Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 1

Over the weekend we did get back up to the trail in Massachusetts, but opted for the shorter section to the VT border from North Adams instead of south from there over the Greylock range. We did it as an out-and-back and did not venture further into Vermont as the Green mountain club requested people not hike the muddy trail until after Memorial day. Doing this section turned out to be a wise decision on many fronts. But most of all, the all-day heavy rain combined with cold temperatures predicted for Saturday did come, just minutes after we got off trail in the morning. We lucked out with nice weather Friday so the climb up the Pine Cobble wasn’t too sketchy and the view from the top was grand.  This was the longest and highest uphill we’ve done together, gaining about 1800’ from North Adams to the Vermont and Long Trail border.  We felt it the rest of the weekend in our legs.

We had a bit of excitement on the hike! One of the hikers at the campground called in for a midnight rescue as he was having abdominal pains, and so we met some EMT’s and firefighters who had to hike the 1.8 miles uphill to the campsite in the middle of the night and direct them to the bear box to get the hiker’s food. I was treated to a view of the bright starry night as I was out there chatting with them…  and many Barred owl calls… Also my fellow weekend ridgerunner from CT AMC came up to the campsite at 7am to meet us for coffee before his daughter’s lacrosse tournament in nearby Williamstown that day, so that was cool.  And I got 2 nasty black fly bites. Those little bastards got me at the end of the day when I was tired and filling up water and rolled up my sleeves where I had no bug juice on…. Duh!  They still itch and hurt so much I’m putting on cortisone regularly. I was warned about May in Massachusetts!

We saw only about 3 other hikers on the trip, including two girls staying at our campsite. It’s a really pretty walk along Sherman brook for the first few miles up out of North Adams. On a really hot day that would be paradise. I trekked it the extra mile south from Rt 2 on the way out Saturday morning to Pattison road. This way we could start there next time and not have to park in town and have a steamy concrete road walk before the long climb up the Greylock range.  After we got off the trail we spent the rest of the weekend exploring North Adams and Williamstown. We will come back to do the last 13 miles of the A.T. in Massachusetts in a month or two. It will still be there. Besides, then we get to enjoy the Bascom lodge….

I start ridgerunning in Connecticut this weekend over Memorial day, and then Fielden Stream and I are doing another New Jersey section in about 3 weeks with our Pennsylvania friends.

Trail miles: 5.1

Total miles hiked: About 11 (out and back, side trails)

  • Linus
Fielden Stream at the VT border

Fielden Stream at the VT border

The Massachusetts side

The Massachusetts side

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

View from Pine Cobble

View from Pine Cobble

CT AMC Ridge runners

CT AMC Ridge runners

Walking back into North Adams

Walking back into North Adams

Sunset over Bald mtn

Sunset over Bald mtn

The great view from the bad weather trail

The great view from the bad weather trail

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Pine Cobble trail jct

Pine Cobble trail jct

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

Linus at the Long Trail

Linus at the Long Trail

First VT sign

First VT sign

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Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 3

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Last weekend Fielden Stream and I finally got out for our first overnight backpacking trip of the year. What a long winter that was – the wait was tough. The few winter day hikes did not stoke my need for time in the woods enough, and I got quite out of shape. Well, we both did.

We picked up where we left off in Massachusetts, and did the section over North mountain from Dalton to Cheshire. We had already done 1 mile of it, and had to stop ½ mile short of the end due to parking areas. So overall it was about 8 miles. We stopped at the Shamrock Village Inn on the way to the trailhead so I could get a stamp in my A.T. passport. The lady who ran it, Laura, was very nice and let us also use the bathroom. She had cute dogs there that we enjoyed meeting. They get a lot of hikers there. I’ll get another stamp at St Mary’s church In Cheshire as we head out of town in 2 weeks.

Fielden Stream making a campfire

Fielden Stream making a campfire

We had a beautiful day on Saturday – perfect conditions to hike. Mid-60s during the day was mild enough to make the first climb of the year more manageable. It was about 1000’ up to the campsite but mercifully gradual. The woods were full of Trout Lilly and Trillium and there was a pleasant breeze as we reached elevation and walked along the ridge. Because the trees were just starting to leaf out there were nice westerly views of Savage Mtn and the range that extends north to Greylock. My new poles worked great on their maiden voyage. Though I did manage to lose one basket before I even used them so Fielden bought me a replacement set when getting her new trail runners – more on that later.

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Of course when we reached the campsite trail it was UP .2 but it was a nice campsite, with a clean privy, a nice fire ring and a bear box. I had watered up before the campsite so didn’t need to do the hike downhill to the stream there. Fielden loved my Klymit X pillow so I let her use it and went back to my special clothing bag with the soft pillow side which works great for me. I tried using my neo air pump sack to inflate my sleeping pad but it wasn’t really working. Maybe I’m doing it wrong or maybe it was a great idea that needs more work.

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

After we were setup, we made a nice fire and chatted with some section hikers who arrived a bit later after a much longer day.  They retired to their tents early and we made dinner and enjoyed the fire before doing the same. We were treated to a nice sunset to the west and calls from a barred owl and another owl which I didn’t recognize. The day was complete.  We knew rain would come soon but were ok with it. This is part of the experience. And it wasn’t too cold.

The rain came later than expected – around 7 am. We were so happy to be out there we embraced the suck and did our first packing of our packs in our tent and my first cooking of the water for coffee at my vestibule.  We got packed up while remaining mostly dry and hit the trail by 815. I filled up at the first stream, to be safe.

Linus at Gore Pond

Linus at Gore Pond

Turns out there were about 5 more rushing streams between here and the Cheshire cobbles, not to mention the lovely Gore pond. Though with all its beaver activity I tend to avoid those sources. The extra weight was good training. The rain stopped for a while until we got to the Cobbles 3 miles north. We negotiated several blowdowns which I know the Mass crews will be up here in 2 weeks to address.

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

A slight mist of rain started as we reached the cobbles, a beautiful series of rock ledges on the northern end of the mountain, with commanding views west and south over Cheshire and Greylock and its sister mountains on the other side of the valley. The peaks were shrouded in mist, but it made the views all the more dramatic. We had a snack as we were getting hangry and then took a few photos and video for our Massachusetts video, which will be complete soon as we reach the end of the state. 19 miles to go!

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

It was a quick descent to Cheshire but with way more switchbacks than it appeared on the profile. So it was pleasant and easy. The cobbles hung over us for a bit of the descent and it really reminded me of Minnewaska State park and Sam’s point there. Once in Cheshire we got grand views of Greylock towering in the distance.  We were two and a half hours early for our shuttle. Our trail legs were alteady improving. We called her but could not reach her so we asked a friend who’s from the town where to eat and she recommended a spot half a mile down the rail trail. What’s another half mile on a flat surface?

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

The rain was starting again as was our hunger so we made for the restaurant and left a message for the shuttle to pick us up there at the original time. I completely demolished my plate and felt like a thru hiker! A beer or two made the meal complete (Fielden was driving!) and we got back to our car in a few minutes. We made plans for the shuttle for the next hike over the white whale, Greylock, and her sister mountains in a few weeks.

Greylock from Cheshire

Greylock from Cheshire

Fielden’s new trail runners were a tad too small so she got her first blisters in years. She will exchange them or return them and go back to her old shoes. I think she just needs to go up half a size and that should solve the issue.

I did not want to leave. I almost sulked as we drove home and I pretend-threatened-joked to Fielden Stream that I wanted her to turn around and go back with me and keep hiking after a nice stay in a hotel! Real life issues were suddenly coming back to me in force as they always do on the drive home and as I waited so long for this hike, I wasn’t letting go of it easily.

A great first adventure for the season. Luckily there’s much more ahead, and the next hike will push us to the highest peak and elevation gain we’ve done together, as well as the limits of our stamina. Can’t wait! It’s the best kind of hurt.

Hiker Hunger

Hiker Hunger is real

Miles day 1: 3.2

Miles Day 2: 4.6

Owls: 2

Cobwebs broken on trail: 6

-Linus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Season Newly Acquired Gear Testing- Part 1

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

As we get ready for the 2018 backpacking and my ridge-running season, I took advantage of the beautiful spring conditions on Easter Sunday to test some new gear I purchased over the winter. Of course it was snowing the next day and we ended up with half a foot of snow on the ground. April Fools a day late. (Easter was also April Fools day). As of this writing there were two more snowstorms followed by warm spring days since! Good old New England.

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

The first item is my new (used) Lightheart Gear solo tent. I bought it from a hiker on Whiteblaze.net. I am always researching gear, and especially great lightweight solo options for my ridge-running and volunteer weekends. Last year I bought a new REI Quarter-dome 1 for a great price on sale, and which at 39 ounces is a super-light option.  And I love the tent. They have since tweaked the design again. I guess my one issue with it was that the weird pole design always left me a little confused at set up time. And when you’re tired after a long day and setting up camp, you don’t wanna be fidgeting with the poles too long. Especially if its in the rain or the dark, or both. I did get used to it but there were still some times when I was doing it in a situation like those and did it backwards the first time. Plus its rather embarrassing when you’re fussing so much with your own tent when surrounded by other campers! The unusual design of that tent pole setup allows for a wider interior in the tent so it’s worth it but I just wanted something a little more of a no-brainer. And more room if I could get it.

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

On my many nights on the trail I see just about every tent design and model out there, and often ask the hikers about their tents. I then go about reading or watching reviews online and asking questions on hiking groups and forums as well. The Lightheart Gear solo is one of many ultralight options from cottage manufacturers on the market. They also make a slightly longer one for taller hikers called the solong.  I explored other options from Zpacks, Mountain Laurel Designs and more. When I saw the listing on whiteblaze I quickly did more research and found it to be not only a full 12 ounces lighter than my REI tent, but also more spacious and easier to setup. And it was at a great price so I jumped on it.

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

It uses trekking poles rather than included poles to pitch, but you can buy those if you don’t hike with trekking poles. This helps cut down on the weight. It’s also all one piece so you can set it up from the inside without the interior tent getting wet. While I know many 2- piece tents have a feature where you can first rig just the ground sheet and rainfly to avoid soaking your interior tent in the rain, I have to confess I’ve never tried that and it didn’t seem completely full-proof. I got this tent for about 45% off and it was in great shape. It has tons of room and is high enough to sit up in, as well as the ability to be quarter/half/three-quarter or fully vented. The manufacturer advised against spraying it with permethrin spray as did many on the online forums as this chemical doesn’t adhere to sil-nylon and voids the warranty. So I did not spray this tent like I do my others. Seam sealing is recommended for this tent, but the previous owner had the manufacturer do it at purchase. It costs a little extra ($35) but is worth it having a pro do it right the first time. The only negative feedback I’ve heard on this tent is that at 133″ long and 65″ wide, finding a camp spot can be tougher, as well as setting it up on a platform as it is also not fully free-standing. These things I will test in the field.

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Regarding the trekking poles: As you know from my last hike, the handle broke off one of my poles on that hike so I had bought a new pair at REI the next day. So it was time to test them, and this tent together for the first time. Well I didn’t test them by hiking but I did expand them and compare all the features to other brand models at the store to make my decision. I know these REI poles last a long time and that the cork was the weak spot and so I replaced them with poles with hard plastic/rubber handles- the Passage model.  They are not super light but that’s the reason I bought them as well as price. I found the super light super expensive poles to not support my weight as well.

The only ding with the tent purchase was that the stakes I got from the seller were a bit heavy, and when the tent requires ten stakes to fully pitch it, you want lighter ones. I didn’t expect him to send me his best, lightest stakes at this price. He didn’t even charge me shipping. He just wanted to pass it on to another hiker who would enjoy it and make some of his investment back.

This Dove came to check out my tent

This Dove came to check out my tent

So I ordered a set of four more super light titanium stakes from Zpacks, with their microfleece beanie (which I will review later) to make my set of ten. I find these hook-shaped stakes more effective than my MSR groundhogs for guylines. Or at least, they are my preference. I still use the mini groundhogs for staking out the 4 corners of the tent. The other hook stakes I had previously purchased from Amazon — they are Vargo. They are close enough in size and this setup overall should take the stake weight down a bunch. In the process of deciding how many more stakes I needed,  I also spent a while in the garage gear closet to take inventory and make sure all my other tents have the right number of stakes in their bags.  I don’t want to loan one out and we realize later I had taken the stakes from it!

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

I love the Lightheart tent and everyone who saw it set up on Easter and then got to hold it in their hands and feel how light it was packed up were as impressed as I was. Fielden Stream laid down in it for a minute and tested it too. I enjoyed reading “Balancing On Blue” from thru-hiker Fozzie while lying in it and trying out another new purchase. That’s in part 2: Kylmit Massdrop Pillow and JetBoil JetGauge. A dove even came to visit me in my yard and checked out my new tent!  I will keep the QD-1 for a while and if the LHG solo pleases me as much on the trail as it did in my yard, I will return the karma and sell the QD-1 to another hiker. I have one other solo tent which I like because you can pitch the fly like an awning. So even though its less roomy on the inside and a little heavier, Its very convenient if you need to cook when its raining. So I will keep that one for now.

Lightheart Gear Solo Tent Specs

weight: 27oz (before seam sealing)

floor space: 30 sq ft.

head room: 43 in

width: 65in at center

length: 133 in

single/double wall: double

doors: 1

Full specs and more info from the website

— Linus

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Post-holing Winter Maintenance Hike

Rodger's Icy Ramp

Rodger’s Icy Ramp

Saturday I went out with our trails overseer and his friend to check on the conditions of a 7 mile section of trail and clean up the blowdowns we could while documenting those we’d have sawyers come back for. It was not at all what I was expecting.

I knew there might be some snow up there. There was certainly when we were in the Shawangunks the previous weekend. I thought there might be 2-3 inches of snow in spots, and these elevations were lower than those in the Gunks so it might have even been less. But I brought my spikes as I knew I would at least potentially need those. Snowshoes would have been a better choice!

We had left a car at the north end and headed down to the start, where the snow on the trail was at least 5 inches deep. It appeared to have been walked recently, but there was only a single set of footsteps. From the start, we were using this hiker’s footholes in the snow, as the top layer of snow was crusty and icy. And so using these footholes made it easier to get through. Of course at this part of the hike the trail rises 800 ft in about 1/4 mile, up through a large crack in a boulder known as Rodger’s Ramp. It was up up up and we took a few photos because the ramp looked even more daunting with 4″ of snow in it. We crested the ridge with some nice views west and south. One thing I do like about hiking in this season is the long views through the trees you don’t usually have when it’s the green tunnel.

Following deep icy footholes

Following deep icy footholes

It was another 3/4 of a mile of following deep footsteps to the shelter side trail. Here we inspected the bear box, fallen trees near campsites, replaced the shelter log, and checked the privy. There was one hiker there who had set up his tent in the shelter as he did not expect the deep snow either. As there was no one else there trying to use the shelter we didn’t give him a hard time. Plus it was his birthday and he just wanted to spend it in the woods. Don’t blame him one bit.

We had a snack and then headed out. As he had confirmed he was the one to make the footsteps last night, this meant the next 6 miles we would be taking turns postholing and breaking the trail. We didn’t really look forward to that. Or at the very least, I didn’t. I knew it would be a struggle, and that it was.

Trail? What Trail?

Trail? What Trail?

I certainly hadn’t brought gaiters on this hike so in short order my shoes filled with snow and ice from making new deep steps in the snow. It wasn’t quite mid-day so this also meant it was barely into the 40’s and my water and snow filled shoes began to get colder and colder with each step. While not completely numbing because it was above freezing and the walking helped keep my feet warm, it was quite uncomfortable and I had to stop and wiggle my toes every once in a while.

Trudging along

Trudging along

We were cutting down every small blowdown that we encountered, which also meant dragging large branches deeper into the woods off trail. So even if the trail had been beaten down by a desired imaginary boy scout troop ahead of us, we were still walking into deep snow off trail many times.

At some point along this stretch, the top of one of my cork trekking pole handles snapped off at the fabric loop attachment. In all my years of hiking and backpacking I’ve never seen that happen. But I have put a lot of years and wear on those poles, and I guess they’d had enough. It’s hard to imagine that would have happened with plastic or rubber poles, so as much as I like the cork, the pair I replaced them with at REI yesterday had plastic handles. I went to REI to ask if they had a warranty on their products like other manuafacturers who will replace a product that fails in normal use.

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

The manager however thought I was just trying to take advantage of them like others have, which is why they changed their return policy to one year or newer. That wasn’t really my question though and I just called it a loss and used my 20% coupon to get a new pair. I like REI and use my membership regularly there so it will come back to me in a dividend. This was really the first time I was disappointed there. Really  I just felt they should have their own manufacturer warranty as they were REI poles. But they give money to our AMC chapter every year and volunteer with us so they’re still good with me.

Jim cutting a blowdown

Jim cutting a blowdown

As we reached the halfway point, something else unpleasant happened. My left thigh tightened up on me significantly, making it very difficult to lift that leg and adding strain to an angry muscle with every step. And there were miles to go. It was incredibly painful and I had to stop helping with the tree removal as the main goal for me was to walk out on my own without assistance. This was obviously the result of stepping in uneven depths of snow over and over and suddenly breaking through here and there. Not to mention a lot of strange angles I was moving them in.  We were following old snowshoe tracks now and once in a while the snow was packed down by those heels but half the time we still broke through.

As a result of the thigh issues, my knee and ankle acted up next, feeling more and more sore with each step. This was not my day. I didn’t bring my knee compression sleeves so I had to tough it out. A lot of things working against me at once. To complete the assault of painful ailments, I began to get chaffing as a result of the unusual step/sink pattern that made my pants and compression underwear not function the way they should and not protecting those nether regions adequately. The already steep ups and downs on this hike became even more difficult with all these injuries.

We did take a break at Hang glider view to enjoy the long views to the Taconics and beyond. The snow here was also deep however so break really meant just standing still for a bit and having a snack. Since we were so slow going in the deep snow conditions we were focused on reaching the other end in good time so we never really had a sit down break since the shelter.

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

From reading trail journals and watching youtube channels I realize many thru hikers were facing these same conditions and managing to keep going, though many have already dropped out because of the multiple snow storms and harsh winter conditions that are also happening in the south. I am an experienced hiker and backpacker for sure, and have done many winter hikes. But I was not at all expecting such a difficult day. I can’t tell you how happy I was to reach the road and limp to the car.  It took us 6 hrs to cover the 7+ miles. And all of us could normally do that in half the time. Granted, we did spend a good amount of time stopping to cut and clear blowdowns. And one positive was as the day warmed, the water in my shoes did too and my feet were at least no longer cold. We only saw one other hiker the whole day. I am well aware these days happen, as did with my Labor Day ridgerunning hike last fall. There are really bad days. As with that experience, I am proud that I got myself through it and out of danger. The good days are worth the bad ones. And they’re always a learning experience.

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Fielden Stream and I were supposed to go do a section hike with a possible overnight next weekend in northern Massachusetts in our quest to finish the state this spring. In light of these conditions at much lower elevations and farther south, we are postponing a month. We go backpacking together for fun. While we embrace the challenge and occasional unexpected suck that can occur on the trail, there’s no reason to purposefully go into lousy conditions. Deep snow, ice, slush or wet muddy trail is no fun, and as in this case can cause injury which could leave you in trouble when deep in the woods. My leg is mostly back to normal now. My ankle however is still a little sore from all the wacky angles I put it in and sinking into deep icy snow again and again, so that cinches it.

Already tough without the snow

Already tough without the snow

As section hikers we have the luxury to pick when we go. Hopefully a month from now the trail will be in better shape and we can continue our march north to the VT line. We will be doing two sections in May, and its possible we could finish it with those two if the conditions are good and we have big energy! Otherwise it will get completed soon enough!

Miles: 7.4

– Linus

Back to the Shawangunks and Minnewaska-Winter hike

Getting ready to hit the trail

Getting ready to hit the trail

As planned we headed back to the Hudson valley for our anniversary weekend so we could finally visit Hyde Park on Hudson and do more hiking in Minnewaska State Park. We visited here back in January, right when the Government shut down went into effect and effectively shut down our visit to the home of President Franklin Roosevelt. We are big history buffs, and also fans of the wonderful things his New Deal created such as the Civil Conservation Corps. Not only did the CCC help stabilize the economy after the great depression by providing thousands of jobs, but it also created some of our favorite state and national park buildings and roads. The more parks I visit, the more I see their handiwork and am grateful!

At the trail junction

At the trail junction

We had a great visit to the home on Friday and very much enjoyed our tour. These guides have a passion for their subject; I think I would love a job like that! We enjoyed a great lunch and dinner in Poughkeepsie as part of Hudson Valley restaurant week, and hope to get back in the fall to visit Eleanor’s house, Valkill, a few miles east of the main house.

The next morning we went back to New Paltz on our way to hike. We called Mohonk preserve from the hotel before we left as we were going to try and hike there but they said they only had snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and no hiking. By that I deduced they just meant guided outings. This is a place where the very wealthy play and are pampered so I imagine this type of guided activity is the norm for their guests. I later realized as we passed one of their gates while entering Minnewaska S.P. that you can hike their trails if you so desire, you just won’t have a guide. No problem. No guide needed. That parking area had lots of outdoorsy folk getting out into the snowy wonderland and no sign of a guard station or entrance fee.

Fielden Stream

Fielden Stream

We stopped into the outfitter in New Paltz called Rock and Snow to look at maps of the rest of Minnewaska S.P. and see if they had any idea on the trail conditions. Given all the recent snow, we didn’t want to be postholing and didn’t have deep snow gear. We did have our microspikes (I recently picked up a used pair for Fielden Stream on a used hiking gear forum) and so as long as the trails were not knee deep in snow we wouldn’t need more than those. They didn’t have a lot of information on trail conditions and I found the map a little too minimal, so I checked my trusty AllTrails app and found many short loop options. As we drove west to the park, we could see that most of the mountainsides were snowless give or take a few spots. Of course this doesn’t always mean there’s not snow on top or on the trails. But it didn’t look too foreboding.

High Peter's Kill /SRT

High Peter’s Kill /SRT

We picked a loop in the Peter’s Kill (the Dutch word for a river) area that circled the rocky craggs of Compass Rock and then followed Peter’s Kill back to the park office. I didn’t realize this area had a park office/ranger’s station until we got there so while we did have to pay a $10 parking fee, I am always fine with giving my money to support these parks. Plus, they had information, detailed maps of the area’s trails, a nature exhibit, bathrooms, and snowshoe rentals should we have needed them. The ranger was also able to tell us the trail conditions and that spikes were fine for the conditions. We saw many people out there with no spikes who said ‘we should get those’ when they saw ours, but they all managed without. We like the extra security knowing we wouldn’t slip on icy spots and had traction in the snow on the climbs and descents.

Classic Gunks rocks

Classic Gunks rocks

We got our spikes on and headed up the Bullwheel trail to start our loop. The climb from here was easy and not much of a grade. To the east, several rock climbing and bouldering trails branched off the main trail but you need permits for those and no one was out rock climbing considering the snow was 3-4 inches deep everywhere. These were indicated by blue/yellow blazes, though I didn’t figure that out till later.

Linus playing beneath the boulders

Linus playing beneath the boulders

We reached an old concrete foundation which we learned from the ranger was part of an old ski resort up the side of this hill back in the day. There were several runs, one of which we hiked up at the end of the loop. This was likely the support for the lift tower. At this point we were skirting the eastern edge of the rocky summit, and in better weather with a bouldering permit you can scramble up to the top. I was enticed for a second but without a permit, I don’t really believe in breaking rules. Especially when I ask others to follow and respect these kinds of rules as a ridge runner. I also wouldn’t want to have my wife deal with a fall! I will come back later when its dry and warm and with a permit.

Incredible view of the Catskills

Incredible view of the Catskills

The trail intersected here with the High Peter’s Kill trail. It is part of the longer Shawangunk Ridge Trail which follows the ridge lines for the length of the park. The trail continued east to the Mohonk Preserve but we continued west on the High Peter’s Kill portion around the summit of Compass rock. There were amazing views from its western slope to the high peaks of the Catskills just to the west. It descended sometimes steeply for a snowy trail to the banks of Peter’s Kill, a beautiful river nestled between the two mountains. It was wide and deep and had watering holes and a nice waterfall we passed. In the summer this would be an ideal place to cool off.

After following the river for a bit we opted for the shorter (but we would learn steeper) route up the red trail back to the parking area. This took us up the side of an old ski slope to where it met the Bullwheel trail we climbed earlier. A family with young kids was descending this trail and slipping all over the place because it was steep. So we were again glad to have our traction devices. We got a nice workout climbing up the hill and then enjoyed the gentle decline back to the trailhead.

Peter's Kill

Peter’s Kill

It was a short loop but very scenic, with all the typical flora and rocky crags you expect in the Gunks. With the snow, it was much more of a workout than in normal conditions. It wasn’t too cold and we had a great time. We then made our way to our friends’ beautiful home in nearby Cragsmoor, where we enjoyed a roaring campfire before a great dinner together. One day we will live that mountain and country life full time. For now, it’s always a pleasure to be in the mountains and the woods

More Shawangunk Ridges

More Shawangunk Ridges

Tomorrow I will be joining our overseer of trails with my Connecticut AMC chapter to inspect a section of our portion of the Appalachian trail and report back to the crews what work needed to be done. We will cut small blowdowns and clear what we can but we have larger work parties to do the heavy lifting, as well as sawyers to cut the big trees. It will be good to see the condition of the trail in Northern Connecticut as Fielden Stream and I will be out doing a section hike in Northern Massachusetts in 2 weeks and I was a bit anxious of the snow depths having just had our fourth Nor’Easter in a row. Last I read someone had to be assisted off the A.T. in that area of the Berkshires due to deep snow he wasn’t prepared for. Temperatures look like they will be in the 40s-50s until then so I’m hoping we will need nothing more than spikes. I will also check before we go with my contacts that maintain the Massachusetts section as they will know better than anyone.

We were planning to overnight it on that trip but it depends on if there’s snow up there as we don’t have much overnight winter gear. I know many thru’s are making the trek in deep snow in the Smokies right now with not much more than normal hiking gear, but there are shelters there. This section would only have a primitive campsite. If there’s a bunch of snow up there we will do it as a day hike, and this hike in Minnewaska was a good intro for Fielden to using her microspikes should we need them. I will do an entry on tomorrow’s trail maintenance hike as soon as I am able.

Miles: 2

– Linus

Exploring Topstone Park, Redding, CT

Off we go!

Off we go!

I can’t always make it to my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail. It’s at least an hour drive in any direction. So when I have less time I enjoy finding new closer spots that provide the serenity I love as well as that have at least some challenge in the terrain. A view from an overlook is always a bonus.

In early January I explored a park in Ridgefield I had on my radar, and also learned a little bit more about this park when looking at the options for that morning. Ridgefield is about a 25-minute drive for me which is doable, and I’ve done much of the trails there. I will go back and explore more of the trails on that last hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State park, as well as the Hemlock Hills trails. On the way up route 7 I’ve noticed signs for a few others like Bobby’s Court and Topstone Park. I get excited whenever I see a trailhead, and make a note to explore those when I get the chance.

One of the streams that feeds the pond

One of the streams that feeds the pond

Having the afternoon off last Wednesday and needing to clear my head of a lot of extra baggage, I was once again looking for a trail to explore. I thought about finishing the Housatonic Range trail in New Milford. But that is 5.7 miles, almost an hour away, and challenging enough that I just wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be racing the sunlight and hence moving too fast on the tough parts and risking injury.  One feature known as “Suicide Ledges” entails a 10-20ft scramble through and over large boulders and ledges as I understand it.

While I’m up for the challenge I was also concerned that time pressure and potential leftover ice and snow would make it unsafe without a hiking partner. I did try a few of my friends in the area but as it was mid week the best I could secure was a shuttle back to the start.

Topstone Mountain in the distance

Topstone Mountain in the distance

In hindsight it warmed up significantly by this time and I likely could have made it work but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’m a husband and a dad and bravado and risk taking doesn’t just affect me anymore. I’ve read way too many backcountry disaster stories to feel good about my decisions when I play it safe and wait for the right conditions to approach a challenge.

 

Along the pond edge before the climb

Along the pond edge before the climb

So I re-focused my attention on closer areas and looked up Topstone park in Redding. Right off Route 7 just east of Ridgefield, it was just over 20 minutes away and a very pleasant surprise. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, with a beachfront and canoes, kayaks, dinghies and what looked like a jumping platform.  The gate to this area was closed for the off-season though you are permitted to walk around it to enjoy the trails that circle the pond and above on the eastern and western hills and ridges.

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

I parked in the main lot and checked in on my alltrails app which has all of the trails marked within and I was on my way up the Saddleback trail. Also called ‘the west way’ as it climbs and follows the ridge of a 650ft hill due west of the lot. I was amused that the trails here were white-blazed like my favorite trail.  Technically this trail is east of the pond but facing due south in the lot it is indeed west. It climbs quickly up the hill then levels off as it skirts the edge of a wetland and a few homes in the woods before winding through more forest and over streams that feed the pond. This trail, known as Boulder Top, also has two connectors to a nearby road and eventually reaches the pond trail near the beach. This trail, or rather all the trails in this park, are white-blazed but well marked with fresh blazes and signs at each intersection.

Too bad no camping here!

Too bad no camping here!

I followed the pond trail around the perimeter, enjoying nice views of the beach and pond at water level. It reminded me of Sunfish pond on the A.T. in New Jersey. Another trail or two led up to the road from the pond trail before I reached the turn off to start the climb up to the views on Topstone Mountain. The Pond trail continues around the perimeter of the pond, but I planned to come back that way once I saw on my app that there was a trail known as the Base Trail which would bring me back from the summits on a connector midway up the mountain.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I headed up the Topstone trail and after going a bit past the next turnoff, turned around and found the next junction I missed. To be fair it was marked; I was just in the moment and walked past a little bit. I made the turn back up hill and climbed up the trail to the summit between large walls of rock that made up the base of the ledges I’d soon be standing on.  They were dramatic and very attractive to look at. My heartbeat began to pick up from the scenery as much as from the modest ascent. While only a few hundred feet in elevation gain, It was just as good as many a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I reached the first viewpoint which looks east over the pond and beach below and took a break to process a few things while perched on the rocky ledge. I imagine in summer the scene below is one of much activity and that this spot too would have been occupied by a few of the more adventurous kids enjoying the day with their families.

Knowing there were more views to be had I moved on and took a left on the long view trail which leads .2 miles to the edge of another of the rocky prominences I saw on my walk up here. That view is known as long view and has an equally if not more impressive view all the way across Route 7 to the hills and farms of Ridgefield as well as south to West Redding’s other hills.

The Long View

The Long View

Here I sat longer under a pitch pine taking in what was indeed a long view and had a snack. My sadness I came to address had lifted and a big grin came across my face as I took it all in. Like the views at Pine Mountain or Seth Low Mountains in Ridgefield, these were no disappointment. They required only a small effort to reach and provided the kind of views you’d expect from larger hills and mountains.

Trail junction

Trail junction

I headed back down the other side of the mountain and picked up the Base trail which would bring me back to where I was previously but only briefly before I descended back to the pond trail. The base trail is aptly named as it follows along the base of the long high walls of rock that made up the mountain’s body. Here the temperature was at least twenty degrees cooler, as the cliffs shaded me from the sun, and I bathed in cool breezes.

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

I smiled again and recalled when we did a section in Beartown State Forest along the A.T. in Massachusetts which also skirted walls of rock caves and represented a significant temperature drop. Those caves were surely home to bears, and I did spot one small cave in the wall here but for obvious reasons opted not to try and get a closer look!  It was very unseasonably warm and in the mid 60s — hotter in the sun. So this small stretch was a nice relief not to mention quite beautiful.

Swimming spot

Swimming spot

After reaching the bottom I followed the pond trail along its western edge and past a small swimming area and the drainage causeway that emptied the pond into another large stream. Here there was the platform as I imagined to be for jumping from. I am not sure though as the pond empties just behind it and while there may be a grate, perhaps that would be too strong a current to swim next to. The trail then climbs back through woods to the parking lot of the beach area and then follows the entry road back to the lot I parked in.

Pond spillway

Pond spillway

It was a lovely hike, with nice views and just enough challenge. There were several spots in the forest where I wish I could have just set up my tent for the night , but that is obviously not allowed nor was an overnight in today’s plan or I would have gone elsewhere!  I highly recommend this park. I don’t recall the parking fees for the beach or if you have to be a resident, but if you just want to walk the trails I don’t think there’s any restrictions year round. I think the main issue would be finding parking on a nice weekend. That said you could access the trails from the side trails to the road I passed on my loop. I am sure they have small parking areas along the road for a car or two.

Miles: 4

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Winter Weekend Cleanups

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

When it’s not ridge runner season, I am out doing the volunteer equivalent of the role the rest of the year for my Connecticut AMC chapter. Doing so is how I found myself in the ridge runner role for the first time last summer! I love being outdoors, especially on the Appalachian Trail. And giving back and taking care of the trail, even when I’m not getting paid for it, is a pleasure and a privilege as well!

Since the new year I have managed to get out and address some trail issues twice — once in late January and also last weekend.

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

In January my buddy Ray from our Bull’s Bridge task force joined me for a quick hike out to the Ten Mile River campsites and shelter. This is a very popular camping area year round and often we find lots of fire rings here from those who like to rough it in winter and practice their skills. Of course, fires are not allowed on the A.T. in Connecticut. I suspect the rings we find along our section are primarily from local weekenders. Most thru hikers and backpackers have put in high miles and are exhausted by the time they get to camp so they opt for a quick boil of water on their stove to heat up their dinner and then go to bed.

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

I was pleasantly surprised not to find any fire rings at the campsite. However, in the privy was a bunch of dry wood someone had left there for a fire, which I had to clear. These hikers either opted against the fire or cleaned it up before they left which is better than not. There were also some nasty wipes in the duff can. This is not a trash can, it’s where we put soil and leaves (known as ‘duff’) for you to throw in the privy after you go to help the decomposition process. Since the bucket had no duff, I’ll assume these hikers didn’t know. Always pack it out though, especially wipes which don’t biodegrade for a long time no matter what they say.

Ice sheets from the ice dam

Ice sheets from the ice dam

We then went to the shelter and found a few trash items, and a few spots where there were clearly fires, as there were piles of ash in the mud in front of the shelter and evidence of burned logs. I got my work gloves nice and muddy cleaning that up, as the ash and all the dirt around it were very wet from recent snow and rain. The bench in front of the shelter was also stuck in the mud so we moved that a bit. There’s a great new picnic table there with one of the metal sheets on one end to put your stove on when you cook. It had a plaque on it indicating it was an Eagle Scout project. Thank you!  We checked the bear box for trash, and that the pump was working. Our broom at the shelter was broken so I packed it out with the other trash and let management know that would need replacing. The privy at the shelter was clean.

Heading up the campsite trail

Heading up the campsite trail

It wasn’t a long hike but it was nice as it always is, and the river was raging after the recent clearing of the ice dam that afflicted the Housatonic river in the Kent area, even closing part of the A.T. for a few weeks as well as many of the roads in town to access it.

Our overseer of trails was out in early February at Stewart Hollow Brook shelter and reported many more fire rings and wood stored under the shelter that was still all frozen to the ground. So last weekend with several warmer days behind us, I set out to clean these up as well as check in on the Stoney Brook campsites about half mile north. Both of these are also popular for locals and weekenders as they are close to a road, and the trail here is completely flat and along the river.  So we are often cleaning up things at both sites, though the shelter is more popular as it has a nicer privy and obviously the shelter and a picnic table.

Nature adapts

Nature adapts

I went first to the farthest campsite, Stoney Brook group campsites. Its about 50-60 feet up a side trail on a hill west of the trail. There were no fire rings here but there was some trash and a tree that had fallen and was blocking the privy path. So I cleared the tree and the trash and headed back south just across the brook to the side trail up to the individual campsites. This trail goes up a bit farther, with several campsites on tiers higher and higher up the hill. At campsite #2 there was a decent sized fire ring. I immediately scattered the rocks and once the ash was removed, I covered it with leaf matter to hopefully not let anyone else get the idea this would be a good spot for a fire. In fact, its where a tent is supposed to go!

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

At the privy, which is a brand new though still just a basic box with a seat (we call a ‘chum’ privy), I cleared a wet frozen roll of toilet paper left there. That’s very nice and all to leave toilet paper for the next hiker, but we all know it could be weeks before someone else comes, and rain and the elements will surely get to it first. Luckily for me it was frozen so I was able to remove it without a lot of mess. Pack it out please!

I then headed back to Stewart Hollow to tackle the big rings and stored wood. There was a very large one with multiple logs right next to the picnic table, and though still a bit frozen to the ground they had thawed enough where I could knock them loose. And that I did. I then scattered the burned logs and ash and covered the site with leaves. Of course I would never do this if it was still potentially warm… but that was not an issue today!

Please no fires on the CT AT

Please no fires on the CT AT

I moved onto two more elaborate fire rings in the other camping areas, complete with seats the people had made from stones taken from the nearby stone wall. So those stones went back and I did my best to cover these sites and make them less obvious and inviting. Much of the ash was still frozen so I removed what I could and covered the spots with leaves.  I then moved onto what were many very large logs and branches under the shelter. A few were stuck but I managed to get them loose and scatter them as well.

I had a snack and packed out any trash I found, and left a note in the shelter register regarding the task performed and a reminder of the rules. This was only two entries after the culprits’ entry bragging about their raging fires.

A favorite trail plant

A favorite trail plant

Thanks, guys. Glad you had a nice birthday celebration here, but rules are rules and best not to brag about it and leave your names? Maybe go to a campsite in New York or Massachusetts next time where they’re allowed… We’ve had several large brush fires along our section of trail each year from this kind of behavior — feel free to google it. We have the rules for a good reason. And its hard work clearing all of this.

On the hike back to the trailhead, myself and a day hiker noticed what looked like tire tracks. He was quite amusing and said it looked like someone brought a Harley out here. I suspect dirt bikes or mountain bikes with very fat tires. At the trailhead gate I was able to find the point of entry where they drove around.

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

So thanks to these guys we will likely be blocking the route with large rocks and trees. Trouble will always find a way to cause trouble of course, but we will do our best to make it very difficult for anyone to get a large or motorized bike out there again.  There are some great trails in Connecticut for mountain bikes and dirt bikes, I’m sure a quick google search would return quick results if that’s your preferred outdoor activity. Tires cause a lot of damage to the trail and the delicate wildlife that grows alongside it.

The riverbanks were lined with large sheets of ice — some the size of cars. This was all that remained of the ice dam. It was really an interesting sight.

Another thing I do after these hikes is report any large blowdowns or trail damage that our sawyer and trail crews need to address, as well as update our water report spreadsheet so hikers visiting our chapter page know if they have reliable water sources along their hike. All of the brooks were running at full force with all the recent rain and snow.

Beech in winter

Beech in winter

It was a brisk 33 degrees but felt downright balmy compared to the deep freeze of the recent weeks. I can’t believe as I write this in the end of February that it’s 65 degrees and will be 70 tomorrow!  I was able to get out on a short hike close to home today as I needed to clear my head of some tough recent events, and I was virtually sweating. What a beautiful February day. I will write up that hike as soon as I can. It was a new park for me and I was very pleasantly surprised to find another great local spot so close to home. I can’t always make it to the A.T. for my fix, so it’s a bonus to find these other options when I have less time.

Miles hike 1: 3

Miles hike 2: 4.8

— Linus