Ridgerunner weekend #4

The northern view from Lions Head

The northern view from Lions Head

My latest ridgerunner weekend was over the weekend of Sept 22nd. I went back to cover a favorite section, the Riga Plateau. It was an amazing weekend but turned out a bit differently than planned.

I invited my brother along as he was free and we wanted to do another hike together. I told him all about the amazing views up here, so he was willing to do the almost two-hour drive, like mine, to Salisbury.

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

The weather couldn’t have been better for it. I originally planned to leave my car at the Undermountain trail and then drive up to the Lion’s head trail lot in his car, so I could take him up to Lion’s head and Riga shelter and back to his car easily. And then I’d also have my car setup closer to where I was camping for the night. Well actually it was about the same distance, but this would allow me to go farther north and still make it back to my car when I needed to and not cover the same ground over and over.  When we got to Salisbury things changed a bit.

Rocky scramble up to Lion's Head

Rocky scramble up to Lion’s Head

Because it was family hiking day, and this being the most popular hiking trail in the state, that lot was a madhouse and there was only road parking available. While I have the necessary signage to probably not get towed If I parked overnight there, I don’t like to take advantage and so I left my car at the main A.T. lot 3 miles south in town on Rt 41 which was also beginning to fill up quickly. No problem, done the hike this way many times.

We headed up to the Lion’s Head lot on Bunker Hill road and got the last spot there. This trail passes a few homes before a brisk climb up to where it joins the A.T. From here it gets a bit more rugged in typical A.T. fashion, and then it’s a steep scramble up a rock face to the first viewpoint.

Me and my brother on Lion's Head

Me and my brother on Lion’s Head

There is a bad weather trail, and this was much appreciated when I recommended it to a group of older ladies from our own AMC chapter who were doing a hike up there this morning. My brother and I took in the views while I also pointed out a few landmarks to a section hiker we met there.  We then took in the glorious northern view which on this day included Mt Greylock, 50-plus miles north in Massachusetts near the Vermont border!

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

We proceeded to Riga shelter and had a snack while also taking in the fabulous view there.  Luckily the shelter and campsite were clean, and the brook was raging from recent rain. This was all good because I planned to stay here for the night.  Perhaps even in a shelter for the first time! I know, I know. I’m just not a fan of bugs and mice, and my tent protects me from both. From there as promised I took him back to the junction of the A.T. and Lion’s head trail.

The bog trail

The bog trail

As I hadn’t taken the bad weather trail before we went down that way, and I knew I’d be doing the scramble on the way back anyway. We got back to the junction quickly and said goodbyes. I took a quick snack break before heading on my way back to Riga to set up camp. On the way I met a few section hikers and a flip-flop thru hiker on Lion’s head. The thru asked about the next camping or town options and then told me the caretakers tent at Sages Ravine was blown far off the platform and almost off the hill entirely. We’ve had some recent large storms in this area lately. I called my supervisors and asked if they were going to be there for the night or if I should stay there instead. As phone coverage in some trail areas is spotty I knew it could take a while so I went to Riga to wait for a response. I took out my notebook to update my notes and have another snack. When word finally came in to head to Sages, I took off in a hurry, leaving my notebook behind!

One of the bog trail signs

One of the bog trail signs

By the time I realized I was 2 miles north and had 2 to go. I opted to take the Bear Mountain road and Bog trail past the Northwest cabin so I could get there in time to assess and repair the damage if possible. The Bear mountain road was completely flooded in several areas and I had to do some tricky negotiating around long deep puddles of trail. But it was nice to finally see the bog trail with its nature-center style signage identifying trees and plants and natural features, as well as the cabin up close. That’s a reservation-only property, and I have never seen it so up close and personal. There was at least one family tenting there so I got on my way quickly past it. The northwest road was also quite flooded but I made it quickly down to the campsite, covering the 4 miles from Riga in 1.5 hours! To be fair, this was mostly level trail and I went this way for a reason.

The caretaker tent in disarray!

The caretaker tent in disarray!

When I got there, the tent condition was quite accurate. It was off on the side of the hill, scrunched up, with the contents tossed about inside. It had a few tears, and was full of water.  Unfortunately this also meant the caretaker journal and many of the books were soaked through. I managed to get the tent and its contents back on the platform and stake it down until it could be packed up by the supervisors the following week.  I set out the contents to dry, especially the books and journal, and used a tarp that was dry to set up my sleeping bag on on the drier side of the tent. I had gotten most of the water out but it was still pooling on one side due to a very slight downhill slant of the platform.

After I restored the tent

After I restored the tent

At this point many people were coming in, some that I knew would be from meeting them earlier in the day.  One scout troop was already there when I arrived. When all was said and done we had almost 30 at the campsite. It’s a very popular one due to its beauty. So it’s a good thing I ended up here as only 4 ended up spending the night at Riga (I found out the next day).

It was a beautiful night at the campsite and I had nice conversations with several of the hiking groups and helped late arrivals find their party’s campsites as dark was setting in.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing brook. It got down to the mid 40s so it was a little cool but otherwise no complaints.

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning in the ravine was a beautiful fairy tale forest as always, with the sun shining through the trees onto the shimmering brook. I packed up and after a quick meal of a protein bar (skipped the coffee) I went for the big strenuous climb up the rocky north side of Bear mtn. While I was quite cold at camp, by the time I reached the summit a mile later I was sweating and removing layers. I met several hikers at the top and took in the view from the summit tower.

The always exciting climb up Bear

The always exciting climb up Bear

I was above the clouds at this time, so the summits of Mts Race, Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts to the north, as well as Mts Prospect and Canaan Mt to the southeast in Connecticut, were all peaking above the clouds. It was magical. As I headed south, the peak of Lion’s head was doing the same. I ran into the section hikers from yesterday and said a quick hello. I pointed out to them where we met the day before on Lion’s Head and then made a dash for Riga, hoping to recover my notebook. As I passed Brassie Brook shelter, I stopped into sign the register and packed out some trash left behind by hikers. As I approached Riga I passed a group of 2 kids and 2 moms who mentioned they had stayed there when we stopped to chat.

Above the clouds on Bear summit

Above the clouds on Bear summit

I asked them about the notebook and they had found it and left it in the shelter for me! They thanked me for my work and I headed back to Riga to pick it up. They also reported that the shelter and campsite were clean and campfire-free which I appreciated and confirmed. I had one more snack with the famous view and headed back south towards Salisbury. I met a few more hikers along the way, both section and day hikers, enjoying another gorgeous day on the first weekend of fall. The leaves weren’t really changing yet but will be any day.

Looking south, Lion's Head summit above the clouds

Looking south, Lion’s Head summit above the clouds

The last few miles down to Rt 41 via the A.T. pass through some beautiful forest areas, with as many ups as downs. This bit I’ve decided is as much effort in either direction! I passed a few more backpackers struggling up the long climb from the road to Lion’s Head, and when I arrived at the parking lot I ran into one of the groups that were at Sages Ravine with me the night previous. We had a nice conversation and then I headed home, stopping at the hot dog stand in Kent for some nourishment!  It’s always a pleasure to hike the wild corner of Connecticut.

Miles day 1: 8.2

Miles day 2: 7

– Linus

 

 

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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

Ives Trail – Bennett’s Pond to Pine Mountain Out-and-back

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

Bennetts Pond Trailhead

The oh-so-convenient-to-home Ives Trail continues to provide new scenery each time I hike it. This time around I again had a time constraint so the 25 minute drive was perfect. I managed to squeeze in a nearly 6-mile hike in under 3 hrs and be back by noon to do what was needed at home!

This time I wanted to complete the southwestern section from the terminus in Ridgefield back to the Pine Mountain overlook, one of my favorite views around. I have done a tiny bit of the trail west of the overlook on our first trip up here, when we came up from the Danbury side via another trail a year or two ago.

But I never get tired of the view from this spot. It was a tougher hike this time to the summit, but one always worth the effort. I noticed even more lightning damaged trees this time, including on some lower elevation ridge lines as I reached the end of my hike. Clearly this area sees a lot of this activity.

Meadow with a view

Meadow with a view

This area of Ridgefield open space, known as Bennett’s Farm, has many trails, which then lead into the Hemlock Hills trails and Danbury trails, all which surround and intersect with the Ives Trail at one point or another. There is a nice trailhead lot here with a kiosk and map as well as other information. I found the beginning of the Ives trail at the Kiosk and headed into the woods.

Quite soon it opened into a hilltop meadow with nice views and a parking area which seems to be open seasonally for picnicking. As I descended the small hill the trail passed through more meadows which I suspect were once Bennett’s Farm, and then along side the pond. I’ve seen smaller bodies of water named lakes.

Bennetts Pond looking west

Bennetts Pond looking west

The pond stretches all the way from Rt 7 to the base of Pine mountain, and was full of beaver lodges, cattails, and even trees. Half iced over, it was very scenic, and calming. The trail follows the perimeter, crossing over a bridge and a rushing brook at another trail intersection along the way. I did not see any beavers but there were several geese on the water, filling the air with their calls.  Owls and other small birdsongs also made for a soothing soundscape.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Though the snow had almost all melted off since the last hike here, there were patches, and where there weren’t any snow or ice patches, there was mud and more mud. I felt like I was hiking Vermont in the spring! As its not good to hike along the edges of the trail as this can expand it too much, I did my best to follow it, but I came off the trail with quite a muddy bottom half, especially my boots. But I gotta say I am impressed with how well they handle it. At no point did I feel wet in my boots. They’re going on almost 400 miles now if not more but I hope to get another 400 out of them.

Old stone foundation

Old stone foundation

Soon I reached the base of Pine Mountain and a formidable ascent from this aspect. It looked to be about 650 feet of elevation gain in a fairy short distance. So while there were no significantly steep sections, it was definitely a workout reaching the summit. On the Ives trail it ascends the western flank from the base at the pond right to the summit with a series of switchbacks. The large boulder and rock outcroppings below the overlook were visible the whole way, as well as similar topography to the west of the trail where a gurgling stream also snaked down the mountainside. In fact this section of trail had many very active water sources from the runoff, and I almost stopped to filter some of the mountain water. There was also the foundation of what seems like an old silo or other grain storage type of building. I don’t think it was a shelter though someone had made a fire pit in the middle. There were several nice viewpoints on the climb and I stopped for a break to have some shot bloks and re-energize. My hurried breakfast before I left had consisted of a granola bar and a tangerine, which didn’t provide much calories compared to my usual pre-hike carb load! I was definitely hungry by the end of the hike, but didn’t have a long trip home to lunch.

Reaching the Pine Mtn overlook

Pine Mtn ledge with scorched tree

This time I had the summit to myself so I sat to take it in and explore more of the nooks and crannies. Someone had also made a fire ring here. I continue to lust after the crooked summit in the distance which I think is Seth Low mountain in nearby Seth Low Pierrepont state park, but I don’t see a trail up it on their map. I need to research that more. It seems like it would have a nice view. But perhaps there’s private property on the other side which is not visible from here.

Bennetts Pond from above

Bennetts Pond from above

As I didn’t have much time, I ventured on over the remainder of the summit and took in a nice easterly view of Bennett’s pond from another outcrop before descending another of the Bennett’s pond trail system routes back to the pond to pick up my return route. This handled the elevation difference with many more switchbacks, and great scenery of more dramatic rock walls that are hundreds of feet high.

I took several alternate trails back, avoiding the longer route of the Ives trail this time to reach the parking lot quicker. The last of these is where I saw the additional lightning damage, and this was along a stone wall with only a small elevation difference along the ridge it marked. This trail too was quite muddy and had mountain bike tire tracks for the length of its mile distance which connects at either end with a car-width trail blazed green and makes a good loop. The trail I took is not blazed, and is narrow, so I’d worry about coming around a turn to a biker speeding at me but I don’t know if its allowed. I know some of the trails say you can, even on the summit of Pine Mountain, and they suggest you carry your bike up the steep trails to its top. Not for me folks. I can’t see how carrying a large bike 600 ft uphill would be very much fun!

Dramatic rock cliffs

Dramatic rock cliffs

With the exception of the Pine mountain climb and descent, there was little elevation to contend with on the rest of the hike so I managed a swift pace and did the entire hike in under 3 hrs, with a few breaks. This completes the trail for me from its beginning in Ridgefield to just west of the Bethel and Redding borders where I left off last time. I have about 6 miles left to do of the entire trail. Maybe when I do that one I will get a ride to one end so I don’t need to make it a 12-miler to complete solo.  While I’d love to do 12 miles, its not something very easily fit into my schedule and would require most of a day.

Mud-ville

Mud-ville

However I manage it, I look forward to completing this beautiful trail, and bringing friends and family back to explore favorite spots when we are nearby and have limited time. This weekend I’m exploring more of the Mattatuck trail with our AMC group. This section includes Buttermilk Falls which are supposed to be raging at the moment.

I signed up for a wilderness first aid course training weekend at the end of April which will be a great skill set to have for my trail patrol and our family hikes. I was also down in Florida last week and we planned our dates for our June section hike with our friends from there over Mt Race and Mt Everett in Massachusetts on the Appalachian Trail. I can’t wait! And before bed last night I planned out the logistics of our completion of the New York A.T. this summer. Happy trails.

Total miles: 5.7

— Linus