Ives Trail – Bennett’s Pond to Pine Mountain Out-and-back

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

The oh-so-convenient-to-home Ives Trail continues to provide new scenery each time I hike it. This time around I again had a time constraint so the 25 minute drive was perfect. I managed to squeeze in a nearly 6-mile hike in under 3 hrs and be back by noon to do what was needed at home!

This time I wanted to complete the southwestern section from the terminus in Ridgefield back to the Pine Mountain overlook, one of my favorite views around. I have done a tiny bit of the trail west of the overlook on our first trip up here, when we came up from the Danbury side via another trail a year or two ago.

But I never get tired of the view from this spot. It was a tougher hike this time to the summit, but one always worth the effort. I noticed even more lightning damaged trees this time, including on some lower elevation ridge lines as I reached the end of my hike. Clearly this area sees a lot of this activity.

Meadow with a view

Meadow with a view

This area of Ridgefield open space, known as Bennett’s Farm, has many trails, which then lead into the Hemlock Hills trails and Danbury trails, all which surround and intersect with the Ives Trail at one point or another. There is a nice trailhead lot here with a kiosk and map as well as other information. I found the beginning of the Ives trail at the Kiosk and headed into the woods.

Quite soon it opened into a hilltop meadow with nice views and a parking area which seems to be open seasonally for picnicking. As I descended the small hill the trail passed through more meadows which I suspect were once Bennett’s Farm, and then along side the pond. I’ve seen smaller bodies of water named lakes.

Bennetts Pond looking west

Bennetts Pond looking west

The pond stretches all the way from Rt 7 to the base of Pine mountain, and was full of beaver lodges, cattails, and even trees. Half iced over, it was very scenic, and calming. The trail follows the perimeter, crossing over a bridge and a rushing brook at another trail intersection along the way. I did not see any beavers but there were several geese on the water, filling the air with their calls.  Owls and other small birdsongs also made for a soothing soundscape.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Though the snow had almost all melted off since the last hike here, there were patches, and where there weren’t any snow or ice patches, there was mud and more mud. I felt like I was hiking Vermont in the spring! As its not good to hike along the edges of the trail as this can expand it too much, I did my best to follow it, but I came off the trail with quite a muddy bottom half, especially my boots. But I gotta say I am impressed with how well they handle it. At no point did I feel wet in my boots. They’re going on almost 400 miles now if not more but I hope to get another 400 out of them.

Old stone foundation

Old stone foundation

Soon I reached the base of Pine Mountain and a formidable ascent from this aspect. It looked to be about 650 feet of elevation gain in a fairy short distance. So while there were no significantly steep sections, it was definitely a workout reaching the summit. On the Ives trail it ascends the western flank from the base at the pond right to the summit with a series of switchbacks. The large boulder and rock outcroppings below the overlook were visible the whole way, as well as similar topography to the west of the trail where a gurgling stream also snaked down the mountainside. In fact this section of trail had many very active water sources from the runoff, and I almost stopped to filter some of the mountain water. There was also the foundation of what seems like an old silo or other grain storage type of building. I don’t think it was a shelter though someone had made a fire pit in the middle. There were several nice viewpoints on the climb and I stopped for a break to have some shot bloks and re-energize. My hurried breakfast before I left had consisted of a granola bar and a tangerine, which didn’t provide much calories compared to my usual pre-hike carb load! I was definitely hungry by the end of the hike, but didn’t have a long trip home to lunch.

Reaching the Pine Mtn overlook

Pine Mtn ledge with scorched tree

This time I had the summit to myself so I sat to take it in and explore more of the nooks and crannies. Someone had also made a fire ring here. I continue to lust after the crooked summit in the distance which I think is Seth Low mountain in nearby Seth Low Pierrepont state park, but I don’t see a trail up it on their map. I need to research that more. It seems like it would have a nice view. But perhaps there’s private property on the other side which is not visible from here.

Bennetts Pond from above

Bennetts Pond from above

As I didn’t have much time, I ventured on over the remainder of the summit and took in a nice easterly view of Bennett’s pond from another outcrop before descending another of the Bennett’s pond trail system routes back to the pond to pick up my return route. This handled the elevation difference with many more switchbacks, and great scenery of more dramatic rock walls that are hundreds of feet high.

I took several alternate trails back, avoiding the longer route of the Ives trail this time to reach the parking lot quicker. The last of these is where I saw the additional lightning damage, and this was along a stone wall with only a small elevation difference along the ridge it marked. This trail too was quite muddy and had mountain bike tire tracks for the length of its mile distance which connects at either end with a car-width trail blazed green and makes a good loop. The trail I took is not blazed, and is narrow, so I’d worry about coming around a turn to a biker speeding at me but I don’t know if its allowed. I know some of the trails say you can, even on the summit of Pine Mountain, and they suggest you carry your bike up the steep trails to its top. Not for me folks. I can’t see how carrying a large bike 600 ft uphill would be very much fun!

Dramatic rock cliffs

Dramatic rock cliffs

With the exception of the Pine mountain climb and descent, there was little elevation to contend with on the rest of the hike so I managed a swift pace and did the entire hike in under 3 hrs, with a few breaks. This completes the trail for me from its beginning in Ridgefield to just west of the Bethel and Redding borders where I left off last time. I have about 6 miles left to do of the entire trail. Maybe when I do that one I will get a ride to one end so I don’t need to make it a 12-miler to complete solo.  While I’d love to do 12 miles, its not something very easily fit into my schedule and would require most of a day.

Mud-ville

Mud-ville

However I manage it, I look forward to completing this beautiful trail, and bringing friends and family back to explore favorite spots when we are nearby and have limited time. This weekend I’m exploring more of the Mattatuck trail with our AMC group. This section includes Buttermilk Falls which are supposed to be raging at the moment.

I signed up for a wilderness first aid course training weekend at the end of April which will be a great skill set to have for my trail patrol and our family hikes. I was also down in Florida last week and we planned our dates for our June section hike with our friends from there over Mt Race and Mt Everett in Massachusetts on the Appalachian Trail. I can’t wait! And before bed last night I planned out the logistics of our completion of the New York A.T. this summer. Happy trails.

Total miles: 5.7

— Linus

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Ives Trail Winter Ramble

Frozen Parks Pond

Frozen Parks Pond

Last weekend I was back on the Ives trail, aiming to complete the remainder of the trail’s section through Tarrywile Park. My daughter was taking a standardized test in nearby Bethel, so I had a few hours to enjoy in the wintery woods. Fortunately, it was not as cold as it is at the moment, though it started off on the chilly side and gloves were required. I made sure to layer this time, so I could shed as needed and wasn’t sweltering in the down after a few minutes’ activity.

Connecticut rocks

Connecticut rocks

I used my favorite Houdini wind shirt for the outer with my long-sleeved wool base layer and a synthetic tee to keep my core warm. This worked great and I never did end up shedding as it was cold enough whenever I stopped to want that wind-breaking layer on. I also brought my microspikes this time, and was glad I did. While we’ve had two more rounds of snow since last weekend there was still 2-3 inches of depth on the trails from the previous storm, and significantly more in a few spots. The snow was deepest in the meadow by Parks Pond, and I actually saw snowshoe tracks there which momentarily concerned me.

View to Mountains End

View to Mountains End

I parked at my usual starting point in the lower lot and hiked up past the conservation barn and through the meadow to the pond, which is where the Ives trail cuts a 180-degree loop around the pond. It’s also where a side spur over a hill called “Mountains End” takes you past a deteriorating stone fortress called Hearthstone castle and then down across another meadow to the eastern end of the park where the birthplace of Charles Ives still stands. I’m not quite sure but Mountains End may be the shoulder of Town Mountain, or its own lesser peak.

Snowy path

Snowy path

The trail from the eastern side of the pond skirts closely to the water for a bit before climbing the aptly named Middle Mountain. It does, after all, sit in the middle of the park, and in the middle of two ponds. I have been up this hill from the other side on earlier hikes here as the Ives trail also skirts its western flank after it descends Thomas Mountain. On the way up I passed through a lovely marsh which was especially scenic in the snow.

Shelter and Kiosk

Shelter and Kiosk

After summitting the modest peak the trail reaches a junction complete with a map kiosk and a small shelter about the size of a bus stop. The kiosk was devoid of any posted material at the time, so not much use to me. A map would have shown me that continuing west here like I did would take me to where I’d already been on the Ives trail on an earlier section and that heading south was the way I wanted to go. Almost a half mile later I arrived at the junction that confused me when doing that hike as well. I then noticed these blazes were white on yellow instead of red on yellow, so I realized this was a spur, for making a loop around the pond. I headed back to the intersection and down the other route which winds past a residential area and quickly out of the park boundaries. I climbed one more hill but realizing I probably didn’t have enough time to make it to the next road crossing and back and still do the spur to the house before I had to pick up my daughter, I turned around here.

Walking with deer

Walking with deer

There were deer tracks all along this portion and I enjoyed walking alongside them. At the top of this hill there was an area that would be very nice in summer to sit and have a snack but the snow was thicker here. Even the deer tracks turned at this spot, as it then went for a steeper turn down to a brook and parallel to it for about 2 more miles before reaching the next road. However, since there was a residential road abutting the trail a mile north of here, I knew it would make for an easy re-entry point to complete this next section at a later date.

Snowy Mountain Laurel

Snowy Mountain Laurel

While heading back on the route I came, I stopped for lunch in the shelter. This would definitely protect you from rain as long as it wasn’t coming sideways into the shelter. There’s room for 3 to sit on its bench, and in an emergency you could probably lay out on the bench and sleep overnight. But since there are houses visible 100 yards from here, that would be unnecessary. Besides, I doubt they want anyone spending the night here. I made it back to the pond quickly and took the side spur to the Ives house. There is a museum there but it was closed at this time of year so I just read a few of the exterior plaques on his life and achievements and then walked the roads back. The trek through the eastern meadow and its deep snow had done a number on my already tiring legs so I thought this prudent. Though to be honest, the walk up the road was almost as much of a vertical gain as going back over the mountain!

Fall and Winter Colors

Fall and Winter Colors

The climb up Mountains End was fairly quick and steep, though easy footing. At the top was Hearthstone castle and its old wooden water tower which was covered in graffiti. I stepped briefly inside the tower to snap a photo and then over to the castle which was surrounded by wire fence and looking quite decrepit and haunted! This castle was purchased for the wedding reception of one of the original owners’ daughters. As I headed down the other side of the hill from the castle, I got a very nice view of downtown Danbury.

Danbury vista

Danbury vista

I also ended up on another side spur which led up to Town Mountain and Bogus Mountain, blazed again with the white on yellow. The blazes at the intersection of this spur and the red-blazed main Ives trail did not indicate a split and only pointed right to the white-blazed spur. So after realizing this after a few minutes I did another turn around here. I actually thought this was the main route of the trail, though it seems to be a planned future route to stay on the ridges and at the moment is just a spur. So, did I technically finish all of the trail in the park? Hard to say. I did finish all the main trail as it is currently blazed in the park!

Hearthstone castle

Hearthstone castle

And while it seems like I must not have, I DID have the official map but it didn’t really differentiate the two blaze colors as clearly as it could have. And only when I reached a large kiosk at the other end of the east meadow did a map there differentiate them. And only here did I see the next red-blaze indicating I was on the trail I wanted. Only because I knew the trail went through a meadow in this area did I venture across it and eventually find my way. The blazing definitely needs improvement here, especially for winter hiking!

Charles Ives Birthplace

Charles Ives Birthplace

All in all though I did really enjoy the hike and find this to be a beautiful park with some nice varied terrain. I love that it’s close enough for me to have a real trail experience, while also having some nice historic landmarks to keep it interesting. At some point soon when I also have a shorter amount of time to hike I will keep working on the southeast and southwest portions to complete the trail. I believe it’s 20 miles total.

I am excited because Fielden and I have just picked tentative dates for our first A.T. section hike of the year together, back in southern New York where we left off. It’s in about 6 weeks, and it seems that our hiking together seems to be becoming a new wedding anniversary tradition (followed by appropriate pampering, of course).

Total Miles: 6

— Linus

Last Hike of 2015 – The Year in Review

Trail along Sugar Hollow Pond

Trail along Sugar Hollow Pond

I can’t believe it’s almost 2016. What a year of hiking! In 2014 I believe I did about 125-130 miles, and about 45 miles of it backpacking with Fielden Stream. This year I can happily say I covered 172 miles of trails, 70 of it on our backpacking trips. A total of 42 hikes which means I got out there almost every weekend!  I got our butts back up to Salisbury to finish the final sections of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and proceeded to cover another 60 miles of that trail in New York with Fielden Stream. We even got the kids out there a few times including an overnight backpacking trip with my son. And I learned some new things this year.

Stairs from the road

Stairs from the road

I learned that my legs will really feel it if I don’t hike for 2 weeks. I learned I wanted to volunteer to keep our state trails clean and safe, and completed over 12 hours of trail work, training, and patrolling this fall with our local Appalachian Mountain Club chapter.

I definitely learned the first spot I get blisters on my feet. I learned the names of many new mountains, up close and personal. I learned to use microspikes. I learned to use a tarp for an additional shelter. I learned what dehydration is like and to be more careful when its very hot and dry out. I learned to push my limits of comfort so that I can enjoy tougher trails. To that end I went back a few weeks ago and conquered a trail that was once too much for me. And on this last hike of 2015, I also learned that when I see a mountaintop nearby that wasn’t on my original planned hike but has a trail up it, I must summit it!

Signing trail register

Signing trail register

On this day I was connecting the Ridgefield and Danbury sections of the Ives Trail. I am enjoying this trail recently because It is closer to home than the A.T. and other major trails in the state but also provides enough challenges and views when I don’t have as much time. It’s about 20 miles long and goes through 4 towns. This hike makes it about 1/3 of the trail I’ve covered to date in day-hike sections. Possibly a teeny bit more. The out-and-backs and loops on side trails I do to keep it interesting make finishing a trail a bit longer, but definitely are a more flexible option.

I also tested some new gear and products I got for the holiday on this hike. I got a new mountain hardware baselayer shirt recently when purchasing some gifts, so that was my shirt for the day. I feel it worked really well to keep me warm but ventilated.

GU energy gel

GU energy gel

I tried a GU gel when I was low on energy and had a few climbs left. The jury’s out on that one. I mean, I’m sure it helped but I sure didn’t feel a sudden burst of energy. Maybe its more about endurance than a boost. I didn’t have many more miles to go at that point and most were downhill so I will test another time with a longer stretch ahead.

I also tried a new beef jerky that was in my stocking, which was tasty but a bit drier than some. It was good, but not my favorite. I had a tangerine with me but ate that first and was wishing I had alternated a bit to help wash down the jerky. Best and most exciting of all for me to test was my new Sony RX100 camera.

Sony RX 100 (base model)

Sony RX 100 (base model)

My new friend Rich Wanderman turned me on to the camera on an A.T. hike a month ago, and I asked Santa for one. It comes in 4 models of increasing feature sets, but I went with the basic model which has all I really need. I am sticking with the size and resolution of photos here for now despite the higher capabilities of the camera, so I don’t use up all my storage space. All these shots are from the new camera except for the product shots. Hopefully the higher quality of the camera will come through in the photos going forward. If not I will revisit the size of the images I post here so you can see more detail. Let me know! I have a lot to learn about all the camera’s abilities and just bought a book with extensive tips as the manual it came with is not very detailed! I look forward to exploring it more in depth.

View from the ridgeline

View from the ridgeline

My main goal for this hike was too make it from the base of Moses Mountain to the top of Pine Mountain where the amazing lookout is, and back again. I have been up there from the other direction before, and knew I would come back many times more. And I wanted a good view to test the camera. There was only one other person on the summit when I arrived and when he left I got to enjoy the views alone for a good 15 minutes. It’s just under 3 miles from where I began to the lookout, but as I did it as an out-and-back and also took some of the aforementioned side trails to bag some other summits for fun, I covered 6.4 miles overall.

Chimney on Pine Mountain

Chimney on Pine Mountain

The trail is named after the late local composer Charles Ives, and so the trail symbol is a G clef. As a musician myself, I appreciate the connection!  There used to be a lean-to around 1905 on the summit that Charles and his brother built, and all that remains today is the stone chimney. He would often retreat there and write music. It’s an inspiring view for sure.

Field Trip Beef Jerky

Field Trip Beef Jerky

I noticed lots of burned areas on the trees on the summit. Clearly lightning strikes are common on this summit, so something to be aware of if in a storm pattern and planning to head up there. I explored two side trails on the way back to also summit Wooster Mountain. While on the first trail I realized that I was not in fact on the trail to the summit, but instead it was the one I saw across the pass. So naturally I headed across to bag the true summit.

As I approached the top I saw a hunter outfitted in camo gear with I believe a compound bow. I was no longer wearing my blaze colors as I was overheating in it but he saw me and made eye contact so I knew I was safe to proceed to the summit and then head back. I didn’t think hunting was allowed there but after checking I confirmed it is. There’s also a shooting range at the base of Wooster Mountain.

Spotted Wintergreen

Spotted Wintergreen

Despite a system moving in, it held off and I only felt one raindrop land on me. And I was prepared with a rain layer should it have turned for the worse. This section also crosses the very busy Route 7, where people drive very fast. There is a light and crosswalk at the crossing, but just be warned, when I pressed the crossing button on the way back, at least one car saw the changing light as an opportunity to speed up and through the red light. So don’t assume that red light means you’re safe until the cars stop!

Pine Mountain Lookout

Pine Mountain Lookout

There’s a very short section of road walk before a flat section of trail along Sugar Hollow Pond to the lot at the base of Moses Mountain. Although it is flat it is scenic, as it has impressive high walls of rock on one side and a body of water on the other. And I enjoyed seeing spotted wintergreen along this part of the trail.

Now I just need to cover the rest of the Ridgefield section which is about 5 miles, and the section from Tarywile Park in Danbury to the eastern end in Redding which I’m estimating at 8 1/2 miles. Those are guesses though as its not really laid out in sections with mileage in any maps at this time as it’s a fairly new trail. I am hoping that it eventually becomes a CFPA trail and makes it into the walk book. Happy hiking in 2016! I plan to be out there again the first weekend of January if I can.

— Linus

 

Foliage Hike on the Ives Trail

Heading up the meadow

Heading up the meadow

Only about 30 minutes from home, Tarywile Park in Danbury, Connecticut offers beautiful ponds, farmlands, gardens, an environmental education center, a Victorian mansion and some great hiking. This includes a segment of the Ives trail, named for the late classical composer from Danbury. It traverses the park for about 6 miles. The trail starts in Ridgefield and travels about 20 miles through Danbury to Redding.

Even though I was feeling under the weather and it made the climbs a bit tougher, I was not going to sit out an opportunity to experience the peak of fall colors and not hit the trails this weekend. And nature did not disappoint me.

Mootry Peak, Thomas Mountain

Mootry Peak, Thomas Mountain

Last November my son and I did part of this same section of the Ives trail in the snow. Though we didn’t complete the climb to the top of Thomas Mountain because he got wet during a stream crossing and it was cold so we turned around promptly. I had previously ascended the peak on the trail from the west and that hike with him would have linked the summit east to Parks pond, but it was not meant to be. Still, that was a great hike and we felt good having made the safe and smart decision to head back to the car.

I did a few variations this time, ascending on the Mootry Peak trail to the sweeping lookout of the same name on top of Thomas Mountain. I went down the Ives, and then took a trail on the east side of Back pond, as we had already covered the western edge of it on the Ives Trail last year. Overall it was a 4-mile loop and despite the modest elevations, the terrain was fairly steep and got my heart pumping multiple times by way of several ups and downs. Thomas Mountain itself is about 1,000 feet high but the hill before it was a good climb in its own right, as was as the small hill on the east side of the pond where the trail went straight up for a short distance.

Nice fungus

Nice fungus

There are several summits along the Ives trail including Pine, Moses, Thomas, and Middle Mountains. It features some great vistas, lovely park, forest and pond walks and some challenging terrain, as well as one major road crossing. I’ve covered about 6-7 miles of it so far. I have really enjoyed the views from Pine Mountain and Thomas Mountain and the ravine between Moses and Thomas Mountains provided a challenging, A.T.-like experience. I intend to complete the rest of the trail in a few more pieces as its not far and offers enough challenge and solitude for me when I only have a few hours.

Fortunately on my hike I managed to get a few minutes by myself at the Mootry Peak lookout, hang my legs over the rocks and have a snack while taking in the view. I also had a garter snake slither right past me on the way down, which definitely surprised me.

Back pond

Back pond

There were two fire rings along the route I took, which I am pretty sure is not legal here. And sadly by one of them there was graffiti on the large rock nearby. I am glad J.S. loves R.B, but I don’t need to see it written on a rock, no matter how romantic your evening was. Have some class people. I am going to be optimistic and hope that they wrote it in charcoal, not black paint.

The views all around Back Pond were gorgeous. The rainbow of leaf colors reflecting off the water painted a beautiful, peaceful scene. Thoreau would have been rapt. I was. I hope I managed to capture some of the magic in my photo.

— Linus