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

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Exploring new trails and roads in Massachusetts

Last weekend we finally made it up to our friends lake house in Otis, a town located in southwestern Massachusetts. We had meant to get up there earlier for some summer enjoyment of the lake and some hiking of course. But summer turned to fall and fall has practically turned into winter with these recent temps.

When we were up last weekend the weather was rather nice for November and we had highs in the high 50’s and lows only in the 30s, but by then we were sitting by a fire and having comfort food.

After a slight detour to the middle of Tolland State Forest thanks to a GPS mixup, we arrived for dinner Friday and began making our plans for the next few days. A hike was definitely in the agenda but as we were attending a cider festival in the north the next afternoon, we were looking at hikes in the northern Berkshires. I of course suggested one on the A.T. but the distance was too long for us to do and still get to cider days on time.

We consulted our book, “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires” and my friend found one called Spruce Hill in a state forest named Savoy, just east of North Adams. It was about an hour drive from Otis, and then another hour to Turner’s Falls where the cider festival was, but my friend new the area well so we figured we could make it work.

We drove through many of the towns we’d been hiking through all summer – Washington, Beckett, Lee, Dalton… and found the trailhead kiosk after some exploring around the state forest camping areas.

At first the Busby trail started out as a typical woods walk, occasionally joining an old woods road, and some pretty boggy portions as well from all the recent rain. We crossed a power line once or twice and then the trail started to climb. We saw some old cellar holes and reached the bottom of a ridgeline with some rock steps carved out of the rock wall. We wound along the edge of a ridge, now eager for what seemed would be a great payoff. When we came to the first overlook, looking north and east, we were thrilled. You could see at least 50 miles, and I’m quite sure I saw Monondnock in the distance towering above many of the other hills. Wind turbines dominated the immediate mountaintop landscape, and rolling hills stretched on and on.

But there was supposed to be a great view of Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and there was none here. I left my pack and continued up the ridge. A short while later I came upon the grand view. A rocky ledge provided its own 270 degree view, from the hills south in Dalton, as far as Monument Mountain and Mts Race and Everett in the far southwest of the state, and directly west sat Greylock, across the Pioneer valley with Cheshire, Adams and North Adams below. You could see the Green Mountains of Vermont beyond and Mass MOCA in the valley below. I was excited to get such a great view of this stretch because we will be doing this section next year and completing Massachusetts on the A.T. and it was all laid out before us.

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

We were all amazed at the view and took some great photos and panoramic videos before heading back and driving down to the cider festival. That drive was stunning as well, as we took Route 2 — the famous Mohawk Trail — to get there. This road meanders through valleys and over passes through Mohawk State forest and follows the Deerfield River past orchards, campgrounds, ski hills, and native American shops and waterfalls before we turned off in Turner’s Falls just east of Greenfield.

I had been through Greenfield and about 5 miles of Rt 2 for decades on our way to ski in southern Vermont, but never knew this beauty rested just minutes farther on either side of 91. The town of Turners Falls itself is a national historic landmark and is one of the few places on what was then almost the Canadian border that Native Americans and Colonists lived together peacefully. It had a dramatic waterfall with the spray reaching 50 feet high, and many quaint old buildings. The cider festival was in a large tent on the lawn by the river with a view of the top of the falls.  After a quick lunch at a local diner, we headed to the festival and tried many different kinds of cider, some I didn’t even know existed.

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

We went back satisfied and had dinner and a fire and tried to watch a movie but passed out halfway through!

In the morning Sunday we wanted to do one more short hike and we opted for Bartholomew’s Cobble. It’s one I’ve always known about but never visited because the A.T. was right next door and so I always opted for the more challenging hikes. Well I’m glad they took us.

Only about 1,000 feet high, and resting on the CT-MA border, all the trails lead to a large mowed mountaintop similar to the balds in the southern Appalachians.  (It seems the landmass’s true summit is called Mt Miles and is on the CT side.) There are some trails that weave along ledges and the Housatonic river on their way up or around the premises but for this hike we just walked the tractor path to the top. My friend told us not to turn around until we reached the top because the view would be behind us.

It was a good constant elevation gain so we definitely were getting some cardio even if the road was an easy route. When we reached the tree line which was right on the state line we turned around, and wow.

East Mountain from Bartholomew's Cobble

East Mountain from Bartholomew’s Cobble

Wide views of Mts Race and Everett and the Taconics to the west, the plains of Sheffield and Great Barrington in the middle, and East Mountain and the hills of Tyringham beyond to the east. It was breathtaking. How did I ignore this hike for so long? We took a lot of photos and I plan to bring family back here on summer or winter adventures in the area. The rangers’ station also has a small museum with local fauna including a small Ornithological exhibit highlighting the local birds. I really enjoyed that as I’m a fan of birds, have some Audubon art on my walls, and am reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt and his peers and how they created the first natural history museums in New York and Washington with their own collections.

We had a great BBQ lunch at Bash Bish brewery (the falls are another spot I’ve yet to visit can you believe it?) in Sheffield and headed back to Otis to pick up our things and head home. We had a great time and not only were the hikes amazing and the drive along Rt 2, but I got to see a lot of new towns and parts of the state as well via all the back roads we took. It really was a tour of Western Massachusetts at its peak foliage.

Both hikes were short but had a big payoff and the highest elevation gain of the two was only 680 feet so moderate at best.

The Taconics from Bartholomew's Cobble

The Taconics from Bartholomew’s Cobble

I hope to move up to these hills one day and maybe even have a lake house of our own, so this trip certainly strengthened that desire.

Hike day 1: 3 miles

Hike day 2: 1.5 miles

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Old and New

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Last weekend I did another trail patrol hike, mainly to check in on a campsite and its water supply. I also added a little side jaunt on a section that was once the A.T. but is now known as the Mohawk trail.

I headed back up to Falls Village, where we did our family backpacking trip over labor day weekend (scroll down to the next entry). But from here I headed south instead. This section runs from the crossing of Rts 7 and 112 to Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge.

Top of the bump

Top of the bump

It also includes the famous “hang glider’s view” on Sharon Mountain to Lime Rock racetrack and beyond. There’s a campsite farther south of that view known as Sharon Mountain campsite, though I was not headed that far today. I was here to check out Belter’s campsites, just south of Belter’s bump, a small outcrop on a ridge only .75 miles south of the intersection on the northern end of the section. Then I would turn around, head north and pick up the blue-blazed Mohawk trail.

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

I parked in the hiker lot on Rt. 7 just south of the bridge over the Housatonic that the trail crosses. The trail loops around a cornfield as it skirts the river, then crosses the busy road. From here it’s pretty much right up to Belter’s bump. This spot is named after a local farmer whose land it used to be. It’s a few hundred feet up but rather quickly and so it definitely gets your heart going. At the top is a small rocky outcrop where you get a nice little view of the mountains to the east. In summer, the rattlesnakes like to sunbathe here. Luckily I didn’t meet any this time or when we were through here last as it was a downpour on that trip.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The campsites are a little bit farther down the trail but one of them that is farther up the hill from the others is close to the outcropping. The spring for the campsite is still a tiny bit farther down the trail on the opposite side of the campsites. I went up the blue blazed campsite trail and inspected the three different camping areas and privy. These are nice sized campsites and had recently had some trees cut down and so there were many log seats around them. The campsites were mostly in a hemlock and pine grove so lots of soft needles covered the ground and it looked like a really nice place to camp. I’d say the primitive exposed privy might be the only deterrent for some, but it was clean, and it’s better than no privy. There are very few of these left on our section of trail.

Early autumn on the trail

Early autumn on the trail

I didn’t find any fire rings or issues at the campsites, so I then went to check out the spring. It was running just enough to be usable. I believe this one is fairly consistently reliable.

I then headed back up and over the bump and met a northbound section backpacker with his dog. This time of year really is a popular one for these folks as the weather has cooled down, the thrus are all long gone so the campsites are less crowded, and the leaves are changing.  It’s a much more individual experience which is what most of us are seeking when we backpack. Someone had left their coat up on the outcropping so I brought it down with me. I dropped it in the car as I passed right by it again before heading north over the bridge. The bridge has several official Appalachian trail logos in it and a few blazes painted on it. Last time we were here in that downpour and were crossing the road from the bridge, a large group of bikers at the light had a bit of a laugh at our expense. We were as miserable as we looked after 9.5 miles in the cold rain that day.

The Bridge is also the trail

The Bridge is also the trail

Ahead of me I had views of the shoulder of Barrack Mountain, my next exploration. It rises steeply over the river and the climb begins quickly after leaving the A.T. The A.T. follows Warren Turnpike for a short distance from route 7 and alongside the Housatonic Valley Regional High school before returning to the woods. I picked up a lot of trash here along the road, more likely from high school students than hikers. Just before the A.T. returns to the woods, the northern end of the Mohawk trail begins. Before a big re-route a few decades ago to the west of the river, this was the original A.T route. It includes many scenic spots including Breadloaf Mountain, Cathedral Pines, Mohawk Mountain ski resort, Deans Ravine, and Barrack Mountain. I have done about the southern 9 or so miles from its southern end on Breadloaf Mountain to the top of Mohawk ski resort with its incredible views all the way to the Catskills and beyond.

Trail along the road

Trail along the road

I had heard that Barrack Mountain was quite steep and challenging, and I wanted to see just how steep and challenging it was. I made the turn off at the blue-blazes and climbed up a railroad embankment. After crossing the railroad tracks, and passing to the south of the hiker — and biker-loved Mountainside cafe along route 7, the trail quickly climbs. After a brief but steep section it follows the edges of the mountain along narrow and pretty eroded dirt tracts. Rock piles and dry creek beds through them break up the dirt path and provide some breaks from watching your feet every step. As I rounded the next corner. the trail headed straight up through larger rock piles.These required a lot of careful negotiation with the path covered in piles of leaves. In several places I had to scramble and climb hand over hand and get my balance.

Barrack Mountain

Barrack Mountain

The trail here reminded me a bit of Agony Grind in New York, but steeper and less maintained.

The climb became steeper and the leaves more precarious. After a few more switchbacks I realized I was running out of time quickly and that the pace I was taking to do this safely would leave me short of the summit today. Looking up, the trail became even narrower and steeper and there was no way I’d be able to summit any more quickly than I was going. So I prepared myself for the slippery descent and turned back.

Turning onto the Mohawk

Turning onto the Mohawk

Its easy to feel defeated in these situations but I knew if I had more time I could have made it all the way.  And sometimes we have to make these decisions whether for time constraints or just for safety reasons. A slip on this part of the mountain meant severe injury, and without any other hikers around, help would be hard to come by. I made the judgement call that I think was best, and I know I will be back to complete it when I have more time. I’d like to backpack the rest of the Mohawk Trail since the original shelters are still there from when it was the A.T. I have about 18 miles or less of it now to complete and could do that over a weekend, perhaps next summer. The mountain certainly lived up to its reputation at least.

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

I got back down to the cafe and walked route 7 back to my car, already planning when I could get back to finish this challenge.  In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I are off to Warwick in 5 days to finish the last 6 miles of New York and celebrate her birthday on the trail and then at a beautiful B&B on Greenwood lake. I promised this year I wouldn’t make her sleep in a tent on her birthday. That section promises to be a tough climb up from the state line trail to the ridgeline, with rebar ladders and lots of steeps. But once we’re up there we will enjoy miles of lake views from the ridgelines and it will be a gorgeous finale to another state. That also means I can finish our New York video that I’ve been working on the last two years and share that with you in about 2 weeks or less. I can’t wait.

Steep and steeper

Steep and steeper

I also hope you will join our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain club for our 10th annual A.T. day on October 15th. We have hikes all along the CT section of the trail, as well as hiking in Macedonia Brook State Park along what was also once part of the A.T. There’s also paddling trips, a beginner’s rock climbing class at St. John’s Ledges, trail work volunteering projects, and family hikes. All followed by a BBQ.  I and many of the great caretakers of our trails in Connecticut will be there. Come hike, help out and have a burger afterwards!

Miles: 4

— Linus

 

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

Trail maintenance and a little Appalachian Trail history

Housatonic River

Housatonic River

If you’re reading my blog regularly you know by now I am a volunteer for my local Connecticut Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, who are responsible for maintaining the section of the Appalachian Trail in our state. For those of you who don’t, I do a job very similar to the seasonal ridge runners employed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and state maintaining clubs.

I believe it is the Berkshire AMC chapter in southern Massachusetts that hires the ridge runners for these two states. You can apply online to do this role in your region each year at the ATC website. If you get the gig, you are paid to be out there for around 5 days at a time, and off a few days for the duration of the season, something like April to October. You go back and forth along assigned sections of trail, interacting with and assisting hikers along the way. The only main difference in my role is I am out there when I can be or when occasionally asked to be at a peak time, and I’m not usually paid for it unless I am called up for these specific times. I’m pretty new on the job so this summer is when that will likely be the case for me for the first time. And pay or no pay that’s ok by me. I’m just happy to be out there giving back and taking care of the trail while doing something I love.

Fun Scrambles

Fun Scrambles

And as much as getting paid to do this all season long sounds like a dream to me, as a parent and full time employee of a marketing company, this is what works for me at the moment. Maybe one day I can work full time for the ATC. In the meantime, this role and my hikes with my family keep me happy on the trails. (See what I did there?)  The job also includes some manageable trail cleanup, campsite cleanup (including official sites and stealth sites), leave no trace education, and reporting any larger issues to the organization that are out of the scope of my responsibilities or abilities. You may also know from reading this blog that I also join the AMC for work parties on other state trails besides the A.T. when I am able.

So last Sunday I was back up on the A.T. to do some of my trail volunteer work. Despite being early February, El Nino has made for an unseasonably warm winter with little snow to date save for one blizzard (though it is currently snowing as I post this). It was in the high 30s by 9am and warming up quickly to the high 40s on this clear, beautiful day. Though I didn’t end up running into any hikers on this section of trail, just folks walking their dog or going for a walk/run on the flat river portion which begins just south of my starting point. I did my training on that section and another day walking the section from the state line to Bull’s Bridge recently, so I thought I’d pick a different area, and one with a camp site I haven’t visited recently.

Arriving at the camp site

Arriving at the camp site

I made note of blowdowns (fallen trees obstructing the trail) as I ascended up to Silver Hill campsite. This also happens to be the campsite Fielden Stream and I spent our first night on the trail together. And t’s a great one, about 800 feet up the side of the mountain, and complete with covered pavilion, deck, porch swing, water pump, and a new mouldering privy. There used to be a cabin where the deck and swing are, but that was burned down accidentally by some careless campers in the late 90s. The deck is all that remains and at some point the swing was added. I don’t know if the covered pavilion was there at the same time but it would make sense.  The campsite is only about a mile in either direction from a road and is easily accessible other than a bit of uphill hiking.

The deck & swing

The deck & swing

I enjoyed doing this section of trail again, even though it was short, and didn’t recall it being as much uphill as it was. There were a few spots where minor scrambling were required and I was proud of us for having done that on our first backpacking trip together, fully loaded up with heavy gear.

I stopped in to the campsite and cleaned up a fire ring, or should I say a fire site, because they didn’t even bother to put rocks around it! The ATC and AMC crews had recently downed a large evergreen that was a hiker risk, and the remnants were still there as the cleanup process was not yet complete. So unfortunately it made for easy firewood.

Silver Hill Pavillion

Silver Hill Pavillion

I also swept the privy and then checked for other campfire spots before sitting down to sign the register and try out my new MSR Micro Rocket stove and Toaks titanium cook kit — finally. I forgot the little peizo lighter the stove came with, but I had a mini Bic and matches along, and I was thrilled to be using it for the first time. It’s an even more compact version of the Pocket Rocket and fits perfectly in my new cook kit, allowing the lid to close fully. Ahhh, OCD. My original Pocket Rocket stove still works great and will be a great backup or loaner for friends hitting the trail with us that don’t want to make the investment for a one-time outing or the rare trip.

Coffee Break with the new stove

Coffee Break with the new stove

I had my Starbucks Via coffee and Tic-Tac container of powdered creamer and sugar (the backpackers spice and condiment hack!) and really enjoyed having the time to make a hot beverage. My only oversight was I forgot my homemade windscreen and since it was windy, efficiency on the stove fuel was compromised and I will need a new canister soon. Not to worry, as I was just out for the morning and any chance to use my backpacking gear is a good time. The stove performed exactly as its big brother, so it was familiar while being new and more streamlined. What a great product, in both cases. I then enjoyed my coffee on the swing before heading up the trail for one more ascent.

My down jacket being overkill, I wore my Patagonia Houdini wind shirt this time with a synthetic long sleeved base layer and an REI safari tech shirt (my ‘uniform’ shirt) and was plenty warm, even to the point of shedding the Houdini early on the climb. It is probably my favorite piece of gear I own. While not entirely waterproof it has a good DWR coating and I haven’t soaked through in it yet, either from rain or perspiration. It breathes despite not being ventilated so it keeps warmth in but doesn’t boil you from the inside out. And at 5oz, you can’t go wrong bringing it even if you never use it.

Camp fire cleanup

Camp fire cleanup

Besides I did some research over the last few days and almost everyone says you shouldn’t long distance hike in down (especially with a pack on that prevents room for air to travel between) but instead use it for a layer in camp after you’ve shed your pack and are not moving and generating excess heat and perspiration which can then cause moisture and freeze. I can certainly attest to this moisture accumulation on the last few hikes. It’s just too warm and wets with sweat too easy. I suppose your mileage may vary but I’m pretty warm-blooded. And over long periods of time this could become a safety risk as cold + wet = hypothermia danger. Synthetic is a better choice for this application. You could probably get away with skiing and snowboarding in a down coat as long as its got a waterproof coating and you’re not carrying a backpack. So that question has been answered for the time being. And I can layer either my Houdini or fully waterproof raincoat with my fleece and wool or synthetic base layers to achieve the warmth I need and shed them accordingly to avoid overheating.

Exped Trekking Poles

Exped Trekking Poles

I also got to try my new Exped trekking poles. These things are super light, and highly collapsible, which is great when every ounce counts. I guess my only negative feedback was they popped into the unlocked position a few times during use, and particularly when I was bearing weight down on them. This makes me think either I’m not using them right or they’re not strong enough to handle the weight of my body when using them to support it without disengaging, While it was only inconvenient on this hike, it could become downright dangerous. I’m going to reach out to the company to make sure that this isn’t a defective pair. Light and compact is great, if they do as good a job for me as my current REI Traverse poles or other more stout models.

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

On the hike I enjoyed extended views we did not have on that first overnight due to there being no leaf cover this time except for evergreens and the occasional Beech. I had great vistas almost 360 degrees around from the ridges.

The descent down to the road was on the steeper side, and with the heavy leaf cover I opted to walk back on the roads rather than reverse and retrace my steps when I reached the trailhead. While I prefer trail over blacktop any day, I had done what I came here to do, had a time restraint, and I felt there was no need to re-traverse rock scrambles on slippery leaves when I had an alternate, safer option. Though one could argue which is worse, slippery leaves and slick rocks or a mile walk on Rt 4, where cars heading to and from New York seem to maintain a 75mph average speed! Fortunately the second mile was alongside the Housatonic on the portion of River Road that is still paved, yet only used by residents. Along this road walk I could see part of the old town of Cornwall — it’s old church, historic homes and train stations — across the river, now nearly invisible from the modern bridge above which connects Rt 4 and Rt 7.

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

I passed many gorgeous country homes I would happily retire in, and disturbed a large family of blue jays along the walk back to my car. I made a detour to the stunning Kent Falls State Park on the drive back, to take in the beauty of the frozen cascade, and without having to pay the park entrance fee as it was the off-season. The A.T. in Connecticut at it’s earliest route passed behind the falls on its way north.

I got the 1968 Connecticut trail guide I ordered from a rare book store in the mail the other day, and while it didn’t have this 1930’s original route behind the falls (a massive hurricane in the 30s washed out the bridge once near my starting point and forced a reroute over Silver Hill),  it did have the later original route east of the river from Rt 4 in Cornwall over Mohawk, Red and Barrack Mountains. This route is now known as the Mohawk Trail. In a similar turn of events, a serious case of bad weather — this time tornadoes —felled the famous Cathedral Pines on this section in 1988. And at that time, with local residents also worried about the implications of what a now federally-protected trail would mean for their land ownership, the trail was re-routed west of the River from Route 4 to the Great Falls in Falls Village.

An icy Kent Falls

An icy Kent Falls

The book also includes the original trail route through Macedonia Brook State Park (see my last post) in Kent which took a large circular swing out of the way for the epic views I showed in that post all the way to the Taconics and Catskills. Apparently there was also a lean-to on Pine Hill. What a spot for it. I wish I had this book a week earlier — I would have looked for the location of the old lean-to. Oh, and that first southern section over Ten Mile Hill in Sherman to Bulls Bridge in Kent? Not on the original trail. I am still trying to find out when they re-routed that amazing section.

For a map geek like me, seeing this old map was like finding dinosaur bones on an archaeological dig or a pirate’s treasure map. It’s my favorite new book. I am hoping to find an even older guide or at least a map from that very first route from the mid-1930s.

Total Miles: 4.5

— 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