Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 6 (and end of 7)

The Tyringham valley

The Tyringham valley

Just got home from another great weekend on the trail in Massachusetts. Luckily the rain came at all the right moments for us. We had specifically planned to do the section southbound so we could spend Saturday afternoon at Upper Goose Pond and cabin and wake up to the hiker pancakes and coffee. So that would not have been as much fun in the rain. We set up a shuttle with one of the local A.T. community shuttle drivers to pick us up where we left off at the Tyringham Cobble lot and drive us up to Rt 20 in Lee around 2 so we could hike into the cabin at primetime — around 4pm. We planned to hike from here back to the Cobble lot, with 2.1 miles on day 1 and about 9.3 on day 2.  We would be up early on day 2 and could crush those miles and get back to the car by 230 we figured, finishing off section 7 as well as doing all of 6.

More wild Iris

More wild Iris

As we drove up I realized we would get there more like 115 pm. I knew us and I knew that last 1.7 miles from the bottom of Baldy Mountain would be likely be just enough to be too much. So I got an idea. We would park at the main road and do the 1.7 miles from there to the Cobble lot by our 2pm pickup time and finish section 7 before we got the ride up to Lee.

The hike planned for day 1 was only 2.1 miles and only the first 1/3 of it was uphill. We found a spot at the lot and hit the trail as fast as we could.  I almost rolled an ankle on the first .1 on a root because I was rushing and not paying attention. Classic. This section went through some bogs and meadows on many planks with very high grasses on either side and lots of mud between the planks. Though thankfully it was very flat.

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

We then went into the woods a bit and started climbing the eastern shoulder of the mountain. We climbed over two stiles around a farm, complete with barbed wire. A mis-judgement or a slip here could mean a trip to the hospital. But the cows couldn’t be bothered and as we made it over the second stile we noticed a farmstand down the road. Or rather Fielden did. More on that farm stand later. We cranked up the speed to reach the cobble loop trail and raced down to make it to the lot by 2:05. A young family on the trail in front of us said another hiker they met just saw a bear and its cub on the way up the other side of the cobble.

Trail sign!

Trail sign!

We received word at the cabin that there were bear sightings at Shaker campsite just west of where the hiker saw the bears. And something about how they should have put their pizza boxes in the bear box? Hmmm….

We had a quick pleasant ride up to Rt 20, passing all the big outlet stores in Lee and the Massachusetts turnpike, arriving at the trailhead by 230. The first part of the trail was easy and went through some swampy bits over boards as well, then climbing up to two bridges that crossed the busy turnpike. Fielden did the arm honk and got a passing truck beneath to honk Always fun!

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Then it was right up. It was fairly steep but not too challenging or long. And as we reached the top, passed two naked hikers. That’s right. But naked hiking day was 3 days before! I grinned and kept moving and the man made pleasant small talk as they passed Fielden stream to remove any akwardness. We had a good laugh and signed the register atop the ridge.

Trail Register

Trail Register

The trail followed the ridge down through laurels and we passed several more day hikers. This is also a popular day hike. As we reached the half-mile side trail to the cabin, we met the first of many thru hikers of the trip.

We headed down the side trail passing a few thru hikers who had clearly waited out the morning rain and enjoyed most of the day at the cabin and pond. They were likely heading only the 2.1 miles to catch a ride into Lee to zero and resupply.

At the cabin side trail

At the cabin side trail

We arrived at the cabin and scoped out the tenting sites before introducing ourselves to the caretaker and taking a tour of the rest of the grounds as she spoke to some day hikers at the cabin. The heavy rain was originally forecast to last until 4 or 5 and I was very happy to see it was ending before we even got to the first trailhead. And while it was in the high 70’s the humidity was low and it was very pleasant out. So while we set up our tent in our chosen site, we pondered a swim and a canoe ride. We were going to leave the rainfly off as it was a beautiful clear day now, but that just doesn’t ever seem like a good idea to me so we put it on and opened all the doors and vents.  Then we checked out the docks.

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

I was about to put my foot in the cold water at one dock to soothe my sore ankle when some of the other visitors on the dock pointed out the largest spider I’ve ever seen in the wild. A gigantic fishing spider. I mean 3 inches in diameter easy. While it was minding its own business, I didn’t want to get it wet by wobbling the dock and upset it. We took a quick look at the canoes and went to the other dock.

HUGE fishing spider

HUGE fishing spider

While there were one or two more spiders on this dock they were not radioactive sized so I moved to nearby rock to cool my ankle. There were lots of fish in the water and they didn’t seem to like my stinky foot in their water too much. At that point I wanted to just go back and eat some dinner as we were getting hungry. So we enjoyed our meal at the picnic table in our campsite and headed to the cabin to meet the many more thru hikers passing our tent site as they headed in to the cabin.

The canoes!

The canoes!

Overall there were about 10 that came in before nightfall. We spoke with them a bit to hear some of their stories until we got tired, and then retreated back to our campsite for bed. About an hour or so after we fell asleep, the rain started!

Fielden Stream at camp

Fielden Stream at camp

I remembered our packs and shoes were on the platform outside the tent so I quickly pulled them in and zipped up the vestibule doors. The group in the next site had not put on their fly and were scrambling to get the fly on and keep as much rain out as possible. It picked up quite a bit before finally tapering off an hour or so later. I love when I’m in the tent in the rain at night, it lulls me right to sleep.

The Cabin from the back

The Cabin from the back

The next morning we woke with the birds and the sunrise and headed to the cabin for the 7am pancake call. A few more thru hikers had come in overnight, including two dads and their teenage sons. We enjoyed sharing more hiking stories over breakfast. One thru named Monkey (he’s a tree surgeon) had bought some eggs at that farmstand in Tyringham and the caretaker also cooked those for him. It was nice having this special breakfast with all the other hikers and the caretaker was great.

Calm Upper Goose Pond

Calm Upper Goose Pond

We hit the trail around 8:20 after packing up our tent. The trail skirted the pond for about a mile, passing an old cabin chimney from an outdoors club once on the location who later donated the land to the National Park Service. Soon the trail headed back up into the woods through a series of hemlock groves, bog bridges, and beautiful brook crossings. Not to mention a few boulder piles to scramble over. We started passing the stream of thru hikers headed north from their last campsites about two hours into our 7.5 mile hike.  We took several breaks along the stretch and met other thru hikers at our stopping spots and chatted with them briefly. We also hiked with one of the guys who stayed a the cabin. He was also doing a southbound section hike, albeit his was 4 weeks not 2 days.

Pancake breakfast

Pancake breakfast

We were disappointed to find the view listed on the map atop Baldy mountain was now grown in. We had a tough but quick little climb up it from Webster road, but glad as we began our 2 mile descent down to Tyringham that we didn’t choose to come up this way. The knees groaned on the long downhill, some parts quite steep though never dangerous.

Old chimney

Old chimney

As we reached the bottom we remarked to our section hiker friend that it felt like rain might be coming and let him know about the farmstand about a mile ahead where Monkey got the eggs.

Club site plaque

Club site plaque

As we got to the car to head to lunch at an old 1700’s inn and restaurant, the clouds turned black and opened up a torrential downpour of rain lasting a good 30 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel for our new friend as he was clearly getting hammered with rain and we made it out just in time.

Some laurels were blooming

Some laurels were blooming

But at the same time, I was envious he got to continue on for weeks while I had to go home and back to day jobs, bills, and stress. Hiking in a downpour suddenly sounded great. I am sure though that I will get my fair share of that in the future!

Miles day 1: 3.8

Miles day 2: 7.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 7

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Last weekend we finally got back and did the rest of section 7. Well except the last mile because of where we parked and we will tack that on to our section 6 hike next weekend. We meant to do this section in early May but the rains were epic, so we opted for some R&R at an inn and sampled a small scenic portion of this section on a day hike over Tyringham Cobble via that park’s loop trail with the A.T. We will pick up there next weekend and hike north in to the one and only Upper Goose Pond Cabin for the night – with its hiker breakfast, lake views and canoes. Here’s hoping for nice weather! It’s about 8.5 miles from the Cobble lot though only one really big climb at the start up Baldy Mountain. There’s supposed to be a nice view up there at least. The next morning is only 2.2 miles out from the cabin to the endpoint.

Ready for climb #2

Ready for climb #2

Just before the hike I had a ridge runner meet and greet in Egremont and rather than sit around waiting, Fielden decided to get a head start so I dropped her at the trail head on the way. I hit the trail in Great Barrington almost three hours later, armed with lots of good information from her on the climbs, the water sources, and knowing camp would be set up and waiting for me. (We shuffled our pack contents around when dropping her off so she had the whole tent and the food kit.)  My friend and former thru hiker and CT AMC Patroller coordinator (Patrollers are our local chapter version of a ridge runner and what I do the rest of the year) followed me over from the BBQ to drop off my car at the endpoint in the Cobble lot and drove me back to the start at Rt 23.  Someone had stolen the map on the kiosk and had literally cut it off the rest of the information placard. Really, folks, this is NOT how you acquire a map!

The climbs began immediately.  So did the bugs!

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

There would be 4 climbs before reaching the shelter. Just before the third climb you reach the beautiful Benedict Pond, which sits at about 1600ft in Beartown State Forest. It has a beach and a campground and a loop around it that connects with the A.T.  though the A.T. is at the opposite end and its a half mile walk to the beach area. Still the A.T. has a nice little rock area along the lake where you can sit and drop your feet in to cool them off or sooth some sore spots. A small brook flows into the pond here so I stopped to fill up my water. Incidentally I heard something crashing down from a tree just before reaching the pond, and being in a place called Beartown State Forest you can imagine where my imagination took me.

Approaching climb #3

Approaching climb #3

Next came the third climb up “The Ledges”. You don’t really climb any ledges you just skirt the rock wall to get around to the top where you then follow the edge of the giant rock walls on the edge of the mountain. There are many spots that seem very bear friendly in the massive jumble of rocks.  As I approached the ledges a small raccoon was in the path walking the trail and I followed it while keeping a safe distance in case it was sick. I spoke to it a bit in a soothing voice to not startle it or make it feel threatened. When I was a kid, raccoons were my favorite animal, and Ranger Rick my favorite magazine. Still, I’m aware of the risk of rabies, so I was cautious.

And now climb #4

And now climb #4

Then I took in the sweeping early sunset views from the ledges across East Mountain, Mts Race and Everett in the Taconics, and could see the distant peaks of the Catskills though I don’t think the photo captured it. The raccoon was still foraging just ahead and found an acorn in the middle of the ledges and was content on staying there so I negotiated around it carefully and carried on ahead. One thing I would NOT do is feed it as that would destroy its natural foraging instincts and likely cause it to follow me the entire last half mile to camp!

Rocky Raccoon?

Rocky Raccoon?

It was getting closer to dark and I wanted to see Fielden Stream and check out the campsite shelters and do the last climb before dark so I kept moving. I stopped at a brook to fill up as she said the water source at the campsite was a bit of a hassle as its in a small hole in a jumble of rocks.

View west from the Ledges

View west from the Ledges

I made the final short steep climb up to the Wilcox South shelters which sit on the edge of the ridge. Fielden Stream had a cup of wine waiting for me and the tent all set up so I threw my sleeping gear in the tent and toured the old CCC (Civil Conservation Core)-era shelter and the new 2007 shelter with her, also making note of the privy and bear box locations. There was one other person there, a thru hiker who was already asleep in the new shelter by the time I got there around 8.

Be bear aware

Be bear aware

We went to sleep later than usual as we usually get into camp by 4 having started much earlier. Being June however meant the sun didn’t set until 9pm or later so I was able to hike the 3.3 miles up from the trailhead before dark and still have time to enjoy some time in camp before dark. I didn’t really eat anything though because my Burger King lunch and BBQ dinner just before 4 climbs in under 2 hours left my stomach not feeling its best. Some Vitamin I and wine helped relieve any remaining pain.

Potty humor

Potty humor

It turns out it was a full moon so it was pretty bright the whole night and I couldn’t sleep much until my body just decided it was time. I listened to my favorite Barred Owls hooting in the valley below and the various chipmunks scurrying about. There was a slight chance of rainstorms but they never came and we had a very nice night in the tent with the vestibules open.

In the morning we opted to just stick to snack bars and coffee and hit the trail early rather than make a hot breakfast. The digestion doesn’t seem to like a steep climb right after loading up on food.

Beaver work along a swamp

Beaver work along a swamp

I had been wondering if we would run into a thru hiker couple I had been following on Facebook as I saw they’d be in the same area at the same time and had commented on their page that we’d be at South Wilcox for the night. They didn’t turn up here for the night but I DID see another that I was following had been in the shelter just two nights before – Reddmage! So that was cool. It seemed like that was a busy night at the campsite, and one I would have liked to have been there for.

I filled up the water from the spiderweb-coated rock hole which while it wasn’t convenient and involved some crouching, was clear and cold. I signed the register and we headed up the hill, after the campsite side trail of course took us downhill a bit. As we reached the top of the hill, a couple was walking up behind us. And it was the couple I had been following – Poncho and Idgie!

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

I was thrilled and we made the connection right away and ended up hiking with them on and off for the next 5 miles, which helped all of us! We also ran into one of our DCR ridge runner counterparts on the trail who I had met at the BBQ the night before so we stopped and talked to him a bit and I reported the stolen map. We ran into Poncho and Idgie a few more times before we decided on a longer snack break before the last big climb. They were pushing for Goose Pond cabin so they had many miles more to go but from what I’ve read on their page, it was worth it. We were happy to have made these new friends.

Beartown bear condos?

Beartown bear condos?

Right before the last big climb was a steep descent down Wilcox Mtn through Fern gullies and what were without a doubt many bear caves on the steep side of the mountain. The last climb wasn’t much and we descended again into the valley past Shaker campsite, named after the former community here of Shakers (Google it!) and then through Hemlock stands and sunny open meadows with views to the North and West and their old barns.

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

The trail took us a bit farther up the side of the Cobble than we expected before the intersection of the loop trail which dropped us back into the open fields once more to the parking lot.

In hindsight it would have been almost the same effort and distance to just go over the summit of the Cobble once more and finish the section but it won’t be much to do next weekend. You can watch our video of the hike here.

Shaker barns

Shaker barns

Miles day 1: 3.3

Miles Day 2: 7.6 (with loop trail section to parking lot)

— Linus

Tyringham Cobble Appalachian Trail Loop

 

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Well, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! That’s what we did last weekend. We had our first backpacking trip of the year together planned for Friday the 5th. Leading up to that day It was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot, a light breeze to keep the bugs away, sunshine…  And then, you know how it goes. You find out days before there will be some rain. Ok, no problem, we’ve hiked and camped in rain many times. Its part of the fun. But then you hear the system is a really big one, having left tornadoes and major flooding in its wake as it blasted northeastward to us. Inches of rain predicted, for a full day of relentless downpour.

Signs signs everywhere signs

Signs signs everywhere signs

Now we’ve been caught in that many times. Just the week before I was caught in a thunderstorm on Sharon Mountain in Connecticut while doing some trail work with a friend from the club.  Once you’re out there, there ain’t much you can do but soldier on through it. Or get off the trail for a day and wait out the misery if its really necessary. But when you haven’t left yet, there’s room for modifications. Why be miserable if you don’t have to be.  I honestly don’t mind a lot of rain if its the middle of summer. But when temperatures are in the 40’s and 50’s, that’s when hypothermia can really be a risk.

We were planning to do the first section of New Jersey southbound.  I have a friend that lives near Vernon and was going to shuttle us and we picked the direction so that we were going to go down the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” on Wawayanda mountain. While that didn’t sound really fun to go up in the pouring rain, coming down was probably even more dangerous.  Time for a new plan. Even many of the thrus we were following on YouTube were opting for a zero mile day In town or at camp.

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

We re-focused our attention on Massachusetts where we left off there last year, and I looked into some nice day hike options in the area where we could do some of the A.T. and get some views but also could do some other relaxing things like stay in a favorite inn and luxuriate a little. We love the Red Lion in Stockbridge, so we got a great off-season rate room there and spent the drive up stopping into shops and taking our time. We arrived at the Inn for a great lunch in their tavern. The Inn goes back hundreds of years and was a carriage stop where the likes of George Washington stayed. I’m assuming this was on the route from Boston to Albany, now the nearby Massachusetts turnpike. This town also is the location of the Alice’s Restaurant song, and where Norman Rockwell began a long illustrious career.

Views from the Western shoulder

Views from the Western shoulder

I picked the loop of the Cobble and Appalachian trails in nearby Tyringham. While not a very high peak, Tyringham Cobble’s rocky top (where the word Cobble comes from in mountain lingo) provides a wide scenic view of the valley below, once farmed by the Shakers when Tyringham was called Jerusalem. Its about a 2.1 mile loop over the cobble in this state reservation and really not challenging at all. But it was perfect for the occasion and we had planned to hike it that day still should the rain let up a bit. It didn’t do that until dark. So as the rain kept pouring down, we headed to the Norman Rockwell museum to see his artwork as well as an exhibit on the cartoons of our childhood by Hannah-Barbera. It was a treat, and the Rockwell pieces were moving as well. They had brought his final studio from its former location onto this location a few miles away, and overlooking another scenic vista. Everything in the studio had been left exactly as he did.

I'm a ham

I’m a ham

We headed back to our Inn for some lazy time and then visited a local sushi restaurant and then saw some local talent in the pub in the basement.

The rain stopped around dinner time and I lamented a bit that we could have hit the trail late and hiked in to camp. But we were having a nice time. And even though the rain stopped, everything would be soaked when we went to set up camp in puddles. And, the hike out would be about 9 miles if we wanted to finish the section still, and we would not have had time for as we had to head home by 2.  Still, my heart is on the trail so In the future, I am just going to have the gear in the trunk in case things change on a dime again.  We’ve shot ourselves in the foot before doing the same thing only to have the rain stop well before predicted.

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

We had a nice breakfast at the local cafe after checking out and headed for the park. Some new storm clouds were moving through and the skies over Beartown forest were dark for a bit. But as we arrived, the clouds began to move. We hiked up the loop trail as the sun began to show. On this side of the loop there is a great view of the valley from a rock affectionately known as ‘bunny rock’. It is a a glacial erratic between the trail and the farmland beyond. Everywhere along this trail were special gates that livestock could not open. It began to then climb through Hemlock stands until reaching the grassy spine of the mountain’s eastern shoulder. We ran into three different thru hikers coming down the hill on the A.T. almost immediately. They did look a little damp and grumpy so to made me feel a bit better about not doing the overnight! The third one I stopped to ask if he knew one of the thru hikers I was watching, who had gone through the area just a day before and who I was sad we would be missing running into today. He didn’t know him but we had a nice brief exchange of words before heading to the summit.

I love this sloping hill

I love this sloping hill

We passed a family with their kids and dogs who went the other way around the loop and made it to the summit just in time for our own private visit there. We had a snack, took in the gorgeous views, and then followed the trail down into another hemlock stand on the west side of the mountain. When it was time to branch off the A.T. back on to the loop Traill my heart and legs tugged at me a bit, wanting to keep following the white blazes. But I knew we’d regroup shortly and I was already planning another first backpacking trip together for June.

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

I am going to be up here again in early June in a more official capacity so Fielden Stream is going to come with, and after the necessary meetings are done I am going to have a friend in the club help us drop our car and shuttle us back to Tyringham so we can cover the Beartown state forest section we had just skipped for this short day hike excursion.  I am hoping it won’t rain cats and dogs again for 12 hours straight, but this time we should have warmer temps, longer days, and a bit more resolve. I’d like to try and finish Massachusetts this season but with all my official trail commitments we may not until next summer.  That’s ok, with another 2,000 miles to go, what’s the hurry?

This hike is great for families with little kids or big kids alike. Its not difficult, its very scenic, and its close to many picturesque New England towns and other great hikes like nearby Monument Mountain and Laura’s tower.

Miles: 2.1

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 8 (part 2)

The game plan

The game plan

A week ago we made it back to Massachusetts to finish the Great Barrington section of the trail. I got some unexpected time off, and was considering an overnight solo adventure in the area. It wasn’t until I found out Fielden Stream could come along that I deviated from that plan and took advantage of this good fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I love a solo overnight adventure. But I do them a lot in my role with the AMC. The decision to make it a day hike was based on a few things…

This time of year, especially before daylight savings time kicks in, the sun sets by 6 and doesn’t rise again until 7. That is a LOT of time alone in a tent. I love having time to think, and I do a lot of it while I walk the long miles.

Rock scramble up East Mountain

Rock scramble up East Mountain

But I often look forward to company at a campsite. It’s just in my nature and one reason I like it when I’m assigned to look after a campsite for the night. I love interacting with other hikers, or family and friends and sharing stories of our adventures or just riffing on the topics of the moment until bedtime. I admit I get a little lonely when I have 20+ hours to myself. I don’t need THAT much time to think things through. The places I had planned to hike and overnight were particularly remote and it was unlikely I’d have anyone to talk to. I’m a social person at heart.

Fielden crossing the bridge

Fielden crossing the bridge

Also while it was unseasonably warm for November, this can be a cold and wet time of year to hit the trail. That just comes with the territory but when you have the choice, why subject yourself to discomfort if you don’t have to? At the higher elevations I was considering there was a good chance of nighttime temps being far colder than those forecast at ground level. I’ve been out in my tent when temperatures dropped into the low 20’s and it was not comfortable. Though it was certainly an adventure I came out of feeling stronger and more skilled in the backcountry. There was a forecast for rain and that could mean snow on a mountaintop. I don’t really do winter overnights yet. That could change I suppose. I guess I’m best suited for the section hiker title.

First real view of the Taconics

First real view of the Taconics

I have my dreams of doing a thru hike, but that’s something I can’t even consider at this stage in my life with work and family demands and schedules. So I ( & we) enjoy day or multi-day outings to cover the trail bit by bit. I would like to try to spend a whole week or two on the trail at one point, as I know it will provide a lot of time to process things in my life and really connect with nature. I certainly feel shortchanged on day hikes sometimes, as I was just getting into it when I had to leave the trail. But I think a week would be a good experience and also mean I can cover longer sections of trail. A few years from now, I should be able to make that kind of time available. But for this instance, I was happy with a day hike and and then some creature comforts with my partner and best friend.

Happy blazes!

Happy blazes!

We drove up both of our cars and spotted the first at the end of the section, and then drove to the start where we last left off on Homes Rd. We still had a climb ahead of us but the last one left us atop June mountain, which accounts for half the climb from the valley below.

The trail climbed quickly up the western slopes of East Mountain. We crossed a bridge over a little channel in the rocks which I imagine is sometimes filled with water. Not today; it’s been a very dry season until recently, and that’s not been enough to get everything flowing again. We scrambled up a rock face that reminded me of Harriman in New York. We then began getting views of the Taconic range through the trees as we reached the ridgeline we’d be traveling for the next few miles.

Full color on the trail

Full color on the trail

About 2 miles in we reached a large rock outcropping with full views of Mt Everett north to Jug End as well as Alander to Catamount on the ridges to the west. This outcropping, while you can climb up on it, is a big smooth slide that you wouldn’t want to roll off as it will send you right off the cliff. So use caution when having a seat up there.

We took a break here to shed some layers as the sun was up now and the day was heating up to the mid-60s forecast. Onward we went along the ridgeline, with occasional views now south and easterly. We arrived at another opening in the treecover where a rock outcropping provides a great view of the pond in the valley below and the Litchfield Hills just over the Connecticut border beyond.

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

You could see the eastern shoulder of the mountain we had climbed and it was painted a bright orange in full fall glory. We met a local hiker and his dog, Everett, who was named after the mountain! We had a snack and he snapped a great photo of us. Turns out he grew up in our town — small world! A few other day hikers with their dogs came up as we were heading out and we made our way back along the ridge in search of the Tom Leonard shelter. We crested the summit and headed back down into the saddle between East and Warner Mountains, which we would not officially summit as its peak is to the north of the trail. You know I wanted to peakbag another summit, but it was not in the cards today!

Tom Leonard Plaque

Tom Leonard Plaque

On the north side of this landmass is a favorite ski resort where I and my kids learned to ski – Butternut. It was originally named Butternut Basin in the 60s when it opened, and that’s named after the large basin between the summits that we were about to pass by. Also for the Butternut trees. We passed the time talking through important issues in our present lives, as well as trying to identify any Butternut trees in the area of the basin. It wasn’t until we finished our hike that we saw a photo online of the leaves.

Tom Leonard Shelter

Tom Leonard Shelter

We had not found any. But the basin itself was an interesting change in ecology that was noticeable as we passed by it. We crossed another trail which looked like an old fire road or narrow mountain road.  It likely goes down to the wildlife management area to the south, and may also be an access for hunters. Not sure. There is a tower of some sort atop the mountain so my first guess is its a fire access or mechanical access road.

Tom Leonard poem

Tom Leonard poem

We finally reached the shelter. We had thought it would be much closer to the middle of the hike but its actually about 2/3 of the way in, just before the ice gulch. We saw the sign as we crested a large rock outcropping and wall. The shelter could be seen below and I of course wanted to go check it out. Fielden took a break at the top of the rock ledge while I walked down to the shelter, which was nestled between another ledge on a plateau, with the mountain’s edge falling away a few hundred yards south. It was a glorious shelter, with bunks for four and then room for another 6 on the overhang. There’s a plaque on the back about its construction. There was a picnic table and a fire ring, and the privy and tent platform were indicated by a sign to be to the south, just towards the mountain’s edge. I didn’t go to check those out but I’ve seen photos of the platform which is right near the edge and has a fantastic view if you get there first. Just don’t be too groggy or clumsy when tenting there.

Ice Gulch

Ice Gulch

There looked to be what was a stream behind the shelter but there was nothing in it and in fact the water source was .25 miles down the hill from the platform area. I have read its not a whole lot of fun to get down there for water and then back up, but its better than no water. I forgot to mention there is also a bear box.

I signed the register and took some photos and then we headed out of the gorge the shelter sat in. In the register book is a poem about Tom Leonard “Longways,” who thru hiked the trail in 1985. This shelter was built in 1988 in dedication to him. I’m going to assume he passed away, I’ll have to look it up. There’s a few ways in and out of the shelter on blue access trails and I’d read it could be confusing but really it wasn’t. Regardless, I just went back up the way I came.

Late day Hemlock forest

Late day Hemlock forest

We met a day section hiker and followed him along the rock walls to the ice gulch ahead. This is an impressive feature. A large gulch is carved, obviously from water, into a notch between this mountain and a smaller knob on the other side. The trail follows along the dry gulch for a few tenths of a mile but its truly a sight to behold. While there is no water, you could feel the cooler temperatures and it got its name from the fact that its so cool down there you can even see ice in the summer time.

The trail then descends along the eastern slope of Warner mountain, whose edifice rises up to the west over Hemlock forests.  It then gently descends through these forests and crosses Lake Buel road, a small inlet from the lake covered in towering cattails, and eventually reaches route 23. We were hoping to see the lake, and on a thru hiker video he was at the lake, but you need to walk down that road a quarter mile to reach it.

Tell me that doesn't look like a bear!

Tell me that doesn’t look like a bear!

If it was summer that probably would have been on the agenda. We did however hear drums and smell incense as we approached that road. We knew there was a spiritual retreat in the area on rt 23, but it was in fact coming from the lake. We were still a mile from 23. On the walk from Lake Buel Road to 23 we saw something in the woods that for a good 5 minutes we thought was a bear staring at us from the distance. We stopped and looked and made noise. It didn’t move, not one bit. We ultimately deduced that if it was a bear it would have scurried off or at least moved. That was one bearly tree stump! We laughed and got some pictures, no longer concerned.

The inlet was a good sized water source, and the only one we saw since I didn’t make th trek down to the shelter source. So if you’re heading south through here, you can rely on that one.

Trail crossing on 23

Trail crossing on 23

We reached the lot at 23, at the gateway to Great Barrington and the Beartown state forest. We hadn’t planned on being back up this way until spring, so even though we were just hiking for the day, I felt content to have covered another section of Massachusetts I was really looking forward to, and finishing off another section. Just under 1/3 of the state is now complete!

Next spring we will do our first overnight on the next section on Mt Wilcox in Beartown state forest. There are two shelters here, and a campsite. We should be able to cover the whole 12-mile section with a shelter right at the halfway mark. From there its just 6 miles north to Upper Goose Pond cabin and its famous breakfast for hikers. So we will probably push that out a bit to early summer so we can enjoy it properly. Maybe we will do the next section and come back. I’d like to canoe on the lake as well, so I want it to be fairly warm.

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

This was also the section we were going to take the kids on in September. But I think we made the right choice to do a section with them we already knew. They love Great Barrington as much as we do, so now that we know they will have no problem with this section that’s probably their next one with us.

Watch the video here! You can hear me play 30 seconds of Pink Moon by Nick Drake on my guitar…

Oh my how the time has gotten away from me, I have to get ready for work! But I will be out on the Connecticut trail tomorrow doing my trail patrol and mostly cleanup. Maybe I’ll see you!

Miles: 5.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail – Massachusetts Sections 8&9 (partial)

New Vario Speedcross 3's

New Vario Speedcross 3’s

Well, you’ve probably figured out by now that we didn’t go backpacking in New York this weekend. The heat indexes were over 100 degrees for both days, and heavy rain and thunderstorms were predicted. And even if only a 40% chance, if we were having our usual luck, we’d be right under it.

And based on the storm we experienced the previous weekend on our way out of the area, and what we were treated to in Massachusetts Friday night and here in Connecticut last night, any storm that did roll through would have been epic. Hiking out safely would have also meant bypassing Eastern Pinnacles and Cat Rocks, which were both highlights we wanted to experience.

Heading nobo where we left off

Heading nobo where we left off

Sure we coulda taken the chance and toughed it out but being section hikers we have the luxury of picking when and where we go and adapting as necessary. We don’t mind the rain, we’ve toughed it out many times through the storms. But really the heat was the concern. We had 3 mountains to climb, 7 miles of trail, and full packs to carry through all of that.  That might not seem like much distance but the climbs added up to several thousand feet elevation and a lot of exertion. We were seriously concerned about heat exhaustion or worse. I am sure even thru-hikers were zeroing on one of these days or doing a nero (near-zero).

But I still had the day off, and we still wanted to hike, so we modified it a bit. While trying to finish New York, we’ve also started Massachusetts. We did the first 14 miles and change with our friends from Miami in June.

At Shay's Rebellion

At Shay’s Rebellion

That was a great and challenging trip for all of us, and in the process I thought the following section might be a good one to do with the kids later this summer or early fall. Based on the ongoing heatwave, we’re pushing that back to a fall weekend. But I also thought maybe a shorter mileage trip would be a better experience for all. Jiffy pop has done one overnight trip, which was about 7 miles, and Ratchet hasn’t backpacked yet. So I decided we’d do a couple miles in between these sections as a day hike so that the distance is right for the trip with the kids.

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

So we did a 5-mile section continuing northbound from the Shay’s Rebellion site to Homes road, atop June mountain. The first 4 miles were mostly flat through the valley with the exception of climbing the shoulder of Vossberg Hill. Only at the end was a real climb, a steep 600 foot climb in little less than a mile.

I got to test some new gear, which always makes me happy, and honestly its better doing that on a day hike because if you find out something’s not working out, you’re a lot better off.

Muddy turtle

Muddy turtle

I got my new Solomon trail runners (last season’s Vario Speedcross 3 on closeout for half price!) delivered the day before, and also picked up a merino SmartWool short sleeve shirt and some low socks recommended for trail runners at a stop into REI the night before. The trail runners and socks felt great in my house, and I know the merino works great in weather like this to wick sweat and maintain comfort. But the trail is always the real test. I was excited to get up to the top of the mountain to drop off the first car and head down to South Egremont road where the monument is. Even though it was over 90 degrees already, that forecast was about ten degrees less than New York. That’s the other reason we chose Massachusetts.

Wild Onion flower?

Wild Onion flower?

We got photos and videos this time of Shay’s Rebellion monument, which has now been righted from its tilting pose. We were so tired at the end of the last section hike here we just threw our packs in the car and raced to the comfort of our hotel! But I was glad to have brought my friends on that hike, and for my family to see the monument last fall. We headed through the first of many meadows, scorching in the heat, the sweat already dripping profusely. We love finding and identifying wildflowers and there was no shortage here. Not to mention cornfields — lots and lots of cornfields.

We had sweeping views of the Taconic plateau behind — from Bear Mtn in Connecticut all the way north to Jug End and Mt Darcy and Catamount ski resort behind them. I joked to Fielden about how Jug End was our new favorite mountain… er…

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

We passed one southbound backpacker in the meadow but didn’t really stop to chat – too hot in this spot! We saw lots of Chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, Morning Glory, and a few others — I believe Wild Onion flower and Butter and Eggs (that one was confirmed). Vossberg hill treated us to a short respite in the woods though a decent little ascent, then it was back into fields and one hemlock stand where we crossed a bridge over a swamp, and found a turtle along the trail. We were certain he was burned, but realized later that he just had mud on his shell, probably to keep cool, or that he just crawled out of the swamp.

We then crossed over train tracks, and through one more meadow alongside a pond, and ran across the busy route 7. This was fun because every time we drive by here I point out the trail crossing (natch!) and now I’ve finally hiked it.

R.R. Trail crossing!

R.R. Trail crossing!

We ran into several more backpackers just after route 7 and chatted with them briefly in the shade. Some were Nobo thrus and the others were Sobos. They too had been chatting and the Nobos had just done a resupply in town and were fully loaded heading out up into the mountains. I felt kinda bad they were carrying that weight in this heat, but reminded myself that they were much more accustomed to this 1,600 miles in.

We went through a few more meadows of cornfields and wildflowers parallel to the Housatonic River. The river looked so refreshing, we wanted to jump in. We crossed it on a road bridge and then walked through a few more meadows and cornfields before heading into the woods for the final climb.

Its an uphill climb

Its an uphill climb

A nice man in an old antique truck with his dog waved to us as we crossed the final road before the ascent, and suddenly we were in the forest again for the rest of the hike.

The mountain climbs about 700 feet up its side very quickly. We had to stop several times to catch our breath. But it was a great test of my new trail runners and shirt, which all performed perfectly. And even though it was stupid hot out and we were climbing a mountain, it was still cooler in the trees. We finally reached the summit of June mountain, which did not have a view. Those are on the ledges just north of here on East Mountain, which we may do with the kids in a month or so. I gotta do some research and make sure it’s not too hairy.

Cool rock formation

Cool rock formation

We beat the eruption of rain by about an hour and watched it roll in from our motel in Great Barrington. A favorite town of ours, we enjoyed some local art shops, had a beer and apps from Barrington brewery, and dinner at a great Greek restaurant.

The next morning we headed home and picked up a few items for the new house. It was even hotter that day, and we were glad to have creature comforts, even though I already missed the trail.

Watch the video of this hike here, and the first part of Massachusetts here.

Miles: 5

— Linus

Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Adventure (Sections 9&10)

Packs on, let's do this!

Packs on, let’s do this!

Last weekend we finally ventured into Massachusetts on the Appalachian Trail. Mind you, Sages Ravine campsite is officially in the state, despite the state line crossing sign being down the ravine half a mile. So we have dabbled in the state at least. Last year when we finished the Connecticut section we stayed at that campsite and had some adventures. Even Fielden Stream wrote about it. The sign placement is based on which state chapter manages the trail on either side vs the actual geological border. So this confuses many thru hikers. Though at the end of the day, they’re going to keep on going so it doesn’t really matter.

AMC Northwest Camp

AMC Northwest Camp

Anyway, we’ve been looking forward to heading north for a long time, and conquering the ledges of Mt Race, and the highest summit we’ve done so far on the trail, Mt Everett. But we were saving it for our friends to do with us and continued to work on the New York section in the meantime. We have 17.9 miles left of that state, and plan to finish it by the end of the season.

It took some time to get the planning with them in place, as they live in Miami. But it finally happened, and it was everything we could have wanted. While we were down there in Florida for winter break in February we nailed down the rest of the details and they bought tickets. We went through the equipment lists and luckily had most of what we needed to outfit them too, since we had extra gear from car camping and my gear upgrades over the years. They found a place to rent packs and had them delivered to our house a few days before the trip.

Bears!

Bears!

They did buy some nice new trail runners and Fielden Stream and I are thinking we will head over to REI and pick up some too. Clearly the hype around these within the hiking community has to be legitimate at this point. And their praise after the hike only strengthened the point. They said that they were extremely comfortable and gripped onto the rocks and roots in every tricky spot. For Fielden, she wants to try them mostly because the boots and wool socks continue to leave her feet covered in blisters no matter what we’ve tried… toe socks, different fabrics, duct tape. For me, I want to see if it will help with traction as much as they say and keep my ankles from nearly rolling on every unexpected root or rock I encounter at the wrong angle. We’ll keep you posted.

Linus and Ledges at Sages Ravine

Linus and Ledges at Sages Ravine

They arrived late the night before and Fielden and I were packing everything in their packs while they were on their flight. When they got to our house we walked them through all the gear and helped them pack it all in the most efficient way. We had some drinks and caught up a bit before getting to bed. We stayed up a little later than we probably should have and so we slept in a bit. But with June sunset at around 9pm and just over 6 miles to hike the first day, I wasn’t too concerned about not getting on the trail till almost noon. It’s about a 2 hour drive to the end point, then another 25 minutes up the mountain road to the beginning. I almost extended the end point another 2 miles, but am glad I didn’t.  Even though it was almost flat those last 2 miles, I knew it would be hot and we’d be tired from the challenging climb and descent that morning. Turns out that was a good call.

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

We parked just south of the Connecticut line at the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) Northwest camp. The camp has a cabin, but it is primitive in that there is no electricity or running water. There’s a privy at least. I wanted to check it out a little closer but there were people staying there. As members we can rent it, and I think that would be fun sometime. We took the old ‘northwest road’, a trail that skirts the CT-Mass state line on the north side of Bear Mountain and connects with the Appalachian Trail about a half mile down. I remember seeing the trail when we came over Bear Mountain last June and figuring it had to go up there to the cabin, or at least to a road somewhere. I told them about the crazy climb up Bear and asked if anyone wanted to do it for fun! After a laugh we headed north down into the ravine and along the brook as it widened and flowed past the campground.

Bear Rock Stream

Bear Rock Stream

We stopped in to the campground so they could use the privy and get a look around. I was hoping some of my AMC/ATC friends would be in the caretaker tent but I realized it was Friday morning so that was unlikely. I took a few pictures including the sign about bear activity in the area (there is no doubting this in my mind after our stay there last year) and then we ventured on down the trail along the ravine. I had been to this lower section on the last trip but Fielden stream had stayed in the campground. So I enjoyed showing her and our friends all the swimming holes and little waterfalls farther down. We ran into a father and daughter backpacking team a few times that morning along Sages Ravine, and would later run into them on Mt Race and at the campground. We chatted with them at the ‘official’ state line crossing and took some photos. The trail then headed up the side of Mt. Race, gradually but steadily, and the day began to warm up.

View southeast from Mt. Race

View southeast from Mt. Race

The trail made its way towards the ridgeline and climbed gradually through the woods, passing what was once an old campground at Bear Rock stream and it’s replacement across the trail, Laurel Ridge. I checked into Bear Rock to make sure no one was stealth camping and was happily surprised that people were staying out of the area and heeding its re-vegetation area signs. It is a lovely spot right on the ridge, with the stream cascading off its edge. I heard that there had been some accidents there in the past, which I’m sure had as much to do with it being moved west of the trail.

It was safe enough here to take a photo!

It was safe enough here to take a photo!

We continued to climb, some sections more steeply now, until we came out onto a large exposed ledge with sweeping views south to Connecticut, east and north as far as Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest peak near the Vermont border. We were lucky to have such great weather and endless views like that. There was one other backpacker here and we sat for lunch.  We were getting a little worked up about how bad the ledge walk would actually be. I had seen many pictures and had been preparing myself. And judging by the ledge we were having lunch on, I knew there was a big drop. I ventured over to look through the trees where the trail went to try and make it seem less intense, a lump in my throat growing the closer I got. I took it in — the very narrow trail following a precarious ledge thousands of feet high. I turned back around just as the father and daughter arrived and smiled and said “it’s not that bad.” I guess my game face isn’t very good.

View of Bear and Round Mtns in CT from Mt Race

View of Bear and Round Mtns in CT from Mt Race

Four vultures flew overhead and I joked that there was one for each of us. I don’t think that helped. We finished lunch and got ourselves ready for the cliff walk the best we could. As we passed through the little hole in the trees everyone saw what was ahead. Luckily there were only a few spots where it was this precarious, but those were enough. We gave each other a pep talk throughout and I was actually happy I had been working on these types of challenges because I felt sure footed and confident.

Pink Laurel on Mt Race summit

Pink Laurel on Mt Race summit

Though I won’t lie there were a few spots where a wrong step would mean certain death. Talking my friend through it and focusing on that also distracted me from any of my own fear. We were also heading up it so I think if we were coming down I might feel a little less sure.  I stopped to take in the views, and some pictures, which also helped me feel less afraid. I was really proud of myself.  I know these were big cliffs, and I know I had good reason to have been nervous and try and overprepare.

Mt Everett beyond from Mt Race summit

Mt Everett beyond from Mt Race summit

This section lasts only .6 miles and in many spots does widen out as it approaches the summit. So I was able to get one or two shots out there. There was a cairn a few hundred feet south of the summit and from there you could see 360 degrees around. The summits of Connecticut’s Bear Mountain and Round Mountains to the south became visible from here, as well as Mt Brace in New York, and Mt Frissell, Mount Washington and Mt Alander to the West. Directly to the north you could see the next day’s summit, Mt. Everett. And as we reached the true summit and walked its rocky spine, the high peaks of the Catskills were visible in the distance, their craggy peaks a shade of deep blue. A few pink mountain laurels were blossoming on the peak, and I was thrilled that the tunnels of laurel I wanted our friends to see were abundant on the hike. We took some summit photos and then negotiated our way down the steep rocky spine on its north side.

Descending from Mt. Race

Descending from Mt. Race

We were anxious to get to camp and unwind after the crazy cliffs. As we trekked through more tunnels of laurel, I decided I needed a bathroom break and told the others to go up ahead a bit. As they got ahead about 20ft, I turned around and headed into the woods but was stopped by a rattle! I did not see this guy, but Fielden and our friends heard it too and asked if I was ok! I decided I didn’t need to go any farther into the woods! I headed cautiously back up the trail and didn’t hear any more rattles before I met up with them. We picked up the pace a bit and kept an eye out for the trail junction to our campsite.

While we had entertained going over Everett on this day too, we decided when we reached the junction of the Race Brook Falls trail that we had had enough for the day. It was already nearly 5pm and after going over Everett the next day we were glad we had made this decision.

Time for a nap?

Time for a nap?

There was no way we were going to have made that climb feeling the way we were at this point in the day. The Race Brook Falls trail is one of many that climbs steeply up to the ridge from Route 41. From the A.T., the campsite is only about .2 miles down the trail, or so the guide says. I feel like it was more, but we were pretty darn tired. Those printed distances never seem accurate. They definitely are not on my tracking app, I learned the next day!

There are big falls at the bottom of this trail but I have heard its very steep down to the falls. And since the brook was barely moving up here, and we were so tired, we decided not to go down and explore them. Sages Ravine provided enough beautiful water scenery for us today, and we will come back to the falls from the road end another time. We did want to swim and pictured ourselves washing off under a cascading waterfall and everything. But reality is always a little different isn’t it. We were happy just setting up camp at this point. The father-daughter team came into camp around the same time and took the tent platform next to us, so we said hello again to them and told them we’d report back on the water source as we were going to filter once we set up camp.

Finally, the campsite trail

Finally, the campsite trail

After we got the tents set up, Ledges and I made a few trips to the brook and filled up on water. We had run almost completely out by the time we got to camp due to the heat. Its especially easy to overheat on all that exposed rock on the mountain summits. We sat around the fire and made dinner. Fires are permitted here and while I was surprised, I was relieved not to have to clear any fire rings, and that our friends could have that experience they are used to when camping out. Fielden is the best at making fires in our group so we let her get it going while Ledges and LB filtered water and I got dinner going. It was nice having two stoves, so we could get everything ready at the same time. I had made sure they had their own cook kit with stove (and their own water filtration) should we get separated or lost.

Home for the night

Home for the night

We had a great evening telling stories and then went to bed. It was a beautiful night and we left the vestibules open and watched as the stars came out. None of us slept very well though, hearing lots of critters scurrying about in the middle of the night. In the morning, we filtered some more water and had breakfast and I signed the register on the way out. We had a really big hike ahead for day 2. It started with a nearly 1,000ft climb up Mt. Everett. The trail had taken us several hundred feet downhill into a saddle between the two mountains where our campsite was. So once we got back on the A.T. it was right back up.

Aaand, back up!

Aaand, back up!

And it was STEEP. I would compare it to the climb up the north face of Bear Mountain, but twice as long. There were many elaborate scrambles and long sheets of rock to traverse as we ascended. Ledges said it definitely reminded him of the white mountains. That made me happy because I wanted an exciting section of trail, and it provided. We pushed on quickly, some thru hikers passing us on the way and making us look like snails with their pace. But we got up there and took in the views as they opened up, mostly to the south of Mt. Race and the Taconic plateau in its entirety as it stretched south to Salisbury.

At the summit I was immediately stung by something, either a yellowjacket or a black fly. But it didn’t hurt much or ruin the excitement. We took pictures at the summit and I had a celebratory toast. This is the highest peak we’ve hiked up together. I haven’t hiked the whites since I was a teenager, and in Shenandoah last year we only took the stony man trail from the Skyland lot, as we were driving Skyline drive. One of the hikers said when he arrived up there earlier there were some rattlesnakes he scared off. We talked to the other thru hikers and a couple that was day hiking. We sat on the foundations of the old fire tower and enjoyed our break. We thought it was going to be easy from here. Just downhill and then flat. Ha!

View south from Mt. Everett

View south from Mt. Everett

It was a nice easy downhill to the Mt. Everett State Reservation parking lot, where we found large coolers of ice cold water. This was much appreciated as the big climb depleted our supplies significantly, and we had many miles until the next reliable water source. Conditions have definitely been on the dry side. We talked to a thru hiker Matt who didn’t have a trail name yet. I wish we could have come up with one, but even LB is just our friends initials because we are waiting to come up with a trail name for her. You can’t force these things. He told us that in the 1,500 miles he’d done so far, the cliffs on Mt. Race were the most extreme he’d encountered yet. Even Tinker Cliffs in Virginia weren’t as precarious! That made us feel better. There’s a privy here too which is always nice.

Old fire tower spot

Old fire tower spot

The trail here is easy and after passing by Guilder pond (which I think is the highest pond in the state) descends gradually to a forested ridge where there are two shelters, Glen Brook and Hemlocks, situated .1 miles apart.  The water source here was very dry, and I was concerned about those staying here for the night. Maybe there was more water closer to the camping area, but where the brook crossed the trail was mostly mud. We traveled the forested ridge for a bit before it climbed to the rocky spine of Mt. Bushnell. Here the trail jotted up and down, up and down, taking a bit of a toll on us in the heat. We stopped for lunch in a shady spot before another climb. These were not big ascents but the repetitive climbing and descending was arduous. We passed a family day hiking and stopped on an outcropping with great views east and north of Mt. Greylock. We were stopping more and more now as the sun was baking us on these rocks and we thought for sure we’d be at Jug End by now.

Monument Mtn and Greylock beyond, from Mt Bushnell

Monument Mtn and Greylock beyond, from Mt Bushnell

Seemingly hours later, we arrived at the aptly named peak, which marks the northern end of the plateau on this ridge. A day hiker we passed who has hiked here about 100 times laughed when we asked if it was steep. Now I know why.  You might as well have rappelled down it. It began with several long, steep, rock faces to cross. After that, a literal rock wall we had to climb down. After that, the trail came out to another definite ledge. It routed you around at a downward angle on some slick rock with nothing but a huge drop off if you took the turn wrong.

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

Needless to say, some of us took a less dangerous path past it. Here we thought we’d be done with all that cliff walking! LB took the scary route. Go LB!  But that was not the end of it. The trail, though now in the forest, steeply descends the mountainside on a series of rock staircases and switchbacks. A bit like St. Johns ledges but far longer and not quite as easy to get footings on. It went on seemingly forever. We met the day hiker again, and when we asked where there was water, she said she’d leave us some at Rt 41, which we greatly appreciated. We were running low again. And its good we did because the water sources beyond were scarce except for a swamp right before we reached the car.

Bridge in Egremont

Bridge in Egremont

As we headed north from Jug End Road, we entered a forest of hemlocks, and then came out into the meadows alongside the Kellogg Conservation Center. From up on Jug End and Bushnell it seemed so far away and so far below. Finally we were passing fields of cows, and fairly close to the KCC and reached rt. 41 where we found the water she left us. We filled up and continued on through the fields. Here I was fooled by outdated distance information on my app. I knew from the AWOL guide that the mileage was something like 2.5 to the car from Jug End Road. But the old data on the app said 1.4. Needless to say it seemed like a really long walk, though it was beautiful. A large, very old hemlock forest again opened up from the meadow edge. I commented that it was like Middle earth, where you pass from realm to realm, this one being that of the elves!

Done!

Done!

There was supposed to be a large swamp here, and we crossed several bog bridges and planks, but there was hardly any water. Only as we approached the road did we cross an actual large brook on a big bridge. As we reached the end of the hike (1.5 miles shy of the actual section end at Rt. 7), we saw that the cooler of trail magic we found there when we dropped off the car the day before was still there. We meant to leave notes saying thank you for all these trail angels, but we were completely exhausted. Thank you trail angels!

Looks like we made it

Looks like we made it

We did just under 9 miles today and proceeded to throw our packs and ourselves on the grass and took a few photos to celebrate finishing the hike. There were also lots of deer ticks in the grass! So we quickly gathered up our things, made sure none of them were on us, and hopped in the car. We were so tired we just pointed to the Shay’s Rebellion monument and felt pleased that we didn’t leave the car at the originally planned point almost 2 miles farther.

Luxurious rewards

Luxurious rewards

Once in the car, it was back up the road again to the AMC Northwest camp to get the other car, and then down the dirt road across the Connecticut line into Salisbury. We saw beautiful waterfalls from the road as it wound and descended the mountain ridge alongside Lion’s Head. We got to our hotel and enjoyed a much needed shower and beer before going to dinner at a great restaurant called the Black Rabbit, next to Mizza’s pizza where I met Rainman a month or so ago. The food was amazing and we slept like logs that night in the king sized beds. The next morning we headed out of the mountains, grateful. We are already planning our next adventure. Though maybe we will do that one farther south in Virginia or North Carolina.

The video is here.

Miles day 1: 6.3

Miles day 2: 8.6

Bears: 0

Rattlesnakes: 1

— 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