up, but its better than no water. I forgot to mention there is also a bear box.

I signed the register and took some photos and then we headed out of the gorge the shelter sat in. In the register book is a poem about Tom Leonard “Longways,” who thru hiked the trail in 1985. This shelter was built in 1988 in dedication to him. I’m going to assume he passed away, I’ll have to look it up. There’s a few ways in and out of the shelter on blue access trails and I’d read it could be confusing but really it wasn’t. Regardless, I just went back up the way I came.

Late day Hemlock forest

Late day Hemlock forest

We met a day section hiker and followed him along the rock walls to the ice gulch ahead. This is an impressive feature. A large gulch is carved, obviously from water, into a notch between this mountain and a smaller knob on the other side. The trail follows along the dry gulch for a few tenths of a mile but its truly a sight to behold. While there is no water, you could feel the cooler temperatures and it got its name from the fact that its so cool down there you can even see ice in the summer time.

The trail then descends along the eastern slope of Warner mountain, whose edifice rises up to the west over Hemlock forests.  It then gently descends through these forests and crosses Lake Buel road, a small inlet from the lake covered in towering cattails, and eventually reaches route 23. We were hoping to see the lake, and on a thru hiker video he was at the lake, but you need to walk down that road a quarter mile to reach it.

Tell me that doesn't look like a bear!

Tell me that doesn’t look like a bear!

If it was summer that probably would have been on the agenda. We did however hear drums and smell incense as we approached that road. We knew there was a spiritual retreat in the area on rt 23, but it was in fact coming from the lake. We were still a mile from 23. On the walk from Lake Buel Road to 23 we saw something in the woods that for a good 5 minutes we thought was a bear staring at us from the distance. We stopped and looked and made noise. It didn’t move, not one bit. We ultimately deduced that if it was a bear it would have scurried off or at least moved. That was one bearly tree stump! We laughed and got some pictures, no longer concerned.

The inlet was a good sized water source, and the only one we saw since I didn’t make th trek down to the shelter source. So if you’re heading south through here, you can rely on that one.

Trail crossing on 23

Trail crossing on 23

We reached the lot at 23, at the gateway to Great Barrington and the Beartown state forest. We hadn’t planned on being back up this way until spring, so even though we were just hiking for the day, I felt content to have covered another section of Massachusetts I was really looking forward to, and finishing off another section. Just under 1/3 of the state is now complete!

Next spring we will do our first overnight on the next section on Mt Wilcox in Beartown state forest. There are two shelters here, and a campsite. We should be able to cover the whole 12-mile section with a shelter right at the halfway mark. From there its just 6 miles north to Upper Goose Pond cabin and its famous breakfast for hikers. So we will probably push that out a bit to early summer so we can enjoy it properly. Maybe we will do the next section and come back. I’d like to canoe on the lake as well, so I want it to be fairly warm.

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

This was also the section we were going to take the kids on in September. But I think we made the right choice to do a section with them we already knew. They love Great Barrington as much as we do, so now that we know they will have no problem with this section that’s probably their next one with us.

Watch the video here! You can hear me play 30 seconds of Pink Moon by Nick Drake on my guitar…

Oh my how the time has gotten away from me, I have to get ready for work! But I will be out on the Connecticut trail tomorrow doing my trail patrol and mostly cleanup. Maybe I’ll see you!

Miles: 5.5

— Linus

Connecticut AMC’s Appalachian Trail Day – 10/15/16

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day

Yesterday we got to do another section of the Massachusetts Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful section with peak fall foliage, and that report is to come. But first I wanted to take an opportunity to talk about our wonderful Appalachian Trail Day last month.

This October was the 10th anniversary of this occasion. The foliage was just starting to hit peak in Kent a few weeks ago.

In the morning I stopped at the grocery in Kent and met a trail angel who one of my friends in the trails committee had met earlier in the week and posted a photo of. She had forgotten to invite him to our BBQ this afternoon, so I went over and introduced myself and chatted with him and a hiker he was with and then invited them both before picking up my groceries and heading to the trail head.

Trail Angel

Trail Angel

He travels up and down the trail in his awesome RV which he has adorned with the A.T. logo and some bear and human tracks. He does hiker feeds, shuttles and lets people stay in his R.V. when the weather is particularly bad or they just need some creature comforts to raise morale. I could not remember his complicated trail name; it was something very Lord of the Rings-like. But he did tell me his real name too. It was great to meet him and thank him for his taking such good care of the hikers. He had completely lost track of what day of the week it was. God I envy that.

Foliage on Pond Mountain

Foliage on Pond Mountain

Anyway, originally this day was called the A.T. ‘marathon day’. This is because members and maintainers would do a series of hikes to cover the whole Connecticut section in one day to find any issues. They even did it relay style at one time. At the end of the day they would gather to report all their findings and have dinner or a social hour. We still cover the whole trail each year as part of the day’s events and then celebrate after with a BBQ in Macedonia Brook State Park, where the A.T. once passed through. Learn lots more about this event’s long history on page 3 of our latest newsletter!

In addition to the A.T. hikes there are hikes in other parts of the state. There are also trail work parties, paddling trips and rock climbing lessons at St. Johns Ledges here in Kent.

Old Cabin near Pond Mtn

Old Cabin near Pond Mtn

In the past on A.T. day I have joined in work parties to re-paint the white blazes, and also assisted in trail patrol training. This time I joined members of our trails committee on an ‘A.T. history hike’ through another previous part of the trail through Pond Mountain natural area just east of Macedonia State Park.

We parked in the lot on Fuller Mountain road, having done a great deal of the climb on our drive up. From the lot the route we took dropped quickly back down to where the trail originally traveled, and then shortly but steeply along another road which the A.T. now crosses farther up and which we would cross once more from that direction on our way back. When we re-entered the woods, we were headed up the back side of Caleb’s Peak which has a favorite view in this area, with the Housatonic river valley stretched out below and the town of Kent in the center.

Trails Chair the Booneman!

Trails Chair the Booneman!

Years ago when we first finished Connecticut, we saw the purple blazes for this section and did not know what they were. In fact nobody knew who actually blazed them. But as of late, the AMC will be taking it over, maintaining it and making it an official blue-blaze trail.

On Caleb’s Peak we gathered for a snack to take in the views. Someone had made a very large fire ring and we saw a couple using a small wood stove in the fire ring. I asked them if they were responsible for the larger ring and fire and they said they were not but asked if it was ok to use their wood stove in there to contain any embers. Technically these are allowed. I reminded them that on their travels through the state that no campfires or fire rings allowed. We then went about the business of clearing the ring. It took several of us to lift the large rocks and some of the embers were still burning. Since I didn’t have my gloves I got a small burn on my finger. We decided it was best to leave them to cool as scattering them with everything so dry would have been dangerous.

The gorgeous view from Caleb's Peak

The gorgeous view from Caleb’s Peak

It seems people really like to challenge our rules here. This was a very large ring in a very visible spot, and they didn’t even make sure it was out before leaving. Just 1/4 mile south of here is the remains of a brush fire started by this exact type of behavior. You can see the scorched tree trunks and downed trees. How can you see that and then go and make a fire in an illegal spot right up the trail? People just don’t think about the consequences, even when they’ve just seen them.

Black racer snake

Black racer snake

After our snack we headed back down the A.T. towards Skiff Mountain road where we would then re-enter the Pond Mountain area. On the way down we spotted a very large black racer snake and all enjoyed watching him as he crossed the trail and headed back into the woods. He was at least 4 feet long!

We also passed that brush fire site which surprised many of the people on our hike. Seeing what happens from irresponsible behavior first hand is a very good way to learn why we have these rules in place. Luckily the forest seems to be recovering well.

We also went down the new stairs that our trails crews built over the last season and admired all their work. We talked about how they fly in and lower the rocks on cables to transport them. The stairs look great, thanks guys!

The BBQ at Macedonia Brook SP

The BBQ at Macedonia Brook SP

Once back in the Pond Mountain area, we followed an old carriage road trail until we re-connected with the trail up to the lot. It was steep, though wide and flat and a good last workout! Though our hike didn’t take us to the summit, there is a mountain trail which I will check out on another day.

We got to the barbecue and got the grills fired up. I ordered my usual ‘hockey puck’ burger and enjoyed a cold beverage. Our trail angel friend was there parked in the lot so I talked to him a bit more. We enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and lots of other snacks including these wonderful A.T. cupcakes made by one of our members. I caught up with some other friends from the club who were on different hikes that day and then eventually had to get going back to real life.

A.T. cupcakes!

A.T. cupcakes!

But this event is always a fun one. Whether you’re a member or not you are welcome to join and we all pay just $6 for the food and drinks. Its a great way to introduce people to our organization and share our love for the outdoors and for protecting it.

I hope to see you next year at A.T. day! There are also many other work parties throughout the year where you can take part and give back to the trail. Visit our website here. Click on the ‘trails’ link in the navbar up top to find a list of all of our upcoming work parties and see how you can get involved.

Miles: 4.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: NY Section 13 (and completion of NY!)

A.T./State Line junction

A.T./State Line junction

Saturday, we finished New York. I can’t say how thrilled I am. On the trail I asked Fielden: “when we started at the New York-Connecticut state line last April, did you think we’d actually finish the whole state by next year?”

Well the answer is neither of us knew for sure if we’d stay at it all the way to New Jersey. We did it though, and it feels great. Our life and schedules are hectic. So this was a big accomplishment. We stuck at it as many weekends as we could each season and got it done!

We did most of New York southbound, though the last few sections we did in reverse, just for logistical reasons based on pickups and trail head parking. We did from 17a north to East Mombasha road and Little Dam Lake in August (where we left off southbound hiking), and then from the New York/New Jersey state line north back to 17a on this hike. This one was a day hike where as the previous was a backpacking trip.

At the state line

At the state line

Since it was Fielden’s birthday I was treating her to a nice bed and breakfast instead of a tent. We tried that last October, at least for the first night. It was freezing. We can deal with that and have many times, but given the occasion, a nice bed to sleep in seemed the right way to go.

We drove down to the state line trail lot across from Greenwood Lake marina. The top level of the lot is specifically for hikers. I had read on many sources that this is only day hiking parking, but many of the locals we talked to seemed to think overnight wouldn’t be a problem. We wouldn’t find out today.

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

As we got to the lot there were a few cars and people getting ready to hike. Shortly after, 4 or 5 more cars showed up and filled the lot. What I thought was a group of backpackers was in fact either a meetup or a local yoga class who were hiking up to the ridge to do yoga. I think that’s pretty cool and I like my yoga, but in a lot this size, carpooling would have been better so that everyone had a place to park. We were lucky to arrive when we did.

Fielden Stream scrambling

Fielden Stream scrambling

We hit the trail immediately so that we could get ahead of the group. The state line trail climbs 800ft in just over a mile to its intersection with the A.T. It’s not too bad and switchbacks a lot, with only one or two steeper sections as you climb what is known as Bearfort Mountain on the New Jersey side. As you near the ridgeline you also pass the eastern spur of the yellow-blazed Ernest Walter trail that circles Surprise lake in Abram Hewitt State Forest. Once you reach the Appalachian trail you are just shy of the highest point of the hike, at almost 1,400ft. From here we headed north along the A.T. just a short distance to reach the state line. There’s the famous line painted on the rock with “N.Y.” one one side of it and “N.J.” on the other. We took what is a typical photo with one of us on each side of the line and took out the GoPro to get a shot for our video.

Mini Mahoosic Notch

Mini Mahoosuc Notch

After a short snack break we headed north along the rocky spine of the mountain to Prospect Rock. At 1,443ft it’s the highest point on the entire New York Appalachian Trail. There is also a large American flag here, and a sweeping view of the lake, the Ramapo hills and on this day, despite it being overcast, New York City’s skyline. I don’t know for sure why the flag is here. I assume it’s either to mark the highest point, or as a 9-11 memorial similar to the one on Shenandoah Mountain, since you can see the city from here. There is a trail register box but we were distracted by the great views and did not sign it. We did of course get many photos. I could see the rocky face of Bellvale Mountain in the distance. We would be climbing that soon enough.

A bit north, the Zig-Zag trail intersects with the A.T. and leads west to Warwick County Park. This short trail allows day hikers to take in the great views here without quite as much effort as climbing up from the State Line or the longer walk through Abram Hewitt State Forest from Warwick turnpike to the south.

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

From here the long rocky ridge walk continues for a mile or two before dropping into the forest. After a good distance in the woods we reached the bottom of the rock tumble and ledge on Bellvale Mountain. The first half is a pile of car sized boulders that you climb around and over and while you don’t go under or through any of them, I called it a mini Mahoosuc Notch. It was easy though. From there the trail twists sharply up a few more large rocks before depositing you at the bottom of a 20ft ledge. There used to be a metal ladder here similar to what you’d use to clean the gutters on your roof. Now there are several rebar stairs and handholds drilled into the slighter face of the mountain. This was something that at one point gave me some anxiety but upon doing it, It was a ton of fun and a piece of cake. That of course would be a different story had it rained.

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

The forecast originally had rain in the afternoon so we were in a hurry to get at least half way through the hike where the rocks stop before any rain. We ultimately lucked out and it didn’t rain at all until that night. And very heavily. This is not a hike we would have done the next day unless we had to, and even then we might have zeroed. Several miles of large wet rocks and ridge walks would have been sketchy, though I know many do it. When you have the choice though why take the risk.

View from Mt. Peter

View from Mt. Peter

As we reached the summit of Bellvale Mountain, we were greeted by several cairns and more broad views to the east and our first real views to the west. The trail continued along rocky spines and puddingstone outcroppings. It returned to the forest shortly and up one last smallish rock scramble just before the view on Mt. Peter. The back side of this mountain is actually a ski resort, and where the Bellvale Creamery and hot dog stand are, though its confusing because the next section of trail which we completed in August calls itself Bellvale Mountain, and the creamery takes the same name. So who actually knows.

Village Vista Trail to town

Village Vista Trail to town

There’s a broad view southeast over Greenwood Lake and the town of the same name. You also get a nice northeastern view from here. Shortly after this view the trail returns to the forest for the remainder of the section. Also ahead (nobo) is the intersection with the village vista trail which takes you right down to the town of Greenwood Lake and so it is very popular for backpackers to resupply as well as for day hikers from town who just want to get some excercise and a nice view in just over a mile walk. We saw many local hikers on the top of Mt. Peter and on their way up to the view.

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

The final 2 miles of the section was easy and mostly flat through young forests, reminding us of Shenandoah. We saw a blue blazed turn off about a quarter mile before we reached the road but didn’t know what it was for. Turns out it goes up to the parking lot where our target was: the hot dog stand. However, upon exiting the A.T. on 17a and walking west on the road to the lot with the hot dog stand, we realized if we had taken that trail up, we wouldn’t have finished the last bit of the section, so it worked out just fine. I wanted to note that every single water source on this section was dry. Some folks left jugs of water just north of the 17a crossing though.

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day, Oct 15, 2016, Kent, CT

We were looking forward to those hot dogs and a soda and asked many of the day hikers we passed on the way if they were still open this late in the season. Luckily, they were! We scarfed down some hot dogs, chips and a soda and called our friends at Nite Owl taxi to get back to our car on the N.J. line. We celebrated our completion of New York by visiting several local wineries and doing tastings, followed by a delicious Italian dinner in Warwick.

We will likely continue working on finishing Massachusetts in the spring, and this Saturday is the 10th anniversary of our annual Appalachian Trail day with the Connecticut AMC. There are lots of hikes, trail work parties, rock climbing and even paddling events all culminating with our grand BBQ at Macedonia Brook State Park ($6 donation for the BBQ). Non-members and members alike are welcome and there are hikes for all ages and abilities. I will be there and hope to see you! I will be going along on a hike covering another past route of the A.T.

Oh, and lest I forget, the full video of our journey across New York is here. Two years in the making, I tried to make its 19 minutes entertaining as possible. I hope you enjoy it!

Miles: 7.1

–  Linus

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Old and New

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Last weekend I did another trail patrol hike, mainly to check in on a campsite and its water supply. I also added a little side jaunt on a section that was once the A.T. but is now known as the Mohawk trail.

I headed back up to Falls Village, where we did our family backpacking trip over labor day weekend (scroll down to the next entry). But from here I headed south instead. This section runs from the crossing of Rts 7 and 112 to Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge.

Top of the bump

Top of the bump

It also includes the famous “hang glider’s view” on Sharon Mountain to Lime Rock racetrack and beyond. There’s a campsite farther south of that view known as Sharon Mountain campsite, though I was not headed that far today. I was here to check out Belter’s campsites, just south of Belter’s bump, a small outcrop on a ridge only .75 miles south of the intersection on the northern end of the section. Then I would turn around, head north and pick up the blue-blazed Mohawk trail.

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

I parked in the hiker lot on Rt. 7 just south of the bridge over the Housatonic that the trail crosses. The trail loops around a cornfield as it skirts the river, then crosses the busy road. From here it’s pretty much right up to Belter’s bump. This spot is named after a local farmer whose land it used to be. It’s a few hundred feet up but rather quickly and so it definitely gets your heart going. At the top is a small rocky outcrop where you get a nice little view of the mountains to the east. In summer, the rattlesnakes like to sunbathe here. Luckily I didn’t meet any this time or when we were through here last as it was a downpour on that trip.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The campsites are a little bit farther down the trail but one of them that is farther up the hill from the others is close to the outcropping. The spring for the campsite is still a tiny bit farther down the trail on the opposite side of the campsites. I went up the blue blazed campsite trail and inspected the three different camping areas and privy. These are nice sized campsites and had recently had some trees cut down and so there were many log seats around them. The campsites were mostly in a hemlock and pine grove so lots of soft needles covered the ground and it looked like a really nice place to camp. I’d say the primitive exposed privy might be the only deterrent for some, but it was clean, and it’s better than no privy. There are very few of these left on our section of trail.

Early autumn on the trail

Early autumn on the trail

I didn’t find any fire rings or issues at the campsites, so I then went to check out the spring. It was running just enough to be usable. I believe this one is fairly consistently reliable.

I then headed back up and over the bump and met a northbound section backpacker with his dog. This time of year really is a popular one for these folks as the weather has cooled down, the thrus are all long gone so the campsites are less crowded, and the leaves are changing.  It’s a much more individual experience which is what most of us are seeking when we backpack. Someone had left their coat up on the outcropping so I brought it down with me. I dropped it in the car as I passed right by it again before heading north over the bridge. The bridge has several official Appalachian trail logos in it and a few blazes painted on it. Last time we were here in that downpour and were crossing the road from the bridge, a large group of bikers at the light had a bit of a laugh at our expense. We were as miserable as we looked after 9.5 miles in the cold rain that day.

The Bridge is also the trail

The Bridge is also the trail

Ahead of me I had views of the shoulder of Barrack Mountain, my next exploration. It rises steeply over the river and the climb begins quickly after leaving the A.T. The A.T. follows Warren Turnpike for a short distance from route 7 and alongside the Housatonic Valley Regional High school before returning to the woods. I picked up a lot of trash here along the road, more likely from high school students than hikers. Just before the A.T. returns to the woods, the northern end of the Mohawk trail begins. Before a big re-route a few decades ago to the west of the river, this was the original A.T route. It includes many scenic spots including Breadloaf Mountain, Cathedral Pines, Mohawk Mountain ski resort, Deans Ravine, and Barrack Mountain. I have done about the southern 9 or so miles from its southern end on Breadloaf Mountain to the top of Mohawk ski resort with its incredible views all the way to the Catskills and beyond.

Trail along the road

Trail along the road

I had heard that Barrack Mountain was quite steep and challenging, and I wanted to see just how steep and challenging it was. I made the turn off at the blue-blazes and climbed up a railroad embankment. After crossing the railroad tracks, and passing to the south of the hiker — and biker-loved Mountainside cafe along route 7, the trail quickly climbs. After a brief but steep section it follows the edges of the mountain along narrow and pretty eroded dirt tracts. Rock piles and dry creek beds through them break up the dirt path and provide some breaks from watching your feet every step. As I rounded the next corner. the trail headed straight up through larger rock piles.These required a lot of careful negotiation with the path covered in piles of leaves. In several places I had to scramble and climb hand over hand and get my balance.

Barrack Mountain

Barrack Mountain

The trail here reminded me a bit of Agony Grind in New York, but steeper and less maintained.

The climb became steeper and the leaves more precarious. After a few more switchbacks I realized I was running out of time quickly and that the pace I was taking to do this safely would leave me short of the summit today. Looking up, the trail became even narrower and steeper and there was no way I’d be able to summit any more quickly than I was going. So I prepared myself for the slippery descent and turned back.

Turning onto the Mohawk

Turning onto the Mohawk

Its easy to feel defeated in these situations but I knew if I had more time I could have made it all the way.  And sometimes we have to make these decisions whether for time constraints or just for safety reasons. A slip on this part of the mountain meant severe injury, and without any other hikers around, help would be hard to come by. I made the judgement call that I think was best, and I know I will be back to complete it when I have more time. I’d like to backpack the rest of the Mohawk Trail since the original shelters are still there from when it was the A.T. I have about 18 miles or less of it now to complete and could do that over a weekend, perhaps next summer. The mountain certainly lived up to its reputation at least.

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

I got back down to the cafe and walked route 7 back to my car, already planning when I could get back to finish this challenge.  In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I are off to Warwick in 5 days to finish the last 6 miles of New York and celebrate her birthday on the trail and then at a beautiful B&B on Greenwood lake. I promised this year I wouldn’t make her sleep in a tent on her birthday. That section promises to be a tough climb up from the state line trail to the ridgeline, with rebar ladders and lots of steeps. But once we’re up there we will enjoy miles of lake views from the ridgelines and it will be a gorgeous finale to another state. That also means I can finish our New York video that I’ve been working on the last two years and share that with you in about 2 weeks or less. I can’t wait.

Steep and steeper

Steep and steeper

I also hope you will join our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain club for our 10th annual A.T. day on October 15th. We have hikes all along the CT section of the trail, as well as hiking in Macedonia Brook State Park along what was also once part of the A.T. There’s also paddling trips, a beginner’s rock climbing class at St. John’s Ledges, trail work volunteering projects, and family hikes. All followed by a BBQ.  I and many of the great caretakers of our trails in Connecticut will be there. Come hike, help out and have a burger afterwards!

Miles: 4

— Linus

 

Weekend Family Backpacking Adventure

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Last weekend over Labor Day weekend we finally got the whole family out for a backpacking overnight. We’d taken my son “Jiffy Pop” out for an overnight last year in New York, and it was time for my daughter “Ratchet” to do her first! She’s done some day section hikes with us before, and lots of car camping but she was excited to try backpacking and you know I was excited for her to as well. We got her fitted for her first pack earlier in the summer, and it was just a matter of picking the right weekend.

We had planned on doing it earlier in the summer before school started again, but with the heatwave we’ve been having the last few months, and some of the unbearably hot conditions we had to hike in to get in some therapeutic miles, we put it off until now.

Packs on, lets do this!

Packs on, lets do this!

It turns out we picked about the best weather weekend in a long time, and I am thankful for that. Mid-70’s and no rain, with a nice breeze. We worried about the hurricane down south affecting the weather up here but it moved out to sea and never happened.

We had also originally picked a section in Massachusetts which traverses a favorite ski resort in Great Barrington, but it’s known for some steep scrambles and ledge walks and after some really unexpected terrain on our last New York hike, we thought it best to not take chances like that with the kids. We plan to complete that section later, and take the kids there next year once we’ve checked it out.

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Still, the alternate section I picked provided enough challenge to keep it interesting for sure, and prepare them for that trip next year. Fielden Stream and I did this Connecticut section about 2 years ago, and it has some of the best views on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail — Rand’s View and the Great Falls.

I knew there would be some moaning and groaning on the uphill, and in fact it was a long uphill for us as well.  I didn’t recall it being such a long uphill to the summit of Mount Prospect. Selective memory, I guess. Just like the previous weekend going up Fuller Mountain. I did however remember the precarious ascent and descent into the Limestone Spring Campsite, and surely that at least would mitigate any potential for the hike being perceived as boring or too easy by the kids!

The Great Falls

The Great Falls

While most would go out on a multi-day over the three-day weekend, this was still a first time experience for my daughter and I just wanted it to be a short, fun one this time.

We got up to the parking area by the Iron Bridge around lunchtime and got our packs on. One of our trail chiefs was up there removing some graffiti from a kiosk there and he helped my son adjust his pack, as he had grown quite a bit since the previous year. We ended up having to do another adjustment half way up the mountain, which ultimately got it riding comfortably for him.

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

The Iron bridge was closed to cars last time we were here, and this year they had finally finished it. There used to be a concrete barrier at either end with a famous quote from Lord of the Rings — “You Shall Not Pass” — spray painted on it. While this was amusing, the beautiful new bridge, painted in red, was wonderful to see. As we crossed the bridge, we had a nice view up and down the Housatonic River.

The trail travels on and off between Housatonic River Road and the woods between the falls and the road until reaching a viewing platform and several entrances to the rocky flats along the falls. We walked along the rocks and took in the views. The falls were raging and dramatic as I’d hoped. The kids enjoyed the falls as it provided a scenic, early break, and cool breezes. Unfortunately parts of the rocks were marred by more recent graffiti.

A nice moment of flat trail

A nice moment of flat trail

We headed across the road and back into the woods for the long, steady climb up. We passed some amazingly large glacial erratics left here thousands of years ago as the glaciers receeded, and the trail then passed through a few meadows as it continued climbing. It was hotter here in the sun, but pretty and luckily it was not too long before the trail was sending us back into the shady woods for the remainder of the climb. We took another break just past a piped spring at a broken glacial erratic with lots of crevices that made fun spots to lean our bodies and our packs against.

The trail climbed for another mile, sometimes steeply, sometimes gently. Jiffy Pop took a spill after tripping on an almost invisible root and this is when we realized we needed to adjust that pack again. His ego was a little bruised but luckily not his body. We had some snacks and after the adjustment he was feeling much better carrying the weight and we made quicker time.

Cracked boulder

Cracked boulder

The school backpacks are heavy these days as the kids have to carry multiple heavy binders and textbooks, so at the end of the day they were at least somewhat accustomed to the load. Of course carrying loads like that is different when you’re climbing 1,000 vertical feet, and for many miles. So it’s important to have all the straps adjusted to properly place the weight on your hips. Despite lots of necessary breaks, everyone managed beyond expectations.

There was a nice western view through a little clearing about three quarters of the way up. We came up with stories to pass the time, and one of them my daughter came up with inspired me to put my art school background and passion for writing to use to start a children’s book based on it. Stay tuned on that front!

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

We finally reached the summit of Mount Prospect, at 1,450 feet. We started at about 400 feet by the bridge, so it was a good ascent for sure. There are nice views of Canaan Mountain and the eastern Litchfield Hills and beyond. We met a hiker up there and let him know about the even more spectacular view ahead, and we later met him there where he thanked me for telling him about it, and when we got there he also listened as I pointed out each peak from west to east, and a few in southern Massachusetts that I love that are not along the A.T. like Monument Mountain.

There was a short detour just before the campsite side trail junction due to a nest of hornets over the trail. When we got to Rand’s view we took in the spectacular scenery and I was elated when my daughter said it reminded her of the French Alps, which she saw when she went to visit her great-grandmother there. We sang the song from the “Sound of Music” as she rolled down the field.

Hornet detour!

Hornet detour!

We also saw a group of college-aged kids farther down the meadow who we would see later at the campsite.

We left our packs up at the trail junction since we had to go a bit farther down the A.T. to get to the view and didn’t feel like hauling them back up again. We got back up to our packs and made our way down the side trail to the campsite. The kids were I think a bit shocked about how steep the descent was here. It all came back to us quickly. Luckily, it wasn’t raining. There was some talk in our trail crew about re-routing the trail but that takes many years of surveying the land for ecological and historical impacts of a re-route, so it could be a while if it ever happens.

A break atop Mount Prospect

A break atop Mount Prospect

We finally got into the campsite which was empty at this point. We set up our tents, I went to get water from the piped spring, and use the bathroom. Then the group of college kids began coming into camp.

There were about 14 of them — a co-ed freshmen orientation weekend for Williams College students. I greeted them, let them know I was in charge for the night and to please not make any fires which they acknowledged and happily went on their way to set up camp. I chatted with some of them at the spring and they nicely let me fill up in between as they had a lot of water to fill. They asked me if they should filter and I said absolutely yes.

Linus at Rand's View

Linus at Rand’s View

I suddenly heard my favorite sound – Barred Owls! This is one of only two places I’ve heard them on the trail, and last time one of them swooped down over Fielden Stream in the morning as she got packed up in the rain in the cover of the shelter.

When I heard it, I did the famous “who cooks for you” call that they make and one responded to me! The college kids thought that was pretty cool and we did too of course! I was super happy.

The kids taking in Rand's View

The kids taking in Rand’s View

We had dinner and Ratchet had her first Mountain House meal, which she loved. We enjoyed the rest of the evening and I pointed some of the students to the bear box as night had fallen. Turns out they were cowboy camping so they laid out large tarps to lineup on and under, in a row like sardines!  They were up a bit past hiker midnight though and we didn’t get to sleep until almost ten because of the conversations and headlamps. I don’t be-grudge them that. They’re kids out on a special weekend and on their third and final night of their trip. And they weren’t partying by any means.

The campsite piped spring

The campsite piped spring- a luxury

I heard a few more owls in the middle of the night and got faint recordings of them on my phone. I have to see if I can use an app to boost the sounds so I can listen to them more. I also heard a few privy door slams and the college kids stumbling around camp in the middle of the night trying to find the privy. One of them did manage to break the latch though trying to open it in the middle of the night so we will replace that.

My real only grudge is that they woke up at 5am and started loudly conversing and shaking out their tarps. This could have been done more quietly for sure. I did ask them if they could try and be a little quieter as they packed up and then I wished them well on the rest of their hike. I was not able to get back to sleep so I went and got our food out of the bear box and checked in on the real world for a bit until everyone else in the family was awake.

Home for the night

Home for the night

Still, it was a beautiful night and I was glad I was able to be helpful and everyone was having a nice time.  We had breakfast and prepared ourselves for the climb up the ledge. It was tough going back up and I was nervous about someone falling, but everyone did great and we were all proud as we made our way back up to the summit. We took in the views one more time, made some silly videos, and then made quick time of the descent as we skipped a real breakfast save for the coffee so we could eat well in town. We were headed for the amazing Toymaker’s Cafe.

Stove S'mores!

Stove S’mores!

Two years ago when Fielden Stream and I did the 9 miles in the rain to here from Pine Swamp Brook shelter, we’d had enough for the day. They allow, or at least used to, hikers to tent on their lawn. Before that all day downpour we were considering that and hiking on the next day, but our spirits were low at that point and the Falls Village Inn told us they had no room to stay for a pampered night either.

To this day we still don’t believe that was true. No one was there that we could tell.  We couldn’t get hold of Salisbury taxi, but the owner of Toymakers was just closing up for the day and gave us a ride back to our car at the starting point. We gave him a nice tip and we’ve loved them ever since.

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

They were crowded when we arrived with the kids as there was a car show at Lime Rock and there was a 45 minute wait for hot food. So we opted for their muffins and cookies and loaded up on these before heading home. I was so happy that everyone had such a great time, and Jiffy Pop was even saying to me that now he wanted to do it more and asked when we could go again.

We stopped at a farm stand on the way home to get veggies for our Labor Day BBQ, which was also my mom’s 74th birthday party. I’m already planning and dreaming up the next time I can bring the kids along.

Update: the video of this trip is here!

Miles day 1: 4.2

Miles day 2: 3.9

— Linus