Ridgerunner weekend #1 – Back in the Wild Corner

I am trying a new format here. I’m going to make the entries more brief and to the point going forward with exception of an occasional longer piece. It’s getting tougher to find the time to write in such detail so I promise to keep providing nice images and a summary of each hike without writing a book! Lets start with last weekend.

Officially a Ridgerunner!

Officially a Ridgerunner!

It was my second Memorial Day weekend up on the Riga plateau in the Northwest corner of Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail. And my first as an official Appalachian Trail Weekend Ridgerunner. The role is what I have been doing as a volunteer but with pay and some other nice perks. The job is for 5-6 weekends during the peak summer months. Fortunately, it was not 100 degrees this Memorial Day weekend. I stopped up at Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts to pick up my uniform and rain gear and then headed back down to Salisbury.

Shortly after you head north out of Salisbury on the trail, you hit the 1,500 mile marker. We have a newish sign there and it sure adds to the excitement.

1500 miles

1500 miles

DAY 1:

The trail was packed with hikers. I met over 80 on day 1 between Rt 41 in Salisbury and the summit of Bear. That was Just the day hikers. Many take the Undermountain trail from Rt. 41 trailhead near the Massachusetts border. This 1.9-mile trail meets the AT at Riga Junction about 1,000 ft higher. That lot was full and I wanted to spend more time on the A.T. vs side trails so I kept driving down to the lot in town.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

There were about 20 Backpackers on Day 1. Most were NOBO (Northbound) whereas on Day 2 there were a lot more SOBOs (southbounders). I met a marine on the summit on day 1 among the crowds and thanked him for his service.

On top I also met the caretaker of our Northwest Cabin. He’s summited Bear over 300 times now as he lives nearby and is at the cabin each week. It’s at the bottom of Bear near Sages Ravine and you can rent it with your family. I also met a lot of locals who do the hike often as well, even bringing up their lapdogs.

From a perch on the summit tower, I educated everyone on the different mountains in the views as well as about the stone tower itself and how Mt. Frissell’s shoulder is actually higher than Bear. Though Bear IS the highest SUMMIT in the state. We talked about how if Bigfoot can leave no trace, so can you. The kids loved this, but I confess I saw it on the internet and can’t take credit for coming up with it! It’s a fun and friendly way to breach the LNT subject without anyone feeling like I’m lecturing them!

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

I also found the elusive pink Lady Slipper. They love it on Lions head. The only other place I’ve seen them is near Hatch Brook down by Pine Knob Loop.

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The other prominent flower was pink Honeysuckle which was blooming everywhere. Usually it’s the Mountain Laurel going wild up here. Their time is coming soon.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

I met some great section hikers when I got to the beautiful campsite and shelter at Riga where I was staying for the night. We talked at dinner and played some fun charades games before everyone went to bed. There was another group too, and wow did their dinner smell like it tasted WAY better than mine. I was trying some new more organic lentil meal and i forgot to add my Tabasco and salt and pepper. Lesson learned.  I still enjoyed a great view for dinner though. The view (and the sunrise) are famous at Riga. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and is clear cut to show the view.

Vegan Camping Food - I'm not a vegan

Vegan Camping Food – I’m not a vegan

Gripes of the day: 1 ) campers leaving full sized pillows, and a bunch of trash and food they didn’t want to pack out in the bear box. That was about 10 lbs for me to pack out the next day, It was not appreciated. Pack it in, pack it out. It was nice to see another hiker (not a maintainer) rant about it in the shelter register because this way other hikers learn they are being disrespectful from their own peers.

2) Someone made a fire ring right under the ‘no fires’ sign again. Who are these people? I keep seeing this. Someone is out to make a point. So I cleared it.

There was a porcupine chewing on the Privy walls all night. It was about 50 yards from my tent so you couldn’t NOT hear it. It didn’t bother me that much though.

Miles Day 1: 8.2

Porcupines: 1

DAY 2:

I caught the famous sunrise and woke up some of my new friends to watch it come up with me. Then enjoyed breakfast with the great view. My Backpackers Pantry Granola with Milk and Organic Blueberries and my Starbucks VIA with a few mini moos I took from my office kitchen hit the spot.

The famous Riga sunrise!

The famous Riga sunrise!

My friend Brian was training for a White Mountains hike in a few weeks so he hiked up to join me at Riga and hike with me for much of the day. We hiked back up to the summit of Bear together. He met a woman in her 60’s from Tennessee who was doing a LASH (Long a** section hike). We saw her again when cleaning up remains of a fire at Brassie Brook shelter and had a nice chat with her.

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Along the way up, we saw a young couple packing up a camping spot right on the side of the trail and I asked them to please stick to designated campsites as we are reforesting there and that’s the rule either way in Connecticut. They had been tired last night and didn’t know there was a campsite 1/2 mile ahead! I then saw them again when at Brassie brook filling up my water and gave them a map and helped answer some other questions for which they thanked me. We would see them again on Bear and Lion’s head before the day was over.

We met and hiked with some other of my new friends from the night before at Riga (the ones with the delicious smelling food!) and one of them was an entomologist. She taught me about some wildlife and plants as did Brian who is a tree expert. He showed me a lot of species I didn’t previously recognize. We also talked gear a lot, comparing and talking about our new gear upgrades and water/sleep and pack systems.

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion's head

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion’s head

Today was more overcast but still we encountered at least another 20 backpackers (most of these were southbound and a large group of them were wearing bug nets which was smart) . There were two thru-hikers including Captain Underpants, whose family was joining him for this section over the weekend. Most of the backpackers were section hiking this weekend. You can usually tell who are thru and who are section.

At Lion's Head

At Lion’s Head

There were about another 75 day hikers we met along the trail and on the summits of Bear and Lion’s head. We took in the views and a snack on Lion’s head after picking up the trash and the pillow from Riga so we could pack it out. (No point in carrying it up and down Bear so we came back for it).

There were lots of families with small kids on Lion’s head. Some asked if they could drink the water and I told them not without filtering and offered them water but they had enough.

We made it down to Rt 41 around 3:15 and Brian was then headed south to Limestone spring shelter for the night as he couldn’t overnight on Saturday.

It was a great weekend. Not too hot, no rain ever showed during my shift, and I met a lot of great people and pushed my personal weekend mileage goals.

Miles Day 2: 8.5

  • Linus

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: New Season, New Gear, New Friends

Kellogg Conservation Center

Kellogg Conservation Center

Last Thursday was a great day of networking for me. It started off that afternoon at the beautiful Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts. I was there to meet the new seasonal ridge runners hired by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and along with our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain Club leaders, to teach them about how we manage our section of the trail.  Our state comprises 90% of the ground they will cover in their role, the other 10% being the southernmost section of Massachusetts. The new ridge runners should be out there on the trail as of this week to help should you need it. Say hello, and have a chat. They are a nice group and are out there to help hikers and take care of the trail, like me.

Caretaker tents

Caretaker tents

My  job and the ridge runners’ job is essentially the same with a few exceptions. They are paid to be on the trail all season, while I go out mostly on weekends and days off and volunteer my time whenever I can. And they also attend to the stuff inside the privies which I’m not going to complain about being exempt from having to do! But we are both out there for the same reason, doing pretty much the same thing. So It’s important to know each other, of course. We will see each other a lot.

When I arrived I got a nice tour of the building and grounds, which was cool because this is where the ATC oversees and coordinates everything for the trail in the area and I got to meet some of their management too. I really enjoyed seeing the canvas hut-style tents that the ridge runners were camping in for their training week. These are also the same kind of tents the campsite caretakers use. If you’ve been to Sages Ravine campsite you know the ones I mean. They are large white canvas tents and hold two cots in them with plenty of room to spare. They are obviously meant for longer, semi-permanent stays. Being a bit of a civil war history nut, they really remind me of civil war officers’ tents.

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

After the official business we had a BBQ and got to chat and get to know each other. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone out on the trail and all that we will learn. We shared some stories about the abundance of nightmare fire rings we’ve already dismantled. Someone out there is a master builder. Nice skills… too bad it’s not allowed.

I’ll be staying at Race Brook Falls campsite next month on a hike with our friends from Sages Ravine to Shay’s Rebellion site, so I told the ridge runners to say hi if they see me as they pass through. Speaking of which I loved that you could see pretty much the whole of that hike from Mt. Race to here from the lawn of KCC. I snapped a few shots and sent them to our friends to get them more stoked. I am looking forward to coming up with their trail names and covering this beautiful section of trail for the first time, and for us to have our first backpacking trip with friends. I hope that’s a tradition we continue.

As the BBQ wrapped up I headed down to Salisbury to meet up with a hiker I met on Whiteblaze.net, Rainman. He was doing a section through Connecticut and Massachusetts and it just so happened he was in Salisbury that evening, just 15 miles south of the KCC. I drove down the beautiful Route 41 past all the trailheads for the Elbow Trail, Race Brook Falls trail and Under mountain trail as well as the A.T. crossing just east of town en route to Mizza’s Pizza where he and a few others he was hiking with were having dinner (photo to come when Rainman can download it from his phone). They were staying at trail angel Maria McCabe’s and she had dropped them off there to have dinner and do laundry at the laundromat behind the restaurant.

At Mizza's Pizza with Rainman

At Mizza’s Pizza with Rainman

We had some pizza, shared some stories and then I gave them a lift back to Maria’s before heading home. The sun was setting and casting amazing beams of light across the valley and the mountaintops. I wanted so badly to stay on the trail that night and hike the next few days but it was not in the cards. The pizza was tasty and they offer you free ice cream at the restaurant! Maria’s info is in the AWOL and other guides if you want to stay there. I was hoping to meet her but she was out herself at the time. Her house is just a short walk from the trail.

I also just took advantage of REI’s big Memorial Day sale and got the bucket of Mountain House meals and a new tent. Did I really need a new tent? Well, no but I am out there a lot. So that’s my excuse. And the lighter the load the happier the hiker. And this tent is nearly a full pound lighter than my current solo tent. It’s also the REI brand which I have been really happy with so far for their quality — not just the guarantee. I know the smaller manufacturer’s have great customer support too… not hating on them.

Bushnell to Jug End

Bushnell to Jug End

The reviews were also fantastic for this tent and at 20% off to boot I couldn’t resist. I set it up in the yard yesterday as they recommend doing so because the set up is a little odd. I think I am in love. Fielden Stream loved it too. What a great tent! It will get its first official use this weekend when I’m up on the trail in the Bear Mountain/Lion’s Head area. If you’re out there say hello! (As usual, rain seems to be in the forecast) Because of its unusual pole design, it’s very roomy and super light. I swapped out the stock stakes with some MSR mini groundhogs and some Vargo titanium sheep hooks. I am going to try it without a footprint to save space and weight.

I had been doing all kinds of research on the lightweight tents including the great cottage industry ones from Henry Shires (Tarptent) as well as the Zpacks Cuben Fiber tents and offerings from Lightheart Gear. Mind you I’m always researching since I’m inundated with sales and offers and reviews in my email inbox! Massdrop has a great offer on the Zpacks Duplex right now but while I can justify a new tent that will get lots of use and is significantly lighter, those tents are way above my budget. And while they are even lighter, I also feel most comfortable and familiar with a double-wall tent at the moment. I checked out a couple other new double-walled offerings from MSR and Big Agnes but ultimately I found the best deal and bang per buck was this REI Quarter Dome 1.

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

And while this is only semi-freestanding, you really just have to be sure to stake down the foot end to get it to full functionality. I suppose it would be annoying to set up on a platform or rocky area but I avoid those anyway as they just kill my back. I do really still like my Easton Rimrock 1p tent and it will make a great tent for when a friend wants to come along on the trail. I love the way you can open both sides of the vestibule on that tent and use trekking poles to make a roof. At 3.2 lbs its still a very viable solo tent and will remain in my gear quiver. I was going to sell it but I realized I can lend it to buddies who might join me for a hike I hope one of these days.

— Linus