A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Campsite Cleanups, Sharon, CT

Climbing Sharon Mtn

Climbing Sharon Mtn

As the season ramps up, I’m finding more work to be done in terms of cleanup as well as more prep on my part to be in my best shape for the longer days and hikes ahead. I filled the gap between the last patrol hike and this one with a quick hike at a local nature preserve near home, which has some nice historical artifacts to add another layer to the appeal of the hike. I am a history buff as well. I just bought the book “Hiking through history: Civil War sites on the Appalachian Trail” and am really looking forward to reading it. That was one of my favorite parts of hiking through Harper’s Ferry, though the trail itself through there is also very beautiful.

Steep ridgelines

Steep ridgelines

On this day I was planning to cover a section just north from last time. I had suggested this and one other option to my crew leader as places I was considering to get out and do any cleanup necessary. He had responded that this area hadn’t been walked over lately so it was settled. My friend in the AMC, Chilly Cheeks, joined me again and we started the hike just a few trail miles north of our last outing to Pine Swamp Brook shelter and campsites. We were considering NOBO vs SOBO but as I was feeling under the weather from a recent cold going around my family, and she having had a late night, we opted for NOBO as the large elevation change would be a long descent at the end  rather than kicking off with a huge ascent. There were still plenty of ups. There always is.

At Sharon Mtn Campsites

At Sharon Mtn Campsites

There was a forecast for some possible rain but I didn’t really know how it was going to play out… do we ever? Oh so many times I’ve re-worked or canceled a hike due to rain only to find it tapered off and moved on through quicker than expected. More on that to come…

We left one car at the end of the hike in Falls Village, and it turns out our overseer of trails was there too preparing to do the same hike (though the full section) with his chainsaw to cut any problem blow downs. He shuttled down to where we started the section a few weeks ago at West Cornwall Road.

Our path behind us

Our path behind us

As we already cleaned up the campsite at Pine Swamp recently, we drove the second car up Mt Easter road to where the trail crosses near the summit and parked the second car there. This did save us several uphills which was nice but really the point was to be closer to the first of the two campsites as we had a limited amount of time as well.

The trail climbs pretty quickly up to the summit of Mt. Easter, and I recalled my notorious mud wasp sting here two years ago as well as the large slabs of pink marble all along the trail near the summit.

Hang Glider View, Taconics beyond

Hang Glider View, Taconics beyond

Chilly cheeks enjoyed the mud wasp tale and we arrived at the summit view which is somewhat grown in. Though when in winter, you can see the peaks of the Catskills. While I love a good view, I also understand that we can’t clearcut large areas of forest everywhere there’s a potential nice view.

Not long after the Mt. Easter summit we passed a group of 4 backpackers who were section hiking and said our greetings. There was an adult and a few teenagers or college aged kids so I’m assuming a father and kids. We then reached Sharon Mountain campsite and immediately saw some issues. There was a campsite that had a fire ring, as well as a shirt left hanging on a tree nearby. Surely we all know the rules of pack it in, pack it out. And with almost no leaf cover yet and the shirt being bright white, there was no missing this. In fact we saw it from 20 feet away as we approached the camp site. This is blatant disregard for nature and the rules of the trail.

Chilly Cheeks climbing some beautiful stairs on Sharon Mtn

Chilly Cheeks climbing some beautiful stairs on Sharon Mtn

Sadly so many hikers are either entitled or blissfully ignorant and so cleaning this up becomes someone else’s job. Fire rings also always come with foil or some other kind of trash in the ashes. Folks, you need a much hotter fire to melt metal, and even if you could it would just liquify the metal which would then melt onto the earth leaving a different but just as ugly mark on the landscape.

We cleared the ring and took the shirt and other trash and checked the other campsites. As we were walking out of the campsite and starting our next climb over the undulating ridges and peaks of Sharon Mountain, we heard it. We heard it several more times as well. Loud thunder.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The darkening skies had given us some expectation things might get wet, but now it was definite. Ironically this is also the same spot Fielden Stream and I began to get soaked on what would be a 6 mile slog in the rain 2 years ago. The rain began as we ascended to the first peak. Sharon Mountain is a very large landmass, similar to nearby Scaghticoke Mountain. There are many shoulders and peaks and the mountain reaches for miles in each direction. This entire section is pretty much Sharon Mountain, though Mt Easter is another summit that is encircled by and attached to this one.

Please don't

Please don’t

You can’t really tell the difference when hiking it other than its another peak. The first peak and in fact all of them are no more than a few hundred feet elevation gain but its the downs before each up that give you the roller coaster experience. Nonetheless, we both had our new raincoats and were eager to put them to the test. It wasn’t really cold, and we only had about 3 more miles to go today, with no significant rock scrambles. So there was no real concern. We just enjoyed it, its part of the experience.

We passed a few more section backpackers (everyone seemed to be headed south today) and as we reached the beautiful “Hang Glider view,” the rain subsided and we were treated to expanding views. At first we just saw the Lime Rock race track and nearby Gallows Hill.

Not a trash can

Not a trash can

We could hear the announcements as a rare cyclist race was going on (we followed their route to the track up and down rt 7 to and from our hike) and was we watched, the clouds and fog moved out and you could now see the entire Taconic Range beyond. Lion’s Head and Bear Mtn in CT, and Race, Everett, Bushnell and Jug End in Massachusetts. You could also see Prospect mountain and we remarked how we loved being able to trace the path of the trail in front or behind you as you progress on your hike.  We took pictures and had a quick snack, wary of a returning rainstorm.

We rode over two more ridges and got a few more ups and another route of the trail behind us. We stopped at a stream so I could show off my new water filter and system and camel up. I made multiple airplane references as we began our initial and final descents in to ‘the greater Falls Village area.” The descent into Belter’s Bump was through a beautiful Hemlock forest, though the destruction by the wooly algelid beetle was rampant. We reached Belters and found not only 3 different areas where campers had made fires, but one scattered with all sorts of trash.

On Belter's Bump looking East

On Belter’s Bump looking East

Large piece of wood from hazard trees we cut were partially or fully burned and one of the fire rings barely had any protection from the bed of pine needles all over the ground around it. These are extremely flammable. I can’t tell you how upset this made me, as this was not far from being another large brush fire on our trail. We found a nail on a tree with no sign which we are pretty certain was the stoves only no fire sign that used to be there. Likely burned as firewood. There are many that have a deep disrespect for nature, and for rules. Sometimes I wish you had to have a leave no trace class before you get to hike the A.T. There are already so many beautiful parks defaced by graffiti. And today’s generation of young hikers as well as many locals just feel like they can do whatever they want because they will never be back.

Crossing at 112/7 with Barrack Mtn Beyond

Crossing at 112/7 with Barrack Mtn Beyond

Anyway we cleaned up the trash and the fire evidence and took in one last view on Belter’s Bump. This is a smaller hill with a little rocky outcrop requiring one last up to a rewarding view of the peaks of the Mohawk Trail (formerly the old route of the A.T. here) to the east. As we descended we were glad we chose the direction we did and joked about nearby Barrack Mtn on the Mohawk and what a beast it is. We plan to conquer it this summer. The rain never did come back. We picked up the second car back atop Mt. Easter and headed home.

Folks, please respect the trail. Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. There will always be those of us there to clean up and protect the trail but we can’t be everywhere and its your personal responsibility. Just like at home.

Miles: 4.7

— Linus

 

Easter Trail Work on the Appalachian Trail

Streams are flowing!

Streams are flowing!

On Easter I was very happy to have an opportunity to again be out on the trail doing my thing. Usually we’re celebrating the holiday in some capacity with family but it fell right during my kids’ spring break this year so we were in Florida and returned late the night before. Since my parents went out of town for the family visit and weren’t around Easter morning, Fielden Stream and I did a quick exchange of baskets with the kids and then I headed up north for the woods.

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

It was a very mild weekend and had I returned one night earlier I would have done an overnight. Quite a few hikers had, especially those who had Good Friday off as it made a great 3 day weekend. My friend on the trail crew let me know that there were already several camping at Ten Mile so I planned to visit the campground as part of my hike in case there was any cleanup to do. Just two weeks before when we were out on a volunteer work day, we had to clear two very large fire rings (and a few blowdowns) and I was glad to have the extra manpower. This is one of the most popular camping areas around so we visit and patrol it and have to clean it up very often.  I wanted to also visit the southern overlook on Schaghticoke Mountain, so the plan was to go up there and then back down to the campsite and in the meantime check out some of the side access trails along the route for any issues.

New water system

New water system

I parked and started the .4 mile road walk where the A.T follows Schaghticoke road north before cutting into the woods for the nearly 1,000ft ascent. While there are several switchbacks,  its still a tough climb, but worth the view at the top. I noticed the map box was empty so I made a note to myself to put any spares I had in the box on the way down if no hikers I met on the trail needed one.  As I started up the trail a young hiker in his late 20s passed me and we chatted for a bit about his hike and the work I do. He was doing a 3 day section of CT, having done another a few weeks ago with his brother in the northern end of the state.  He works the night shift and was up all night before starting his hike.

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

The trail heals all though, and I admire his tenacity to hike 12 miles in the heat after working all night. Ah to be in my 20’s again… I’d probably have climbed a few 4000s had I the passion I have now for hiking and backpacking. At that age I was deeply entrenched in the NYC music scene trying to make a name for myself. It was fun but in vain.  I still play music with my friends but I find more relaxation and purpose hiking and preserving the trail.

Anyway just a bit farther on at the first stream crossing (which was raging by the way) , I met an older hiker who was doing a NOBO thru. He was hydrating and enjoying some shade. While it was raining that morning the sun came out and the temperature quickly approached the 70s. Without much leaf cover to shade, you could feel every bit of the heat that day. I wished him well and moved on.

Schaghticoke from the road below

Schaghticoke from the road below

I met the younger hiker again, enjoying a snack high on a glacial erratic – a great spot if I say so myself! We said hellos again and I carried on up and up and up. When I reached the south overlook I was immediately treated to a Bald Eagle AND a Red Tailed Hawk flying over the edge of the ridge. I had been trying for months to spot one of the eagles as many hikers had reported seeing them in the area. Finally one greeted me in its glorious flight.  I was so captivated by the view and the birds of prey that it took me a few minutes to notice the fire area on the rock face. There was no ring at that point, perhaps they scattered it with the ashes after. I checked that it was cool and went about cleaning it.  Much of the residue was tossed down into a depression in the hillside and as I headed down to clean that up the young hiker reached the viewpoint. He thanked me for my work and as we were chatting we spotted a large black racer snake about a foot from where I was working. He did not bother me and just watched, perhaps a good omen or spirit animal visiting me to thank me for taking care of what was once native land? I’m such a history nerd.

Forsythia gone wild!

Forsythia gone wild!

The hiker moved on after this break and I too headed off, back down the mountain towards Ten Mile. I passed the older Nobo thru hiker I had met at the stream below and gave him some advice on nearest water and campsites ahead as he was wanting more water and a break from the heat.

Speaking of water, I also made a short video on the mountaintop discussing my new water system. I am again revisiting because I still want an easier solution than filling up my reservoir in my pack and using that as the water for camp and sleeping as well. I tried the new Katadyn BeFree with .6L bag and a Smart Water bottle with an Aquaclip, one of many solutions I researched to hang the water bottle in front of me since my pack pouch doesn’t have stitched in side pockets.

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

While my day pack does, it still requires practically dislocating your shoulder to reach back for access. With the BeFree I can just fill up at a source, camel up, then refill quick and easily to filter into my smart water bottle, and a Nalgene if I need extra. This thing filters super fast and doesn’t require backflushing as far as I can tell. I always bring emergency purifying tablets just in case, for myself or hikers I encounter who have no filter or water left.

I tend to carry too much water at any one time and this system and solution that was in the product reviews seemed a good one to try next. The water sources have all been great lately with all the epic rainfalls and snowmelt since winter died and so for the time being at least I wont carry more than the beFree and the 1L Smart Water bottle (with sports cap). Though I do still hate how those bottles crinkle. I may go the shock cord and Gatorade bottle next if the Smart Water bottles start to bother me that much. I will post the video on the blog  (Please note that I was rushing on the video and said I’d chug it right after filling it at the stream but I meant only AFTER the filter cap was back on.. very important!

Name that spider

Name that spider

I dropped off the maps in the map box on the way down, and some litter that I picked up on the trail when I passed my car and headed back into the woods towards Ten Mile Shelter and Campsites. There are some beautiful new signs in this area both for the side trails and the shelter – great work team! The Forsythia is also blooming like mad. When I reached the campsite no one was still camped there and luckily for me this time, no fires to clean up. Though there was a massive spider in the shelter that I noticed when I went to sign the register. I just saw his long legs peeking out behind a piece of the lumber frame, but could easily tell he was 1.5 inches or more around and brown and black. I’m not the hugest fan of spiders but all the time on the trail has helped that a bit. Many a day I found one of these in a privy or even on my pack in the morning. They’re pretty terrifying to look at but also fascinating and I’m quite sure not harmful. I believe this was either a wolf spider or a fisher spider. Anyone wanna have a go at identifying it from the photo?

An unspoiled view from the top

An unspoiled view from the top

I made my way back along the A.T. as it followed the Housatonic River, which was also at very high levels complete with raging rapids. I passed about 25 day hikers out here in the recreational area at Bulls Bridge which the A.T. passes by. I checked that side trail and left my friends on the Bull’s Bridge task force a message in their kiosk register, then headed back to my car.  As the season is starting up around here, and water is good, I should have a busy summer. On that note I am also very excited as I have some new roles in the AMC that allow me to further my love for the trail and protecting it and our natural resources. More to come on that but you will see me out there over the weekends this season often anywhere between the NY line and southern Massachusetts! Maybe I’ll even be on duty at your campsite for the night and you can share stories of your hike.

Miles: 6.3

Snakes: 1

Birds of Prey:2

— Linus

 

Rogers Ramp and Pine Swamp Brook Campsite, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Last weekend I checked out another (short) section of the trail and stopped into one of the campsites to clean up. The temperatures had dropped from 65 degrees on the previous Wednesday to 19 by Saturday. What a wild winter it has been. It did the same thing in the week since. I had considered a longer route for this hike but would find out after not too long that keeping it shorter was the best plan. Frost bite can really spoil a good time!

Going through Roger's Ramp

Going through Rogers Ramp

I brought along my friend Lisa from our chapter of the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club), who now has a trail name, Chilly Cheeks! One of our senior members gave her the name and she loves it!  We’ll let you figure out what it means.  I enjoy solitude in the woods but I’m also a social animal so I get lonely out there sometimes and company is always welcome on the trail when I can get it.

 In Connecticut, like in several other states, the AMC is the organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail. We have people who do boundary work, trail building, trail maintenance, ridgerunners/patrollers (like me) and sawyers/carpenters to name just a few.  It takes many dedicated people to take care of this great trail from end to end. Our chapter is a great group of people, I truly feel like they are my extended family.

Southwestern view

Southwestern view

 The goal was to check out and clean up Pine Swamp Brook Shelter and Campsite. I had considered going on and doing the same at Sharon Mountain Campsite, but the frigid temperatures and the added chill from the high winds made an extra 6 miles round trip low on the priority list. That campsite is very primitive and less used when its not thru hiking season. So while I will get up there next to tidy up, the Pine Swamp Brook shelter was sure to have seen some recent camping. There’s a composting privy, a picnic table (complete with metal area to protect from stove accidents) bear box, water source and clean shelter in great condition.  

Campsite side trail

Campsite side trail

We started the climb up from West Cornwall Road, which rises quickly 500 or so feet and through a split glacial rock known as “Rogers Ramp”. It’s no Lemon Squeezer but it’s a very cool feature that’s both fun to hike and fun to look at. Another one of those that most of those long-distance hiking the A.T. don’t expect to find in a state like Connecticut.  The trail then switchbacks over the ramp to the south-facing ledges above. There are several nice views in the winter, and during the summer there is still one or two that are cut through the leaf canopy. This is the southern ridge of Sharon Mountain, a large mountain that reaches from here in Sharon all the way to Falls Village, sharing the space with its neighbor peak, Mt. Easter.

Signing the trail register

Signing the trail register

Once up on the ridge, the trail follows the edge for a bit before dropping down 1-200 feet into the woods to follow Pine Swamp Brook and the shelter side trail is reached just 1.1 miles from the road crossing. We took a bunch of photos both on the ramp and the ridgeline, as well as when we arrived at the campsite. I also made a short video of this hike on my video channel so you can see the terrain and the campsite, as well as a quick review of a sit pad my friend bought me in Iceland!

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Chilly cheeks got to sign the shelter trail register for the first time with her new trail name. I did my usual sign in, and the previous entry from a hiker named Kingfisher a day prior contained some beautiful and inspiring poetry.  

We checked out the privy, bear box and campsites. In the group site there was one fire ring. We cleared the fire ring the best we could with the ground completely frozen, and covered it up.  We had a quick snack and I took a few clips for my video, then we headed out. We talked again about going farther to the next site but it was bitter cold still and so the decision was made to head back.

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

We had a nice walk back down to the cars and then drove down to Kent to do a quick check on the condition of River road so that our trail crew could get in there and clear the large blowdowns I reported on that last trip. We made a quick stop in town for some nourishment and I was on my way. I had planned to be back out today but the conditions were similar with the added icy conditions from recent snow.  While I enjoy winter hikes, frozen ground makes getting trail work done far more challenging, and snow makes it more difficult to see issues.

If not before, I will be back out with the club in early April for our club-wide volunteer kick-off day. We do this annually and cover the entire trail so that we can assess all issues still needing to be addressed before the official hiking season is in full swing. It will be good to see everyone again, and spend another great day taking care of the trail we love.

Miles: 2.4 (with side trail)

— Linus

 

Warm Winter Check on the Appalachian Trail Connecticut River Walk

Watch the video

Watch the video

February 8 was the first of what would be a string of unusually moderate midwinter temperatures. While this raises its own concerns, I’m not one to let a good weather day pass me by! I planned on a patrol hike of the river walk section from Kent to Sharon, CT. It’s almost entirely flat (and hence a favorite of tired thrus) until the end, and very scenic. There are three different camping areas on the flat section, as well as one at the top of Silver Hill on the northern end. So it’s a great way for me to check on a lot of campsites and do whatever cleanup necessary, and have a nice walk full of relaxation and some workout too. I discovered some wild things out there, and some not so cool things. Click here (or the image) to watch the adventure, in my latest video. I did the music with a dulcimer my father-in-law gave me.

Ironically, the next day delivered at least a foot of new snow.

Miles: 6.25

— Linus

First Hike of 2017: Video Blog: Herrick Trail/A.T. Out-and-Back

View from Amy's Overlook

View from Amy’s Overlook

A week ago I finally got out for my first hike of the year. It was a very cold day, and we had just had some recent snow, though not much. It was enough that on the ledges at the overlooks I needed my microspikes so as not to slip off! For the first time I explored the Herrick Trail, a short trail that connects with the A.T. along Ten Mile Hill. On my many journeys along the A.T. in this area I had always seen the trail sign, and one mentioning an overlook a mile away. But never did I take that path or realize just how great BOTH overlooks were, including the one they didn’t bother to mention just a quarter mile or less down the hill overlooking the Housatonic River! Wow! This is definitely my next family hike. I did a whole video blog which you can view here. Apologies for all the sniffling I’ve been getting over a bad cold or upper respiratory thing.  I’ll be back out on the A.T. for a longer stretch soon for my first patrol of the year.  We have a couple of unusually warm January days I want to take advantage of.

Family Holiday Hike to Pine Mountain

My nephew at the trailhead

My nephew at the trailhead

In 2016 we finally bought a house. While a stressful process, of course its been worth it and we love our home. It also meant that we were expected to host for the holidays. So for Christmas 2016, we had the whole family here including my younger brother and his boys who stayed with us at the house. We had a great visit and spent a lot of time together in the same space.

My brother and I

My brother and I

So when I suggested we do a family hike the day after Christmas to get some exercise and fresh air, my younger brother and his boys were as excited as I was to get out of the house for a while and have an adventure. They live in Colorado near Boulder/Denver, so mountains are not something they are missing. And I can’t wait to hike with them when we visit them in Colorado. But today I was taking them out in my neck of the woods!

While I wanted to take them to my favorite trail again (you know, the Appalachian Trail), time was limited and so I took them to the nicest lookout and section of trail I knew about in the area; and its about half as far a drive. Incidentally it’s where I did a hike around the same time the previous year! I guess this is my holiday hiking spot. A place to go and perch myself on the edifice and reflect on the year coming to a close.

My brother and his boys on Pine Mtn

My brother and his boys on Pine Mtn

Pine Mountain and its fantastic lookout are now part of the relatively new Ives Trail, named after a famous composer from Danbury who loved the outdoors and built a lean-to near this lookout so he could enjoy the view whenever he wanted and share it with his friends.

I’ve done the entire 20 miles of the Ives Trail from West Redding to Ridgefield, but this view and part of the trail is my favorite so I come back often.

Linus on Pine Mtn

Linus on Pine Mtn

The view is amazing and on a clear day you can see all the way to Long Island Sound. But on most days you can see the Ridgefield lakes below, and Seth Low Pierrepont mountain and state park in the near distance (you can see it in the distance behind me in the picture here). The rocky precipice at the Pine Mountain lookout reminds me a lot of my favorite ones on the Appalachian Trail, with a view nearly as good, especially considering you’re still in the posh suburbs of Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Old fireplace

Old fireplace

The hike was perfect for the amount of time we had and also good for smaller hikers. The distance from the Pine Mountain trailhead is only about half mile up to the lookout and with some fun little scrambles and great ridge walking views along the way. To reach the true summit is about another quarter mile so all said and done it was only about 1.5 miles round trip, though rewardingly scenic and fun. After taking in the view at the lookout we headed up to the fireplace (Ives’ picnic fireplace I believe) and then the true summit where a small cairn demarcates the otherwise wooded peak. On the way back down we stopped again at the overlook for one more view, before hiking back down to the car for a family lunch to follow. There was a small amount of iced over snow on the lower part of the trail near the road, but the rest was clear of any real hazards.

Me and my nephews at the summit

Me and my nephews at the summit

Pine Mountain reserve is its own open space but is tied together to the other trail systems of Hemlock Hills and Bennett’s Pond as well as by the Ives Trail. At around 1,000ft Pine Mountain is also in fact the highest point in Ridgefield. At this time of year we were also able to see the view to the northwest from a western shoulder of the mountain along the trail on the way up, because all the leaves were off the trees. Though it’s not a great view in that direction.

I look forward to my first hike of 2017, in a few days I hope… life has been making me wait a little longer lately.

Miles: 1.5

— Linus

 

A Day In The Life of a Trail Patroller: Ten Mile Video Journal

Video Journal

Video Journal

I realized I was so chatty in this video that you probably will learn all about this hike by watching the video! The new setup with the phone worked better than the GoPro but I do need to remember to keep the same horizontal orientation throughout so please pardon the switches to the vertical shots. I’ve almost got this video thing down! I know I’ve covered this section before but it was not a great quality video… This hike was a windy and wonderful Veterans Day, and I got to cut my first blowdown! Thanks veterans for your service.

Click here to watch the video

Miles: 4.1

— Linus