Easter Trail Work on the Appalachian Trail

Streams are flowing!

Streams are flowing!

On Easter I was very happy to have an opportunity to again be out on the trail doing my thing. Usually we’re celebrating the holiday in some capacity with family but it fell right during my kids’ spring break this year so we were in Florida and returned late the night before. Since my parents went out of town for the family visit and weren’t around Easter morning, Fielden Stream and I did a quick exchange of baskets with the kids and then I headed up north for the woods.

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

It was a very mild weekend and had I returned one night earlier I would have done an overnight. Quite a few hikers had, especially those who had Good Friday off as it made a great 3 day weekend. My friend on the trail crew let me know that there were already several camping at Ten Mile so I planned to visit the campground as part of my hike in case there was any cleanup to do. Just two weeks before when we were out on a volunteer work day, we had to clear two very large fire rings (and a few blowdowns) and I was glad to have the extra manpower. This is one of the most popular camping areas around so we visit and patrol it and have to clean it up very often.  I wanted to also visit the southern overlook on Schaghticoke Mountain, so the plan was to go up there and then back down to the campsite and in the meantime check out some of the side access trails along the route for any issues.

New water system

New water system

I parked and started the .4 mile road walk where the A.T follows Schaghticoke road north before cutting into the woods for the nearly 1,000ft ascent. While there are several switchbacks,  its still a tough climb, but worth the view at the top. I noticed the map box was empty so I made a note to myself to put any spares I had in the box on the way down if no hikers I met on the trail needed one.  As I started up the trail a young hiker in his late 20s passed me and we chatted for a bit about his hike and the work I do. He was doing a 3 day section of CT, having done another a few weeks ago with his brother in the northern end of the state.  He works the night shift and was up all night before starting his hike.

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

The trail heals all though, and I admire his tenacity to hike 12 miles in the heat after working all night. Ah to be in my 20’s again… I’d probably have climbed a few 4000s had I the passion I have now for hiking and backpacking. At that age I was deeply entrenched in the NYC music scene trying to make a name for myself. It was fun but in vain.  I still play music with my friends but I find more relaxation and purpose hiking and preserving the trail.

Anyway just a bit farther on at the first stream crossing (which was raging by the way) , I met an older hiker who was doing a NOBO thru. He was hydrating and enjoying some shade. While it was raining that morning the sun came out and the temperature quickly approached the 70s. Without much leaf cover to shade, you could feel every bit of the heat that day. I wished him well and moved on.

Schaghticoke from the road below

Schaghticoke from the road below

I met the younger hiker again, enjoying a snack high on a glacial erratic – a great spot if I say so myself! We said hellos again and I carried on up and up and up. When I reached the south overlook I was immediately treated to a Bald Eagle AND a Red Tailed Hawk flying over the edge of the ridge. I had been trying for months to spot one of the eagles as many hikers had reported seeing them in the area. Finally one greeted me in its glorious flight.  I was so captivated by the view and the birds of prey that it took me a few minutes to notice the fire area on the rock face. There was no ring at that point, perhaps they scattered it with the ashes after. I checked that it was cool and went about cleaning it.  Much of the residue was tossed down into a depression in the hillside and as I headed down to clean that up the young hiker reached the viewpoint. He thanked me for my work and as we were chatting we spotted a large black racer snake about a foot from where I was working. He did not bother me and just watched, perhaps a good omen or spirit animal visiting me to thank me for taking care of what was once native land? I’m such a history nerd.

Forsythia gone wild!

Forsythia gone wild!

The hiker moved on after this break and I too headed off, back down the mountain towards Ten Mile. I passed the older Nobo thru hiker I had met at the stream below and gave him some advice on nearest water and campsites ahead as he was wanting more water and a break from the heat.

Speaking of water, I also made a short video on the mountaintop discussing my new water system. I am again revisiting because I still want an easier solution than filling up my reservoir in my pack and using that as the water for camp and sleeping as well. I tried the new Katadyn BeFree with .6L bag and a Smart Water bottle with an Aquaclip, one of many solutions I researched to hang the water bottle in front of me since my pack pouch doesn’t have stitched in side pockets.

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

While my day pack does, it still requires practically dislocating your shoulder to reach back for access. With the BeFree I can just fill up at a source, camel up, then refill quick and easily to filter into my smart water bottle, and a Nalgene if I need extra. This thing filters super fast and doesn’t require backflushing as far as I can tell. I always bring emergency purifying tablets just in case, for myself or hikers I encounter who have no filter or water left.

I tend to carry too much water at any one time and this system and solution that was in the product reviews seemed a good one to try next. The water sources have all been great lately with all the epic rainfalls and snowmelt since winter died and so for the time being at least I wont carry more than the beFree and the 1L Smart Water bottle (with sports cap). Though I do still hate how those bottles crinkle. I may go the shock cord and Gatorade bottle next if the Smart Water bottles start to bother me that much. I will post the video on the blog  (Please note that I was rushing on the video and said I’d chug it right after filling it at the stream but I meant only AFTER the filter cap was back on.. very important!

Name that spider

Name that spider

I dropped off the maps in the map box on the way down, and some litter that I picked up on the trail when I passed my car and headed back into the woods towards Ten Mile Shelter and Campsites. There are some beautiful new signs in this area both for the side trails and the shelter – great work team! The Forsythia is also blooming like mad. When I reached the campsite no one was still camped there and luckily for me this time, no fires to clean up. Though there was a massive spider in the shelter that I noticed when I went to sign the register. I just saw his long legs peeking out behind a piece of the lumber frame, but could easily tell he was 1.5 inches or more around and brown and black. I’m not the hugest fan of spiders but all the time on the trail has helped that a bit. Many a day I found one of these in a privy or even on my pack in the morning. They’re pretty terrifying to look at but also fascinating and I’m quite sure not harmful. I believe this was either a wolf spider or a fisher spider. Anyone wanna have a go at identifying it from the photo?

An unspoiled view from the top

An unspoiled view from the top

I made my way back along the A.T. as it followed the Housatonic River, which was also at very high levels complete with raging rapids. I passed about 25 day hikers out here in the recreational area at Bulls Bridge which the A.T. passes by. I checked that side trail and left my friends on the Bull’s Bridge task force a message in their kiosk register, then headed back to my car.  As the season is starting up around here, and water is good, I should have a busy summer. On that note I am also very excited as I have some new roles in the AMC that allow me to further my love for the trail and protecting it and our natural resources. More to come on that but you will see me out there over the weekends this season often anywhere between the NY line and southern Massachusetts! Maybe I’ll even be on duty at your campsite for the night and you can share stories of your hike.

Miles: 6.3

Snakes: 1

Birds of Prey:2

— Linus

 

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Rogers Ramp and Pine Swamp Brook Campsite, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Last weekend I checked out another (short) section of the trail and stopped into one of the campsites to clean up. The temperatures had dropped from 65 degrees on the previous Wednesday to 19 by Saturday. What a wild winter it has been. It did the same thing in the week since. I had considered a longer route for this hike but would find out after not too long that keeping it shorter was the best plan. Frost bite can really spoil a good time!

Going through Roger's Ramp

Going through Rogers Ramp

I brought along my friend Lisa from our chapter of the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club), who now has a trail name, Chilly Cheeks! One of our senior members gave her the name and she loves it!  We’ll let you figure out what it means.  I enjoy solitude in the woods but I’m also a social animal so I get lonely out there sometimes and company is always welcome on the trail when I can get it.

 In Connecticut, like in several other states, the AMC is the organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail. We have people who do boundary work, trail building, trail maintenance, ridgerunners/patrollers (like me) and sawyers/carpenters to name just a few.  It takes many dedicated people to take care of this great trail from end to end. Our chapter is a great group of people, I truly feel like they are my extended family.

Southwestern view

Southwestern view

 The goal was to check out and clean up Pine Swamp Brook Shelter and Campsite. I had considered going on and doing the same at Sharon Mountain Campsite, but the frigid temperatures and the added chill from the high winds made an extra 6 miles round trip low on the priority list. That campsite is very primitive and less used when its not thru hiking season. So while I will get up there next to tidy up, the Pine Swamp Brook shelter was sure to have seen some recent camping. There’s a composting privy, a picnic table (complete with metal area to protect from stove accidents) bear box, water source and clean shelter in great condition.  

Campsite side trail

Campsite side trail

We started the climb up from West Cornwall Road, which rises quickly 500 or so feet and through a split glacial rock known as “Rogers Ramp”. It’s no Lemon Squeezer but it’s a very cool feature that’s both fun to hike and fun to look at. Another one of those that most of those long-distance hiking the A.T. don’t expect to find in a state like Connecticut.  The trail then switchbacks over the ramp to the south-facing ledges above. There are several nice views in the winter, and during the summer there is still one or two that are cut through the leaf canopy. This is the southern ridge of Sharon Mountain, a large mountain that reaches from here in Sharon all the way to Falls Village, sharing the space with its neighbor peak, Mt. Easter.

Signing the trail register

Signing the trail register

Once up on the ridge, the trail follows the edge for a bit before dropping down 1-200 feet into the woods to follow Pine Swamp Brook and the shelter side trail is reached just 1.1 miles from the road crossing. We took a bunch of photos both on the ramp and the ridgeline, as well as when we arrived at the campsite. I also made a short video of this hike on my video channel so you can see the terrain and the campsite, as well as a quick review of a sit pad my friend bought me in Iceland!

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Chilly cheeks got to sign the shelter trail register for the first time with her new trail name. I did my usual sign in, and the previous entry from a hiker named Kingfisher a day prior contained some beautiful and inspiring poetry.  

We checked out the privy, bear box and campsites. In the group site there was one fire ring. We cleared the fire ring the best we could with the ground completely frozen, and covered it up.  We had a quick snack and I took a few clips for my video, then we headed out. We talked again about going farther to the next site but it was bitter cold still and so the decision was made to head back.

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

We had a nice walk back down to the cars and then drove down to Kent to do a quick check on the condition of River road so that our trail crew could get in there and clear the large blowdowns I reported on that last trip. We made a quick stop in town for some nourishment and I was on my way. I had planned to be back out today but the conditions were similar with the added icy conditions from recent snow.  While I enjoy winter hikes, frozen ground makes getting trail work done far more challenging, and snow makes it more difficult to see issues.

If not before, I will be back out with the club in early April for our club-wide volunteer kick-off day. We do this annually and cover the entire trail so that we can assess all issues still needing to be addressed before the official hiking season is in full swing. It will be good to see everyone again, and spend another great day taking care of the trail we love.

Miles: 2.4 (with side trail)

— Linus

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Algo Shelter to Skiff Mountain Road

 

Algo shelter

Algo shelter

Last weekend I was back out on a volunteer hike, and certainly pleased to have the milder weather conditions. It really didn’t get over 85 degrees, and in the shady spots it felt considerably cooler. I had a good share of uphills though which did warm me up a bit more.

I always like to check out campsites and shelters when I can because usually those are the areas that need addressing most, both in terms of cleanups and hikers with potential questions. So in this case this meant I had an added steep-ish jaunt southbound to the Algo shelter before covering the area north of here that I wanted to.  It’s only .6 up to the shelter, but its a good pitch, and one that definitely gets the heart pumping. Nothing too crazy, though.

Stupid rule? Discuss

Stupid rule? Discuss

I parked on route 341 at the bottom of Mt. Algo, and popped on my new trail runners and my new REI Trail 25 pack (watch that gear review video here). I was eyeing a bunch of Deuter, Osprey and Marmot day packs because the one I have is just too small at 18 liters to handle all my gear I tote along and that which I need to pack out. I went into REI the night before this hike and tried on a whole bunch of them. Many nice packs, but many were also expensive, and a lot more bells and whistles than I needed. I was also not nuts about the trekking pole loops on all the ones I tried.

Then I remembered the new Trail line of packs REI made, because I bought my daughter the 40 liter model for her first overnight pack. Besides all the great storage compartments, one feature that really impressed me were the trekking pole attachments. I fell in love with the system on this pack, and at $70 for a roomy 25 liters of space, I was sold. I took it on its maiden voyage on this morning and I’m very happy with the purchase. As I mentioned above you can click the link to see a video review.

Country turnstiles

Country turnstiles

I grabbed my trekking poles and hit the trail. I debated doing this part of trail at the end of the hike but if I had any chance of meeting hikers at the campsite it would be in the morning. Luckily the shelter is only about 1/3 of the way up to the summit. I did the whole climb a few weeks ago and its quite a workout. But luckily it wasn’t 100% humidity or nearly that this time. I was literally pouring sweat that morning! I hope this heatwave continues to break, it’s been rough.

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

I arrived at the shelter side trail and the water source there was completely dry. To be honest this came as little surprise to me. But of course it’s bad news to anyone staying there. The next source is either back down the hill and .8 more miles down the road into town, or up over the summit of Mt. Algo and down to Thayer Brook, a regularly reliable brook in the saddle between Mt Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. This dry water source is something I report to the trail managers so they can post it on various sites like Whiteblaze, so more hikers are prepared if camping there for the night. There were no hikers here this morning when I arrived.

Jewel Weed - good for bites!

Jewel Weed – good for bites!

I then did my routine look around, and cleaned up trash and forgotten clothing I found in a few campsites. There was some food left in ziplocs and some duct tape left in the shelter which I packed out. I have to do this because while it seems like a nice gesture, this will attract animals and habituate them to the area if they think they can regularly find food left here. This becomes dangerous to humans, and affects animals’ natural instinct to hunt for their food so it becomes dangerous for them as well. So that nice gesture causes more harm than good, and you should always pack out what you don’t finish. While the duct tape won’t attract any animals per se, It’s still not leave no trace to leave things in a shelter. Wait for the next town or shelter with a hiker box and leave it there.

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

I checked the privy which was nice and clean. And nobody had thankfully made any fires I had to clean up. THANK YOU for following the rules and keeping our campsite beautiful. Which brings me to what I found written on the register. You can look at the photo above to see it in detail. Now I know there are many who feel this way, but I think it’s even more an example of how entitled some new hikers have become that they would deface the cover of the register to say what they think about our rules. Its these rules that keep our campsites free of trash, scorched landscapes, and brush fires, of which we’ve had several. I ended this hike at the site of the most recent one from late May. The scorched tree bottoms and deadfall were still scattered everywhere.

AMC trail work stairs

AMC trail work stairs

While some new growth is coming in, and it will eventually recover, this was not a planned burn. This was a stealth camper who made a fire and it got out of control. I hope that when people walk through here and see this they understand and respect the potential for disaster if they break the rules anywhere they see fit. Anyone who’s been to the Riga Shelter lately, or had been to the cabin on Silver Hill before it was destroyed by an out of control fire might appreciate this more.  But its a sad state of affairs when people feel the need to do graffiti and mock rules that are there for a reason. Connecticut is only 53 miles of trail. Any seasoned thru hiker can make it through in under 3 days. I don’t really think they are the culprits here though because most of them don’t really care about fires at the end of a long day. Too much effort. I think it’s more locals and weekenders. And the register is a place to leave positive thoughts and reflections and communicate with your fellow trailmates.

Real or fake?

Real or fake?

I headed back down to the car and put the trash and other items in the car, then headed across the street, over the turnstile and into the meadows below Fuller Mountain.  I enjoyed the same bucolic views of the Mountains on all sides, and the wildflowers along Macedonia Brook, which you cross on a log bridge. The trail then heads quickly and steeply up the south side of Fuller Mountain. We did this section a few years ago and I don’t remember it being quite so steep. There’s a lot of great stairs our trail crews have made, and fortunately unlike the New York section we did the previous weekend, the trail goes around the cliff walls.

Rocky trail

Rocky trail

But there’s quite a large amount of rock here and dramatic cliffs next to the trail. I startled the first of three garter snakes here. And I did pass a SOBO through hiker and informed him of the dry water source at Algo, and to go ahead onto Thayer Brook if he needed to refill. As I made my way to the top I took several breaks to catch my breath and take in the dramatic landscape. This climb would likely have been easier had I not just done Mt. Algo.

It eventually levels out on the shoulder of Fuller Mountain, just past a large glacial erratic known as Glacier Rock. This rock is a bit off the trail but you can see it when it’s not as leafed out. I took in the first nice viewpoint a bit farther up the trail, which faces east to the Kent valley below.

1 of 3 snakes todayFrom here the trail climbs a bit higher up to the peak of Fuller Mountain, and then down into a ravine before skirting the side of Pond Mountain, which I believe the original trail used to go over to get here from its former route in Macedonia Brook State Park. There was a small stream in that ravine but it too was completely dry. There is one more viewpoint here so I stopped for a quick break and then headed for the road crossing at Skiff Mountain Road. They have been working on new steps north of the road and I thought they were going to be out there today but got the dates mixed up. There was a small stream just before the road and that was actually running enough and clearly to be a good water source. A source this size can dry up quickly in continued heat though, so please rely on more permanent sources listed in your guides.

Fuller Mountain vista

Fuller Mountain vista

There was also a flat area here which we brushed in as people were using it as a stealth site. Many years ago when Fielden Stream and I came through here we saw an open, empty tent surrounded by large empty liquor bottles. Clearly a squatter of some sort. I debated filling up at the stream but I had enough to get me up to the brush fire site and back without issue. I also saw a pair of northbound section hikers here who were headed up to Caesar Brook campsite, many miles ahead.

Brush fire remnants

Brush fire remnants

I crossed the road and ascended the beautiful new steps and arrived at the brush fire site. As I talked about it above and in the previous entry I won’t go on about it anymore. But please take away what the lesson is when you see the results. As Smokey says, “only you can prevent forest fires.”

At this time I decided there was not enough time to go up to Caleb’s peak for that last view. I had to be back home in a few hours and had to go all the way back first. As thru hiker volume was low and so were day hikers this day, there was no reason to go up except for the view (though it is nice!)

More rock walls!

More rock walls!

I made my way back and passed a few day hikers heading up to the Ledges, who had some questions about the ’96 stairs’. I told them it was totally doable, even fun, and not to worry , to just take their time.  I made it back to the car pretty quickly, in one go of it. Though I did quickly pause to admire the views again on the way down. It was time to head home, but I knew I’d be out again the following weekend, so that always makes it easier on the soul. I get withdrawal pretty quickly once I’m off trail.

I also made another video, where I address some of these same issues I encountered as part of my duties. The sound gets a little noisy at times, I’m still working on that. But I thought it would be good to have a visual component to my blog entries when I can. I also made the short gear review on this hike.

Mt Algo from the north

Mt Algo from the north

… It’s now Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, and I’ve been packing most of the night for an overnight with Fielden Stream and both kids, which I am super excited about. I know there will be complaining, but I know it will be something they cherish when its all said and done. The forecast looks great, and I look forward to my daughter seeing what backpacking is like, and how I help hikers out there in camp and on the trail. We leave in a few hours so I better get back to preparations. I’ll report back on it next week!

Miles: 7.7

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Mt Algo and Bulls Bridge

Misty trail at Rt 341

Misty trail at Rt 341

Last weekend I was back up in the Kent area for another patrol hike, and for a special meeting of trail minds. Several years ago the AMC, with the support of local town officials, created a group called the Bulls Bridge task force. They monitor the historic Bulls bridge area and keep the parties out, the trails and riverbanks clean, and the people safe. Lately, larger and larger groups are attempting to come in to the area fully loaded with picnic coolers, alcohol, BBQ gear, and more. It’s not a state park and there are no bathrooms, or lifeguards, or janitors to clean up. It is a very beautiful area though so locals from near and far like to visit. This area is just .2 miles off the A.T. and while most of these big crowds aren’t coming to hike the A.T., many A.T. hikers also use the side trail through here as a shortcut to access the amenities on the road across the river. So our AMC chapter helps maintain and protect this spot as well due to its proximity to the A.T.

Algo Shelter

Algo Shelter

They invited me to join the meeting so I could see how the park service works with us, the towns and other maintaining clubs to keep the trail and adjacent properties safe. The special meeting the task force was having on this day was with the NPS ranger in charge of the A.T., and the first selectman from Kent, to address the current issues and come up with additional strategies to keep the increasing numbers of visitors manageable. I stopped by on the way to my hike to confirm the meeting time and say hello, then headed up to the trail crossing on rt 341. I passed many thru hikers walking into town to resupply, as well as several others down by the bridge when I stopped in.

I wanted to check in at Mt. Algo shelter and see what condition the water source was in there, as well as at Thayer Brook.

The Green Tunnel

The Green Tunnel

At last I heard the Algo brook was dry, but we had a lot of rain lately, and so I was hoping it had helped. Its a fairly steep 1,000ft climb up Algo, but I had a New York section to do the following weekend with Fielden Stream with a feature called “Agony Grind,” so it seemed like a little warm-up thigh-burner was in order. The shelter is about .6 up the trail from the road, or about halfway to the summit. The brook is on the side trail from the A.T. to the shelter, and I was happy to see it was running again. There were several hikers in the shelter packing up. There were 2 northbound and 2 southbound hikers. I asked them if they had any questions on town or trail resources ahead, and gladly answered them and enjoyed a brief chat about the weather and trail conditions ahead and behind. There were no fire rings to clear, so I swept the privy and signed the register. I was looking for some of the hikers I was following on YouTube but while I didn’t see them, I did see Vino’s name, who found Ninja Roll’s phone for him in Virginia. So that was kinda cool.

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

It was steamy and sweltering hot this morning – the air was not moving at all. I was soaked with sweat by the time I got to the summit, so I cruised quickly down the other side to the gap where Thayer Brook sits between Mt. Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. I took off my pack and cooled off and had a snack. Thayer brook was running strongly, as I suspected. I dipped my hat in the cold water of the brook before I started up again, which helped cool me down. As I left the brook to return towards my car I heard a very loud branch snap down the brook, and went into paranoia mode. All these stories of big predators in the woods by the trail lately, and my mind got the best of me. I made double time back up to the summit, and then even faster on the way down. I heard more branches snapping on the way down and imagined I was being stalked by a bear or panther!

Love on the Rocks

Love on the Rocks

I need to stop reading so much trail gossip on the forums… soon I had a nobo thru hiker right behind me, who was very possibly responsible for the noises behind me I let freak me out.  He made me laugh because not only did I realize he was probably the bear or panther, but he also said the southbounders who passed him earlier said the shelter was much closer, and I said hey well you’re here now, and there’s water! I said goodbye as he went down the shelter path and got to my car soon after. I was relieved to be back in the car and cooling off in the air conditioning. I drove down the dirt road that parallels Schaghticoke mountain back to the Bulls bridge. I passed a few more thru-hikers making their way up the section of trail that is on the road.

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

It was great to meet the ranger and hear his vast knowledge of all things trail and his ideas and suggestions to help the group manage the surging number of visitors to the area.  I felt privileged to be part of a meeting with such dedicated volunteers and our counterparts in the park service.  The next few weekends, Fielden Stream and I will be back in New York to work on finally finishing the state. We will do it in 2 or 3 more hikes, including some day hikes, especially on the treacherous rebar ladder up the cliff on what I think is Bellvale Mountain. I want to be going UP that, and with a daypack if I can have the choice!

Miles: 3.5

– Linus