Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Weekend #3 – Up and Down the Trail

Last weekend I saw a lot more of the Connecticut trail than one section. It started off by running into ridge runner Lizzie at the Cornwall Country Market. We hadn’t seen each other since the training days in late May, and I was stopping in to pick up some breakfast sandwiches for Brian and I. He was already out on the trail and planning to join me at the trailhead in Falls Village shortly after my stop here. Lizzie and I caught up for a bit and talked about our season so far. She was on day 6 of a 10 day stretch and was excited to be meeting friends at the market. She had met Brian on the trail earlier so she knew we were meeting up to hike later. She thanked me again for all the training I gave them, which felt nice of course. It was an honor, and a lot of fun!

I headed up to the trailhead lot in Falls Village. Set up there were a family doing trail magic out of their truck. With them they had both their daughters, and one was currently thru hiking the trail but had actually been in the Bear Mountain, New York area. They picked her up so she could join in providing the trail magic and see her family who were from Michigan. They were planning to drive her back to where she left off in New York on the way back.  They had coolers of water, gatorade, chips, sandwiches and some sugary treats. I spoke with them for a while about ridge running and then with a few other thru hikers who were arriving, and we’d see a bunch more of later on the trail.

Brian finally arrived (he got sidetracked by some other nice hikers we’d see several more times). Apparently he walked right past a large rattlesnake the other hikers saw right after their conversation by Belter’s Bump. I gave him the egg sandwich, which he had in addition to a fresh sandwich they made him. We enjoyed more conversation with hikers before finally setting off on the trail. It was getting hotter and I was ready to get into the shady covered woods.

There was a small issue here as an entry to the tracks was right next do a turn blaze on a pole. Only this wasn’t the entrance to the trail, it was about 50 ft farther. But the sign was covered by overgrown brush. Once I realized what was going on, I used some large sticks and branches to create a fence of sorts. Hopefully this will work for the time being while we can address it with the club for a more permanent solution. I’ve already raised it.

Once that was resolved it was a quick mostly flat few miles to the base of the Great Falls. We also made a stop to fill up our bottles at the power plant faucet. At the falls we ran into the trail magic family as we had recommended they come here to see the falls. They were surprised we were there already. Well, it was flat and we move at a good pace when hiking. We opted to enjoy the falls more properly and cool off on our return tomorrow. For now we wanted to get our miles down.

The long slow climb up Prospect Mountain is luckily almost all in the woods save for one short strip through a steamy meadow. We took a long break at the top and spoke with some day hikers and then two thru hikers we saw at the trail magic lot. He had left his phone in a shuttle driver’s car so Brian was helping him communicate with family who could help him make arrangements to get it back. It was a clear, bright, warm day and the view was long and clear from the summit.

We marched on, headed for the Giant’s Thumb on Rabbit Hill. I also wanted to take in Rand’s view, a glorious panorama of the Taconics and the trail ahead. There was indeed a stealth camping area here. A few of the thrus asked if they could camp in this area when at the trail magic and I said only at designated sites in Connecticut. They did comply and we saw them later at the campsite. But we had to address this stealth site. Once we made sure it was cleared of any fire evidence, I built another structure of sticks and vines to create a fence. Let’s hope it lasts. A more permanent solution is needed. But it seems people know about it and camping in the field from Guthook. Nevermind that it’s not allowed I guess a nice camp spot is more important to hikers these days than LNT.  Well, not all. And this IS one of the main reasons I’m out here. I’m hoping my fence solution sends the message without being offensive. I was certainly happy with it.

The Giant’s Thumb is a glacial erratic on Rabbit Hill that sticks straight up and resembles a thumb. It was only .3 farther up trail and mostly level so we decided it would be nice to visit it as our turn around point for the day. After nearly walking right by it, we stopped for photos and then headed back to the campsite. The big steep climb down to the campsite and shelter was next. I cut some branches hanging in the access trail and Brian taught me about how to cut tree branches so the tree keeps growing in a healthy way.

As steep as I’ve ever remembered it, we took our time getting down to camp. Once there, its a lovely campsite with a piped spring, a nice breeze, and a shelter and several platforms. We got set up and I answered questions and spoke to all the hikers as they streamed in, grumbling about the descent. I assured them we are working on a solution for that. Re-routes take a lot of meetings and surveys of the land and then approvals so once we get all that done, a re-route should be in place. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

The hikers from the trail magic that asked me about camping at the field were there, as were about 8 others, including 2 section overnight hikers. And one thru-hiking poodle. We enjoyed speaking with all of them at dinner at the picnic table and I helped the two overnighters arrange to get their little sportscar out the river road gate as their GPS took them down a very treacherous road to the other side of the gate and they were afraid the car wouldn’t make it back up. We met thru hikers from Australia, and one who’s waited his whole life to retire and do the trail. It was a dry, clear, moonlight quiet night, save for an owl and some fisher cats (I think they were mating?). Even the bugs eventually left.

In the morning we all seemed to be up and heading out at the same time so it was nice to not have to wait to see that the campsite was in order. We made quick time of the steep ascent and got back to the summit of Prospect Mountain. Those two climbs would be about all of it for the day except a few 50ft ups and downs along the train track section. We spoke with the hikers Brian had chatted with on Belter’s Bump as they were just making it to this section today. They are neighbors who have already done 1,500 miles of the trail but they do it all in day hikes and stay in hotels at night. We also saw a few members of another family who were taking their dogs up to the summit. We stopped at the falls and got to the edge of the water this time to cool off and splash a bunch of cold water on our heads. We spoke with a few thru hikers here and passed about 8 more on the way back to the car including Arrow and Nav, who I’ve been following on Instagram. Nav is a little miniature Collie. It was fun to run into them and was not sure I’d see them because the car show at Falls Village was drawing a lot of hikers because of the many food vendors.

I have also been followed and was following another hiker named Lightning McQueen. My friends at the Bulls Bridge informed me they’d be barbecuing and doing some trail magic, and to come over after we got off trail. So we planned on that in the morning and I told Lightning to meet us there if the timing was right. As I got on the road I was updated that she had already come by looking for me and had gone to the store. I reached out and she was still there and said she’d be back at the trail shortly. We really enjoyed meeting and talking and having lunch with her. I also met a National Park Ranger who is working with our chapter on educating locals on the trail and rules here, as well as addressing other issues along our section. So I was able to provide her with some information on the status of issues in the section of trail we just hiked.

It was perfect weather all weekend, and I got to make a lot of new friends, and meet up with some hikers I was hoping to meet, and as always, take care of the trail and the hikers the best I can. And my planks have paid off because it really minimized my knee pain and I had a long descent to test it out! I will be back out in a few weekends to do more ridge running. I am also planning a 3 day section in North Carolina to do with Fielden Stream as we will be in the area in a month for my son’s graduation. Can’t wait. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 7.5

Miles day 2: 5.9

— Linus

 

My fence to block a fake trail entry

My fence to block a fake trail entry

Almost 1500

Almost 1500

The one and only Rand's view

The one and only Rand’s view

Brian at Giant's Thumb

Brian at Giant’s Thumb

Camping at Limestone Spring

Camping at Limestone Spring

Lilly the hiking dog

Lilly the hiking dog

On top of Prospect Mountain

On top of Prospect Mountain

Spotted Wintergreen in Bloom

Spotted Wintergreen in Bloom

The Great falls, from the side

The Great falls, from the side

Below the Great Falls

Below the Great Falls

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

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

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

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

Top of the bump

Top of the bump

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

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

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

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

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

Early autumn on the trail

Early autumn on the trail

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

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

The Bridge is also the trail

The Bridge is also the trail

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

Trail along the road

Trail along the road

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

Barrack Mountain

Barrack Mountain

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

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

Turning onto the Mohawk

Turning onto the Mohawk

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

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

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

Steep and steeper

Steep and steeper

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

Miles: 4

— Linus