Birthday Hike with my AMC Trail Friends

Yesterday I finally got back out on the trail, and with a whole crew of my favorite hiking people, less one: Fielden Stream. We had a very bad cold or possibly even the flu last week and as my fever was just breaking Friday (on my BIRTHDAY!), hers was just kicking in. So sadly she couldn’t join us for this one. I had set this up as a birthday celebration hike and while I wasn’t 100% yet I was also suffering some pretty bad cabin fever at this point after 3 days in bed.  I was well enough for a few hours of much needed nature healing with my friends!

It was originally planned as a short 3-miler, up to the south overlook on the New York side of Schaghticoke Mountain, and back down. While short, it’s a 1,000ft climb in 1.5 miles so its no walk in the park either!  Brian, Ray and Lisa joined me Sunday morning at the trailhead. Lisa brought along a new friend Emma, who is new to the area as of two years ago. She is originally from Iowa, with some years in Arizona as well. She made a nice addition to our little group, and is interested in future outings with us and getting involved in the club activities. So I guess we made a good impression!

The temperature hovered in the high 30’s but lower up top. We had a few small flurries as well during the day where the temperature was lower due to elevation or wind chill. There wasn’t much of any snow on the ground, but many parts of the trailway were runways of ice because the rain collects there, then freezes.

We had a nice break at the overlook and enjoyed some snacks and took some photos while exploring the winter scenery before heading back down.

When we got back down the mountain, a few of us wanted to keep going, and go down to the shelter and Ten Mile area. I had waited a month to hike, so even though I was not not planning on doing more than the first 3 miles, this portion is low elevation and not challenging, and the views are amazing.  So I was easily pursuaded and Lisa, Brian and I continued along for a few more hours/miles. I also really wanted to hit my 1,000 mile milestone. I’ve tracked every hike since I started hiking again in late 2013, and at the beginning of the hike I had only 7 miles to go on the counter to hit 1,000. Technically, I did have a few hikes over the years where the tracker dropped the signal and some miles so I may have hit it already, but not on paper! I only needed 3.7 more miles from the bottom of the mountain, and that was easy with this loop down to the shelter and campsites. More fun, AND a big milestone? Double bonus!

The river was flowing even more intensely than my last hike here at the very beginning of the month with Crista.  Many areas of the river beaches were sheets of ice, but our microspikes solved that problem! We had a great hike, and it was a very special way to celebrate my birthday with friends. I just wish my wife could have joined.

I got a hammock system for my birthday on Friday, and am excited to try hanging for the first time this season. Sadly, it will be a bit of a wait until I can do that, but I will write all about it when I finally get to try it! The 2019 WhiteBlaze guide I ordered also arrived on my birthday which was happy timing!

I am also picking some other gear I have been wanting for the new season – a rain kilt (pants are way too sweaty and soak you from the inside as well) and leukotape (better than moleskin!). I might invest in a wider Ti pot as well for my cook kit. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles: 7

  • Linus
Making Plans for 2019!

Making Plans for 2019!

Housatonic under Bulls Bridge

Housatonic under Bulls Bridge

Icy glacial erratics on Schaghticoke mtn

Icy glacial erratics on Schaghticoke mtn

Me and My AMC trail friends on top of Schaghticoke mtn

Me and My AMC trail friends on top of Schaghticoke mtn

CT AMC at Ten Mile River shelter

CT AMC at Ten Mile River shelter

Finally hit this milestone!

Finally hit this milestone!

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Ridgerunner Weekend #2 – Kent to Cornwall

Last weekend was my second weekend out as a staff ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail with the AMC. I covered a ten-and-change-mile stretch out and back from Kent to Cornwall including the never boring St. John’s Ledges (more fun up than down for me), the scenic Caleb’s Peak, the bucolic river walk and one of my favorite campsites, Silver Hill.  I don’t bother to show pictures of the ledges anymore because cameras never capture how crazy they are, you’ll just have to hike them yourself and find out!

I met many great thru, section, and day hikers along the trail on my 21 mile weekend, got to hike and camp with one of our other ridgerunners, and discovered I really liked a new brand of dehydrated meals I picked up in Harper’s Ferry a few days before at an outfitter. All the hikers I met heading northbound Saturday and who I had recommended push on to Silver Hill were very pleased when a large thunderstorm passed through just minutes after we all congregated in the covered pavilion there.

Nobody left me any fire rings or huge piles of trash to clean up and all were respectful and thanked me for what I do out there. One even said “you’re not so bad for a ridgerunner!” A lot of great conversations were had and a few new friends were made.   There was a bright full moon after the rainstorm and things were thankfully cooled off for a bit on Sunday morning thanks to the rain. I enjoyed some nearly-ripe blackberries, met some trail dogs, frogs, a snake, heard some more barred owls as I slept, and got my first almost-blister. Below are some photos from the adventure. This weekend I am out again in Kent, maybe our paths will cross!

Rocks from the start!

Rocks from the start!

Fuller Mtn view of Kent

Fuller Mtn view of Kent

On Caleb's Peak

On Caleb’s Peak

Berry nice

Berry nice

Indian Pipe seems late this year

Indian Pipe seems late this year

Lean on Me ... after that climb!

Lean on Me … after that climb!

Goin up Caleb's Peak after the ledges climb

Goin up Caleb’s Peak after the ledges climb

Good camo on this frog

Good camo on this frog

Fossilized dino print? Maaaybbbeee

Fossilized dino print? Maaaybbbeee

Miles Day 1: 10.5

Miles Day 2: 10.5

  • Linus

 

Mattatuck Trail – Brophy Pond to Buttermilk Falls

Beaver Pond

Beaver Pond

While I sit here lamenting a hike-less weekend, I look forward to our first Appalachian Trail section-hike of the season on Friday and want to share some of the beautiful scenery I saw on the most recent hike.

Last weekend I decided to do part of a different trail. There was an AMC-led hike and it was on a section of the Mattatuck trail I have not yet tromped on. This trail as a whole is not fully complete in the sense that there are many gaps between completed / blazed sections. I am sure they eventually hope to connect it all but I am guessing there are private land issues that prevent that at the moment.

Small cascade

Small cascade

The trail starts in Wolcott, about four and a half miles south of Buttermilk Falls, and ends at its intersection with the Mohawk trail in Cornwall on top of the Mohawk ski resort. We passed this northern terminus a few years back when hiking that trail with my son “Jiffy Pop.” Altogether it is 36 miles long and traverses nine towns and some of the state’s highest peaks. It also goes through the White Memorial Foundation and Conservation center, where I will be doing my wilderness first aid training weekend at the end of April.

There’s a great section of the trail west of here with a massive cave that was once part of the famous Leatherman’s route, and the top of the cave is a formation known as the Crane’s lookout.  I did that a few years ago as well with Fielden Stream on a day hike and then had quite an adventure as I had decided to explore a bit further than her that day, and they were working on a re-route which caused me to miss my turn back to the parking lot. Luckily since she had finished the hike at the park headquarters, she met me farther up the road when I was able to connect to it via another side path. We made it just in the nick of time as a dense fog and dusk were setting in. Hopefully they have sorted that all out by now. I definitely recommend checking out the cave and lookout which are in the eastern part of Black Rock State Park. You can park at the headquarters and its about a mile east to those great formations.

Icicles of doom

Icicles of doom

On this hike we did an out-and-back to the west from the parking area on Todd Hollow road and then another to the east, for a total of about 8.25 miles. This also included a short side path to a beaver pond. Our leader Tom pointed out that this was really the nicest scenery along this portion of trail. It did include some road walking but there was a lot of beauty in between, including multiple groves of mountain laurel and small cascading streams through the Mattatuck State Forest. This time of year water is flowing abundantly from snow melt. Because of all the laurel it also reminded me of the Housatonic State Forest sections of the Appalachian Trail in Cornwall, and I’m sure its just as beautiful here  in the summer.

I brought my microspikes but did not end up needing to take them out of my pack. Though I feel it was smart to have them as the roadway where we started was very icy and the trail very well could have been the same or worse.

Laurel grove

Laurel grove

The first portion was just over a mile to the banks of Brophy pond, though a good uphill climb. I always find it interesting when climbing up to a body of water. The small beaver pond was just before the climb, and both ponds provided some nice views across the water. The Brophy Pond viewpoint had a nice little rock outcropping along the bank and is definitely a nice picnic spot. Whenever I head back to finish the section from here to Black Rock State Park in the future, I will lunch here! There were a few spots on this section of trail where the trees were also marked with red and white bands, which is apparently indicates the boundary of Army Corps of Engineers land.

We then turned around and headed back past where we started and continued east on the trail along a gated older portion of Todd Hollow road in Hancock Brook Park before entering the woods at a glacial erratic known as Ed’s Big Pebble.

Lower Buttermilk Falls

Lower Buttermilk Falls

Here is where the trail climbed through the many laurel groves and over several small streams and waterfalls past a large rock outcropping that likely provided shelter for Native Americans long ago. Its multiple overhangs and nooks would have provided adequate protection from the elements. It certainly made for a nice lunch and photo spot! Large icicles hung threateningly from its upper rim, making for some dramatic photos. The trail then continued through some pine and hemlock groves, thickening with mud along its route.

There was then a short winding road walk over a railroad bed before heading back into the woods a short distance to the incredible Buttermilk Falls, which is maintained by the Nature Conservancy. I had no idea they would be so incredible. It reminded me a little of Sages Ravine, as the trail wound through boulders along the edge of the multiple cascades. It was flowing thunderously down the ledges into the ravine below the trail, and we all sat in awe and took photos. Such a dramatic waterfall was even more unexpected because it was just a quarter mile in from the road, if that.

Upper Buttermilk Falls

Upper Buttermilk Falls

I will be bringing my family back here for a visit, as its easily accessible for all abilities. Upon reaching the crest of the hill that framed the falls, we turned back and retraced our route back to the cars. This hike provided an opportunity to take in some stunning late-winter scenery, waterfalls, multiple types of forest, and massive boulders. And it was also one of my longer hikes recently, so a nice way to build up to longer portions I have planned for the summer. The last time I did over 8 miles was in November on a trail patrol walk on the A.T. in Sherman.

Last night I also tested two new sleeping pads from Therm-A-Rest, in my quest to find the one best for my active sleeping habits! While not in a tent, the hardwood floor provided an adequate comparison to sleeping on the ground. I have not had much luck with inflatables as you may know from reading my blog. The first one I bought for next to nothing at an REI garage sale knowing it had a tiny leak and just needs patching. It loses air very slowly during the night, and was a good first pad investment to see if I was going to do this regularly. I will get around to fixing it but since this is something I certainly do all season now, I needed one that would stay inflated and retain its insulating qualities until I could fix that one.

Nice watering hole but no swimming allowed

Nice watering hole but no swimming allowed

The second I am hoping was just a dud because it broke on the first night and comes from a very reputable brand. I returned that one and recently managed to pick up the Therm-A-Rest Neo Air Trekker on the cheap in an online sale. So I compared that to their foam Z-Lite model last night by sleeping on each for several hours. I bought one for Jiffy Pop’s first backpacking trip last year so I thought I’d see how I liked it.

The foam has several advantages, and is my go-to if this inflatable doesn’t hold up. It also makes a nice seat on hike breaks when nature doesn’t provide a good flat rock or fallen log. In fact they make a smaller ‘seat’ version of this pad for that reason. And it’s got a nice R-value rating due to its coating. Some other advantages are you can pick one up for about $40 and can easily cut off a few panels if you’re shorter or to keep just your upper two-thirds cozy and warm and have it take up less space. It’s also very light.

Therm-A-Rest Z-lite and Neo Air Trekker

Therm-A-Rest Z-lite and Neo Air Trekker

But the profile of these inflatables is so much more compact and I was spoiled starting off with the first one, even if it had a small leak. So I wanted to give them one more try, but this time in an environment where another failure wouldn’t mean sleeping on the cold ground! I really liked this pad, even though it’s a little narrow. While it does have a bit of that ‘potato-chip’ crinkling sound, in my experience all inflatables have some sort of sound based on what material they are made of. Foam would be the only ones that don’t. I’ll have to see how much it keeps me and Fielden Stream awake on an overnight to see if it’s something I can use with her. The R-value on this pad is also a bit lower than my other inflatables, so that would be a factor to consider on colder hikes, but I do have a new lower-rated downtek bag that would hopefully compensate for that difference. I am happy to say it held up last night so its future is secure for now!

Total Miles: 8.3

— Linus

Lillinonah Trail

Pond Brook

Pond Brook

Saturday I got back out on the trails for a much needed hike. Two weeks in my insanely hectic life is more than enough time to leave me dying for some nature therapy! I also had to work over the weekend and attend a late night party in NYC for my friend’s birthday – all the more reason for me to make sure I got out there to keep balanced.  My wife was wonderful to give me so much time to myself last weekend as she too is feeling the stress of crazy schedules, so I’m sending her to hang out with her sister this weekend for some fun of her own. And I am glad we got to do the last hike together as it had been awhile.

I am really missing our backpacking trips already and spring is too far away.  Although thanks to El Nino, the east coast has been experiencing late spring conditions and last Saturday and Sunday both had highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 40s. For this reason I had briefly considered an overnight backpacking trip but ultimately decided against it. That would mean skipping my friend’s birthday, and anyway hiker midnight at 430pm would make for a very long dark night… However had my wife been able to join things might have been different.

Pond Brook view

Pond Brook view

But this one I had to do as a day hike. This time I opted for something other than the A.T. and skimmed through the weekend hike offerings from my AMC club. I had originally settled on a group hike on the challenging northern end of the Mohawk trail (once the A.T.’s route). But distance from home and a late start to the hike meant I’d have barely enough time to change my clothes, kiss my wife and kids and rush to the train station if I wanted to make the party in time.  Another of their group hike options was with Tom, who I’ve done several hikes with including the trail work at West Rock a few weeks ago. It was a circuit hike on the Lillinonah trail and was only 45 minutes away. The trail is in the Upper Paugussett State Forest, in Newtown, CT. and is about 6 miles long. This choice also meant I got to check a full trail off my completed list!

Rocky ledges along the Lake

Rocky ledges along the Lake

I pulled the map for the trail out of my Connecticut Walk Book from the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) and gave it a quick study. It’s always good to have your own copy and be somewhat familiar with the layout should you get separated from the leader. These books cover all of the trails in our state, now adding up to over 800 miles and filling two volumes. The original blue-blazed trails added up to about 400 miles and one book. There is another hiking group I do outings with who are actually called the Connecticut 400, and coincidentally, they were out doing the same hike that day and starting just a few minutes earlier.

The trail begins by skirting Pond Brook from the boat launch and then makes a good climb over the first high point to the edge of Lake Lillinonah, which it then follows along a ‘scenic area’ for just over 3 miles before going back into the woods for one more big climb and descent. The scenic area is closed from December 15 to April 15 to let local families of Bald eagles nest, so that may explain why there were a few groups out on this December day.

Lake Lillinonah is actually part of the Housatonic River that was created in 1955 by the Shepaug dam, which we saw from our lunch spot along the lakeside. It’s the second largest lake in the state after Candlewood lake. There were many boaters out on this day, and a few of the hikers in our group also enjoy kayaking and fishing there. Swimming here is discouraged due to heavy boat traffic.

Blue blazed blowdown

Blue blazed blowdown

There are a lot of ups and downs on the trail, even if the elevations aren’t that high. All in all there was about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, so it was enough of a work out. While I enjoy a flat trail over an office any day, I like challenging myself, and staying in shape especially for those longer hikes I want to have the stamina for. I definitely felt like I got a good workout, and we added about another half mile to the distance by taking a side excursion to a nice lunch spot overlooking the dam.

While I don’t know if its legally permitted, there were some great camping spots along the lake edge by the trail, and signs that said ‘no fires’, so I’m assuming hunters and fishermen frequently camp there. We did see a hunter out that day, and one of the campsites had a fire ring or two with actual abandoned cooking grills and what looked like an old platform of some sort. There is an official camping area with charcoal grills by the boat launch.

Tree sap network

Tree sap network

One really interesting sight was a network of what must amount to miles and miles of blue tubes that were hooked up to and around many trees in the area. Apparently this is a new system for collecting tree sap; I’m assuming for a maple syrup operation down the road that I passed on the way home. I was surprised about how extensive the system was, and somewhat impressed and intrigued by this new method of transporting the sap. But I have to say it was very visually unattractive. Considering there is a popular hiking trail adjacent to the property that the tube jungle traverses, it’s too bad that it marred the natural landscape. But for all I know this business owns some of the land the trail is on and allows its use as a trail.

— Linus

Appalachian Trail — CT Section 5

Doorway to Connecticut

Doorway to Connecticut

I did my first solo hike as an AMC volunteer trail patroller for the Connecticut chapter on Saturday.

In our state the AMC and its volunteers manage the entire section of trail, about 52 miles. We also have caretakers, boundary monitors, sawyers, maintainers and other important roles to help preserve and enhance the trail.

For those that are not familiar with the patroller role it is basically the same as a ridge runner but not on a seasonal, paid basis. In my particular role the advantage is I can hike or backpack whichever sections I choose when I am able vs. being assigned to one area at a certain time. Though occasionally at a very busy time, we will be called up to help support the ridge runners in certain high traffic areas. At the end of the day we all have the same goal. Both are great because many volunteers with different schedules and desires all contribute how they can.

Ten Mile Shelter

Ten Mile Shelter

We greet hikers, help provide them with information they might be seeking like maps, distances to shelters, campsites or road crossings, educate about leave no trace ethics, clear stealth campsites that in our state are likely on private property if they’re off trail, and fire rings which are illegal here. While we don’t have any authority to fine anyone, big issues will be conveyed to the proper people to protect others’ responsible future enjoyment of the trail. I was inspired to take the position by those I met backpacking this summer. The ridge runners and caretakers were extremely passionate about what they did, and the trail. If you see these folks out there, give them some props! They do a lot to make your experience what it is, and likely cover as much mileage while traversing their turf.

Once upon a time as a newbie hiker and backpacker maybe I too thought all this was overkill. But having seen the results of large amounts of trash left behind, the aftermath of errant fires at popular campsites and still-hot embers left in many a fire ring, I concur that sadly stricter rules have to be enforced if you want to have a trail at all. A good percentage of hikers are newbies, and while they are out for an exciting and challenging adventure that has many admirable qualities, some seem to care little about what they leave behind, because they are just passing through or are too young to think about the effects their actions have.

Ned Anderson bridge

Ned Anderson bridge

While there’s as large a contingent of considerate hikers who follow leave no trace ethics and truly care for the environment they are traveling in, there are always those who will not. I witnessed this on this very hike when I saw some trail magic left from one hiker to another as I headed out for my hike. I smiled when I saw this thoughtful gesture. But when I came back on my return several hours later, I noticed the second hiker had picked up their trail magic and then left the unneeded note and bag it was left in in the trail map box rather than pack it out. A ziploc bag and a piece of paper weight about an ounce or less. There was a town a few miles up the trail that is a popular resupply spot where it could have been disposed of. Surely that extra ounce wasn’t going to weigh them down.

Housatonic Rapids

Housatonic Rapids

There’s also a spot in New York that was famous for letting hikers stay overnight on their lawn and that we enjoyed visiting on a summer backpacking trip this year. But because of a very badly behaved hiker later that summer, they’ve stopped doing so after many many years. People have to realize that their actions directly affect the experience and enjoyment of many others at some point. The few CAN ruin it for the many. And while I admire those who can hike 2,000+ miles in a few months and hope to do myself one day, your accomplishment doesn’t excuse littering or bad behavior.

While I have already done all of the trail in Connecticut and will be doing it over and over and over as part of my volunteering, I am excited to get to know our section of trail even more intimately and in more depth while also protecting it. And so I explored this section of trail in much more detail, which was fun. I ended up skipping the first .2 miles from Hoyt road to the route 55 parking lot due to time constraints and honestly there really is no area there that one would want to stealth camp. Its a lovely but boggy little area that I enjoyed walking through though when I did it the first time.

At Ten Mile Hill summit

At Ten Mile Hill summit

It was a beautiful day for a hike and I also enjoyed seeing more of the views than last time because there were no leaves on the trees. I enjoyed crossing the Ned Anderson memorial bridge again (seen above), named after a local resident who was responsible for blazing and maintaining the original section of trail in Connecticut. I am currently reading a book about him that I bought at the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The rivers were as scenic as ever and the view from Ten Mile Hill even more impressive without the leaf cover. While only 1,000 feet high, the trail on either side of the summit drops 700 or more feet with a fairly steep grade – a formidable introduction to our ‘flat’ state. It always amuses me how many have the impression the trail in Connecticut is a joyride. While it is lower in elevation than many other states, and has a flat section or two, there’s a LOT of good climbs and descents to challenge any seasoned hiker.

I met another maintainer and a friend of his on my way nobo (northbound) and caught up with them on the way back and we all hiked out together, exchanging stories and making plans for more hikes when possible. Its great to see all the enthusiasm our volunteers have, and the respect we have for each other. It’s a great organization, and I hope my story today helps inspire others to take care of the trail they love, and maybe even volunteer.

Happy trails! I hope to see you out there.

— Linus

More volunteering (and hiking!)

Trail Patrol register entry

Trail Patrol register entry

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my trail patrol training with the AMC coordinator. We went back along the river walk section of the A.T. in Kent, CT and spoke about the many leave no trace practices and how to convey them in a friendly and inspirational manner to hikers. While we have no legal authority to write any sort of citations, that’s not the point. It’s the hope that in teaching other hikers about these concepts and educating them in a friendly way, they will adopt these practices on their own, and maybe even teach others.

Pruning back some briars

Pruning back some briars

I am currently reading a great article on the subject, about using the authority of the resource rather than the authority of the position to convey these ideas in a way that won’t upset those you are talking to about it. While it’s written more for actual park rangers who do have the authority to cite and prosecute offenders, its concepts are applicable here as well. Explaining how certain practices affect the vegetation, and the local fauna in a negative way is often more effective than telling someone they shouldn’t be doing something or they will get in trouble.

Lake Wintergreen

Lake Wintergreen

We also cleared stealth campsites and fire rings (some in very dangerous places) and picked up trash and cleared deadfall and bittersweet root that encroached on the trail. We spoke to a few day and overnight hikers as well. I had fun signing the register as a trail volunteer for the first time, and learning how to protect and educate others to protect our trail. The corridor is very narrow in many places in Connecticut, often just a sliver of land allowed by the local landowner, so it’s essential to stay on the trail and not build fires and campsites outside of designated areas because you could be on someone’s private property!

Regicides Trail on West Rock

Regicides Trail on West Rock

I will receiving my identification materials in the mail shortly but as it didn’t arrive by today I thought it better to wait to do my first solo patrol. Don’t want someone thinking ‘who’s this guy who thinks he owns the trail and is telling me how to take care of it!’ But I did want to hike and I did want to do some volunteer work. Luckily one of the club leaders was hosting a morning pruning work party followed by a hike on some local trails he himself cut and blazed and maintains in West Rock State Park in Hamden, CT. So I spent the morning with loppers and a saw cutting back lots of invasives, including some pretty nasty briars which did a number on many of our arms! We also cleared a large blowdown crossing the path.

A steep dropoff with a view

A steep dropoff with a view

Afterwards we met with a large group of hikers who were meeting for the hike segment up West Rock and along the ridge. The blue-blazed Regicides Trail traverses the entire ridge for 7 miles and crosses a highway tunnel below. It is part of the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association)’s 800-mile network of trails in the state. It’s also the site of the “Judges Cave,” though we did not visit it on this hike as it was farther south. The cave and the trail are named after the Parliamentary judges who sentenced King Charles I to death in England in the 1600’s. When the monarchy was restored some years later King Charles II had many of those responsible hanged, drawn and quartered.

View to Konolds Pond

View to Konolds Pond

Three fled to the colonies and settlers there that were sympathetic to their cause and were still very anti-monarchy helped hide them in a cave on this ridge above New Haven. The local roadways in the area are named in their memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the cave on another hike.

The hike did provide some nice ridge walking along the trap rock ledges and some good drop offs which made me a little nervous with all the leaves on the trail that would be quite easy to slip on, and off, the edge.

 

A day of volunteering with my local AMC club

 

Painting white blazes

Painting white blazes

Every year my local Connecticut AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) chapter puts together their “A.T. Day.” This day consists of multiple activities. There are of course hikes of various lengths and difficulty along all 53 miles of our section of trail, as well as some in Macedonia Brook State park, including family hikes for small children and beginner hikers. We did one of these last year up Cobble Mountain in the State Park, a peak formerly on the A.T. with sweeping views west to the Taconic and Catskill Mountains. There are also boundary and trail maintenance workshops, rock-climbing lessons on St. John’s Ledges, training for trail patrollers, and road bike rides close to the trail. The Connecticut AMC is responsible for maintaining the portion of the Appalachian Trail in our state.

Birch forest

Birch forest

At the end of all of these activities, there’s a grand chapter BBQ at the main pavilion at the park. Camping season ends there September 30, as do the crowds generally, so its a great time to take over that space, and connect with other members and management. Group and chapter leaders work the grill, meet and greet longtime and new members, welcome non-members, and spread the word about volunteering. And with temperatures dipping into the 30s at this time of year, there is always a much-appreciated roaring fire. The cost is only $6 and that includes the food and drinks.

This club, and the Appalachian Trail, are what they are because of volunteers. I’ve always wanted to give back to the trail and the club but I am usually using whatever time I have off exploring new trails and sections of the A.T., as these adventures also provide much-needed therapy and balance in my hectic life.

Working on a blowdown

Working on a blowdown

This year I gave in, because I truly feel the need to give back to the trail is something I and everyone should do whenever possible to keep it the way it is. I’ve avoided more laborious maintenance job opportunities because my back is just barely strong enough for a lightweight multi-day backpack, with new gear thankfully as advanced and light as it is. But lifting of heavy rocks and tree limbs is not something I can do.

This work party however, included something I could, and something I think every A.T. hiker would love to do — re-paint the white blazes! It was so much fun, and the day hikers and backpackers we met along the way thought it was just as exciting, and thanked us for our work. There was also a blue bucket of paint, so we could touch up the campsite side trail blue-blazes along the way. There were some in our group addressing and clearing large blowdowns with heavy saws and chainsaws, and some with ‘loppers’ to help trim back overgrowth where needed. And I will be doing some ‘lopping’ I am sure, as I spent most of my childhood helping in the family gardening chores.

Liner's Farm, Silver Hill beyond

Liner’s Farm

Our group also created some new posts for campsite markers because some of those were formerly on unhealthy trees that were cut down so no one would be injured by a widowmaker. Another part of our group, some Yale environmental studies students, also cleared some water bars that had been congested with leaf cover and were getting jammed. The leaders also educated us on the new mouldering privies, why they have the rules they do in our section of trail, and a bit about the overall needs and characteristics of this particular part of the pathway.

Colors on parade

Colors on parade

While very likely the easiest section of the whole A.T., the famous 5-mile river walk along the Housatonic is also stunningly beautiful. With leaves nearing peak here, the foliage was practically glowing orange and red. This is also the first section Fielden Stream and I backpacked together, as it provided time to get the feel for our packs and make adjustments before we made our first climb up to our first overnight campsite on Silver Hill last year. Our maintenance crew finished at the end of the river walk just before the climb so there wasn’t any elevation change on this hike. But that is not why I was out there this time and it was good to just be out there and still get some scenic hiking done while giving my time to the trail.

Housatonic RiverI posted a picture of me painting a white blaze on one of my Facebook A.T. groups and got a barrage of thank you’s and likes. It’s great to see how many people appreciate volunteer work. I highly recommend getting out there a few times a year to give back to your local trails with a maintaining club.

My chapter are also short trail patrollers so I am going to take their training to be a volunteer trail patroller in the coming weeks. I am really excited about this because I can continue to give back doing what I love — hiking and backpacking! I’ve been seeking something in my life where I can contribute to preservation and conservation, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for me at this time.