Ridgerunner Weekend #5, Ten Mile River Area, South Kent, CT

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

My last summer seasonal ridge runner weekend was over the October 14th weekend. It ended up that I just went out on the Sunday for the day.  I met up with my buddy Ray from our Connecticut AMC chapter. We walked down to the Ten Mile River shelter and campsites from the Bulls Bridge trailhead and found plenty of issues. Both bear boxes were left open, one filled with bags of food trash.

Clearing illegal fire ring

Clearing illegal fire ring

At the shelter was left a whole onion, and a cast iron pot which was clearly used to cook in the night before. All of these things are an open invitation to wildlife, even in daylight. This then becomes a danger for humans, and a danger for the wildlife.

It is known that a boy scout troop was there the night before. I’d just like to reiterate that as scouts you and especially your leaders are responsible for following and teaching leave no trace. Had I had the chance to encounter them I would have gone through this in person but please, we all must follow these rules.  I also found 2 fire pits behind the shelter, with beer cans and tinfoil.

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Ray packed out the trash and iron pot while I continued my walk up to Ten Mile Summit and the Housatonic Overlook. And I cleaned up the firepits on the way back and checked the privies for issues.

The more people break the rules and risk the delicate agreement between private landowners along the trail perimeter, the more the very trail is put at risk. Please follow the rules. As a former scout, it breaks my heart to think there might be leaders out there willingly breaking leave no trace rules but also teaching scouts that this is acceptable behavior. It’s not.

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Enjoy nature. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Lecture over. Happy trails

Miles: 5

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Siler Bald, Appalachian Trail, North Carolina

In the Gap

In the Gap

Not to be confused with Siler’s Bald, farther north in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this is one of the southern balds along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. I believe they are both named after the same family. And both have tremendous views.

We were in the Northeast corner of Georgia over the last weekend of September to visit Jiffy Pop at his school just east in northwestern South Carolina. The North Carolina border is also just about 15 miles from where we were staying in Clayton, so of course we had to go do a hike.

Fielden Stream on Siler Bald

Fielden Stream on Siler Bald

We haven’t had a chance to hike with Jiffy Pop in quite some time, and we’ve never hiked the A.T. south of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, so this was a big treat.  These balds hit elevations over 5,000 ft, and Siler was no exception. It is 5,216ft and has sweeping 360 degree views including Wine Spring Bald and Wayah Bald (you can drive up to the fire tower up there) directly to the north. We parked at about 4,000ft up at the trail crossing so it was only about a 1,000ft climb, and a very moderate one at that.

On the summit

On the summit

Jiffy pop led the way, and we brought his new Eno hammock along so he could show us how he sets it up and do a quick 5-minute hang for a rest. The trail goes through the expected thick Rhododendron forests as it climbs the ridgeline before opening out onto the grassy fields these mountains get their names from. We passed the side trail to the Siler Bald shelter which leads .4 down an old fire road to the shelter site. We did not go down to the shelter because of lack of time.  The final climb up the grassy hill to the summit was tougher than it looked but the views continued to open up and it was breathtaking.

Jiffy Pop in his hammock

Jiffy Pop in his hammock

I did my best Sound of Music twirl and song, but more the Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation version. We filmed a few takes so I got a bit dizzy! A section hiker we met took some photos of us at the summit and then we headed back down. Fielden Stream and I had wanted to spend the night here on this visit and while we didn’t get to do that, I am beyond thrilled we managed to get up there either way. Especially since Jiffy Pop came too.

Linus, Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Siler Bald

Linus, Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Siler Bald

He hung his hammock in the tree line for a few minutes and we all took turns taking a rest in it and having a snack before we walked back down to the car. While it will be a while before we can get down there again, it was a great first foray for us all on the southern Appalachian Trail.  Hopefully when we come back to visit in late spring we can get in an overnight. While we weren’t officially in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it was a real treat hiking in the Smokies for the first time.

Miles: (out-and-back) 4

  • Linus

Ridgerunner weekend #4

The northern view from Lions Head

The northern view from Lions Head

My latest ridgerunner weekend was over the weekend of Sept 22nd. I went back to cover a favorite section, the Riga Plateau. It was an amazing weekend but turned out a bit differently than planned.

I invited my brother along as he was free and we wanted to do another hike together. I told him all about the amazing views up here, so he was willing to do the almost two-hour drive, like mine, to Salisbury.

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

The weather couldn’t have been better for it. I originally planned to leave my car at the Undermountain trail and then drive up to the Lion’s head trail lot in his car, so I could take him up to Lion’s head and Riga shelter and back to his car easily. And then I’d also have my car setup closer to where I was camping for the night. Well actually it was about the same distance, but this would allow me to go farther north and still make it back to my car when I needed to and not cover the same ground over and over.  When we got to Salisbury things changed a bit.

Rocky scramble up to Lion's Head

Rocky scramble up to Lion’s Head

Because it was family hiking day, and this being the most popular hiking trail in the state, that lot was a madhouse and there was only road parking available. While I have the necessary signage to probably not get towed If I parked overnight there, I don’t like to take advantage and so I left my car at the main A.T. lot 3 miles south in town on Rt 41 which was also beginning to fill up quickly. No problem, done the hike this way many times.

We headed up to the Lion’s Head lot on Bunker Hill road and got the last spot there. This trail passes a few homes before a brisk climb up to where it joins the A.T. From here it gets a bit more rugged in typical A.T. fashion, and then it’s a steep scramble up a rock face to the first viewpoint.

Me and my brother on Lion's Head

Me and my brother on Lion’s Head

There is a bad weather trail, and this was much appreciated when I recommended it to a group of older ladies from our own AMC chapter who were doing a hike up there this morning. My brother and I took in the views while I also pointed out a few landmarks to a section hiker we met there.  We then took in the glorious northern view which on this day included Mt Greylock, 50-plus miles north in Massachusetts near the Vermont border!

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

We proceeded to Riga shelter and had a snack while also taking in the fabulous view there.  Luckily the shelter and campsite were clean, and the brook was raging from recent rain. This was all good because I planned to stay here for the night.  Perhaps even in a shelter for the first time! I know, I know. I’m just not a fan of bugs and mice, and my tent protects me from both. From there as promised I took him back to the junction of the A.T. and Lion’s head trail.

The bog trail

The bog trail

As I hadn’t taken the bad weather trail before we went down that way, and I knew I’d be doing the scramble on the way back anyway. We got back to the junction quickly and said goodbyes. I took a quick snack break before heading on my way back to Riga to set up camp. On the way I met a few section hikers and a flip-flop thru hiker on Lion’s head. The thru asked about the next camping or town options and then told me the caretakers tent at Sages Ravine was blown far off the platform and almost off the hill entirely. We’ve had some recent large storms in this area lately. I called my supervisors and asked if they were going to be there for the night or if I should stay there instead. As phone coverage in some trail areas is spotty I knew it could take a while so I went to Riga to wait for a response. I took out my notebook to update my notes and have another snack. When word finally came in to head to Sages, I took off in a hurry, leaving my notebook behind!

One of the bog trail signs

One of the bog trail signs

By the time I realized I was 2 miles north and had 2 to go. I opted to take the Bear Mountain road and Bog trail past the Northwest cabin so I could get there in time to assess and repair the damage if possible. The Bear mountain road was completely flooded in several areas and I had to do some tricky negotiating around long deep puddles of trail. But it was nice to finally see the bog trail with its nature-center style signage identifying trees and plants and natural features, as well as the cabin up close. That’s a reservation-only property, and I have never seen it so up close and personal. There was at least one family tenting there so I got on my way quickly past it. The northwest road was also quite flooded but I made it quickly down to the campsite, covering the 4 miles from Riga in 1.5 hours! To be fair, this was mostly level trail and I went this way for a reason.

The caretaker tent in disarray!

The caretaker tent in disarray!

When I got there, the tent condition was quite accurate. It was off on the side of the hill, scrunched up, with the contents tossed about inside. It had a few tears, and was full of water.  Unfortunately this also meant the caretaker journal and many of the books were soaked through. I managed to get the tent and its contents back on the platform and stake it down until it could be packed up by the supervisors the following week.  I set out the contents to dry, especially the books and journal, and used a tarp that was dry to set up my sleeping bag on on the drier side of the tent. I had gotten most of the water out but it was still pooling on one side due to a very slight downhill slant of the platform.

After I restored the tent

After I restored the tent

At this point many people were coming in, some that I knew would be from meeting them earlier in the day.  One scout troop was already there when I arrived. When all was said and done we had almost 30 at the campsite. It’s a very popular one due to its beauty. So it’s a good thing I ended up here as only 4 ended up spending the night at Riga (I found out the next day).

It was a beautiful night at the campsite and I had nice conversations with several of the hiking groups and helped late arrivals find their party’s campsites as dark was setting in.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing brook. It got down to the mid 40s so it was a little cool but otherwise no complaints.

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning in the ravine was a beautiful fairy tale forest as always, with the sun shining through the trees onto the shimmering brook. I packed up and after a quick meal of a protein bar (skipped the coffee) I went for the big strenuous climb up the rocky north side of Bear mtn. While I was quite cold at camp, by the time I reached the summit a mile later I was sweating and removing layers. I met several hikers at the top and took in the view from the summit tower.

The always exciting climb up Bear

The always exciting climb up Bear

I was above the clouds at this time, so the summits of Mts Race, Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts to the north, as well as Mts Prospect and Canaan Mt to the southeast in Connecticut, were all peaking above the clouds. It was magical. As I headed south, the peak of Lion’s head was doing the same. I ran into the section hikers from yesterday and said a quick hello. I pointed out to them where we met the day before on Lion’s Head and then made a dash for Riga, hoping to recover my notebook. As I passed Brassie Brook shelter, I stopped into sign the register and packed out some trash left behind by hikers. As I approached Riga I passed a group of 2 kids and 2 moms who mentioned they had stayed there when we stopped to chat.

Above the clouds on Bear summit

Above the clouds on Bear summit

I asked them about the notebook and they had found it and left it in the shelter for me! They thanked me for my work and I headed back to Riga to pick it up. They also reported that the shelter and campsite were clean and campfire-free which I appreciated and confirmed. I had one more snack with the famous view and headed back south towards Salisbury. I met a few more hikers along the way, both section and day hikers, enjoying another gorgeous day on the first weekend of fall. The leaves weren’t really changing yet but will be any day.

Looking south, Lion's Head summit above the clouds

Looking south, Lion’s Head summit above the clouds

The last few miles down to Rt 41 via the A.T. pass through some beautiful forest areas, with as many ups as downs. This bit I’ve decided is as much effort in either direction! I passed a few more backpackers struggling up the long climb from the road to Lion’s Head, and when I arrived at the parking lot I ran into one of the groups that were at Sages Ravine with me the night previous. We had a nice conversation and then I headed home, stopping at the hot dog stand in Kent for some nourishment!  It’s always a pleasure to hike the wild corner of Connecticut.

Miles day 1: 8.2

Miles day 2: 7

– Linus

 

 

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 5

Back to Jer-zThis past weekend we did another section in New Jersey.  We had skipped this section earlier this year because we were planning another hike with our friends and wanted to do one with more amenities and a shelter where there were guaranteed to be some thru hikers to interact with. Also the section we ultimately chose had the High Point monument and observation deck, so a lot of wow factor to impress them as well.

Above-trail pond

Above-trail pond

While this section we postponed does have a shelter, its about 3/4 of the way to one end, and would make for quite long and quite short mileage days instead of two balanced ones.  So the only other option was a primitive campsite halfway along.  So we opted to save this one for later.

That said, the primitive campsite was quite nice, and we are used to bare bones sites more than our friends.  Catholes, bear-bag hangs, and no water sources nearby are conditions we are accustomed to, but felt was not something that would be appealing to our friends who only go out on the trail with us once a year.

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

From regular weather checks, things were looking good for the weekend. The heatwave broke 2 days before we were to hit the trail. And despite a slight chance of rain Sunday afternoon, the highs would be in the low 70’s and the lows around 60. PERFECT backpacking conditions for late summer.  That would change. I must remember mother nature makes those rules, and not the internet.

We got to our end point at Culver’s Gap to meet our shuttle at noon. Our shuttle driver in New Jersey is awesome, and always has some murray beads for us when he picks us up. At this point, I noticed already that the temperature was a good 15 degrees cooler than forecast. I chalked it up to being in the mountains, and forgot about it for the moment. If it meant we wouldn’t be as sweaty and sticky, no problem there.

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

We arrived at the road crossing we left off at with our friends last year and began our 7 mile hike north to Buttermilk Falls campsite. Armed with lots of information on water sources on a mostly dry day’s stretch, we had loaded up on water.  Our shuttle driver confirmed there wouldn’t be much today in that regard. Though now the light precipitation had started and so he mentioned the spring that fed the falls might be running. Either way, we were well prepared.

After passing an entrance sign reminding us of the rules for the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (and the Appalachian Trail), the route followed a pond for a short while. What was interesting about the pond is the trail was actually about a foot below the level of the pond, and the grass and soil at the edge of the pond acted as a levy or dam and kept it above the trail level (except for one area where it flooded over a bit). It did drain off the side of the mountain via a small pipe which was under the trail a bit farther along. I thought this was really neat.

Flooded ground, not a pond

Flooded ground, not a pond

The path then climbed quickly up the ridge and through a powerline clearing with great views west to Pennsylvania – though quite a bit overgrown in areas.  From there we bounced up and down the ridge line, enjoying occasional views to the east. I did want to catch a glimpse of Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco and its’ Sand Pond, which is the location of Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th movie series. I did manage one from a short path to the ridge, but the ‘official’ view was down a side trail down the side of the ridge, and it was lined with grass which was now very wet. I didn’t want to slide off a mountain into a lake, especially THAT lake! Jason is in that lake…

Slippery scramble

Slippery scramble

Speaking of lakes, as we approached Crater lake there was a creek where there were water signs and that’s good to know should we have needed it. There were many cars parked at that trailhead lot. An old pump there is no longer in operation and I assume it’s because visitors using it didn’t realize you had to filter.  As the rain was picking up and the temperatures continued to drop, I joked that we should hitch a ride from one of them to Mohican Outdoor Center for the night, just a few miles away. We had a nice stay there with our friends on the hike here last year. At this point the rain showed on the forecast but was supposed to stop by the evening. We don’t mind rain. In fact, every backpacking trip we’ve done this year has had rain, two of them torrential all night and day affairs.

Fielden doing the scramble

Fielden doing the scramble

But on those hikes we were more prepared for it and knew about it ahead of time. The weather predicted was the weather that happened. And the temperatures were much warmer. Once the temperatures drop to a certain point, hypothermia becomes a real risk, and one that nearly happened to me a year ago. So I don’t mess around with cold and wet weather for fun. Nor bring my loved ones out in it for fun. Things were definitely starting to deteriorate enough for me to consider the lodge. But we didn’t have far to go and with the rain supposed to stop in a few hours we continued on. A unique fork-like tree held the white blazes that pointed us in the right direction.

The wet rocks went on for miles

The wet rocks went on for miles

We had the good fortune of about a 1.5 mile walk along an old road before this, so now it was back on to ‘real’ trail. After a short steep rocky descent we passed what we thought was Crater Lake but was just in fact a flooded meadow. A bit farther on we of course came to the part where we had to go back up, and it was a rocky ledge scramble that allowed us to test our limits of how far our legs could stretch to push up the edge of it safely.  A father and son were doing an out and back day hike in the area and when we made friendly somewhat complaining-about-the-weather comments, he felt it necessary to remind us it was “better than the couch.” Duh. We’re the ones out here backpacking that would not be sitting on the couch tonight when he was!  It was a bit rude.

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Once on top of the scramble the trail followed some wet ledges around the real Crater lake and then made the final climb up to Buttermilk Falls campsite. The last mile of our hike to the campsite was again a mostly flat old road and we were grateful for it. I would find out later that this peak that the campsite and the top of the falls trail met at was called Mount Paradise. It would also be the highest elevation on this hike – around 1,600ft – and one of the highest spots on the trail in New Jersey. On this day I’d say that “Paradise” was pushing its description a little, but it was a nice campsite. The falls are the highest in New Jersey, and I would like to visit one day but its a steep 2-mile descent to the falls and the road below. So we will drive there to visit in the future. Despite doing a much tougher hike a few weeks earlier, for some reason our bodies were not feeling as strong on this day.

A brief respite through a young forest

A brief respite through a young forest

In a brief respite of rain we got the tent set up and all of our things in it that needed to stay dry. After a few bad throws and a stubborn branch I got the bear bag rope set up, and just as we sat to make dinner it started to rain again. A family of 6 was now entering the campsite but they were just looking for the Buttermilk Falls trail, their route back to their car.  We helped point them to the blue blazes and they were on their way. Hopefully they were able to get down before dark.

We ate quickly and hoisted the bear bag up the tree. This section is known for heavy bear activity and in fact the shelter 4 miles north has a bear trap! If anything I’m thinking the bears don’t like being out in the all day rain either so there was a positive. I was in a bit of a funk at this point because now the forecast had changed that it wouldn’t stop until almost 10. But I tried to keep it positive, made myself laugh and was thankful that it also said it wouldn’t start again until 1pm the next day and we’d possibly be done by then.

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

We got to bed around 8 and about 2 hours later I was woken by howling winds and heavy downpours. Now I was really confused. I looked at my app and now rain was predicted 100% from this point until about 4 days later! I looked at the satellite and sure enough, the hurricane had created a large disturbance overhead about 100 miles wide and about 50 miles from top to bottom. What was worse, we were only about 20 miles into it.

Florence causing trouble (we're the blue dot)

Florence causing trouble (we’re the blue dot)

Had we chosen a section north, we’d be dry as a bone at least until tomorrow. This really set me off. Lows would now hit about 45 tonight and a high of 55 tomorrow. With an even longer day tomorrow and much more difficult terrain, I was miffed to say the least. These were dangerous and at the very least quite uncomfortable temperatures in the rain. Grumpy again, at this point I had trouble sleeping, drifting in and out of sleep for the next few hours until daylight.

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

When we were both up we made the decision to skip breakfast and take advantage of the first break in heavy rain to pack up the wet tent and get moving to stay warm. I will reiterate that we have lots of experience and lots of fun hiking in the rain, but I think it was a combination of disappointment in the changing conditions, and the worry of hypothermia that had me in this bad place. I was also worried we’d have none of the great vies. I decided to hike in my long john bottoms and both shirts, with my raincoat. I felt warm and dry for the time being. Today we had 3 summits and a big descent to tackle. It took much longer than usual.

High Point in the distance

High Point in the distance

The trail became one rock garden after another, split up by long walks on wet angled rocky ledges on the mountaintops. The ascents up several peaks were boulder scrambles, and many of the descents were roots and twisted iceberg rocks. It was tough going. However, there were still some fantastic views on both sides of the ridge. Despite the constant rain, it wasn’t so socked in that we didn’t get those. We had views to the west from Rattlesnake Mountain and Blue Mountain that stretched for 50 miles and reminded us of the Shenandoahs. I even got a view of High Point monument 20 miles in the distance. I had at this point shed my raincoat. As long as I kept moving, my body heat kept me warm enough.

Lichen these

Lichen these

We saw a few backpackers and a couple with their baby out for a short hike. All the extra work negotiating rocks and roots did have us pretty tuckered out however. Only once or twice were we met with a flat walk like the previous day. Though the ones we did go through seemed to be very young forests, perhaps the result of a fire in the past. We saw a family of turkeys as well. Not many humans were out in this on purpose.

We made the most of it and made sure to stop for water, snacks, and rest as much as needed, and talked about which restaurant we would reward ourselves at. The last few miles were view after view of Lake Owassa, Culver Lake, and the gap below. The walk off the ridgeline and descent to the gap was much quicker than expected and soon we were at the most risky part of the hike – crossing route 206. Boy do people drive fast here. Once we cleared the road it was a short .3 to the parking lot. Just as we arrived at the car mother nature decided to throw one more heavy downpour at us. This time we were armed with a car to protect us and we were off to stuff our faces on mexican food and visit the farmer’s market on the way home.

Lonely orange mushroom

Lonely orange mushroom

This section reminded me a lot of New York. Doesn’t look like much on the map profile but it was challenging. It also rewarded us with views and self-confidence that we can get through almost anything together. Let’s hope we get one dry hike before the season is over. Unless the hurricane comes at us full force in the coming days, I will be out ridgerunning again next weekend. At the moment it looks clear but if I learned one lesson this weekend it was that that can change and change again very quickly. And the ATC is already putting out weather advisories all along the trail as the storm has now began to affect the entire east coast with heavy weather. Stay tuned.

Miles day 1: 7.1

Miles day 2: 7.9

– Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 2, State Completion!

Off we go!

Off we go!

This past weekend we finally finished section hiking all of Massachusetts! We had skipped this section in May because it was supposed to be days of rain, but also much cooler, where being wet for days could make one sick or worse. That weekend we did spend one night out on the trail to do section 1 to the Vermont border.

While its funny that it was also raining for a large part of this trip when we came back on this rescheduled date, at least it was warm – so being wet was just a discomfort, not a danger.

Starting the tough climb

Starting the tough climb

The storm was supposed to happen earlier so while I’m glad we didn’t get poured on the whole climb up Mt Prospect, I wish it had cleared out by the time we got to the summits of Mt Williams and Mt Greylock. The view off Prospect to Williamstown and west to Berlin Mountain in New York and the Taconics was gorgeous though, and a great reward for the long climb up from North Adams. There were definitely some new switchbacks added here, which were appreciated. Its a straight shot up the side of the mountain otherwise

I arrived at the view point before Fielden Stream and spoke with a thru hiker for a bit till she arrived and he was kind enough to take our photo before we all headed onward. Here the A.T. drops off the side of this mountain before reaching the actual peak. The actual peak is only a tad higher though and is reached by this junction via the Mt. Prospect trail, which then drops steeply off the mountain’s south side to Money Brook far below.

Purple mushrooms

Purple mushrooms

Once we came off the ridge it was only .3 to the shelter side trail and .2 down the trail to the campsite. I was worried about water because none of the thrus could tell me for sure if water was running well at the campsite (though one lunched there!)  but as we took the side trail to the campsite, we saw Money Brook was running quite well as we crossed it on a log bridge.

The campsite was great and has had a lot of improvements recently including some new tent pads and platforms. We chose a platform as we knew rain was coming and it would drain through the wood slats better than the ground.

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Also since the whole campsite was on a hill, we were worried water would pool in the dirt tent pads. We checked out the shelter quickly but felt the rain moving in finally so we headed up to our platform and set up our tent and our tarp over a nearby log where we could sit and eat dinner and enjoy the rain. Another family came in and got set up just in time before the downpour.  We had talked to them a bit before it really let loose. They had a new dog who was out with them on its first backpacking trip. What a sweet dog.

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

The kids were scouts – one was with his parents and grandfather and the other two boys were friends of his and fellow scouts. They had forgotten one of their hammocks and had asked us if we had a spare though we did not. Luckily they had a large tent so they squeezed all the boys in the tent for the night. There was also room in the shelter if it was an emergency as there were only 3 thru hikers at the shelter.

Muddy trail already

Muddy trail to campsite

We got in our tent after dinner and then the real storm hit. Torrential rain and thunder and lightning for a solid 12 hrs. It reminded us of the night on Pochuck mountain in New Jersey recently. Luckily we didn’t need to make a bathroom visit in the middle of the night, that would not have been fun. At least the worst of the rain and hopefully the whole storm will be gone by morning – we thought! The rain stopped around 8.

Our tarp saves the day again

Our tarp saves the day again

I was up at 7 because my back had had enough of sleeping on a hard platform (even with a sleeping pad you can notice the difference) so I had coffee on the ready for Fielden Stream. I enjoyed the sounds of the Money Brook falls in the distance as I sat on the log waiting for her. We took our time packing up and got on the trail around 9. We had to pack up everything wet as the storm didn’t end till just before we left. We hoped we could lay the tent parts out to dry on the lawn on top Greylock if the sun came up soon. That never happened.

More muddy trail after the storm

More muddy trail after the storm

The climb up to Williams was quick and rocky and nothin but mud. However we were happy that the water source was plentiful when we filled up before heading out and that it was cool and shady because of the storm so the temperature was more like fall which we liked.

I was hoping for a good view from Mt Williams as supposedly you could see Mount Snow, VT, where my family and I have skied since I was a child. Also I knew there was no view on the next peak, Mt. Fitch. So it wouldn’t be until Greylock that we had another chance to see anything. The view was pea soup. Well it could be worse… As we followed the ridge line along and over Fitch, the rain started again.

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

The forecast was maybe for 40% chance. This was building into a downpour. The trail became steep here as we climbed past the Thunderbolt trail and the last half mile to the Bascom Lodge. We did embrace the suck though. It was warm so while we did use our pack covers, we skipped the raincoats. We knew that soon we’d be in the lodge drying off and having a luxurious lunch. Rumors of a wedding at the lodge and an early closing from a thru hiker we passed made us push hard for the summit and luckily when we arrived everything was still open and we had burgers and chips and dried off a bit in the lodge.The wedding party and guests were milling about as it was nasty out and the lodge is quite small so we were all sharing the space … stinky wet filthy hikers with the bride and bridesmaids and some guests as well as the wedding planner and some also soaking wet day hikers.

We had caught up with the scouts and their family as we started the last climb up Greylock. We all spoke of burgers on the last climb and they enjoyed them as we did at the lodge, and then they had plans to meet a friend who was driving up their missing hammock. That was the last we’d see of them as they were staying at Sperry Road campground.

Viewless Mt Williams today

Viewless Mt Williams today

None of the wedding guests were dressed yet for the occasion yet, so I suspect it was in the evening or they were waiting out the weather which was supposed to stop soon. Some of the guests seemed truly confused and intrigued by the Appalachian Trail signs and all these wet dirty people smiling. We got some sandwiches and cookies to go for dinner and headed out into the mist to the next campsite, 3.4 miles ahead.

We crossed several more road crossings near the summit, as well as the beautiful pond on top which was clouded in mist. We then started the more gentle climb up to the ridge line of Saddle ball mountain. The Greylock range was once known as Saddleback Mountain, so this summit at the southern edge of the ridge was the saddle ball.

Bascom Ranger Burger!

Bascom Ranger Burger!

The trail was more mud and streams but here the moss, ferns, wide variety of colorful mushrooms and circles of Indian Pipe took on a mythical fairy-like forest right out of a C.S. Lewis or Tolkien book. The trail continued to climb gently to the summit where the Jones nose trail intersects. That trail is also a quick steep drop off the ridgeline to the trails below, and I’ve heard has some great views of its own, on a clear day. We were only half mile from the shelter site at this point and continued down the A.T. as the sun started to break through more and more. We saw one overlook of Adams, MA from a side trail near the summit and reached the shelter trail soon after a quick steepish descent. The shelter lies on the side of this descent about .3 to the north of the A.T.

Linus outside the lodge

Linus outside the lodge

We arrived at the shelter right around 4 and hung up our tent to dry. We also washed our socks and shoes off in the rushing stream and my pack towel which was not smelling good at all and I use that to wipe my face!  A few thrus had waited out the storm all day and were just packing up now to night hike the 10 miles into North Adams.

Another thru hiker, a SOBO named Hot Sauce, rolled in soon after. We had seen her on the trail with her hiking buddy who had just gotten off trail.

This sign explains it all to the tourists

This sign explains it all to the tourists

We had a nice chat with her and 3 other thrus who showed up later. We all tried to get a fire going but everything was still wet. We had dinner together and shared some stories and treats with each other before hitting the tent for bed. It remained dry, cool and breezy so we successfully dried out our tent like any experienced hardened long distance hikers and felt pretty cool about it. It was much cooler at night, also because our campsite was at about 2,700 ft up this time and on a steeper portion of terrain so the wind moved through freely.  We were glad to have our down bags this night as opposed to the night before where we pretty much slept on top of them! We were able to dry out our feet which was good too because another day of mud bogs and we’d have near trench-foot.

The memorial tower

The memorial tower

We had a better night sleep in those conditions and were up at the picnic table having coffee with Hot Sauce in short order. The other thru hikers had all left by then. I used a new windscreen I found online made by Optimus and fits all standard fuel canisters. I didn’t have as much luck with it on my last hike but this time I managed to figure out it was best to clip it on after you had the stove lit and the fuel output set to your liking. You just pull it apart and then clamp it around the canister mouth. Instantly the fuel efficiency was boosted and the flame protected from the wind. At only 3 oz and around $13 it was well worth it. I’ve also been using some new support legs for the canister that weigh about 2 oz and have really been pleased with the stability and reassurance they add when cooking on an uneven surface.

The pond on the summit

The pond on the summit

We then had the ‘real hiker’ task of putting on our wet shoes and socks again. I actually chose a dry pair since this was our last day but once they were in the shoes, they filled with water. And then of course there were more mud bogs and streams to traverse so the dry socks were futile.

We caught a nice view southwest from a lookout and then the trail here continued down steeply before leveling out.

My new windscreen

My new windscreen

We spotted here a giant glacial erratic that had a shape of a shelter complete with overhang and as we approached we thought there was another shelter that was out of use or something but it was just a rock! We pictured both modern hikers and past native Americans taking shelter under it in bad weather. After a while the trail dropped even more steeply along a significant drop off to the valley below. We had a snack just before so we’d be ready for that. We had chosen to go south because we felt getting the biggest climb overwith in less miles would be worth the effort,  as this direction was longer and had steep parts too. Though this direction also had a lot of level areas in between the climbs. At the end of the day, neither are easy.

Again it leveled out shortly before crossing Outlook avenue and dropping again through some meadows to Rt. 8.  Some thrus coming north had told us of trail magic at the community center, right where we were parked! What a great way to end the hike, and the state!

Shelter rock

Shelter rock

We traversed some corn fields in town and then stopped at the car and the trail magic. I went over to the rail trail .3 down the trail so I could pass every blaze. Some of us are silly like that. Town is town, I don’t blame FIelden Stream for not caring about a .3 road walk through the center of town. I re-joined her at the trail magic and enjoyed talking to the hosts and another thru hiker while we had hot dogs and drinks before throwing everything in the car and getting my flip flops on. Was that bliss!

View from Saddle Ball

View from Saddle Ball

We drove down route 7 to get home and as we stopped into our favorite antique shop in Great Barrington noticed some thrus having lunch out front. I offered them a ride to town but they were just about to get back on the trail.

Aside from the ‘true hiker experiences’ already mentioned, there were a few more I was excited we were being initiated in:

  • Dirt that didn’t wash off our feet the first or even the second time we tried.
  • Finally embracing walking right through the streams and mud piles on the trail.
  • Slogging it in the rain for miles without even putting on a raincoat, just to get to the lodge and get real food and out of the weather for an hour.
  • Thru hikers looking at how dirty we were and thinking we were thru hikers too, telling us about trail magic ahead, complaining about rude non-hikers at the lodge, and talking about our smells with them at the shelter!

I will be adding the link to the full Massachusetts video we made once I’m done editing it this week so check back!

Trail magic!

Trail magic!

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 7.4

Miles day 3: 5.5

Frogs encountered – about 100!

– Linus

 

Ridgerunner Weekend #3 – 341 Kent to Stewart Hollow Shelter

Last weekend I did my third ridge runner weekend of the season. It was a hot and steamy one! It was also during the thru hiker bubble and I met about 40 thru hikers – both north and southbound. Two of them were under 10 and hiking the whole trail with their dad. They likely did many more miles than me that day! I met several section hikers as well as a few day hikers. I got to do the climbs to St John’s Ledges and Caleb’s Peak TWICE – once up and once down.

I just missed the heavy rains Saturday morning and the only rain I had was overnight. Though to be honest I wouldn’t have minded a little as it was so hot and steamy. However I did NOT want any rain while doing the climb up or down the ledges! I got thanked by several hikers for my work which always feels good! I also found a bunch of thru hikers stealth camping, one even right next to the shelter site which I figured they didn’t know was 10 yards up the trail! Those that I did speak to about it were very apologetic and explained they were pushing miles and didn’t want to go down the ledges in the dark as it was already after 11pm when they set up. We have very specific rules about camping in designated areas, and plenty of campsites on our stretch. This is because of the narrow corridor in our state. If you’re not in a designated site you may just be camping on someone’s private property. And it becomes a bigger issue if you’re used to breaking rules in that you may break others which could lead to damage to or littering on private property. On the upside, it’s also why our section is so beautiful and clean.

I cut two blow-downs, one which was very difficult as it was above me so it took a lot of upper body strength (not my strongest area) to cut.  I hiked with one of the thrus for a while and at his pace covered 2.5 miles in about 40 minutes! I had to eventually take a break as I don’t quite have thru hiker legs. But we leapfrogged a few times and I did see him at the shelter taking a break when I arrived to set up my camp for the night. The water sources were raging from all the recent rain. But with the current heatwave I’m not sure that will last. There was trail magic when I arrived at the trail head Sunday and while I never drink sodas anymore, an ice cold Coke sure hit the spot after 7+ steamy miles including the big climbs followed by several smaller ones to get back to my car. About 1,440ft of vertical over 4 miles, with 1,000 of it in the first 1.2 miles! I did that each day but in reverse on this day.

I will be back out again mid-September. In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I are planning to finish the last 13.5 miles of Massachusetts over the highest peaks in the state. We look forward to a lunch mid-hike at the Bascom lodge, and are going to take our time as these will be the highest climbs and elevations for us yet to date together.

Miles day 1: 7.4

Miles day 2: 7.4

  • Linus
Wet rocky start

Wet rocky start

First blowdown I cleared

First blowdown I cleared

View to Kent from Fuller Mtn

View to Kent from Fuller Mtn

View to Kent from Caleb's Peak

View to Kent from Caleb’s Peak

View from St. John's Ledges

View from St. John’s Ledges

Hikers descending St. John's Ledges

Hikers descending St. John’s Ledges

St. John's Ledges

St. John’s Ledges

More of St. John's Ledges

More of St. John’s Ledges

Even more of St. John's Ledges

Even more of St. John’s Ledges

This frog jumped on my hand during the climb!

This frog jumped on my hand during the climb!

Rock climbers on the cliffs at St. John's Ledges

Rock climbers on the cliffs at St. John’s Ledges

2nd blowdown I cleared

2nd blowdown I cleared

The always lovely Stanley Tract

The always lovely Stanley Tract

Morning along the Housatonic

Morning along the Housatonic

Morning moon over the A.T.

Morning moon over the A.T.

Crossing Macedonia Brook

Crossing Macedonia Brook

Trail magic just beyond the trail head

Trail magic just beyond the trail head

 

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 2

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

This past weekend we returned to the trail in New Jersey for our march north! We still have about 24 miles to complete that we skipped, and we will be back to do that either this fall or next spring. Besides that all we have left is the 9 miles to the NY border from Vernon. On this trek we continued where we left off with our friends in Unionville, and did all of section 2, finishing in Vernon NJ. We got shuttled by a great guy from the area, formerly involved with the trail conference. He helped build Pochuck (where we spent the night) and Wawayanda shelter.

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

He was also part of the crew who blazed the trail through here, got it off the roads, and helped with the boardwalk projects in the area. We have a good mutual friend in the trail community who recommended him to me. He’s a gem!  He gave us some nice bead necklaces he made when he picked us up and told us he heard the water source at the bottom of Pochuck mountain was reported to be off as we drove by it on the way to our starting point. Since that was expected to be the case, we stopped by a shop in Unionville and got our water topped off. I also  bought an extra bottle as I planned to fill up there and only had brought enough for the first few miles so I didn’t have to carry 6 extra pounds of water.

At the nature preserve

At the nature preserve

We hit the trail around 1230, planning and expecting to be at the shelter early so we could have our pick of the few tenting areas, and set up our tarp, which we only bring along when we know we have lots of rain on the way. What an understatement! We had a small hill or two before a short roadwalk that would take us to the Wallkill wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind along the whole A.T. Here you do about a 2 mile loop around a giant rectangle that had elements of the everglades to it, for obvious reasons. There’s even a birding platform at the north end. But that was not required.

Baby turtle

Baby turtle

We saw heron, egrets, tanagers, and buzzards. We saw lots and lots of thistle with monarch butterflies and bumblebees practically glued to their blossoms. We saw a small turtle, and many types of other wildflowers. It was a lovely walk and there was what we call ‘breeze magic’ to keep us cool, as a large storm was moving in in the next few hours.  In full sun and the temps we had last week, that might not have been as enjoyable. We took our time as we had lots of it, and stopped at a few benches along the way to enjoy it before heading up into the woods. At the last bench we met a thru hiker with her dog toby and mentioned the water source and she said she saw it was just updated in the gut hook app that it was back on. At around the same time George asked us if we could check it on the way up the mountain so he had the most current information.

Bead magic from George

Bead magic from George

At the next road crossing was the bottom of the climb. And a property down the road with a barn that had a water machine and was selling water for 50 cents a gallon. They have a change machine and a fancy water dispenser and all that. They also have a ton of signs saying they have video surveillance cameras everywhere. While I think this is a really nice service they’re providing given how low water is in the area in the heat of summer, the idea that they would prosecute you if you filled up some water and didn’t have 50 cents is a little over the top and besides there IS a free water source .1 mile up the trail, actually closer in distance to the trail crossing than the barn.

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

I walked to the barn thinking that was the source but then as we went up the trail the vacant house with the spigot in back was very close and indeed the water was back on. So I question why they have that setup at the barn – is it for when the spigot is off? Or is it for hikers like me who thought that was the water source in the guide? Who knows. Either way its not expensive IF you have some money on you.  Also, many trail angels leave jugs of water at trail crossings.

Egrets

Egrets

Anyway after checking the spigot we did the rest of the quick intense climb up to the shelter.  It was another .4 miles of steep to the shelter side trail. But we got there with plenty of time, around 320pm. Hiker midnight, even with a storm rolling in, was at least 8pm. We got our tent and tarp setup and greeted the thru hikers as they came in, including the woman with the dog we met at the edge of the preserve.  A few other thrus came in to use the privy and then they continued on to Vernon to stay in town and wait out the rains there. A ridgerunner also came in, and my wife recognized him as the one we met last September at backpackers campsite in DWG. We had a nice time catching up with him after our dinner and a few games of blackjack.

Our camp setup for rain

Our camp setup for rain

Around 8 the storm rolled in as predicted. The winds were high, and the rain came down in flash flood proportions.  We had setup on a bit of an uphill so water wouldn’t pool under our tent. But because the wind was so intense, it did manage to blow some water under our tent footprint. But we stayed completely dry through it all, not a drop made it into the tent from above and the footprint helped minimize the water beneath.  It stopped around 7 am and the stream of thru hikers at the shelter were on their way. When we mosied out of our tent at 730 to start packing up they were long gone. We had some breakfast, packed up, signed the shelter register and said goodbye to the ridgerunner.

Rock wall up Pochuck

Rock wall up Pochuck

Then we continued the climb up and over Pochuck Mountain’s many ridges and shoulders. We went over the main peak and met some guys there who knew our shuttle driver. One said he’s the reason they love hiking. We know he took a lot of kids from the area out on the trail when he was a high school teacher in town.  Clearly he inspired many youth. We continued through rocky climbs, boulder fields, forests and along ridges – one with a nice view west to Kittatinny mountain and the preserve and farms below. We crossed a few roads, including one to a girl scout camp that was buzzing with activity. As we came down the steep eastern side of the mountain into Vernon valley, the trail was lined with endless raspberries, which was just the pickup we needed. Many of the houses along here had their own trails here to the A.T. and beyond, clearly to harvest all the berries. We did our best bear impression and indulged in a feast of berries.

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The trail then reached the beginning of the famous boardwalks. The first was the Pochuck Boardwalk, completed in the 90s I believe. Its almost a full mile of wooden boardwalks over the marshes, with many spots for benches. However there were no benches on this stretch. They’ve had a lot of trouble with parking on the road here and the neighbors association has done much to discourage people parking and starting the walk here vs the other end in Vernon 2 miles east. So we guessed they took the benches off this side to discourage lingering for long periods of time and I assume easing congestion at the parking area near their homes.

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand things were getting out of control at times, this is not only a large tourist attraction built by the town for enjoyment by ALL residents, but also part of a national scenic trail that’s been there for almost 100 years. Perhaps they should have taken that into consideration before moving there. Most people who live by the trail embrace it and provide trail magic and move there on purpose…  But I digress… not my battle. There were nice views of Wawayanda Mountain where the trail continues up to Pinwheel vista and the Stairway to heaven, as well as Mountain Creek ski area further down the ridge.

Snakes on the boardwalk

Snakes on the boardwalk

We saw some garter snakes enjoying sunning themselves on the edge of the boardwalk, and found our first bench just before the big footbridge. We sat for a few to talk to someone we met at the trail head the day before but were baking in the sun so continued on. The footbridge sways a bit because its on floating foundations and is a wonder of design. From here the trail wound through woodlands again for a mile which was nice because we got to cool off a bit from the sun. If there’s one place we didn’t want the sun to come back was right when we got to the boardwalk with no shade! This area too reminded us of the everglades, with its boardwalks and wildlife everywhere.

Berry heaven

Berry heaven

We got some food recommendations from the locals we met on the trail and thinking of that powered us forward to the home plate, though the boardwalks on the other side were really just planks and need their own upgrade. We got to the car and as much as we wanted to have ice cream at Heaven Hill farm, we wanted real food first, and not from a hot dog stand. The places recommended to us were 10 miles in the wrong direction. So we headed north and found a place along Greenwood lake, and boy was I temped to rent a lake house for the night and swim off all the stink and dirt till the sun went down! But alas it was home we were headed till next time. You can watch the video of the hike here

The Pochuck footbridge

The Pochuck footbridge

It was a great hike and the only regret I have is that one of our favorite thru hikers we’ve been following online was literally only half a day in front of us, and we would have loved to have met him and bought him his favorite – ice cream! We seem to be missing all the thrus on the trail that we’ve been following, by just hours. Such was the case as well with Scoutmaster in May, but we got a nice thank you card from him when he completed his thru this summer.

Up next, we’re finishing the last 14 miles of Massachusetts – next month if we can. And I have several ridgerunning weekends to do. See you out there!

Miles day 1: 4.3

Miles day 2: 6.5

– Linus