Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 1

I am going to be shortening the format on the blog entries for a while as my season is picking up and i won’t have as much time to blog every outing. Plus, for the section hikes I do with Fielden Stream, I’ve been making videos, which capture the experience easily as well if not better than words. So head on over to our youtube channel (under links) to see the latest installments. This hike should be up there by the weekend. I’ve also just spent the last two days out training and meeting with the new seasonal ridgerunner team, so that will be a coming blog entry too.

In short, last weekend we finally finished New Jersey! It was a fantastic section including the famous “Stairway to Heaven” in Vernon, and the Bearfort Ridge along Greenwood Lake as we came to the state line finale. We met some great section and thru hikers, and hiking dogs. We witnessed two marriage proposals (they both said yes!) and were treated to beautiful weather for a change. We wrapped it up with a shuttle ride from our favorite shuttle driver in the area (and former trail builder and maintainer) who as always recommended the best spot in the area for a post-hike meal.

We were so pleasantly surprised by our experience on the New Jersey section, I highly recommend it. Despite all the bears known for the area, we didn’t see one in all of our hikes through the 72 miles of New Jersey over the last few seasons.

The question remaining is where to next? We are thinking of starting Vermont, or trying to get out for a week to do all of Maryland sometime this summer.

I will have my hands full as always with at least 6 more weekends of ridge runner weekends, but we will definitely try and get in one or two sections elsewhere this season, and maybe a third in Pennsylvania with friends. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.2

Miles day 2: 5.4

— Linus

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Beginning the stairway

Beginning the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Linus at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus at Pinwheel’s Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel’s Vista

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

New footbridge

New footbridge

Tree bench magic

Tree bench magic

Rita the backpacking dog

Rita the backpacking dog

Home for the night

Home for the night

A nice pond

A nice pond

Name that flower

Name that flower

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Linus at the state line - NJ is done!

Linus at the state line – NJ is done!

 

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Great Garlic Mustard Pull at Bull’s Bridge, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

On Saturday our AMC Connecticut Chapter held one of our big annual volunteer work days, “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail.”  Like the volunteer round-up, we start with recognitions of any volunteers who were not at that event. We then went through the different work parties going on that day. One was a shelter roof replacement, one was doing waterbar clearing. There was also a boundary maintenance group and a trail relocation/switchback that was being started.  Our overseer of trails did a demo on how to use and carry the large tools required for some of the jobs, as there were a lot of new volunteers this day.

Last but not least of the work party options was the garlic mustard pull down by Bull’s Bridge. This is an invasive that really can take over fast, and alters the soil composition enough that native species can’t grow well.  This is the group I went with as I had pulled something else – in my back –  the previous week, and heavy labor would not have helped it heal. I need to be uninjured as I have lots of ridgerunning to do as the season is upon us.

We’ve been doing this work party for a few years now, so we had far less to pull this time around because we’ve been steadily warding off lots of new growth. You can cook with garlic mustard apparently, but I haven’t tried it.

We split up to cover different sections of the woods, and I went off with my friend Ray from the Bull’s Bridge task force. We spotted a lot of new Columbines and Jack in the Pulpits along the river and the trail. Also on our loop we met a hiker who Ray met at Trail Days in Damascus last year. He had to get off farther north in Virginia last year so he was out again finishing the trail from Bear’s Den hostel in northern Virginia this year and had already made it to Connecticut after 47 days.  We all chatted for a while. What a small world it is on this very long trail!  I see that phenomenon almost every time I’m out…

We also saw our local blue heron “Jim” flying above the river. I see him often down at the campsite at Ten Mile when camping there.

Tomorrow Fielden Stream and I are completing the New Jersey section including an initial steep climb up the “Stairway to Heaven”. After we’re done with this state (#5) we are thinking we will start southern Vermont. Or if we can somehow find a whole week to take off, we might do all 44 miles of Maryland.

But next week I also start my ridgerunner duties in full, and have a multi-day hike and work party to repair a privy with the new ridgerunner team. And the first weekend in June will be my first official solo ridgerunner weekend of the season. I will be doing that at least once a month through October. So we will see how many other weekends Fielden and I can manage. We do have a tentative plan to hike with our friends from Pennsylvania again, in their home state. Though not one of the really rocky bits! Not when I have a choice anyway!

More to come… photos below.

Miles: 1

– Linus

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Jim our local blue heron

Jim our local blue heron

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

Columbine

Columbine

Our hiker kiosk at Bull's Bridge

Our hiker kiosk at Bull’s Bridge

My favorite carvings

My favorite carvings

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Case Mountain Family Hike, Manchester, Connecticut

Falls and bridge at the lot

Falls and bridge at the lot

Last weekend we had a happy occasion thankfully, in the form of celebrating my older brother’s 50th birthday. As you may know from reading this blog, we have been doing a bunch of hiking together over the last year. On this day he and his girlfriend, my little brother and his son and partner from Colorado and my uncle from Virginia who were all here for the occasion too came along on the hike. I was elated everyone was in the mood to spend a few hours of this bluebird day to hit the woods, and I didn’t have to do much convincing.

Broccoli tree?

Broccoli tree?

The hike was at Case Mountain Park in Manchester, Connecticut. It has an extensive (10 miles) system of trails up and around the peaks of Case Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Birch Mountain. We managed a loop including the first two, at about 2.3 miles. The blue-blazed Shenipsit trail traverses the park for a few miles, and we connected a bit of that with several other trails including the carraige trail, the pink trail, and the blue/yellow trail.

We only had about an hour and a half so I had picked this route and led the hike. It was a great way to spend time together, and while it was short and not very challenging, it had a very nice view from Lookout Mountain.

Trail break

Trail break

This view makes it a popular hike for locals, and one I’m glad I finally got to do. At around 750ft, these peaks are not very high, but they are high enough over the valley below that you get long views to Hartford and beyond to the west as well as the hanging hills to the south.

Our backpacking season is starting very soon and I’m excited because this weekend is not only our trail work season official kickoff day, but I am joining my friend Brian and a buddy of his for an overnight on the trail afterwards.

View from Lookout Mountain summit

View from Lookout Mountain summit

While I’m only hiking a short ways in to the campsite to meet them because of the trail work day beforehand, I get to try my new hammock for the first time and get a much needed night on the trail with friends. It’s also all uphill to the campsite, of course! And at the trail work party I will be receiving my recognition for 250 hours of volunteer trail service to date, and my son will be receiving his 12-award! We do it because we love it, but of course a little recognition is always nice.

Our route

Our route

With any luck, Fielden Stream and I will be heading out to do another overnight backpacking trip on a section in New Jersey near the end of this month. Our first together for the season. If not for all the occasions lately, we probably would have gotten out already.

Miles: 2.3

Family members: 8

Smiles: countless

  • Linus

Ten Mile River Campsites Clean-up with Ray and Jiffy Pop

March 23rd weekend I had my son “Jiffy Pop” home from school and in preparation for some trail volunteer work he will be doing there, I wanted to get him back out for some more volunteer trail work up here in Connecticut. A few seasons back he helped me for half a day, and he was eager to go out and hike and do some work. I am more than happy to encourage that! With this volunteer time under his belt he has now also earned his first volunteer award with the club!

We met up with Ray, our friend from the Connecticut chapter, and member of the Bull’s Bridge task force. They are there to keep Bull’s Bridge from being the trash pile it once was years ago, and manage crowds at this busy area.

We did a loop down to the Ten Mile River Campsites and Shelter, to pick up trash, clean up fire rings, and anything else that awaited us.

There was a good amount of trash and evidence of rogue fires at the shelter, and so we cleared all of that and checked the bear boxes and privies, filling up duff buckets and checking the water pump.

Unfortunately folks (suspecting locals) are still up to a bunch of bushcraft nonsense at this campsite. While that’s a neat skill, cutting down young saplings to do it, is not only illegal on National Park Service land, but just wrong. We will be addressing this with the town and the ATC so we can get some signage in place to that effect, and hopefully it will make a difference.

Curious about some colorful ribbons along the Ten Mile River, Ray told me the princess from the nearby Schaghticoke tribe placed these at many of the river confluences in the area to bless them in a ceremony. Fascinating! Please if you see them do not disturb.

Pictures below.

Miles: 2.6

– Linus

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull's Bridge

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull’s Bridge

 

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

Schaghticoke River blessing

Schaghticoke River blessing

Appalachian Trail: North Carolina: Winding Stair Gap to Panther Gap Out-and-back

Jiffy Pop leaving his old man behind again

Jiffy Pop leaving his old man behind again

Over the weekend I was visiting my son again at his boarding school in the high country of South Carolina. As is becoming tradition, we took advantage of the fact that it is so close to the Appalachian Trail, and made sure to fit in another hike. It was after all, a gorgeous day for a walk in the woods, and he’s expressed to me a few times now that he’d like to thru-hike with me one day. This news of course is a dream come true for me! So I have to feed that passion. His trail name is Jiffy Pop, in case you’re new here.

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

We were up in the Asheville, North Carolina for most of the weekend for other reasons, and I thought about finding some local trail hikes there. I know there are also great trails and hikes near his school in northwest South Carolina and northeast Georgia. However the Appalachian Trail was the trail I wanted to get him on to keep him excited about a thru-hike one day. So I thumbed through my WhiteBlaze 2019 white pages guide while at our hotel for options on the Appalachian Trail nearby in North Carolina.

Beautiful falls at Winding Stair Gap

Beautiful falls at Winding Stair Gap

We did get to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, by chance, on the way to one of our activities. What a treat! It is very much like Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, but starts just across the road from Skyline’s southern end in Waynesboro, Virginia and travels a few hundred miles south. It was a bit overcast and cloudy that day (Sunday) but was as a result also a perfect example of why these are called the Great Smoky Mountains. We stopped at an overlook and took some photos of course.

While in the Asheville area I also got to meet in person a thru-hiker from the class of 2018 that we enjoyed following on YouTube – IBTAT. While he’s quite a character, speaking often with regular profanity, he’s a really nice guy who found sobriety through hiking the trail and fully appreciates the beauty of the A.T.

Oh how I wished I could have camped by the creek

Oh how I wished I could have camped by the creek

Unlike a large percentage of thru-hikers who are often moving very fast to do the trail as quickly as possible (or treating it like a giant party), he often stopped to observe and point out amazing views and how lucky he was to be able to experience a thru-hike. He’s gearing up for a PCT hike soon. I knew he lived in Asheville and cooked at a restaurant there, and so I reached out to see if he would be working that day we were arriving in town. When he confirmed he was, we went for an amazing breakfast and a quick hello. Because he had thru-hiked last year I was hoping to have him meet my son too but the schedules did not line up.

Jiffy Pop taking pack duty

Jiffy Pop taking pack duty

For the hike we opted to go back to Franklin, an area I knew a bit now from our last visit and hike to Siler Bald in September. I considered a hike up to Wesser Bald from Tellico Gap, or Wayah gap to Wayah Fire Tower, or from Winding Stair Gap all the way to Siler Bald,  but all were too long and too much elevation gain for the number of hours we had to spare. We opted for the last hike, but only halfway to Siler Bald, stopping at an overlook two miles up at Panther Gap. While not a 360 degree view, it too had great views south from east to west and as I mentioned we’ve already been up to Siler Bald. We will cover the two miles between Panther Gap and Siler Bald when we thru hike – or at the very least do a long-a** section hike (LASH) in a few years. My son’s not sure he can do it, but he wants to try and we will give it our best shot. Even a week together on the trail will be an amazing bonding experience we would cherish for life.

Father and son at Swinging LICK Gap

Father and son at Swinging LICK Gap

The climb out of Winding Stair Gap featured an exciting rushing brook crossing, some good twisting, climbing trail with lots of log steps (hence the name) and a beautiful cascade with a bridge across it. Up to Panther Gap the elevation gain was only about 850 ft, but we felt it. There were two steady climbs with a merciful half-mile of flat to gradual uphill in the middle. There was a gorgeous campsite about a mile up at Moore Creek, and oh how I wished we had overnight gear and were spending the night. We stopped a short ways after at the sign for Swinging Lick Gap, which someone had tried to change into a more vulgar name by carving the L into a D. My son got a kick out of this of course. Me being a trail maintainer, not so much. I hear they have to replace this sign often. While it’s a funny name, vandalism isn’t funny.

A nice view at Panther Gap, at least in Winter

A nice view at Panther Gap, at least in Winter

There was also a camping spot at Panther Gap, which we saw when we finally caught up to Jiffy Pop who was waiting patiently for us at the view. For someone worried about being able to do it, he certainly left us way behind on the climb up!  There was a fire pit which had some orange peels in it. Being a ridge runner and an all around leave no trace guy, I cleaned those up. It’s a reflex, and the right thing to do anyway.

Jiffy Pop waiting patiently at Panther Gap

Jiffy Pop waiting patiently at Panther Gap

I imagine in summer in full canopy this view would be much more obscured but it was great this day.  The wind was howling over the ridgeline at the gap. The wind always finds the path of least resistance and a gap sure qualifies. We were at about 4500ft in elevation at this point and I tried to identify the other peaks in the distance as some I knew were along the trail south of here. We had a snack and took in the long views and took some photos and then headed back down as we had to be back at the car in 45 minutes. The rhododendron and mountain laurel were plentiful, and I pictured the glory of this section in full bloom. It was beautiful even in winter.

Linus and Fielden Stream at Panther Gap

Linus and Fielden Stream at Panther Gap

And, my son did get to meet two thru-hikers on the hike, so that was great. I really wanted him to meet some thru-hikers so he could be inspired by them as well.  They were a gentlemen from Ohio now living in Franklin who did the trail in 2015. And a current thru-hiker “Engineer” now “Full Monty”. He said had to take a break in Franklin due to IT band issues for many days but was back out and at it, and optimistic for a great hike. I too have some knee issues and wear compression sleeves for downhills, so I can relate. 

Miles: 4.2

  • Linus

 

Birthday Hike with my AMC Trail Friends

Yesterday I finally got back out on the trail, and with a whole crew of my favorite hiking people, less one: Fielden Stream. We had a very bad cold or possibly even the flu last week and as my fever was just breaking Friday (on my BIRTHDAY!), hers was just kicking in. So sadly she couldn’t join us for this one. I had set this up as a birthday celebration hike and while I wasn’t 100% yet I was also suffering some pretty bad cabin fever at this point after 3 days in bed.  I was well enough for a few hours of much needed nature healing with my friends!

It was originally planned as a short 3-miler, up to the south overlook on the New York side of Schaghticoke Mountain, and back down. While short, it’s a 1,000ft climb in 1.5 miles so its no walk in the park either!  Brian, Ray and Lisa joined me Sunday morning at the trailhead. Lisa brought along a new friend Emma, who is new to the area as of two years ago. She is originally from Iowa, with some years in Arizona as well. She made a nice addition to our little group, and is interested in future outings with us and getting involved in the club activities. So I guess we made a good impression!

The temperature hovered in the high 30’s but lower up top. We had a few small flurries as well during the day where the temperature was lower due to elevation or wind chill. There wasn’t much of any snow on the ground, but many parts of the trailway were runways of ice because the rain collects there, then freezes.

We had a nice break at the overlook and enjoyed some snacks and took some photos while exploring the winter scenery before heading back down.

When we got back down the mountain, a few of us wanted to keep going, and go down to the shelter and Ten Mile area. I had waited a month to hike, so even though I was not not planning on doing more than the first 3 miles, this portion is low elevation and not challenging, and the views are amazing.  So I was easily pursuaded and Lisa, Brian and I continued along for a few more hours/miles. I also really wanted to hit my 1,000 mile milestone. I’ve tracked every hike since I started hiking again in late 2013, and at the beginning of the hike I had only 7 miles to go on the counter to hit 1,000. Technically, I did have a few hikes over the years where the tracker dropped the signal and some miles so I may have hit it already, but not on paper! I only needed 3.7 more miles from the bottom of the mountain, and that was easy with this loop down to the shelter and campsites. More fun, AND a big milestone? Double bonus!

The river was flowing even more intensely than my last hike here at the very beginning of the month with Crista.  Many areas of the river beaches were sheets of ice, but our microspikes solved that problem! We had a great hike, and it was a very special way to celebrate my birthday with friends. I just wish my wife could have joined.

I got a hammock system for my birthday on Friday, and am excited to try hanging for the first time this season. Sadly, it will be a bit of a wait until I can do that, but I will write all about it when I finally get to try it! The 2019 WhiteBlaze guide I ordered also arrived on my birthday which was happy timing!

I am also picking some other gear I have been wanting for the new season – a rain kilt (pants are way too sweaty and soak you from the inside as well) and leukotape (better than moleskin!). I might invest in a wider Ti pot as well for my cook kit. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles: 7

  • Linus
Making Plans for 2019!

Making Plans for 2019!

Housatonic under Bulls Bridge

Housatonic under Bulls Bridge

Icy glacial erratics on Schaghticoke mtn

Icy glacial erratics on Schaghticoke mtn

Me and My AMC trail friends on top of Schaghticoke mtn

Me and My AMC trail friends on top of Schaghticoke mtn

CT AMC at Ten Mile River shelter

CT AMC at Ten Mile River shelter

Finally hit this milestone!

Finally hit this milestone!

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