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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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