First hikes of 2016 on the Metacomet Range

Mt Higby summit to Chauncey Peak

Mt Higby summit to Chauncey Peak

Happy New Year!

I’ve had the chance to get out a few times since 2016 hit, and enjoyed some great hikes and mountaintop views in the area. While not high, the traprock ridges of the Metacomet Range provide some exhilarating terrain along steep dropoffs, and long views over cities, valleys, and all the way to the Long Island sound from many of them.

Trap rock

Trap rock

The traprock is essentially cooled volcanic lava and is very evident by its red tinge. (see photo). It’s also characteristically a bit crumbly and you will find it in pieces of all shapes and sizes. Make sure to watch your footing when walking on the traprock! The Metacomet range extends from the sound northwards to southern New Hampshire and is the spine of the Mattabessett and Metacomet portions of the New England Trail in Connecticut as well as the Massachusetts portion of the New England Trail.

Spot the icy blaze!

Spot the icy blaze!

The first hike was back on Mt. Higby in Meriden. There were short portions of that section on both the north and south ends that I did not end up covering on those original hikes, and as I am also working on completing the Mattabessett trail in the next year or two, I wanted to make sure to connect the dots.

Old cart path on Westville Feeder

Old cart path on Westville Feeder

Last time I did it, it was in a bit of a snow squall, and that made the hike along the ledges a bit more intense. This time it was on a beautiful clear day with the weather warming to around 40 by noon when I reached the north peak summit via the northern end of the trail. There are two peaks to this mountain, with Preston Notch in the middle. You have more of the ledge walking on the southern peak, and that made for good training for me to work on my (now diminishing) fear of sharp dropoffs!

Judges Cave Exterior

Judges Cave Exterior

As the group I was with that time turned around a mile before the northern end due to the weather and a significant amount of postholing required, I covered that and added the extra half mile back to the top each way. This northern portion of trail from the road to near where we turned back looks like it was formerly an off-road four wheeling track or trail system and in several spots the roads that parallel and intersect the trail were littered with old tires, fuel cans, and other trash.

George Henry Durrie's 'Judge's Cave West Rock' 1856

George Henry Durrie’s ‘Judge’s Cave West Rock’ 1856 (source: The CT Walk Book)

I found this to be really unfortunate. Hopefully the CFPA will get in there, or rally those responsible for these if its on private land to clean it up. Furthermore, the roads were roads of ice, and where the trail shared these old dirt roads, walking was difficult and i had to skirt the edges and do a lot of hopping over ice patches. My poles were not effective on the ice and I did not bring my microspikes as this was completely unexpected.

The cave is actually a jumble of glacial erratics

The cave is actually a jumble of glacial erratics

I then went down to the southern portion of this section along Rt 66 where there’s a short spur from Guida’s Diner to the CFPA lot 3/4 of a mile west that I had not covered as the last hike south of there ended at the diner and the next one started at the lot. This was a much easier and quicker hike with no more than 150ft elevation gain or loss as the trail headed up the base of the mountain. There are some who would have not bothered covering such a small piece but I’m a completist, I admit!

Guida’s is a great little diner with a nostalgic feel. I just wish it wasn’t cash only because I keep getting hit with the ATM fee. But after some good hiking a mushroom swiss burger and root beer hit the spot! I was able to get some great photos with the new camera, which you can see here. I just wish that quarry wasn’t so visible. The northermost portion of the Mattabesset ascends that mountain – Chauncey Peak – and the one to its right called Lamentation mountain before ending and becoming the Metacomet Trail. I will get up there soon. The views FROM Chauncey peak are supposed to be nice.

Me in the cave

Me in the cave

I brought my down hoody for the hike but by the time I was doing the real climb, it was getting way too hot and my sweat actually soaked through the back of the coat due to the pack! I wore it with my long sleeve wool base layer so maybe next time just a short sleeve synthetic wicking layer will be better. This is my first down coat so I am still learning how to layer it. I swapped the down coat for my trusty Patagucci Houdini and was perfectly comfortable.

View off the ledge to icy Konolds Pond

View off the ledge to icy Konolds Pond

I have to say the Houdini is worth its hype. It has not let me down yet. Even better is I got it for about $60 on clearance since I guess no one likes the yellow. For me it also makes a great blaze-color layer for hunting seasons. For that matter so does my bright neon blue hoody which is the Cayush from Westcomb and which I also got for half price on clearance as a last season model in a less desired color!

Juniper

Juniper

I also hiked up West Rock in New Haven again, completing more of the Regicides trail with the same AMC hike leader Tom who maintains the trails there. I wasn’t able to do the pre-hike trail work this time due to prior commitments and just joined at mid day for the hike. It took us up a feeder trail past some old cart paths and spotted wintergreen to the top of the cliffs and along the Regicides trail to the Judges Cave. The cave, and the trail, are named after Edward Whalley and his nephew William Goffe, two of the 59 judges who signed the warrant for the death of Charles the first in 1649 in England.

Heading up to the South Overlook

Heading up to the South Overlook

At the restoration, they fled to the New Haven colony to escape persecution by Charles II. They hid in this cave with the protection of other anti-royalists here. Two main roads in New Haven were also named after them. They eventually escaped to Massachusetts. There was a whole movement of landscape artists painting scenes of West Rock and East Rock in the 1800’s, and these paintings were in high demand.  They are on display in the New Haven museum and Historical society. Thomas Cole was one of these artists and he eventually became one of the leaders of the Hudson River School art movement.

We then proceeded on over the highway tunnel and tower and past the beacon to the Konolds Pond overlook we visited on the November hike. From there we descended back to the southern end of Lake Wintergreen through some beautiful forest of Scotch Pine (identified by my arborist friend) and then back uphill through a Mountain Laurel and Hemlock forest until the trail leveled out for a final mile or so past a summer camp to the parking lot.

Along the southern ledges of West Rock

Along the southern ledges of West Rock

Only my friend and I were hoping to hit the southern overlook which the route did not include. We got the OK from the leader who showed us the path back up just before the final walk to the lot. We broke off and headed instantly upwards as the trail skirted the traprock ledges with many viewpoints along the ledges of downtown New Haven, East Rock, and Long Island sound and then finally a sweeping view north which included the full profile of Sleeping Giant. These viewpoints from the steep rocky outcrops also allowed me to push my comfort level a bit more.

Sleeping Giant in the distance

Sleeping Giant in the distance

At the southern overlook the park road ends in a loop where there’s also a large picnic pavilion. We took in more views here and then picked up the southern end of the Regicides trail. There is a nice overlook at a railing along this section. Sometime last year a young man who was goofing around after drinking and went past this railing unfortunately fell to his death. Please be careful and responsible here. It is safe if you stay behind the railing.

East Rock/New Haven from West Rock

East Rock/New Haven from West Rock

We took the Regicides trail back to the feeder and back to the car, and saw a family of deer along the way. We were glad to have added in the extra hike, with some of the best views of the day. I will be working on the northern portion of the park and Regicides trail and Tom said he would put together some hikes for us to complete it.

I am heading to Killington, VT this weekend for some skiing with my family for my annual birthday trip, but will be back out on the trails the following weekend — not sure where yet. This weekend I just have to resist the temptation to hike the A.T. to the top rather than take the lift!

Total Miles:

Mattabessett Trail: 5.1

Regicides Trail/West Rock Trails: 5.88

— Linus

More volunteering (and hiking!)

Trail Patrol register entry

Trail Patrol register entry

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my trail patrol training with the AMC coordinator. We went back along the river walk section of the A.T. in Kent, CT and spoke about the many leave no trace practices and how to convey them in a friendly and inspirational manner to hikers. While we have no legal authority to write any sort of citations, that’s not the point. It’s the hope that in teaching other hikers about these concepts and educating them in a friendly way, they will adopt these practices on their own, and maybe even teach others.

Pruning back some briars

Pruning back some briars

I am currently reading a great article on the subject, about using the authority of the resource rather than the authority of the position to convey these ideas in a way that won’t upset those you are talking to about it. While it’s written more for actual park rangers who do have the authority to cite and prosecute offenders, its concepts are applicable here as well. Explaining how certain practices affect the vegetation, and the local fauna in a negative way is often more effective than telling someone they shouldn’t be doing something or they will get in trouble.

Lake Wintergreen

Lake Wintergreen

We also cleared stealth campsites and fire rings (some in very dangerous places) and picked up trash and cleared deadfall and bittersweet root that encroached on the trail. We spoke to a few day and overnight hikers as well. I had fun signing the register as a trail volunteer for the first time, and learning how to protect and educate others to protect our trail. The corridor is very narrow in many places in Connecticut, often just a sliver of land allowed by the local landowner, so it’s essential to stay on the trail and not build fires and campsites outside of designated areas because you could be on someone’s private property!

Regicides Trail on West Rock

Regicides Trail on West Rock

I will receiving my identification materials in the mail shortly but as it didn’t arrive by today I thought it better to wait to do my first solo patrol. Don’t want someone thinking ‘who’s this guy who thinks he owns the trail and is telling me how to take care of it!’ But I did want to hike and I did want to do some volunteer work. Luckily one of the club leaders was hosting a morning pruning work party followed by a hike on some local trails he himself cut and blazed and maintains in West Rock State Park in Hamden, CT. So I spent the morning with loppers and a saw cutting back lots of invasives, including some pretty nasty briars which did a number on many of our arms! We also cleared a large blowdown crossing the path.

A steep dropoff with a view

A steep dropoff with a view

Afterwards we met with a large group of hikers who were meeting for the hike segment up West Rock and along the ridge. The blue-blazed Regicides Trail traverses the entire ridge for 7 miles and crosses a highway tunnel below. It is part of the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association)’s 800-mile network of trails in the state. It’s also the site of the “Judges Cave,” though we did not visit it on this hike as it was farther south. The cave and the trail are named after the Parliamentary judges who sentenced King Charles I to death in England in the 1600’s. When the monarchy was restored some years later King Charles II had many of those responsible hanged, drawn and quartered.

View to Konolds Pond

View to Konolds Pond

Three fled to the colonies and settlers there that were sympathetic to their cause and were still very anti-monarchy helped hide them in a cave on this ridge above New Haven. The local roadways in the area are named in their memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the cave on another hike.

The hike did provide some nice ridge walking along the trap rock ledges and some good drop offs which made me a little nervous with all the leaves on the trail that would be quite easy to slip on, and off, the edge.