Pine Knob Loop Family Hike and Camping

Jiffy pop! (the original)

Jiffy pop! (the original)

For the fourth of July my younger brother and his 2 boys flew in from California and my older brother joined us as well. We had a great hike and 2 days of car-camping by the Housatonic River at a favorite campground, Housatonic Meadows S.P.   My daughter also came along which made her dad very happy! We’ve been there a few times now and knowing the layout we picked two great sites right by the water. The forecast (except for the first hour or so) was looking great all along, so with a good deal of planning logistics, meals, and a stop or two at REI to pick up some last minute needs we were ready (this was our first outing with such a large group).

Crossing Hatch Brook

Crossing Hatch Brook

Speaking of planning… while airing out and checking the tents for all parts, I discovered my one-man tent I intended my older brother to use had suffered some pretty serious mildew buildup on the rainfly over the winter (fortunately the tent and footprint were not affected as they are made of different materials). This happened because like an idiot I didn’t properly dry it out before packing it up after a rainy solo overnight last October. Lesson learned.

Hatch Brook Cascade

Hatch Brook Cascade

So, like any good gear-addict, I used the opportunity to upgrade to a new Big Agnes 3-person Mountain-glo Rattlesnake tent and let him use our trusty REI Passage 2 which was roomier anyway! We both benefitted from this mistake I guess! And, the good folks at Easton Outfitters were very generous when I told them about my amateur mistake and asked if I could buy just the fly, and are sending me a free one they had on hand for just the cost of shipping. That right there is great customer service!

We are taking my son “Jiffy Pop” backpacking for the first time next weekend, and the idea of two tents, and someone having to sleep alone didn’t appeal much either so the three-person ultralight tent was a good buy for this reason as well. And REI was having a July 4th sale, so I got that $400 tent for $278! It has built-in lights so we don’t need to bring our lamp, and it weighs less than our Passage 2.

Baconator, Linus, and Caboose

Baconator, Linus, and Caboose

I am fine with making a wise investment like that with so many reasons to have, and knowing that I bought a more budget-friendly tent to start out with 2 years ago to make sure this was a hobby that would stick. It will mean more room and hence more comfortable trips for my wife and i going forward, and a spare tent for when friends or family who don’t own one want to join us on the trail.

Despite arriving at the campground in a bit of a steady rain, it stopped once ponchos were donned to set up the tents. From then on out it was beautiful weather. We had some great meals made over the fire, ghost stories, an exciting incident at the next campsite between the park rangers and some campers lighting off illegal fireworks, and met a thru-hiker (trail name “Airborne”)  who’s a 65-year-old Vietnam vet. Despite having a laundry list of ailments, none have stopped him from making the 2,100+ mile trek.

View from Pine Knob

View from Pine Knob

I have utter admiration for this man and we treated him to a steak and potato dinner and fresh cobbler made by my wife and daughter who opted for the you-pick-it farm instead of the hike Sunday. He showed us some photos from his hike so far and we shared our A.T. stories. I gave him the rest of our water too when we left Monday morning and wished him well on his adventure.  I’m not gonna lie, I was jealous too. He started Feb 27. We had wanted to return trail magic for quite some time and I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

We had a great hike on Pine Knob Loop on Sunday. Pine Knob loop is a 3-mile blue-blazed trail managed by the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association and shares just under a mile with the A.T.  It starts with a beautiful 800ft climb along Hatch Brook then heads north on the A.T. to one of the better views on the CT section before parting with the white blazes for Pine Knob Itself, which has equally breathtaking views. Though this is my second time on this loop, I forgot that it is quite steep at the top and as you descend.

Coming down Pine Knob

Coming down Pine Knob

We had a nice snack at the first viewpoint, and took a pause at the second as well.  You can also see the campsite from up there which was fun for the kids to try and spot. While there were steep spots on this hike, even the smallest of the children had no problem with it and loved it. I gave them all their first trail names: Baconator (breakfast at the campsite earned my brother this one), Bino-saur, Mr. shroom, and Caboose. I also gave them a water filtering demo in the brook with my sawyer mini.

Hiker tired!

Hiker tired!

Half of us had to go home after dinner Sunday but I took a vacation day so I could stay one more night with my son, my younger brother and his sons for one more night of campfires and the sounds of the rushing river as we dozed off in the tent. On the way home Monday we drove over the historic covered Bull’s Bridge where George Washington himself crossed and lost a horse on one journey. We also spotted the A.T. crossing at the base of Schaghticoke Mtn as we turned around to finish our journey home. All in all the weekend was a great success! I think I put the hiking bug in a few of them.

— Linus

Mohawk Trail / A.T Loop over Breadloaf with “Jiffy Pop”

FIelden Stream and Jiffy Pop

Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Breadloaf Peak

This weekend we went to do a little car camping with my son at one of our favorite campgrounds along the Connecticut A.T. corridor, Housatonic Meadows State Park. The park is located along the river just north of the crossing of Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge, and just north of the Mohawk Trail crossing and the very popular Pine Knob Loop. It was National Trails Day on Saturday, but really the whole weekend it is celebrated. While I’ve been out on hikes on the actual day, it gets crowded, and this was proven by the full lot at our trailhead which we passed on the way to the campsite. We were happy to wait one more day as the forecast was grand for both days. Before we arrived at the campground, we stopped at the very hiker-friendly Cornwall country market for lunch from their deli and to get our A.T. passport stamped. We didn’t have one last year when we backpacked through town on a section hike and stuffed our faces with greasy sandwiches here, got some additional food and headed up this very mountain for an unplanned night further up the trail at Caesar Brook campsite. While no Silver Hill, it was fun just saying the hell with it let’s get more food and keep going!

We’ve been to this campground a few times and enjoyed a hike up Pine Knob loop already with my son. That loop also takes you up to and includes part of the A.T., great views and skirts the lovely Hatch Brook along the way. I had visited the top of Breadloaf mountain for the first time since Boy Scouts when we did that section through here last summer, and again this past January to test my microspikes and get in any hike at all when my trip to Alander was cut short due to dangerous road conditions.

Mohawk Mtn North View

Breadloaf Mtn North View

Back when I was a kid, if I am remembering correctly, this was still the A.T, but it was rerouted west of the river since and so I remember this steep climb as part of the A.T.  If memory serves, several tornadoes whipped through the area in the late 80’s ( about 5 years after my scout hike here) and did a lot of damage to the beautiful Cathedral Pines part of the trail which we day-hiked over to Mohawk Mountain last summer. This former portion of the A.T had several other famous views including from the top of Mohawk Mountain Ski resort, Music Mountain, Dean Ravine, and Barrack Mountain before it dropped you in Falls Village. Since the re-route, it’s called the Mohawk Trail, and many people still do the loop from Cornwall Bridge to Falls Village and back via the old and new routes. Many of the shelters from the old days are still on the Mohawk Trail, but hardly used.

Mini-cave on the A.T

Mini-cave on the A.T

I took my daughter last fall to hike the section between Breadloaf and Cathedral Pines which takes you over Coltsfoot Mountain and the remains of the famously haunted Dudleytown. (Google it!)

While today’s was a short hike, It starts with a 650′ rise in .6 miles from the Mohawk trail head with a quite steep climb at the very end to the summit. Though you have rewarding views from there to both the north and the Housatonic river, and south to Silver Hill and beyond.  After a snack break at the top we headed down to the A.T south and then took the blue-blaze on Old Sharon Road, for those not wishing to cross Guinea Brook. While I crossed it coming northbound on the section last year, the crossing can be treacherous as the stones continually get washed asunder or covered with the fast current, and walking down Rt. 4 is a dangerous game – people drive way too fast coming in from N.Y.  We looked down at the brook when we got to the crossing, but as usual, it was quite fast and full, and I wanted to avoid the road, for all but the last .1 mile, so this gravel road was the way back from the A.T. for us.

Jiffy Pop on the A.T

Jiffy Pop on the A.T

We have done many great day hikes with my son, and have gotten him a great new backpacking set up, and he will be joining us for New York section 4 in July. So we wanted to get his hiking legs back for that hike, as well as warm ours up for our 3 day-2 night section hike to finish CT Section 1 — the last of the Connecticut A.T for us — this Thursday. Looks like we will be greeted with the usual – rain and thunder, but I’ll take it over the office any day.

We also had the chance to give him his trail name, “Jiffy Pop.” He’s a popcorn fanatic, and nothing is more fun when car camping than some Jiffy Pop. We enjoyed some last night at the campsite, and as he hurried up the trail’s steepest segments leaving us in the dust, I thought he sure got there in a jiffy… so, a trail name is born. Can’t wait for his first backpacking adventure. He loved trying on and getting his hands on his new Thermarest Z-foam pad, his REI Passage 38 pack, Lumen sleeping bag, and his new convertible hiking pants.  He brought the whole setup to the campsite so he could get used to the feel and packing it all, even though he didn’t bring it on the trail this time. Though he did impress me with his skateboarding skills while wearing his full backpack set up!

Suunto track

Suunto track

I want to take this last moment to plug my favorite new toy in the world – my Suunto Ambit 3 sports watch. This watch carries a hefty price tag, but I had previously gotten a Garmin Oregon 600 GPS for Christmas and I traded that in towards this so I only paid $150 for a $400 top of the line GPS and activity watch. And to be honest I had no interest in uploading maps or using the Garmin for navigation, I only used it for tracking hikes to save my phone battery from GPS drain and to try a new device. I found it bulky, and more than I needed since I was always going to be on well-blazed eastern trails.

It was also always getting bumped when on my pack and re-setting the screen. If I need to see my location on a GPS map I can use my Alltrails app on my phone briefly. I wanted something where I could have one device, hit a button at the beginning, hit it at the end, and still see my basic essentials like altitude, distance, time, and so on when I needed to without constantly missing the scenery to play with the device. And, download my tracks after. I asked at my REI for something with this capability and while the Garmin Fenix had most of these bells and whistles, you can’t export tracks as GPX files as far as I know.

Suunto's Movescount website

Suunto’s Movescount website

The watch has a learning curve, so thank god for the internet and free training videos. I learned how to program and add the activities I would use it most for, and sync it to their free iphone app, which also syncs with their website. You can sync with the app via Bluetooth or alternately to the website via the computer charging/connector cable. (Apparently you can also have your iphone send the watch any text and call notifications, but this again was not my intent for this tool. I want the data, without the distractions. Same goes for the optional heart rate monitor band… maybe later as I get more to ‘that age.’

Suunot Ambit 3 sport

Suunto Ambit 3 sport

Syncing the watch loaded my activities and data preferences, and I tested it for the first time at the local Memorial Day parade. I plugged it in after tracking and saving the parade route I walked and instantly all my data, including the map, were on their website, and there for me to not only get approval from the community of users on my awesome journey, but I was able to export as GPX and upload to my alltrails profile. Amazing. I believe there’s about 15+ hours of battery in GPS mode, and I’m hoping for more. I’ll test that this weekend on 3 different days of hiking. I have my phone when the battery does die, but I can’t wait to push its limits and see. There’s also a programming language all its own and thousands of users can and do develop their own ‘apps’ for tracking favorite activities which any owner can download to their watch. Brilliant. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. Glad I got it at a steal.

Can’t wait for our adventure Thursday. Finally finishing Connecticut and hiking over the highest single peak in the state and crossing the Massachusetts border will be a thrill. As always I wish we could keep going!

– Linus