Last weekend, despite the mega blizzard (and only blizzard so far) of the year, I got to finally complete a trail I’ve been wanting to since reaching its prize summit on a few previous shorter hikes. Despite the record snowfall Winter Storm Jonas created in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as the 16″ of snow it left in my town, it did not make it much farther north in our state. So for once I was able to drive north and have better conditions. I like hiking in the winter, but this was not one for doing in the snow and ice.
The summit views are worth the climb up from any direction, yet this time the effort was substantially higher. And hence the remaining portion of this trail is one I’ve been putting off for just the right moment because of its quite steep scrambles in the Northwestern corner of the park. I wanted to do the remainder at once, as its not high mileage and is convenient to complete with 1 vehicle doing a loop. It was just a matter of when. The reverse weather being what it was, this day was perfect for it.
Cobble Mtn Trailhead
As it was the off-season, I had the woods almost entirely to myself since the campground was empty and the temperatures were too low for most day hikers and families. It also meant I wouldn’t have a bunch of people lining up behind me if I was taking my sweet time on the tough ascent. I attribute part of my original hesitation on my first attempt over Squaw Peak to crowds of people behind me on the hike that added just too much pressure and did not allow me to assess the challenge properly to where I felt it was safe to proceed. I also wanted to do this one solo for this reason so it wasn’t my own family adding that pressure.
Watch your step!
But I was excited for the challenge as I enjoy pushing my comfort zone and I definitely needed some me time. All the research I had done suggested I tackle the climb upwards vs down, and the experience reinforced that. We came down the northern face of Bear Mountain on the A.T. in Connecticut last summer and it was as steep and long as this. While looking back up at that ascent from the bottom was daunting, gravity treats me better going up. In that case I didn’t have a choice really as NOBO and down was our route.
The only other uphill climb I’ve done that was this steep was the Major Welch trail on another Bear Mountain, that being the one in N.Y. We did it in 2013, just before we started hiking the A.T. together. The Major Welch trail was originally one of the earliest sections of the Appalachian Trail and was very similar to this one I was about to do. Also just as steep, just as long, and just as exhausting. The only difference on the Major Welch being I didn’t have to first climb up into a crevice with a 50+ foot drop on one side and then hand over hand out and up the first steep portion of the 650-foot rock face.
The whole Macedonia Ridge trail is a 6.7-mile loop over about six peaks that flank the steep eastern and western shores of Macedonia Brook, with Cobble Mountain being the highest and having the grandest views. When I mean grand, I mean grand. You can see 40 miles easy in any direction, including the high peaks of the Catskills to the west, the Taconic Range to the north, and more of the Appalachians to the east and south. At this point you are just shy of 1,400 ft up on the side of a ridge just a few hundred yards east of the New York border. I can’t help but think this and the mountain ridges north and south of here had something to do with where the state line was drawn — Natural features often dictate boundaries.
View south from Pine Hill
On our first overnight outing in 2013 to test our new backpacking tent we stayed here and climbed up an unmarked side trail to the western side of the trail and to the summit of Cobble Mountain along this ridge. To be fair we thought we were still on the white trail but were not. We were so enamored of the view from the summit, we took my son “Jiffy Pop” back on A.T. day a year later with our local AMC club but did take that steeper white-blazed trail to the summit. It’s much shorter but is definitely steeper. It was a dramatic hike as a thick fog blanketed the valley that October afternoon, so the mountainside seemed to disappear into the mist and a light rain began to fall. It was a family hike and there were lots of fearless and adventurous little ones along for the fun, practically running up the trail, my son included. He loved this hike and it was great to see he shared the enthusiasm with me. We completed the southwestern section of the Macedonia Ridge trail that day on our descent from the summit, crossing South Cobble as well, with its sweeping views south and east and some beautiful ridge walking.
Coming down Pine Hill
If you are familiar with the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut you will recognize Macedonia brook as the one you cross just north of Mt Algo in Kent, CT. In fact, in earlier times, the western and northern parts of this loop were also part of the Appalachian Trail. It was later rerouted east to its current location.
As I mentioned above, there is also a campground here with many sites both wooded and on open fields as well as along the brook. There are many modern pit toilets with solar panels on the roofs – but there are no flushing toilets inside or shower facilities like at nearby Housatonic Meadows state park. So while it’s not a completely primitive campground, its not one for those that demand modern comforts when camping. Along those lines, there’s also next to zero cell phone coverage unless you are up on the ridges, as the peaks really box the park in. There’s a large open-to-the-elements stone pavilion with a fireplace you can rent out, and our local AMC club does exactly that for its annual A.T. Day events. There are RV sites too, if that’s your preferred method of camping.
Climbing up Cobble Mtn-looking down – steep!
Camping is allowed mid-April through October, and rangers are on duty that whole time. Trail maps and firewood are available at the Ranger station. Alcohol is not allowed. If you really need modern comforts and fine dining and drinking, downtown Kent is 10 minutes or less by car and can provide all of those amenities. There are many other side trails throughout the park that connect up with the loop trail and facilitate hikes of all levels and lengths. Check it out!
The Taconics to the North (on the right in distance)
The area was once a hotbed of local iron activity for the area, and Kent Iron Company’s furnaces, forges and charcoal pits dotted the landscape, fueled by local trees. Remnants of the forges, pits and stone walls are visible in the southern end of the park.
There was also a CCC (Civil Conservation Corps) project here in the early 30’s which built roadways and buildings for park management. An old Dover, NY to Kent, CT. stagecoach road passes through the northern end as well. The brook and several other streams and ponds traverse and surround the park.
I was pleasantly surprised at the views on Pine Hill, the peak just north of Cobble. The southern side of the peak provided a beautiful vista south into the Housatonic River Valley, with Mt. Schaghticoke and Mt. Algo towering beyond. And the route down this face had some nice rock scrambles of its own, though not as tough as Cobble. A great lunch spot!
Catskills to the West (in distance)
I headed counter clockwise from the beginning of the loop on the south side of the park and because there was no leaf cover, the first peak also provided some nice views south and also east to Pond Mountain (natural area) and Caleb’s Peak on the A.T. I really enjoy fall and late winter hikes when you can get views, sometimes 360 degrees from a ridge, that normally would be invisible in summer. Really gives you the sense you’re ridge walking and not just in the woods. A bit more payoff for all those climbs to get to that spot.
The green trail traverses the park from the notch between Cobble and Pine Hill on the western side to this eastern peak and then onwards to the Pond Mountain Area. I believe this is the original A.T. route, or part of the original route east to the river from Cobble’s summit. I’ve bought a book on the Connecticut section online from 1968 so I’m eager to find the original route.
I had hoped to try out my new MSR micro rocket and Toaks titanium cook pot set as it was definitely cold enough for some coffee, but the route did not bring me as close to any of the campsites with picnic tables as I had hoped and I didn’t really find any good spots on the trail where I felt it would be safe to do this. With some time restrictions and a good deal of anxiety about that scramble ahead as well, I did not make the extra detour to a picnic table. Also, it was cold enough that the water was freezing in my hydration tube, so I figured it best to keep moving for that reason as well. On the upside it also kept me drinking more often which was good! I tend to not drink as often as I should when I have the hydration bladder in the pack, and learned a hard lesson at Harriman last summer.
White trail on Cobble Mtn
I needed my gloves for most of the hike, with the exception of that climb, where I took them off so I could really dig my fingers into the rock’s nooks and crannies for a good grip. I also had to repeatedly toss my collapsed trekking poles up the rock face ahead as they were useless on that climb and I didn’t have my new Exped folding poles that I got later that night for my birthday! Those would have fit in my pack. Not knowing how steep this truly was, I didn’t push the issue. In hindsight I wish I had. I’m looking forward to using them on the next hike – they are SO light and we got them at an absolute steal. The only downside to them is they have a set length, which makes them more compact, but not as adaptable when using to prop up a tarp or tent. I need to test them in both uses to see if its a problem at 115cm but I know that when we did the A-frame tarp setup I maxed out all our poles to 140cm. We shall see. Maybe just pitching the tarp differently is the solution. I really hope I didn’t freeze my sawyer filter again. I did wrap it in a shirt so it should be ok but I hope I don’t find out the hard way on an overnight in the spring.
I did however get to try a trail snack I’ve read a million stories about on the various hiking forums which is to wrap just about anything in a tortilla! I had one left over from our ‘Mexican night’ dinner at home and instantly the idea popped into my head to make a wrap. Thru-hikers love them and will stuff just about anything in one for a quick and easy meal – cheese, sausage, other cold cuts, peanut butter, honey, granola, banana; you name it. They don’t squish like bread or get stale as easily. And, no crumbs!
One thing that concerns me is my back is still wetting out in my down coat when using this pack. Perhaps my day pack is too snug to my back. It certainly feels that way sometimes. I will try to loosen it and see if it helps. It wasn’t as severe this time as it was much colder out. But I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off with a synthetic, if I sweat too much and render the down’s insulation unusable. At 11oz, I can get a synthetic at the same weight or close.
I love this coat and its great around town but I want to insure I’m getting the most out of every piece of gear. I haven’t tried it with my bigger pack yet but until I do more cold weather overnights, I can’t imagine I will use it much backpacking. Maybe just on cold shoulder-season nights where I can’t make a fire. Experienced anything similar? Any suggestions are welcome.
I could have stayed on the ridge after summiting Cobble but decided to take the white trail down and give my legs a wind-down with a road walk on the beautiful old CCC road. Mileage-wise, it came out pretty much the same however. I definitely recommend checking out this hike and this park. It’s so beautiful. Where to next?
Total Miles: 6.5