Ridgerunner Weekend #5, Bear Mountain and the Riga Plateau

One of my favorite sections (and everyone else’s) of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut is Bear Mountain in Salisbury, our highest peak. Most of the day hikers take the 2-mile Undermountain trail to the Appalachian Trail at Riga Junction. From there, the summit of Bear Mountain is just .9 miles higher.  On this trip, as others, I encountered many hikers heading up for a quick out-and-back.

I was still getting over a bad cold, so I chose to take the undermountain trail to Lion’s Head and then back to Riga shelter, so my daily mileage would not exceed 6. I didn’t want to push myself too hard. Usually I do a much longer loop up here.

I was planning to meet my friend Brian again at Riga and he would be starting after work. I had about 6 1/2 hrs to cover the 5.7 miles I did, so I took several breaks, including a long one at Brassie Brook shelter, and at Lion’s Head. Lion’s head is about .6 farther in this direction than the shelter but its easy miles and its views are not to be missed. There are actually two great lookouts; a northern one AND a southern one.  I love them both.

I knew from the register at Brassie Brook (and our chapter water reports) that the water source at Riga was dry, as were most of the others along my route, except for at Brassie Brook. So I loaded up there with another 3 liters so I was covered for the night. While this made my load heavier. these miles after the initial climb from the undermountain trail head were primarily flat with one small climb up to Lion’s Head itself.

I had a lovely break there, laughing as turkey vultures circled overhead, cawwing loudly (or whatever you call their sound) and discussing how tasty I might be. I met a northbound thru hiker along the way and a few southbounders.

When I arrived at Riga there was also a southbounder there with her dog. I also encountered yet ANOTHER fire ring against the rock under the NO FIRES sign. People can really be stinkers sometimes. Its disappointing that people can be so purposefully disrespectful. So I got to work cleaning that up and then I got a reward when looking through the register. The thru hikers we were following online and that we met in June in Falls Village had left us a note here thanking us for recommending they stay here, and how great the view was indeed. (It turns out later that we realized they also gave us shoutouts in their videos of both those days!)

This hike was an overnight on Friday the 13th, and the first Firday the 13th with a harvest full moon in over 20 years. We were thrilled when it materialized in all its glory that night. And because we never did get the famous sunrise the next morning as a storm was moving in. The wind howled all night, as well as a chorus of livestock sounds from the farms below. In the morning, the weather was moving in quicker and rain was now scheduled to come at 11. We had a quick breakfast and headed up to the top of Bear, cutting and clearing a few blowdowns on the way.  ( I had also cleared a large one the day before on Lion’s Head.)

There was still a little bit of a view and we got some photos and then hussled back down to Riga junction and the undermountain trail, passing 24 hikers and several dogs. My cold was also starting to come back a bit, so I was glad to have had another easier than usual day.

We stopped at the Cornwall Country market for some breakfast and just as we sat down it started to pour. I don’t mind hiking in the rain, but when I’m sick, and its cold and wet, that’s a bad combo. The timing worked out perfectly.

It was another great season as a weekend summer ridgerunner, and I hope to be back again for a 4th next year. Until then I will knock out a few more sections elsewhere with my wife, and do some volunteer work on our section. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.7

Miles day 2: 5.5

— LInus

Stickbug!

Stickbug!

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

Large blowdown I cut

Large blowdown I cut

Some kind of seedpod

Some kind of seedpod

Heading up Lions head southbound

Heading up Lions head southbound

Lions Head

Lions Head

Lions Head south view

Lions Head south view

Me on LIon's Head Northern view

Me on LIon’s Head Northern view

Turkey vultures overhead

Turkey vultures overhead

The great view at Riga shelter

The great view at Riga shelter

Friday 13th Harvest Full moon at Riga

Friday 13th Harvest Full moon at Riga

Some cool mushrooms

Some cool mushrooms

Beautiful oak - a blowdown we had to cut

Beautiful oak – a blowdown we had to cut

Autumn hobblebush

Autumn hobblebush

Pointing back to Lion's Head from Bear Mtn

Pointing back to Lion’s Head from Bear Mtn

Me and Brian on top of Bear before the storm

Me and Brian on top of Bear before the storm

Mts Race and Everett (MASS) from Bear Mtn summit

Mts Race and Everett in the clouds (MASS) from Bear Mtn summit

The twin lakes of Salisbury, CT from Bear Mtn

The twin lakes of Salisbury, CT from Bear Mtn

The remains of the stone tower on Bear's summit

The remains of the stone tower on Bear’s summit

New ridge runner and LNT training overnight

Last week I joined the new crew of seasonal summer ridge runners as well as the coordinators for a trail training overnight. We had four main goals: LNT (leave no trace training), set up the caretaker tent at Sages Ravine, replace the shelter registers, and learn the job. That’s why I was there, to show everyone the job. We worked hard and they learned a lot. We cleared a lot of water bars, over seven fire rings, cleaned shelters and privies (and filled the duff buckets) and packed out a lot of trash. As this was the real season kickoff for this role, a lot of these issues like the fire rings may have been left over from winter.

We had a great night at the campsite, and a lot of great hiker interactions. They were glad to have me along to show them the ropes, and I was glad to have a great crew who were eager to learn. I loved learning the LNT lessons too and getting certified.

I will be out again this weekend for my first official solo ridge runner outing. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 4

Miles day 2: 8

  • Linus
Mountain Azalea

Mountain Azalea

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Entering Sages Ravine

Entering Sages Ravine

Setting up the caretaker tent

Setting up the caretaker tent

Sages Ravine

Sages Ravine

My campsite

My campsite

Red efts

Red efts

Trillium

Trillium

At the top of Bear looking north

At the top of Bear looking north

On the tower at the top of Bear

On the tower at the top of Bear

Looking south from Bear Mountain

Looking south from Bear Mountain

The famous Riga view

The famous Riga view

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Post-holing Winter Maintenance Hike

Rodger's Icy Ramp

Rodger’s Icy Ramp

Saturday I went out with our trails overseer and his friend to check on the conditions of a 7 mile section of trail and clean up the blowdowns we could while documenting those we’d have sawyers come back for. It was not at all what I was expecting.

I knew there might be some snow up there. There was certainly when we were in the Shawangunks the previous weekend. I thought there might be 2-3 inches of snow in spots, and these elevations were lower than those in the Gunks so it might have even been less. But I brought my spikes as I knew I would at least potentially need those. Snowshoes would have been a better choice!

We had left a car at the north end and headed down to the start, where the snow on the trail was at least 5 inches deep. It appeared to have been walked recently, but there was only a single set of footsteps. From the start, we were using this hiker’s footholes in the snow, as the top layer of snow was crusty and icy. And so using these footholes made it easier to get through. Of course at this part of the hike the trail rises 800 ft in about 1/4 mile, up through a large crack in a boulder known as Rodger’s Ramp. It was up up up and we took a few photos because the ramp looked even more daunting with 4″ of snow in it. We crested the ridge with some nice views west and south. One thing I do like about hiking in this season is the long views through the trees you don’t usually have when it’s the green tunnel.

Following deep icy footholes

Following deep icy footholes

It was another 3/4 of a mile of following deep footsteps to the shelter side trail. Here we inspected the bear box, fallen trees near campsites, replaced the shelter log, and checked the privy. There was one hiker there who had set up his tent in the shelter as he did not expect the deep snow either. As there was no one else there trying to use the shelter we didn’t give him a hard time. Plus it was his birthday and he just wanted to spend it in the woods. Don’t blame him one bit.

We had a snack and then headed out. As he had confirmed he was the one to make the footsteps last night, this meant the next 6 miles we would be taking turns postholing and breaking the trail. We didn’t really look forward to that. Or at the very least, I didn’t. I knew it would be a struggle, and that it was.

Trail? What Trail?

Trail? What Trail?

I certainly hadn’t brought gaiters on this hike so in short order my shoes filled with snow and ice from making new deep steps in the snow. It wasn’t quite mid-day so this also meant it was barely into the 40’s and my water and snow filled shoes began to get colder and colder with each step. While not completely numbing because it was above freezing and the walking helped keep my feet warm, it was quite uncomfortable and I had to stop and wiggle my toes every once in a while.

Trudging along

Trudging along

We were cutting down every small blowdown that we encountered, which also meant dragging large branches deeper into the woods off trail. So even if the trail had been beaten down by a desired imaginary boy scout troop ahead of us, we were still walking into deep snow off trail many times.

At some point along this stretch, the top of one of my cork trekking pole handles snapped off at the fabric loop attachment. In all my years of hiking and backpacking I’ve never seen that happen. But I have put a lot of years and wear on those poles, and I guess they’d had enough. It’s hard to imagine that would have happened with plastic or rubber poles, so as much as I like the cork, the pair I replaced them with at REI yesterday had plastic handles. I went to REI to ask if they had a warranty on their products like other manuafacturers who will replace a product that fails in normal use.

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

The manager however thought I was just trying to take advantage of them like others have, which is why they changed their return policy to one year or newer. That wasn’t really my question though and I just called it a loss and used my 20% coupon to get a new pair. I like REI and use my membership regularly there so it will come back to me in a dividend. This was really the first time I was disappointed there. Really  I just felt they should have their own manufacturer warranty as they were REI poles. But they give money to our AMC chapter every year and volunteer with us so they’re still good with me.

Jim cutting a blowdown

Jim cutting a blowdown

As we reached the halfway point, something else unpleasant happened. My left thigh tightened up on me significantly, making it very difficult to lift that leg and adding strain to an angry muscle with every step. And there were miles to go. It was incredibly painful and I had to stop helping with the tree removal as the main goal for me was to walk out on my own without assistance. This was obviously the result of stepping in uneven depths of snow over and over and suddenly breaking through here and there. Not to mention a lot of strange angles I was moving them in.  We were following old snowshoe tracks now and once in a while the snow was packed down by those heels but half the time we still broke through.

As a result of the thigh issues, my knee and ankle acted up next, feeling more and more sore with each step. This was not my day. I didn’t bring my knee compression sleeves so I had to tough it out. A lot of things working against me at once. To complete the assault of painful ailments, I began to get chaffing as a result of the unusual step/sink pattern that made my pants and compression underwear not function the way they should and not protecting those nether regions adequately. The already steep ups and downs on this hike became even more difficult with all these injuries.

We did take a break at Hang glider view to enjoy the long views to the Taconics and beyond. The snow here was also deep however so break really meant just standing still for a bit and having a snack. Since we were so slow going in the deep snow conditions we were focused on reaching the other end in good time so we never really had a sit down break since the shelter.

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

From reading trail journals and watching youtube channels I realize many thru hikers were facing these same conditions and managing to keep going, though many have already dropped out because of the multiple snow storms and harsh winter conditions that are also happening in the south. I am an experienced hiker and backpacker for sure, and have done many winter hikes. But I was not at all expecting such a difficult day. I can’t tell you how happy I was to reach the road and limp to the car.  It took us 6 hrs to cover the 7+ miles. And all of us could normally do that in half the time. Granted, we did spend a good amount of time stopping to cut and clear blowdowns. And one positive was as the day warmed, the water in my shoes did too and my feet were at least no longer cold. We only saw one other hiker the whole day. I am well aware these days happen, as did with my Labor Day ridgerunning hike last fall. There are really bad days. As with that experience, I am proud that I got myself through it and out of danger. The good days are worth the bad ones. And they’re always a learning experience.

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Fielden Stream and I were supposed to go do a section hike with a possible overnight next weekend in northern Massachusetts in our quest to finish the state this spring. In light of these conditions at much lower elevations and farther south, we are postponing a month. We go backpacking together for fun. While we embrace the challenge and occasional unexpected suck that can occur on the trail, there’s no reason to purposefully go into lousy conditions. Deep snow, ice, slush or wet muddy trail is no fun, and as in this case can cause injury which could leave you in trouble when deep in the woods. My leg is mostly back to normal now. My ankle however is still a little sore from all the wacky angles I put it in and sinking into deep icy snow again and again, so that cinches it.

Already tough without the snow

Already tough without the snow

As section hikers we have the luxury to pick when we go. Hopefully a month from now the trail will be in better shape and we can continue our march north to the VT line. We will be doing two sections in May, and its possible we could finish it with those two if the conditions are good and we have big energy! Otherwise it will get completed soon enough!

Miles: 7.4

– Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #5 – Salisbury to Sages Ravine

No rain, no pain, no maine!

No rain, no pain, no maine!

This was my final weekend as a summer ridgerunner for the 2017 season, and it was full of excitement!  I knew there was rain in the forecast but wow did it rain. I hit the trail Sunday morning around 10am in Salisbury, headed for Sages Ravine just over the Massachusetts border; about 7 miles and change. It was raining when I drove up and raining when I started and raining when I got to Lion’s Head an hour later. It was raining hard. I know this is part of the job and I’ve been lucky considering this is the first day I was out in weather this bad the whole season. Lion’s head was completely socked in so there was no view. I pushed on to Riga shelter to take a snack break and get out of the rain for a bit and dry out my raincoat which was no match for this kind of rain and wet through partially in less than 1.5 hrs.  I called my friend Brian from the shelter to see if he could meet up to hike later while I had some trail mix and let the coat dry out. There was a tiny bit of a view at Riga but not much. Not the amazing normal view anyway.

the "trail" up Lion's Head

the “trail” up Lion’s Head

I set out about 30 minutes later when the rain diminished a bit. Often times the forecast says rain but the estimate is over what actually occurs. Not the case today. A few minutes after I hit the trail again the downpours continued. Luckily no one left me any trash at the shelter or in its bear box I had to carry out.

The trail was literally a river. There was no way, nor is it recommended, to walk around as there is laurel right up to the edge and doing so can damage them and the wildflowers along the edges. It was colder in the morning but by this point was in the low 60s so walking through them was just kinda like walking along the beach in boat shoes. Trail runners are great in this scenario though because the water flows right out and it was actually kind of refreshing. My only concern was swamp foot from hiking for hours with wet feet. I wasn’t hiking long enough for it to get that bad, thankfully.

Socked in Lion's Head "view"

Socked in Lion’s Head “view”

I made another stop at Brassie Brook shelter to take a bathroom break and spoke to a section hiker taking shelter under its roof. I had already seen about 14 backpackers braving the weather. After all, this weather is not all that uncommon for regular backpackers.  I was moving as fast as I could to get to camp and out of the rain. I was lucky enough to have been permitted use of the caretakers tent so I was looking forward to being able to set up and unpack without the rain bearing down on me. I would be luckier than most on this day.

The rainy "view" at Riga

The rainy “view” at Riga

I made the judgement call to take the Undermountain and Paradise Lane trails from Riga junction rather than go over the many steep and exposed rock faces on Bear mountain, particularly the north side. This added a mile but was far safer.  I need to get a new otter box because my phone was not responsive to my squishy wet fingers and the humidity also made it act up again like in Harpers Ferry in July.  Somewhere in the process of my mad 8 mile dash in the rain, I managed to jam my big toe so the bone feels bruised if not fractured (hopefully not). It hurts but is functional so hopefully it’s just bruising. All that rushing meant I made good time though and was at camp by 230.

A tent inside a tent

A tent inside a tent

When I arrived at the campsite, two hikers were in the caretakers tent drying out gear. This is not allowed, please don’t do this, the tent is for staff only. However given the horrible conditions, and the friendly nature of the two men, I allowed them time to pack up their wet things in the shelter of the tent and we chatted a while. I gave them some advice on the upcoming section as they wanted to push much farther, having zeroed most of the day waiting out the rain. As there are some precarious bits ahead, especially when wet, I let them know about the campsites before those areas should they need to pull back and wait out the rain again. And of course, the rain began again shortly after they left around 330. When it finally ended it was around 630-7. I enjoyed listening to it on the roof of the tent as I always do. I enjoyed it even more this time as I was finally out of the rain.

Exterior of caretaker's tent

Exterior of caretaker’s tent

Despite seeing a decent amount of backpackers on the trail, no one else came in to spend the night at the campsite. I was surprised as it’s a very popular one and there was a group there just the night before in addition to the two men I met. I think given the rain they all opted for a campsite with a shelter and a roof.

I had dinner and setup my small tent inside the large canvas tent, so I had effective bug protection. This was the final weekend for that tent so my coordinator informed me the bug net and cot were already packed and they’d be packing the tent the next day after I left.  So I was grateful to have access to it, even in its most minimal state. It did what I needed most, kept me dry!  I changed out of my wet clothes and hung everything to dry out the best they could.

Dawn at Sages Ravine

Dawn at Sages Ravine

I had managed to get a little reception on my phone by going up the hill so I did a round around the campsite and checked the privies, bear boxes and other tent sites and coordinated with Brian to meet him the next morning at the intersection of the A.T and the Northwest road. He and his friend were planning to hit the state high point on nearby Mt Frissell, so we planned to hike over Bear together and then they could do the Frissell trail next as it was right across the road from the Northwest road and Bear Mountain road where they’d come out.

Some screech owls and other critters lulled me off to sleep… sorta. I also read the register book to help!

Monday, Labor day, was a gorgeous one. And the challenging scramble up the north side of Bear was a lot more fun with friends. It was also mostly dry at that point being so exposed to the sun and so vertical. I made quick friends with Jodi, and we met the other ridgerunner I knew was also out for his final weekend as we neared the summit. We spent some time on the summit tower with some day hikers and then headed down the south side of Bear, with its great southern and western views. I pointed out Frissell to them and some of the other mountains on their next hike.

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

When we got to the trail junction for Bear Mountain road, we made plans to see each other at our CT chapter’s A.T. day in October,. exchanged photos and headed our separate ways. I made quick time to Lion’s head and remarked to myself how quickly all those rivers on the trail were already dried up.  I passed large numbers of day hikers and quite a few more backpackers. Everyone was out in force enjoying the gorgeous day. Funny, I had said “beautiful day isn’t it!” to all the hikers as a joke the day previous, and today it was in earnest. Lots of hikers had their dogs out with them, and one family at Lion’s head were visiting with their son for the first time since they had gotten engaged there. The warm, dry weather also allowed me to dry out my shoes, socks and clothes which I had to put on damp in the morning. Luckily I had lots of sunshine instead of another day of rainy hiking in my wet clothes.

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

I recently purchased a new pack (Osprey EXOS 48) with my gear discount and I love it. It performed flawlessly on it maiden voyage, and is super comfortable. I highly recommend it. Many thru hikers use it as a superlight pack, though at around 50 liters most use it for a few days out at at a time. I just needed a little extra space than I had before, and wanted it as well for its ‘airspeed’ suspension which allows your back to be ventilated as well as the ‘stow and go’ trekking pole loops. Those were super convenient for the scrambles and the flats where I didn’t want or need the poles.

All in all the trip was a great success. I stuck it out through some very bad conditions. It’s great to know you have the skills to persevere and make proper judgement calls in inclement, dangerous weather. And I was rewarded with a perfect day the second day.

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

I am still a year-round volunteer so you will likely still see me out there either patrolling (volunteer ridgerunning) or doing improvements to the CT section as part of a work party. I love fall and spring hiking as well, and the woods are my happy place. I plan to return as a weekend ridgerunner in the 2018 season if they’ll have me.  I hope to see you out there soon. In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I have section hikes planned with friends in New Jersey and Massachusetts in the coming weeks so look for reports on those adventures.

Miles day 1: 7.6

Miles day 2: 6

– Linus

Ridgerunner weekend #1 – Back in the Wild Corner

I am trying a new format here. I’m going to make the entries more brief and to the point going forward with exception of an occasional longer piece. It’s getting tougher to find the time to write in such detail so I promise to keep providing nice images and a summary of each hike without writing a book! Lets start with last weekend.

Officially a Ridgerunner!

Officially a Ridgerunner!

It was my second Memorial Day weekend up on the Riga plateau in the Northwest corner of Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail. And my first as an official Appalachian Trail Weekend Ridgerunner. The role is what I have been doing as a volunteer but with pay and some other nice perks. The job is for 5-6 weekends during the peak summer months. Fortunately, it was not 100 degrees this Memorial Day weekend. I stopped up at Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts to pick up my uniform and rain gear and then headed back down to Salisbury.

Shortly after you head north out of Salisbury on the trail, you hit the 1,500 mile marker. We have a newish sign there and it sure adds to the excitement.

1500 miles

1500 miles

DAY 1:

The trail was packed with hikers. I met over 80 on day 1 between Rt 41 in Salisbury and the summit of Bear. That was Just the day hikers. Many take the Undermountain trail from Rt. 41 trailhead near the Massachusetts border. This 1.9-mile trail meets the AT at Riga Junction about 1,000 ft higher. That lot was full and I wanted to spend more time on the A.T. vs side trails so I kept driving down to the lot in town.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

There were about 20 Backpackers on Day 1. Most were NOBO (Northbound) whereas on Day 2 there were a lot more SOBOs (southbounders). I met a marine on the summit on day 1 among the crowds and thanked him for his service.

On top I also met the caretaker of our Northwest Cabin. He’s summited Bear over 300 times now as he lives nearby and is at the cabin each week. It’s at the bottom of Bear near Sages Ravine and you can rent it with your family. I also met a lot of locals who do the hike often as well, even bringing up their lapdogs.

From a perch on the summit tower, I educated everyone on the different mountains in the views as well as about the stone tower itself and how Mt. Frissell’s shoulder is actually higher than Bear. Though Bear IS the highest SUMMIT in the state. We talked about how if Bigfoot can leave no trace, so can you. The kids loved this, but I confess I saw it on the internet and can’t take credit for coming up with it! It’s a fun and friendly way to breach the LNT subject without anyone feeling like I’m lecturing them!

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

I also found the elusive pink Lady Slipper. They love it on Lions head. The only other place I’ve seen them is near Hatch Brook down by Pine Knob Loop.

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The other prominent flower was pink Honeysuckle which was blooming everywhere. Usually it’s the Mountain Laurel going wild up here. Their time is coming soon.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

I met some great section hikers when I got to the beautiful campsite and shelter at Riga where I was staying for the night. We talked at dinner and played some fun charades games before everyone went to bed. There was another group too, and wow did their dinner smell like it tasted WAY better than mine. I was trying some new more organic lentil meal and i forgot to add my Tabasco and salt and pepper. Lesson learned.  I still enjoyed a great view for dinner though. The view (and the sunrise) are famous at Riga. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and is clear cut to show the view.

Vegan Camping Food - I'm not a vegan

Vegan Camping Food – I’m not a vegan

Gripes of the day: 1 ) campers leaving full sized pillows, and a bunch of trash and food they didn’t want to pack out in the bear box. That was about 10 lbs for me to pack out the next day, It was not appreciated. Pack it in, pack it out. It was nice to see another hiker (not a maintainer) rant about it in the shelter register because this way other hikers learn they are being disrespectful from their own peers.

2) Someone made a fire ring right under the ‘no fires’ sign again. Who are these people? I keep seeing this. Someone is out to make a point. So I cleared it.

There was a porcupine chewing on the Privy walls all night. It was about 50 yards from my tent so you couldn’t NOT hear it. It didn’t bother me that much though.

Miles Day 1: 8.2

Porcupines: 1

DAY 2:

I caught the famous sunrise and woke up some of my new friends to watch it come up with me. Then enjoyed breakfast with the great view. My Backpackers Pantry Granola with Milk and Organic Blueberries and my Starbucks VIA with a few mini moos I took from my office kitchen hit the spot.

The famous Riga sunrise!

The famous Riga sunrise!

My friend Brian was training for a White Mountains hike in a few weeks so he hiked up to join me at Riga and hike with me for much of the day. We hiked back up to the summit of Bear together. He met a woman in her 60’s from Tennessee who was doing a LASH (Long a** section hike). We saw her again when cleaning up remains of a fire at Brassie Brook shelter and had a nice chat with her.

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Along the way up, we saw a young couple packing up a camping spot right on the side of the trail and I asked them to please stick to designated campsites as we are reforesting there and that’s the rule either way in Connecticut. They had been tired last night and didn’t know there was a campsite 1/2 mile ahead! I then saw them again when at Brassie brook filling up my water and gave them a map and helped answer some other questions for which they thanked me. We would see them again on Bear and Lion’s head before the day was over.

We met and hiked with some other of my new friends from the night before at Riga (the ones with the delicious smelling food!) and one of them was an entomologist. She taught me about some wildlife and plants as did Brian who is a tree expert. He showed me a lot of species I didn’t previously recognize. We also talked gear a lot, comparing and talking about our new gear upgrades and water/sleep and pack systems.

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion's head

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion’s head

Today was more overcast but still we encountered at least another 20 backpackers (most of these were southbound and a large group of them were wearing bug nets which was smart) . There were two thru-hikers including Captain Underpants, whose family was joining him for this section over the weekend. Most of the backpackers were section hiking this weekend. You can usually tell who are thru and who are section.

At Lion's Head

At Lion’s Head

There were about another 75 day hikers we met along the trail and on the summits of Bear and Lion’s head. We took in the views and a snack on Lion’s head after picking up the trash and the pillow from Riga so we could pack it out. (No point in carrying it up and down Bear so we came back for it).

There were lots of families with small kids on Lion’s head. Some asked if they could drink the water and I told them not without filtering and offered them water but they had enough.

We made it down to Rt 41 around 3:15 and Brian was then headed south to Limestone spring shelter for the night as he couldn’t overnight on Saturday.

It was a great weekend. Not too hot, no rain ever showed during my shift, and I met a lot of great people and pushed my personal weekend mileage goals.

Miles Day 2: 8.5

  • Linus

 

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 12 (Part 1)

Heading up the grind

Heading up the grind

Tomorrow we leave early for another hike on the New York Appalachian Trail. We started section 12 southbound last Saturday and slack-packed it as a warm up hike for this weekend. We thought about finishing all of the state in these two hikes but something about the rebar ladder up the cliff just north of the N.J. line said it to me that it was best going up that, and with a day pack vs a full weekend pack. So we will likely slack-pack that one too, to finish off our season, and the state in early fall.

Last weekend the weather forecast was much like this weekend’s. Stifling heat and humidity, and chance of heavy thunderstorms. We got both of those last weekend but luckily the rain came after the hike. In this kind of heat though, rain like that can be a blessing as long as you have a way to keep dry. We are going to bring the tarp this time too, as it really saved the day in these conditions last season. There is a shelter but we don’t like to sleep in them, and it will likely be full if the weather is bad.  I am hoping at the least that this means Fitzgerald Falls will be raging when we pass it tomorrow. As long as it doesn’t make the trail to precarious, I don’t mind the rain. We’re just going to drive down early in the morning as we are camping out for the night, so rolling into camp at 630 won’t be a problem and we can start at 10 or 11.

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden had such better results with her trail runners and normal socks last weekend and didnt get a single blister! Based on this miracle, and knowing how much rockier the trail has been getting in southern New York, I ordered a pair from the REI outlet that came recommended from a friend, and they will be delivered today. I went by the store yesterday to get some more appropriate socks, and a short sleeve merino shirt. The merino really works better for me in these conditions as it wicks away the sweat a lot better, retains no odor, and dries quickly. For my chemistry I find it better than synthetics in the humid and wet summers. I have one in long sleeve but at 95 degrees heat index, I want a short sleeve. The smartwool shirts are not cheap, but every review I read, and my experience with my current longsleeve say its worth it.  I love having new gear to test, and this weekend will be no exception. There are rock steps along the falls, and the rocky outcroppings of eastern pinnacles and cat rocks. I want all the traction I can get. Hopefully I won’t find the opposite to be true for me, and I load up with blisters with the new shoes and socks.

First view (east)

First view (east)

Last weekend’s section included the famous “Agony Grind”, a 500ft climb up rock piles in less than half a mile. While it was steep, and very rocky, there was really no spot where you would fall long distances or heights if you slipped. I would want to do this less if it was rainy, but going slow it could still be done. We lucked out this time in that it was dry out for the moment. We stayed in Fort Montgomery the night before so we could get to the trail as early as possible, and still be back by 5 to meet other commitments.

The second scramble

The second scramble

We stayed at a nice hotel and ate at a great BBQ place next door. We met a West Point graduate who was headed up there shortly to celebrate his 50 year anniversary of graduation with classmates, do a presentation and then hike. He had done many parts of the A.T. in the south, and we had a nice talk about our plans.

We saw they were having a Native American pow-wow at the Bear Mountain area, and since I am fascinated with that culture and collect Kachina, we wanted to make sure we had time to visit it too. And because we weren’t clear on if there was parking at our originally planned endpoint, we made the hike a little shorter that day and for tomorrow where we knew there was parking allowed. So instead of 5.4 miles we did 3.6. Still, it had many good ups and downs, and some great scenery.

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

As we headed over the interstate from Elk Pen, a truck honked at us and I didn’t even do the arm tug! I was filming but sadly had stopped rolling at that time. We ran across rt.17 and headed into the woods to start the climb up Arden Mountain and agony grind. Some thru hikers we saw earlier trying to get a ride into town from near here had set up their camp right by the road in the woods, clearly for this purpose. The uphill started right away, and there were about 4 different sections to ascend.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

Someone was set up in their hammock on the ridge by the first view, half way up. It was very pretty throughout the ascent, and we were in good spirits and enjoying it. We met some thru hikers and stopped to chat with them below the third scramble. They had just resupplied so got a late start today. As we were chatting with them and exchanging blogs and instagram accounts, we saw another group of backpackers and they joined the chat. As the thru-hikers headed north (and thanked me for being a volunteer!), and I asked Fielden to get some good footage of my ascent up one of these scrambles, these southbound backpackers recognized us from when we hiked through section 10 in April! They too stayed at William Brien shelter that night. Small world.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

They were headed to Wildcat shelter for the night, where we are headed tomorrow. We passed each other on and off along the way and chatted each time. We told them at the last stop together that we were parked at the next road so that would probably be the last time we see them. They were finishing New York and we still had more to go. But you never know. We had a snack at the top of Arden Mountain at a trail crossing, and signed a trail register there. It apparently goes 2 miles north to the Harriman train station. We passed a group camped on a ledge on the western side of the mountain, that the thru hikers had told us about. They didn’t seem to be backpacking as they had a fairly large campsite and lots of beer. Even though its a good uphill to this site, its not too long a hike.

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

Where we met our old friends at the last stop together on Orange Turnpike there was all sorts of trail magic, both at the bottom of the hill and the top. At the bottom there was a whole tarp / lounge setup with a trash bin, a bin of fresh fruit, water jugs, sodas, snack bars, bug spray, even athletes foot cream! There was a register book too which we signed. Our friends snapped a photo of us here before heading off. There were a few blackberry bushes and we all treated ourselves to some.

I’m certain they got stuck in the storm that rolled in later, but hopefully made it to the shelter not too long after to dry off. At the top of the last short climb of the day, there was a camping area and a first aid trail magic box, full of first aid supplies! I’ve never seen that before. This uphill was a bit steep but not too long and before long we were descending to the edges of LIttle Dam lake.

1st aid trail magic

1st aid trail magic

The lake was absolutely beautiful, and we spotted what I thought was Indian paintbrush but was actually cardinal flower. It lined the lake, which itself was full of lily pads and croaking bullfrogs. At the inlet area where you cross on stone steps, there were obvious signs of camping areas, but no signs saying it was prohibited. Though I’ve read you’re not allowed in the guide and on whiteblaze. In New York, I think the unspoken rule is you can camp where needed if you leave no trace. The cardinal flower was everywhere here and was quite beautiful. We saw another trail magic area on the way back to the road, with a couple more water jugs. I think that is great as long as the people come back and pick them up when they are empty. Its been brutal weather. I know how much we appreciated it when we were in Massachusetts.

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

When we did get back to our car, someone had written “hi” in the dirt next to it. We were hoping it was our friends from William Brien. We gave them the blog address so guys if you’re reading this and that was you, leave a comment!

On our way to get the other car at Elk Pen, we stopped at a gas station in Southfields near the trail to get some drinks and use the bathroom. Even though the gas station was state of the art and in pristine condition, they had a sign on the door that said ‘bathroom out of order, sorry use porta-potty outside.” We got our snacks and the second car and tried to find a bathroom farther up the road on the way to the pow-wow. There was a gas station with a ‘Wally-Mart” right across from the Harriman train station on rt. 17 that the blue trail leads to from the A.T. on Arden Mountain. Guess what, they said no bathrooms too. Clearly, the proximity to the trail has made these two businesses refuse to offer their bathrooms to hikers. I’m not going to pass judgement on these decisions, but I thought if you were reading this, you should know the situation and not expect that amenity at these places.

We drove over to Anthony Wayne Recreation area for the pow wow. We ate Indian Fry bread, bought some momentos, watched some dances, and I got to go inside a Tee Pee and shoot a bow and arrow for the first time since summer camp. I was quite good back then and once I got comfortable with the bow, I got a near bullseye on my second attempt. I am always looking for more ways to relax and decompress in this hectic world and I found the local Y is doing adult archery courses in the fall. So I think I’m going to try the class and see if its something I enjoy doing regularly.

Little Dam Lake lily pads

Little Dam Lake lily pads

We saw the black clouds start to roll in around 4 and headed to the car, literally as the sky opened up with torrential rain. The drive back over the Bear Mountain bridge and around Anthony’s nose in the downpour was sketchy. The road winds up and around the mountains and we could barely see out of the windshield. It didn’t last long though and before you knew it it was sunny and humid and sweltering hot again. The rain never did make it to our home in Connecticut.

"Hi" at the road

“Hi” at the road

This weekend is the famous perseid meteor shower and the display is supposed to be better than most years. I hope the skies are clear enough to see from the shelter. We will also look tonight from our deck, but we live in a small city, and its currently raining now, so its anybody’s guess if we will see anything. We are also excited because the Bellvale Creamery ice cream shop and the hot dog stand are right at our end point Saturday, so we plan to reward ourselves properly when we get back to the car.

Archery is fun!

Archery is fun!

After tomorrow’s section, we have only 5 or so miles left of New York! Also, you’ve probably noticed I’m beardless now. It’s just been way too hot a summer for a fur-face!

I added the recent footage to the New York video, and I can’t wait till we finish the final section and I can post the video of the whole state!

Miles: 3.6

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: A Weekend in the Wild Corner

Bad place for a nest

Hiker Map Box: Bad place for a nest

My friend Rob McWilliams used the phrase “Wild Corner of Connecticut” when I told him where I was backpacking last weekend, and I loved it. So thanks, Rob, you just made my blog title snap! Check out Rob’s blog here. There’s lots of rugged trail here in Connecticut, but I definitely think this is an accurate description of the Riga Plateau. On the A.T. it starts in Salisbury, quickly rising a thousand feet to Lion’s Head, a very scenic outcropping on the southeastern corner of the plateau. The entire plateau includes several peaks in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Fielden Stream and I completed the Connecticut section of the Appalachian trail through here just about a year ago by completing this final section and ending just over the Massachusetts border at Sages Ravine.

Break Time

Break Time

While I didn’t cover the section up to Lion’s Head or Down from Bear’s summit this Memorial Day weekend, the alternative route up was hardly less strenuous. I was up here to cover the trail between these two very popular peaks and the A.T. campsites in between, to greet and assist hikers during the day and overnight.

If I made any mistake it was not hitting the trail until just after noon, on a scorching hot day. The undermountain trail is a blue blaze that is one of several which climbs from Rt 41 up to the plateau where the A.T. traverses along its eastern ridges.  The others are the Race Brook Falls Trail and Elbow Trail behind the Berkshire school, both just north of the Massachusetts line. At its starting point the elevation of the undermountain trail is about 675ft. When it finally reaches the A.T. its 1,000ft higher. And as my goal this morning before returning to camp at Riga shelter was the summit of Bear Mountain, Connecticut (2,316ft) … well I had a good climb ahead and I knew it.

In this heat, no paradise here

In this heat, no paradise here

It was a busy holiday weekend and luckily I got the last of the spots in the trailhead lot. There were also many cars along the road, which is not a big deal if you’re just out for a few hours. Overnight I’d worry about parking on the road. As I was getting my gear together I chatted with some day hikers headed up the same way and gave them a map and made sure they had plenty of water. I also spoke to a section hiker who just did the entire Connecticut section and was waiting for a ride from a family member, and would then join them for a family get together just over the New York border. He gave me useful information on the water sources, and had lots of enthusiasm post-hike to talk trail, which got me sufficiently fired up to start the long climb. While never really terribly steep, one must not be fooled by the long continuous ascent. While I have done worse, in the heat and humidity it was tough. I was thankful to meet a lot of hikers along the way and stop to chat with them.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

I was more than relieved when I reached Riga Junction and the intersection of the Appalachian Trail. I was 2/3 of the way up now, so I took a snack break here and appreciated the last bit of shade I would get from the forest canopy, as the ascent up the south side of Bear opens up to a series of gentle scrambles along a rocky spine with nothing but a little krumholz and mountain laurel to shade you from the sun. It’s about .9 miles from here to the summit but its a good 600ft ascent. But, at least the views south and west are extremely rewarding. Just like last year, I snapped away on my camera. I love photography so always go a little overboard. Better to have more and filter out the bad ones, than less. I took a break every spot there was shade and kept a vigilant eye out for snakes. I startled one on the way up the undermountain trail which I pointed out to a group of day hikers on their way down. I ran into snakes two more times on this trip. Fortunately they were all garter snakes!

Southern view from Bear Mtn

Southern view from Bear Mtn

I reached the summit and promptly headed to the shady area behind the tower. I spent about an hour alternating between this spot and the hot rocky summit tower, interacting with day hikers and backpackers. This is probably the most popular section of trail in all of Connecticut. We all took lots of pictures and I educated them on the history of the summit tower, the plaque and the past notion that this was our state’s highest point. While it is the highest single summit entirely within the state, the shoulder of nearby Mt. Frissell has the honor of the highest point in Connecticut, even though its own peak is over the border in Massachusetts.

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

From the remains of the stone tower, I reveled in the sweeping views east and north to Mts Race and Everett, which Fielden Steam and I will hike along the trail in just less than three weeks with our Florida friends. I made sure to send them these great shots, and they were happy to see them! I also met my first annoying set of bees and flies of the weekend. They would harrass me for the next 24 hours, either because I was such good company, or smelled half dead. I helped hikers with directions and information for a while longer before taking one more long look and then heading back down the south side of the mountain. I met the day hikers I saw in the lot that morning on the way down and they treated me to some fresh carrots and broccoli they were snacking on at a viewpoint near the summit.

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

Once back at the junction, the trail gently undulates south along the ridge through mountain laurel tunnels for miles until a short ascent to Lion’s head on the southern end of the plateau. I would visit there tomorrow. The laurels were only blooming at the summit of Bear at this time, but the pink honeysuckle was abundant, and I would find some coveted wildflowers in my near future. I stopped briefly at Brassie brook to fill up on water, as I had depleted nearly my full 3 liters at this point. I met a nice couple section hiking with their dog Jimmy and who would be at the campsite with me later that night. Shortly after I stopped into the Brassie Brook shelter and campsites where I cleaned up a stealth fire ring. Boy I was tired at this point, but it had to be done! There was no one at the campsite recently as far as I could tell. Sages Ravine and Riga really draw the most crowds and so this and Ball Brook really handle the overflow when those two are full or for tired hikers stuck in between.

Brassie Brook Shelter

Brassie Brook Shelter

As I headed out of the Brassie Brook campsite, I ran into another section hiker I saw at the summit of Bear and we hiked south together and spoke until we reached the Riga campsites. While we passed Ball Brook campsite on the way, I decided I’d check it on the way back tomorrow. It’s a lovely little group site on the ridgeline, but not often used except by scouts.

She told me she had never met a volunteer ridgerunner before and thanked me for my work. That happened again later as I headed down undermountain trail the next day, and I have to admit, it felt great. We traded stories and reached the Riga site about 30 minutes later.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

As I got into the campsite I briefly chatted with some hikers who were also excited to meet a trail volunteer, and signed into the shelter as we took in the famous view. You can see at least 50 miles east over the mountain tops here. It’s a well loved spot. I then headed to set up my great new tent the REI Quarter Dome 1 for its maiden voyage and afterwards, set about the business of meeting all the hikers and helping them as they settled in for the evening. I talked tents with some of them, fascinated by the cuben fiber options out there though happy with my purchase.  One was a former caretaker for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont.

All in all, there were many flip-floppers (hiking from the middle of the trail one direction, then the other from the middle again to mitigate crowding), the section hikers I met at Brassie Brook, a couple celebrating the second half of their honeymoon hike by doing all of Connecticut and a NYC group who coincidentally was led by an outdoor shop a block from my sister-in-law’s in Brooklyn, NY! Small, small world.I’ve been in the shop often. We became quick friends, as you can imagine. I’m very happy to hear that his business is growing. I showed him the demerit badge I got in his shop of the bee, which Fielden Stream gave me when I was stung by a mud wasp on Sharon mountain and screamed so loudly that she thought I was bitten by a rattlesnake! Another group came in closer to dark as I was finishing my dinner of beef jerky. (left my titanium spoon in my wife’s pack!)

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

I chatted with the girl from earlier and the honeymoon couple while filtering water, then spent the rest of the evening looping around the camp showing hikers to the privy, bear box, water source, and reminding them fires aren’t allowed. It was a full house, but I loved feeling like a helping hand to them all.

The rain never came though a nice breeze blew through the treetops through the night, and I drifted in and out of sleep until I knew I spotted the makings of the famous sunrise. I ran out to the clearing in front of the shelter, and many of the hikers were there snapping the epic photos of the sun rising over Canaan mountain and the misty valley below.

I retreated to the tent to try and catch a few more Z’s since sunrise was at 5:45, but it was no use, and I knew it was going to be beastly hot again. So best to get going and beat the heat as much as I could. I made my breakfast, said goodbyes and inspected the campsites as everyone was leaving, and then headed south to check out Lion’s head.

Linus at Lion's Head

Linus at Lion’s Head

As I approached the northern viewpoint, I spotted the rare pink lady slipper, a favorite flower of ours. It’s also quite rare. Conditions have to be just right, and because of that I haven’t seen one since 2014. I took oodles of photos and then headed to the southern viewpoint with its sweeping views over the twin lakes of Salisbury all the way to Rand’s view in Canaan/Falls Village. I met a nice couple there who were intriqued in what I do, and they took some nice shots of me there.

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

I told them about the lady slippers and the northern view and suggested some hikes for them tomorrow as they were staying in town. As I headed back and took more shots of the flowers I met them there, and a family that was day hiking past who spotted a whole patch of them! How did I miss so many on the way up. Tired, I guess. It was getting hot and hotter already and it wasn’t even 8 am. I ran into the honeymooning couple on the way back up to Riga Junction and one of the groups from the campsite who were hoping to make it another 20 miles to Silver Hill. They looked young and fit enough but in that heat, I suggested some alternates a little closer just in case!

On the way back I managed to irk a bee or wasp sufficiently so that it followed me and quickened my pace significantly back to Riga Junction. On the way I checked out Ball Brook campsites, which were empty. I entertained another go up Bear, but the temperatures were soaring and I was done.

Boundary Marker

Boundary Marker

I headed down the undermountain trail to my car and along the way got many kudos from a day hiker for my volunteer work again. She said “yay, Appy guy, love it love you thank you thank you!” I must have blushed. Her son smiled at me, a little embarrassed. Though it’s always great to be thanked. I also spotted one of the boundary markers I remembered here from last year.

On the drive home I stopped in Kent to visit some of my favorite shops and to pick up some dinner at my favorite bakery there. I had a great adventure, and was ready for my hike the following Saturday for National Trails day. As I’ve been working on this entry a while, that day was today. I had a great hike today and met more great people. I’ll write about that soon. I don’t think I’ll be out next weekend so hopefully I can catch up then on the blog!

Miles day 1: 5.9

Miles day 2: 5.83

Snake sightings: 3!

— Linus