Solo Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Weekend #1, Kent to Cornwall, CT

Last weekend was my first solo ridgerunner weekend of the season.  It was full of wildflowers and wildlife. This includes bald eagles, deer, frogs, mean-looking spiders (including one IN my tent!), hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers, robins (and robins’ eggs), fleabane, bamboo, violets, thistle, clover, the rare pink lady slipper, and buttercups. These are just a small fraction of what’s out there to see on the trail in June. I met lots of day, section and thru-hikers, boy scouts, paddlers on the river, and enjoyed a warm, beautiful weekend one of my favorite sections and favorite campsites on the Connecticut section. I was feeling a little under the weather from a cold, so I took it easy and picked this mostly easy section so I wouldn’t over exert myself when slightly compromised. But the fresh air and exercise did it’s magic.

I saw a few of the thru-hikers we’re following on YouTube in the trail register at one of the shelters which was cool, too bad I missed them. I cleared a fire ring and cut a blowdown with my new saw, the Silky Big Boy 2000, which made quick work of it.

I did a sketch at the campsite, and wrote two nature poems. I’m no Thoreau but I think they’re decent and it was fun. I composed them while walking and wrote them down in my journal when I took a break. I want to try and do at least one sketch and one poem each time I’m out there, besides just my usual trail reports and personal journals.

It was supposed to rain but other than a drop, it never came, which I can’t complain about. One of these days I’ll get to wear my rain kilt so I can do my best Outlander impression! I sat at a rock bench in front of an old Indian marker tree, which filled my heart and mind with history and reflection.

I heard owls chatter all night at the campsite, including one moment when I could swear they were laughing! As always, a great weekend. I will be out again in 6 days for weekend #2, as the thru-hiker bubble is moving in now, and I am eager to see the mountain laurels reaching full bloom — probably my favorite sight on the trail. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 6.2

Miles day 2: 6.2

— Linus

Misty morning along Liner's Farm-no filter

Misty morning along Liner’s Farm-no filter

Frog on the trail

Frog on the trail

The deck and porch swing at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

The deck and porch swing at Silver Hill

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

Paddlers on the Housatonic

Paddlers on the Housatonic

Name that flower

Name that flower

Brook emptying into the Housatonic

Brook emptying into the Housatonic

Fleabane

Fleabane

Robins Egg

Robin Egg

Mattabessett/New England Trail, Net50 Challenge Completion

On Saturday I hit the New England Trail once again with my brother. While I never managed to get out there over the Thanksgiving holiday, this past Saturday was a beautiful day for a hike. Temps hovered around 45 and felt warmer on the exposed rocks. It was clear, dry and visibility was grand. We could see all the way north to Hartford and south to Hamden and Sleeping Giant, West to the Hanging Hills of Meriden and East to The Connecticut River Valley. This was also the last hike I needed to complete the New England Trail 50 challenge. You can achieve it in a variety of ways, including hikes, volunteering, overnights on the trail, advocacy, donations to trail organizations, and social media sharing to raise awareness on the trail. It has been a lot of fun and I am glad to have helped in any way I could to raise awareness of the trail, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act.

After a slightly sketchy crossing of the outlet of the Hubbard Reservoir at the start (did manage to sink a foot into the cold water a bit), the ascent up Chauncey Peak was quick, and easier thanks to a series of new switchbacks. These are also to benefit the hillside as the very steep original route contributes to erosion. The top of the ridgeline criss-crosses from the western to the eastern edge, where a large quarry operation exists. While that view wasn’t as scenic due to the mining site, there were still nice views beyond. And the western facing ridgeline walks were the real treat, with more of the dramatic basalt (trap rock) ledges to explore and trace as you make your way north , with Lamentation mountain just to the west and the Hubbard Reservoir directly below between the two mountains.

After descending the mountain, the trail winds through some rolling hills in the northern end of Giuffrida park, and then a lovely Hemlock forest before a short road walk (with great views of Chauncey Peak) over to the Highland Pond Preserve which makes up the last of the wooded portion of this section. The last 1.4 miles of this hike was along the paved Country Club road, but this is already an improvement as it used to be almost twice as much of a road walk before they got the portion through the forest and the preserve added in the last few years. Its great to see the hard work of trail organizations, continuing to work on improving trail conditions and acquiring new land for the trail. This is another reason why it’s a pleasure doing volunteer work myself with the AMC, because I experience the joy first-hand.

Now that I’ve completed the challenge, I want to get back to more of my favorite trail – the Appalachian Trail! But I also plan to finish the last 11 miles of the Mohawk trail In the coming months, as well as doing more hikes on the New England trail. I’d like to finish off the Mattabessett section next. I hope to have my brother along on those hikes as the location is central for both of us, and we have a lot of fun hiking together. Photos below.

Miles : 5.7

– Linus

Ascending Chauncey Peak

Ascending Chauncey Peak

My brother near the peak

My brother near the peak

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

 

Ridgerunner Weekend #3 – Schaghticoke and Algo

This past weekend was another glorious one out on the trail. The weather was perfect for one thing. Never got too hot or humid, it was about 60 and dry and breezy at night, about 79-81 during the day. I hiked with my new ridgerunner friend again on Saturday and two of my friends from the AMC also joined me to hike on Sunday (one overnighted at Algo too) and we met lots and lots of great hikers. We found one thru hiker’s tent that dropped from his pack and reunited him with it, cut a blowdown, saw a few lizards, a scarlet tanager and a garter snake. I didn’t see but smelled (I’m sure of it!) rattlers in two spots on a mountain famous for rattlesnakes and almost convinced my friends to re-name me snake-smeller. I sadly saw the extent of the recent fire damage on the mountain, and got to push myself through one of the toughest sections of the whole state, twice. My friend from the Bull’s Bridge task force treated me to some BBQ when we got off trail, and I got to dip my sore feet in the Housatonic at the end of the hike.  I’m off for the next few weeks for a few family-scheduled events but will be back on trail in the beginning of August. I hope you’re not minding the new short format too much; I will try and write longer entries from time to time when such luxuries are available! This section was shorter than last weekend but much more strenuous as a whole.

Meanwhile, enjoy the photos!

Lizard life

Lizard life

Ridgerunning Pals

Ridgerunning Pals

Sunrise at Algo

Sunrise at Algo

Red Eft sighting finally

Red Eft sighting finally

Blowdown work

Blowdown work

View east from Schaghticoke Mtn

View east from Schaghticoke Mtn

View from Indian Rocks

View from Indian Rocks

Coral fungus

Coral fungus

Chilly Cheeks on Schaghticoke Mtn

Chilly Cheeks on Schaghticoke Mtn

Linus and Brian on the state line!

Linus and Brian on the state line!

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Blueberries!

Blueberries!

Weekend miles total: 14

– 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.

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

 

 

Lillinonah Trail

Pond Brook

Pond Brook

Saturday I got back out on the trails for a much needed hike. Two weeks in my insanely hectic life is more than enough time to leave me dying for some nature therapy! I also had to work over the weekend and attend a late night party in NYC for my friend’s birthday – all the more reason for me to make sure I got out there to keep balanced.  My wife was wonderful to give me so much time to myself last weekend as she too is feeling the stress of crazy schedules, so I’m sending her to hang out with her sister this weekend for some fun of her own. And I am glad we got to do the last hike together as it had been awhile.

I am really missing our backpacking trips already and spring is too far away.  Although thanks to El Nino, the east coast has been experiencing late spring conditions and last Saturday and Sunday both had highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 40s. For this reason I had briefly considered an overnight backpacking trip but ultimately decided against it. That would mean skipping my friend’s birthday, and anyway hiker midnight at 430pm would make for a very long dark night… However had my wife been able to join things might have been different.

Pond Brook view

Pond Brook view

But this one I had to do as a day hike. This time I opted for something other than the A.T. and skimmed through the weekend hike offerings from my AMC club. I had originally settled on a group hike on the challenging northern end of the Mohawk trail (once the A.T.’s route). But distance from home and a late start to the hike meant I’d have barely enough time to change my clothes, kiss my wife and kids and rush to the train station if I wanted to make the party in time.  Another of their group hike options was with Tom, who I’ve done several hikes with including the trail work at West Rock a few weeks ago. It was a circuit hike on the Lillinonah trail and was only 45 minutes away. The trail is in the Upper Paugussett State Forest, in Newtown, CT. and is about 6 miles long. This choice also meant I got to check a full trail off my completed list!

Rocky ledges along the Lake

Rocky ledges along the Lake

I pulled the map for the trail out of my Connecticut Walk Book from the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) and gave it a quick study. It’s always good to have your own copy and be somewhat familiar with the layout should you get separated from the leader. These books cover all of the trails in our state, now adding up to over 800 miles and filling two volumes. The original blue-blazed trails added up to about 400 miles and one book. There is another hiking group I do outings with who are actually called the Connecticut 400, and coincidentally, they were out doing the same hike that day and starting just a few minutes earlier.

The trail begins by skirting Pond Brook from the boat launch and then makes a good climb over the first high point to the edge of Lake Lillinonah, which it then follows along a ‘scenic area’ for just over 3 miles before going back into the woods for one more big climb and descent. The scenic area is closed from December 15 to April 15 to let local families of Bald eagles nest, so that may explain why there were a few groups out on this December day.

Lake Lillinonah is actually part of the Housatonic River that was created in 1955 by the Shepaug dam, which we saw from our lunch spot along the lakeside. It’s the second largest lake in the state after Candlewood lake. There were many boaters out on this day, and a few of the hikers in our group also enjoy kayaking and fishing there. Swimming here is discouraged due to heavy boat traffic.

Blue blazed blowdown

Blue blazed blowdown

There are a lot of ups and downs on the trail, even if the elevations aren’t that high. All in all there was about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, so it was enough of a work out. While I enjoy a flat trail over an office any day, I like challenging myself, and staying in shape especially for those longer hikes I want to have the stamina for. I definitely felt like I got a good workout, and we added about another half mile to the distance by taking a side excursion to a nice lunch spot overlooking the dam.

While I don’t know if its legally permitted, there were some great camping spots along the lake edge by the trail, and signs that said ‘no fires’, so I’m assuming hunters and fishermen frequently camp there. We did see a hunter out that day, and one of the campsites had a fire ring or two with actual abandoned cooking grills and what looked like an old platform of some sort. There is an official camping area with charcoal grills by the boat launch.

Tree sap network

Tree sap network

One really interesting sight was a network of what must amount to miles and miles of blue tubes that were hooked up to and around many trees in the area. Apparently this is a new system for collecting tree sap; I’m assuming for a maple syrup operation down the road that I passed on the way home. I was surprised about how extensive the system was, and somewhat impressed and intrigued by this new method of transporting the sap. But I have to say it was very visually unattractive. Considering there is a popular hiking trail adjacent to the property that the tube jungle traverses, it’s too bad that it marred the natural landscape. But for all I know this business owns some of the land the trail is on and allows its use as a trail.

— Linus