Chilly Day Hike on the Mohawk Trail

trail crossing on lake road

trail crossing on lake road

Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.

Red Mountain Overlook

Red Mountain Overlook

So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.

Red Mtn shelter

Red Mtn shelter

At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.

We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.

Cool glacial rock feature

Cool glacial rock feature

At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.

Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night.  Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T.  There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked.  We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there.  We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.

As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.

Miles day 1: 6

— Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #4 – Kent to West Cornwall

Another great weekend out! The heavy rain predicted for Saturday was all but gone by the time I arrived at the trail head. It was quite humid still that day so it slowed me down a bit but I managed to get 10 miles in which included an extra 1.5 miles to check out 3 campsites. It got down to a brisk 50 at camp that night and it pushed the limits of my summer bag. Was not expecting it that cold on an early August night! My bear bag rope went missing so 2 lovely hikers let me share their line and their tacos! I met the other weekend ridgerunner as well who’s very cool and we became quick friends.

I enjoyed my stay at Stony Brook group site and hiked the 8.6 back to my car on Sunday, treated to cool mountaintop breezes and then I treated myself to a Reuben at Cornwall Country market! Met lots of wonderful thru hikers heading north at the end of the bubble and a few sobos now heading through as well as lots of day hikers and families.  Lots of great wildflowers as well. Pics below!

Miles day 1: 9.9

Miles day 2: 8.6

— Linus

Fried egg mushroom?

Fried egg mushroom?

Mohawk Mountain from Pine Knob

Mohawk Mountain from Pine Knob

Which way to the pool?

Which way to the pool?

The "trail" up Silver Hill

The “trail” up Silver Hill

Along the Housatonic

Along the Housatonic

Wildflowers along the trail

Wildflowers along the trail

Guinea Brook

Guinea Brook

Hatch Brook

Hatch Brook

Mattatuck Trail – Brophy Pond to Buttermilk Falls

Beaver Pond

Beaver Pond

While I sit here lamenting a hike-less weekend, I look forward to our first Appalachian Trail section-hike of the season on Friday and want to share some of the beautiful scenery I saw on the most recent hike.

Last weekend I decided to do part of a different trail. There was an AMC-led hike and it was on a section of the Mattatuck trail I have not yet tromped on. This trail as a whole is not fully complete in the sense that there are many gaps between completed / blazed sections. I am sure they eventually hope to connect it all but I am guessing there are private land issues that prevent that at the moment.

Small cascade

Small cascade

The trail starts in Wolcott, about four and a half miles south of Buttermilk Falls, and ends at its intersection with the Mohawk trail in Cornwall on top of the Mohawk ski resort. We passed this northern terminus a few years back when hiking that trail with my son “Jiffy Pop.” Altogether it is 36 miles long and traverses nine towns and some of the state’s highest peaks. It also goes through the White Memorial Foundation and Conservation center, where I will be doing my wilderness first aid training weekend at the end of April.

There’s a great section of the trail west of here with a massive cave that was once part of the famous Leatherman’s route, and the top of the cave is a formation known as the Crane’s lookout.  I did that a few years ago as well with Fielden Stream on a day hike and then had quite an adventure as I had decided to explore a bit further than her that day, and they were working on a re-route which caused me to miss my turn back to the parking lot. Luckily since she had finished the hike at the park headquarters, she met me farther up the road when I was able to connect to it via another side path. We made it just in the nick of time as a dense fog and dusk were setting in. Hopefully they have sorted that all out by now. I definitely recommend checking out the cave and lookout which are in the eastern part of Black Rock State Park. You can park at the headquarters and its about a mile east to those great formations.

Icicles of doom

Icicles of doom

On this hike we did an out-and-back to the west from the parking area on Todd Hollow road and then another to the east, for a total of about 8.25 miles. This also included a short side path to a beaver pond. Our leader Tom pointed out that this was really the nicest scenery along this portion of trail. It did include some road walking but there was a lot of beauty in between, including multiple groves of mountain laurel and small cascading streams through the Mattatuck State Forest. This time of year water is flowing abundantly from snow melt. Because of all the laurel it also reminded me of the Housatonic State Forest sections of the Appalachian Trail in Cornwall, and I’m sure its just as beautiful here  in the summer.

I brought my microspikes but did not end up needing to take them out of my pack. Though I feel it was smart to have them as the roadway where we started was very icy and the trail very well could have been the same or worse.

Laurel grove

Laurel grove

The first portion was just over a mile to the banks of Brophy pond, though a good uphill climb. I always find it interesting when climbing up to a body of water. The small beaver pond was just before the climb, and both ponds provided some nice views across the water. The Brophy Pond viewpoint had a nice little rock outcropping along the bank and is definitely a nice picnic spot. Whenever I head back to finish the section from here to Black Rock State Park in the future, I will lunch here! There were a few spots on this section of trail where the trees were also marked with red and white bands, which is apparently indicates the boundary of Army Corps of Engineers land.

We then turned around and headed back past where we started and continued east on the trail along a gated older portion of Todd Hollow road in Hancock Brook Park before entering the woods at a glacial erratic known as Ed’s Big Pebble.

Lower Buttermilk Falls

Lower Buttermilk Falls

Here is where the trail climbed through the many laurel groves and over several small streams and waterfalls past a large rock outcropping that likely provided shelter for Native Americans long ago. Its multiple overhangs and nooks would have provided adequate protection from the elements. It certainly made for a nice lunch and photo spot! Large icicles hung threateningly from its upper rim, making for some dramatic photos. The trail then continued through some pine and hemlock groves, thickening with mud along its route.

There was then a short winding road walk over a railroad bed before heading back into the woods a short distance to the incredible Buttermilk Falls, which is maintained by the Nature Conservancy. I had no idea they would be so incredible. It reminded me a little of Sages Ravine, as the trail wound through boulders along the edge of the multiple cascades. It was flowing thunderously down the ledges into the ravine below the trail, and we all sat in awe and took photos. Such a dramatic waterfall was even more unexpected because it was just a quarter mile in from the road, if that.

Upper Buttermilk Falls

Upper Buttermilk Falls

I will be bringing my family back here for a visit, as its easily accessible for all abilities. Upon reaching the crest of the hill that framed the falls, we turned back and retraced our route back to the cars. This hike provided an opportunity to take in some stunning late-winter scenery, waterfalls, multiple types of forest, and massive boulders. And it was also one of my longer hikes recently, so a nice way to build up to longer portions I have planned for the summer. The last time I did over 8 miles was in November on a trail patrol walk on the A.T. in Sherman.

Last night I also tested two new sleeping pads from Therm-A-Rest, in my quest to find the one best for my active sleeping habits! While not in a tent, the hardwood floor provided an adequate comparison to sleeping on the ground. I have not had much luck with inflatables as you may know from reading my blog. The first one I bought for next to nothing at an REI garage sale knowing it had a tiny leak and just needs patching. It loses air very slowly during the night, and was a good first pad investment to see if I was going to do this regularly. I will get around to fixing it but since this is something I certainly do all season now, I needed one that would stay inflated and retain its insulating qualities until I could fix that one.

Nice watering hole but no swimming allowed

Nice watering hole but no swimming allowed

The second I am hoping was just a dud because it broke on the first night and comes from a very reputable brand. I returned that one and recently managed to pick up the Therm-A-Rest Neo Air Trekker on the cheap in an online sale. So I compared that to their foam Z-Lite model last night by sleeping on each for several hours. I bought one for Jiffy Pop’s first backpacking trip last year so I thought I’d see how I liked it.

The foam has several advantages, and is my go-to if this inflatable doesn’t hold up. It also makes a nice seat on hike breaks when nature doesn’t provide a good flat rock or fallen log. In fact they make a smaller ‘seat’ version of this pad for that reason. And it’s got a nice R-value rating due to its coating. Some other advantages are you can pick one up for about $40 and can easily cut off a few panels if you’re shorter or to keep just your upper two-thirds cozy and warm and have it take up less space. It’s also very light.

Therm-A-Rest Z-lite and Neo Air Trekker

Therm-A-Rest Z-lite and Neo Air Trekker

But the profile of these inflatables is so much more compact and I was spoiled starting off with the first one, even if it had a small leak. So I wanted to give them one more try, but this time in an environment where another failure wouldn’t mean sleeping on the cold ground! I really liked this pad, even though it’s a little narrow. While it does have a bit of that ‘potato-chip’ crinkling sound, in my experience all inflatables have some sort of sound based on what material they are made of. Foam would be the only ones that don’t. I’ll have to see how much it keeps me and Fielden Stream awake on an overnight to see if it’s something I can use with her. The R-value on this pad is also a bit lower than my other inflatables, so that would be a factor to consider on colder hikes, but I do have a new lower-rated downtek bag that would hopefully compensate for that difference. I am happy to say it held up last night so its future is secure for now!

Total Miles: 8.3

— Linus

Mohawk Trail / A.T Loop over Breadloaf with “Jiffy Pop”

FIelden Stream and Jiffy Pop

Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Breadloaf Peak

This weekend we went to do a little car camping with my son at one of our favorite campgrounds along the Connecticut A.T. corridor, Housatonic Meadows State Park. The park is located along the river just north of the crossing of Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge, and just north of the Mohawk Trail crossing and the very popular Pine Knob Loop. It was National Trails Day on Saturday, but really the whole weekend it is celebrated. While I’ve been out on hikes on the actual day, it gets crowded, and this was proven by the full lot at our trailhead which we passed on the way to the campsite. We were happy to wait one more day as the forecast was grand for both days. Before we arrived at the campground, we stopped at the very hiker-friendly Cornwall country market for lunch from their deli and to get our A.T. passport stamped. We didn’t have one last year when we backpacked through town on a section hike and stuffed our faces with greasy sandwiches here, got some additional food and headed up this very mountain for an unplanned night further up the trail at Caesar Brook campsite. While no Silver Hill, it was fun just saying the hell with it let’s get more food and keep going!

We’ve been to this campground a few times and enjoyed a hike up Pine Knob loop already with my son. That loop also takes you up to and includes part of the A.T., great views and skirts the lovely Hatch Brook along the way. I had visited the top of Breadloaf mountain for the first time since Boy Scouts when we did that section through here last summer, and again this past January to test my microspikes and get in any hike at all when my trip to Alander was cut short due to dangerous road conditions.

Mohawk Mtn North View

Breadloaf Mtn North View

Back when I was a kid, if I am remembering correctly, this was still the A.T, but it was rerouted west of the river since and so I remember this steep climb as part of the A.T.  If memory serves, several tornadoes whipped through the area in the late 80’s ( about 5 years after my scout hike here) and did a lot of damage to the beautiful Cathedral Pines part of the trail which we day-hiked over to Mohawk Mountain last summer. This former portion of the A.T had several other famous views including from the top of Mohawk Mountain Ski resort, Music Mountain, Dean Ravine, and Barrack Mountain before it dropped you in Falls Village. Since the re-route, it’s called the Mohawk Trail, and many people still do the loop from Cornwall Bridge to Falls Village and back via the old and new routes. Many of the shelters from the old days are still on the Mohawk Trail, but hardly used.

Mini-cave on the A.T

Mini-cave on the A.T

I took my daughter last fall to hike the section between Breadloaf and Cathedral Pines which takes you over Coltsfoot Mountain and the remains of the famously haunted Dudleytown. (Google it!)

While today’s was a short hike, It starts with a 650′ rise in .6 miles from the Mohawk trail head with a quite steep climb at the very end to the summit. Though you have rewarding views from there to both the north and the Housatonic river, and south to Silver Hill and beyond.  After a snack break at the top we headed down to the A.T south and then took the blue-blaze on Old Sharon Road, for those not wishing to cross Guinea Brook. While I crossed it coming northbound on the section last year, the crossing can be treacherous as the stones continually get washed asunder or covered with the fast current, and walking down Rt. 4 is a dangerous game – people drive way too fast coming in from N.Y.  We looked down at the brook when we got to the crossing, but as usual, it was quite fast and full, and I wanted to avoid the road, for all but the last .1 mile, so this gravel road was the way back from the A.T. for us.

Jiffy Pop on the A.T

Jiffy Pop on the A.T

We have done many great day hikes with my son, and have gotten him a great new backpacking set up, and he will be joining us for New York section 4 in July. So we wanted to get his hiking legs back for that hike, as well as warm ours up for our 3 day-2 night section hike to finish CT Section 1 — the last of the Connecticut A.T for us — this Thursday. Looks like we will be greeted with the usual – rain and thunder, but I’ll take it over the office any day.

We also had the chance to give him his trail name, “Jiffy Pop.” He’s a popcorn fanatic, and nothing is more fun when car camping than some Jiffy Pop. We enjoyed some last night at the campsite, and as he hurried up the trail’s steepest segments leaving us in the dust, I thought he sure got there in a jiffy… so, a trail name is born. Can’t wait for his first backpacking adventure. He loved trying on and getting his hands on his new Thermarest Z-foam pad, his REI Passage 38 pack, Lumen sleeping bag, and his new convertible hiking pants.  He brought the whole setup to the campsite so he could get used to the feel and packing it all, even though he didn’t bring it on the trail this time. Though he did impress me with his skateboarding skills while wearing his full backpack set up!

Suunto track

Suunto track

I want to take this last moment to plug my favorite new toy in the world – my Suunto Ambit 3 sports watch. This watch carries a hefty price tag, but I had previously gotten a Garmin Oregon 600 GPS for Christmas and I traded that in towards this so I only paid $150 for a $400 top of the line GPS and activity watch. And to be honest I had no interest in uploading maps or using the Garmin for navigation, I only used it for tracking hikes to save my phone battery from GPS drain and to try a new device. I found it bulky, and more than I needed since I was always going to be on well-blazed eastern trails.

It was also always getting bumped when on my pack and re-setting the screen. If I need to see my location on a GPS map I can use my Alltrails app on my phone briefly. I wanted something where I could have one device, hit a button at the beginning, hit it at the end, and still see my basic essentials like altitude, distance, time, and so on when I needed to without constantly missing the scenery to play with the device. And, download my tracks after. I asked at my REI for something with this capability and while the Garmin Fenix had most of these bells and whistles, you can’t export tracks as GPX files as far as I know.

Suunto's Movescount website

Suunto’s Movescount website

The watch has a learning curve, so thank god for the internet and free training videos. I learned how to program and add the activities I would use it most for, and sync it to their free iphone app, which also syncs with their website. You can sync with the app via Bluetooth or alternately to the website via the computer charging/connector cable. (Apparently you can also have your iphone send the watch any text and call notifications, but this again was not my intent for this tool. I want the data, without the distractions. Same goes for the optional heart rate monitor band… maybe later as I get more to ‘that age.’

Suunot Ambit 3 sport

Suunto Ambit 3 sport

Syncing the watch loaded my activities and data preferences, and I tested it for the first time at the local Memorial Day parade. I plugged it in after tracking and saving the parade route I walked and instantly all my data, including the map, were on their website, and there for me to not only get approval from the community of users on my awesome journey, but I was able to export as GPX and upload to my alltrails profile. Amazing. I believe there’s about 15+ hours of battery in GPS mode, and I’m hoping for more. I’ll test that this weekend on 3 different days of hiking. I have my phone when the battery does die, but I can’t wait to push its limits and see. There’s also a programming language all its own and thousands of users can and do develop their own ‘apps’ for tracking favorite activities which any owner can download to their watch. Brilliant. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. Glad I got it at a steal.

Can’t wait for our adventure Thursday. Finally finishing Connecticut and hiking over the highest single peak in the state and crossing the Massachusetts border will be a thrill. As always I wish we could keep going!

– Linus