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

 

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Macedonia Ridge Trail

Park Entrance

Park Entrance

Last weekend, despite the mega blizzard (and only blizzard so far) of the year, I got to finally complete a trail I’ve been wanting to since reaching its prize summit on a few previous shorter hikes. Despite the record snowfall Winter Storm Jonas created in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as the 16″ of snow it left in my town, it did not make it much farther north in our state. So for once I was able to drive north and have better conditions. I like hiking in the winter, but this was not one for doing in the snow and ice.

The summit views are worth the climb up from any direction, yet this time the effort was substantially higher. And hence the remaining portion of this trail is one I’ve been putting off for just the right moment because of its quite steep scrambles in the Northwestern corner of the park. I wanted to do the remainder at once, as its not high mileage and is convenient to complete with 1 vehicle doing a loop. It was just a matter of when. The reverse weather being what it was, this day was perfect for it.

Cobble Mtn Trailhead

Cobble Mtn Trailhead

As it was the off-season, I had the woods almost entirely to myself since the campground was empty and the temperatures were too low for most day hikers and families. It also meant I wouldn’t have a bunch of people lining up behind me if I was taking my sweet time on the tough ascent. I attribute part of my original hesitation on my first attempt over Squaw Peak to crowds of people behind me on the hike that added just too much pressure and did not allow me to assess the challenge properly to where I felt it was safe to proceed. I also wanted to do this one solo for this reason so it wasn’t my own family adding that pressure.

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

But I was excited for the challenge as I enjoy pushing my comfort zone and I definitely needed some me time. All the research I had done suggested I tackle the climb upwards vs down, and the experience reinforced that. We came down the northern face of Bear Mountain on the A.T. in Connecticut last summer and it was as steep and long as this. While looking back up at that ascent from the bottom was daunting, gravity treats me better going up. In that case I didn’t have a choice really as NOBO and down was our route.

The only other uphill climb I’ve done that was this steep was the Major Welch trail on another Bear Mountain, that being the one in N.Y. We did it in 2013, just before we started hiking the A.T. together. The Major Welch trail was originally one of the earliest sections of the Appalachian Trail and was very similar to this one I was about to do. Also just as steep, just as long, and just as exhausting. The only difference on the Major Welch being I didn’t have to first climb up into a crevice with a 50+ foot drop on one side and then hand over hand out and up the first steep portion of the 650-foot rock face.

CCC road

CCC road

The whole Macedonia Ridge trail is a 6.7-mile loop over about six peaks that flank the steep eastern and western shores of Macedonia Brook, with Cobble Mountain being the highest and having the grandest views. When I mean grand, I mean grand. You can see 40 miles easy in any direction, including the high peaks of the Catskills to the west, the Taconic Range to the north, and more of the Appalachians to the east and south. At this point you are just shy of 1,400 ft up on the side of a ridge just a few hundred yards east of the New York border. I can’t help but think this and the mountain ridges north and south of here had something to do with where the state line was drawn — Natural features often dictate boundaries.

View south from Pine Hill

View south from Pine Hill

On our first overnight outing in 2013 to test our new backpacking tent we stayed here and climbed up an unmarked side trail to the western side of the trail and to the summit of Cobble Mountain along this ridge. To be fair we thought we were still on the white trail but were not. We were so enamored of the view from the summit, we took my son “Jiffy Pop” back on A.T. day a year later with our local AMC club but did take that steeper white-blazed trail to the summit. It’s much shorter but is definitely steeper. It was a dramatic hike as a thick fog blanketed the valley that October afternoon, so the mountainside seemed to disappear into the mist and a light rain began to fall. It was a family hike and there were lots of fearless and adventurous little ones along for the fun, practically running up the trail, my son included. He loved this hike and it was great to see he shared the enthusiasm with me. We completed the southwestern section of the Macedonia Ridge trail that day on our descent from the summit, crossing South Cobble as well, with its sweeping views south and east and some beautiful ridge walking.

Coming down Pine Hill

Coming down Pine Hill

If you are familiar with the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut you will recognize Macedonia brook as the one you cross just north of Mt Algo in Kent, CT. In fact, in earlier times, the western and northern parts of this loop were also part of the Appalachian Trail. It was later rerouted east to its current location.

As I mentioned above, there is also a campground here with many sites both wooded and on open fields as well as along the brook. There are many modern pit toilets with solar panels on the roofs – but there are no flushing toilets inside or shower facilities like at nearby Housatonic Meadows state park. So while it’s not a completely primitive campground, its not one for those that demand modern comforts when camping. Along those lines, there’s also next to zero cell phone coverage unless you are up on the ridges, as the peaks really box the park in. There’s a large open-to-the-elements stone pavilion with a fireplace you can rent out, and our local AMC club does exactly that for its annual A.T. Day events. There are RV sites too, if that’s your preferred method of camping.

Climbing up Cobble Mtn

Climbing up Cobble Mtn-looking down – steep!

Camping is allowed mid-April through October, and rangers are on duty that whole time. Trail maps and firewood are available at the Ranger station. Alcohol is not allowed. If you really need modern comforts and fine dining and drinking, downtown Kent is 10 minutes or less by car and can provide all of those amenities. There are many other side trails throughout the park that connect up with the loop trail and facilitate hikes of all levels and lengths. Check it out!

The Taconics to the North (on the right in distance)

The Taconics to the North (on the right in distance)

The area was once a hotbed of local iron activity for the area, and Kent Iron Company’s furnaces, forges and charcoal pits dotted the landscape, fueled by local trees. Remnants of the forges, pits and stone walls are visible in the southern end of the park.

There was also a CCC (Civil Conservation Corps) project here in the early 30’s which built roadways and buildings for park management. An old Dover, NY to Kent, CT. stagecoach road passes through the northern end as well. The brook and several other streams and ponds traverse and surround the park.

I was pleasantly surprised at the views on Pine Hill, the peak just north of Cobble. The southern side of the peak provided a beautiful vista south into the Housatonic River Valley, with Mt. Schaghticoke and Mt. Algo towering beyond. And the route down this face had some nice rock scrambles of its own, though not as tough as Cobble. A great lunch spot!

Catskills to the West (in distance)

Catskills to the West (in distance)

I headed counter clockwise from the beginning of the loop on the south side of the park and because there was no leaf cover, the first peak also provided some nice views south and also east to Pond Mountain (natural area) and Caleb’s Peak on the A.T. I really enjoy fall and late winter hikes when you can get views, sometimes 360 degrees from a ridge, that normally would be invisible in summer. Really gives you the sense you’re ridge walking and not just in the woods. A bit more payoff for all those climbs to get to that spot.

The green trail traverses the park from the notch between Cobble and Pine Hill on the western side to this eastern peak and then onwards to the Pond Mountain Area. I believe this is the original A.T. route, or part of the original route east to the river from Cobble’s summit. I’ve bought a book on the Connecticut section online from 1968 so I’m eager to find the original route.

Macedonia Brook

Macedonia Brook

I had hoped to try out my new MSR micro rocket and Toaks titanium cook pot set as it was definitely cold enough for some coffee, but the route did not bring me as close to any of the campsites with picnic tables as I had hoped and I didn’t really find any good spots on the trail where I felt it would be safe to do this. With some time restrictions and a good deal of anxiety about that scramble ahead as well, I did not make the extra detour to a picnic table. Also, it was cold enough that the water was freezing in my hydration tube, so I figured it best to keep moving for that reason as well. On the upside it also kept me drinking more often which was good! I tend to not drink as often as I should when I have the hydration bladder in the pack, and learned a hard lesson at Harriman last summer.

White trail on Cobble Mtn

White trail on Cobble Mtn

I needed my gloves for most of the hike, with the exception of that climb, where I took them off so I could really dig my fingers into the rock’s nooks and crannies for a good grip. I also had to repeatedly toss my collapsed trekking poles up the rock face ahead as they were useless on that climb and I didn’t have my new Exped folding poles that I got later that night for my birthday! Those would have fit in my pack. Not knowing how steep this truly was, I didn’t push the issue. In hindsight I wish I had. I’m looking forward to using them on the next hike – they are SO light and we got them at an absolute steal. The only downside to them is they have a set length, which makes them more compact, but not as adaptable when using to prop up a tarp or tent. I need to test them in both uses to see if its a problem at 115cm but I know that when we did the A-frame tarp setup I maxed out all our poles to 140cm. We shall see. Maybe just pitching the tarp differently is the solution. I really hope I didn’t freeze my sawyer filter again. I did wrap it in a shirt so it should be ok but I hope I don’t find out the hard way on an overnight in the spring.

Trail snack!

Trail snack!

I did however get to try a trail snack I’ve read a million stories about on the various hiking forums which is to wrap just about anything in a tortilla! I had one left over from our ‘Mexican night’ dinner at home and instantly the idea popped into my head to make a wrap. Thru-hikers love them and will stuff just about anything in one for a quick and easy meal – cheese, sausage, other cold cuts, peanut butter, honey, granola, banana; you name it. They don’t squish like bread or get stale as easily. And, no crumbs!

One thing that concerns me is my back is still wetting out in my down coat when using this pack. Perhaps my day pack is too snug to my back. It certainly feels that way sometimes. I will try to loosen it and see if it helps. It wasn’t as severe this time as it was much colder out. But I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off with a synthetic, if I sweat too much and render the down’s insulation unusable. At 11oz, I can get a synthetic at the same weight or close.

I love this coat and its great around town but I want to insure I’m getting the most out of every piece of gear. I haven’t tried it with my bigger pack yet but until I do more cold weather overnights, I can’t imagine I will use it much backpacking. Maybe just on cold shoulder-season nights where I can’t make a fire. Experienced anything similar? Any suggestions are welcome.

I could have stayed on the ridge after summiting Cobble but decided to take the white trail down and give my legs a wind-down with a road walk on the beautiful old CCC road. Mileage-wise, it came out pretty much the same however. I definitely recommend checking out this hike and this park. It’s so beautiful. Where to next?

Total Miles: 6.5

– Linus

Appalachian Trail – CT Section 1 – Part 2

Mountain Laurel everywhere

Mountain Laurel everywhere

Hi all – this is Fielden Stream reporting in!  Just wanted to add my own info on our recent hike. First off – I was very worried about this hike as there was going to be a lot of steep sections and it was going to be the second 2-nighter that we had ever done.  So we truly underestimated our abilities here – mostly to be on the safe side.

This ended up meaning that we got to both of our campsites super early, which isn’t necessarily my preference, but it ended up being a nice relaxing addition to our trip.  This was especially true the second night as we had a gorgeous brook called Sages Ravine running right near the campsite with watering holes and 14 beautiful waterfalls.

But back to the first night.  Riga Shelter I guess is a very popular campsite mostly because it has a nice view.  It also has some private campsites that are surrounded by trees so you really don’t have to spend time with other hikers if you don’t want to.  The privy was pretty decent too although it did smell a bit.  The only thing that marred the beauty was the semi-burnt shelter (some idiot in January did it), but the trail maintainers are supposed to be fixing that this weekend.  It was a bit buggy though.  I also didn’t like the fact that you had to walk pretty far to get to the beginning and to the privy from almost everywhere (although Sages Ravine was even worse!)  There was also no picnic table – which isn’t a deal-breaker, but does tend to add a nice element.  And we did meet some more nice thru-hikers (AYCE, Buster and Sparkles) while we were there which always makes it a more fun trip.

The second night — after a heart-attack-causing decent down Bear Mountain — was at Sages Ravine.  This campsite does not have a shelter so you don’t have too many thru-hikers staying there.  They do have a camp steward though who lives there for a few days every week (they rotate them through) which was interesting as we got info about the area and some of the issues of maintaining trails. Everyone who can should volunteer to maintain trails as If you love nature it’s a great way of giving back!

Arriving at Sages Ravine Campsite in Mass

Arriving at Sages Ravine Campsite in Mass

My biggest problem with Sages was how far (and uphill!) every campsite and privy was from everything else.  I think we did more mileage walking back and forth from the campsite to the brook to the privy and back again than walking the actual trail!  The privy was also on the lower quality scale.  It was composting, but it had not been updated in quite a while and there was a big rock holding the door shut, which you had to move in order to get inside.  And like I said, it was at least an eighth of a mile from our campsite.

But our campsite was nice. We decided to set up at a group site because we wanted some company, and we got some!  We also got a nice view of a side ravine and a nice breeze that helped keep the bugs away.  And quite a thunderstorm when we were happily tucked away in our tent for the night. Many of the other campsites were up on a hill even higher than us and were in the middle of fields of grass.  Personally, I’m not a fan of camping near grass because of snakes and ticks.

We met some garter snakes along the trail yesterday, and when we arrived at Sages we were greeted by a friendly resident deer, and what we think was a bear shortly after setting up camp. Though no actual sighting occurred, few animals could snap an entire tree limb as dramatically and make the loud thump we heard hitting the ground seconds after. Luckily if it was a bear cub it ran the other way. Since we were just reading a humorous anecdote about bears in Bill Bryson’s “A walk in the woods” it just had to be a bear…

Pink Honeysuckle?

Pink Honeysuckle?

But the best part of Sages was the brook itself, and washing our feet in the deliciously cold water.  I could do that for hours.  All of my blisters stopped hurting for for like 5 minutes! The third day we got up super early so we could go have lunch at a restaurant later.  I couldn’t wait for hot food and a real bathroom. The hike out was on a side trail called Paradise Lane and I do have to say it was very paradisical! The Mountain Laurel, which is the CT state flower, was just reaching peak and it was stunning to walk through archways of them. There were also some very pretty swampy areas with bullfrogs talking to each other.  And then it was on to our delicious lunch at Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village.  If you go, get the sausage and biscuits.  They were outstanding!!!!

As we finally finished the state, we put up our video and you can view the link to it on our new youtube channel. We hope you enjoy it, though we are admittedly not film directors.

— Fielden Stream