Exploring Topstone Park, Redding, CT

Off we go!

Off we go!

I can’t always make it to my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail. It’s at least an hour drive in any direction. So when I have less time I enjoy finding new closer spots that provide the serenity I love as well as that have at least some challenge in the terrain. A view from an overlook is always a bonus.

In early January I explored a park in Ridgefield I had on my radar, and also learned a little bit more about this park when looking at the options for that morning. Ridgefield is about a 25-minute drive for me which is doable, and I’ve done much of the trails there. I will go back and explore more of the trails on that last hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State park, as well as the Hemlock Hills trails. On the way up route 7 I’ve noticed signs for a few others like Bobby’s Court and Topstone Park. I get excited whenever I see a trailhead, and make a note to explore those when I get the chance.

One of the streams that feeds the pond

One of the streams that feeds the pond

Having the afternoon off last Wednesday and needing to clear my head of a lot of extra baggage, I was once again looking for a trail to explore. I thought about finishing the Housatonic Range trail in New Milford. But that is 5.7 miles, almost an hour away, and challenging enough that I just wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be racing the sunlight and hence moving too fast on the tough parts and risking injury.  One feature known as “Suicide Ledges” entails a 10-20ft scramble through and over large boulders and ledges as I understand it.

While I’m up for the challenge I was also concerned that time pressure and potential leftover ice and snow would make it unsafe without a hiking partner. I did try a few of my friends in the area but as it was mid week the best I could secure was a shuttle back to the start.

Topstone Mountain in the distance

Topstone Mountain in the distance

In hindsight it warmed up significantly by this time and I likely could have made it work but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’m a husband and a dad and bravado and risk taking doesn’t just affect me anymore. I’ve read way too many backcountry disaster stories to feel good about my decisions when I play it safe and wait for the right conditions to approach a challenge.

 

Along the pond edge before the climb

Along the pond edge before the climb

So I re-focused my attention on closer areas and looked up Topstone park in Redding. Right off Route 7 just east of Ridgefield, it was just over 20 minutes away and a very pleasant surprise. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, with a beachfront and canoes, kayaks, dinghies and what looked like a jumping platform.  The gate to this area was closed for the off-season though you are permitted to walk around it to enjoy the trails that circle the pond and above on the eastern and western hills and ridges.

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

I parked in the main lot and checked in on my alltrails app which has all of the trails marked within and I was on my way up the Saddleback trail. Also called ‘the west way’ as it climbs and follows the ridge of a 650ft hill due west of the lot. I was amused that the trails here were white-blazed like my favorite trail.  Technically this trail is east of the pond but facing due south in the lot it is indeed west. It climbs quickly up the hill then levels off as it skirts the edge of a wetland and a few homes in the woods before winding through more forest and over streams that feed the pond. This trail, known as Boulder Top, also has two connectors to a nearby road and eventually reaches the pond trail near the beach. This trail, or rather all the trails in this park, are white-blazed but well marked with fresh blazes and signs at each intersection.

Too bad no camping here!

Too bad no camping here!

I followed the pond trail around the perimeter, enjoying nice views of the beach and pond at water level. It reminded me of Sunfish pond on the A.T. in New Jersey. Another trail or two led up to the road from the pond trail before I reached the turn off to start the climb up to the views on Topstone Mountain. The Pond trail continues around the perimeter of the pond, but I planned to come back that way once I saw on my app that there was a trail known as the Base Trail which would bring me back from the summits on a connector midway up the mountain.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I headed up the Topstone trail and after going a bit past the next turnoff, turned around and found the next junction I missed. To be fair it was marked; I was just in the moment and walked past a little bit. I made the turn back up hill and climbed up the trail to the summit between large walls of rock that made up the base of the ledges I’d soon be standing on.  They were dramatic and very attractive to look at. My heartbeat began to pick up from the scenery as much as from the modest ascent. While only a few hundred feet in elevation gain, It was just as good as many a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I reached the first viewpoint which looks east over the pond and beach below and took a break to process a few things while perched on the rocky ledge. I imagine in summer the scene below is one of much activity and that this spot too would have been occupied by a few of the more adventurous kids enjoying the day with their families.

Knowing there were more views to be had I moved on and took a left on the long view trail which leads .2 miles to the edge of another of the rocky prominences I saw on my walk up here. That view is known as long view and has an equally if not more impressive view all the way across Route 7 to the hills and farms of Ridgefield as well as south to West Redding’s other hills.

The Long View

The Long View

Here I sat longer under a pitch pine taking in what was indeed a long view and had a snack. My sadness I came to address had lifted and a big grin came across my face as I took it all in. Like the views at Pine Mountain or Seth Low Mountains in Ridgefield, these were no disappointment. They required only a small effort to reach and provided the kind of views you’d expect from larger hills and mountains.

Trail junction

Trail junction

I headed back down the other side of the mountain and picked up the Base trail which would bring me back to where I was previously but only briefly before I descended back to the pond trail. The base trail is aptly named as it follows along the base of the long high walls of rock that made up the mountain’s body. Here the temperature was at least twenty degrees cooler, as the cliffs shaded me from the sun, and I bathed in cool breezes.

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

I smiled again and recalled when we did a section in Beartown State Forest along the A.T. in Massachusetts which also skirted walls of rock caves and represented a significant temperature drop. Those caves were surely home to bears, and I did spot one small cave in the wall here but for obvious reasons opted not to try and get a closer look!  It was very unseasonably warm and in the mid 60s — hotter in the sun. So this small stretch was a nice relief not to mention quite beautiful.

Swimming spot

Swimming spot

After reaching the bottom I followed the pond trail along its western edge and past a small swimming area and the drainage causeway that emptied the pond into another large stream. Here there was the platform as I imagined to be for jumping from. I am not sure though as the pond empties just behind it and while there may be a grate, perhaps that would be too strong a current to swim next to. The trail then climbs back through woods to the parking lot of the beach area and then follows the entry road back to the lot I parked in.

Pond spillway

Pond spillway

It was a lovely hike, with nice views and just enough challenge. There were several spots in the forest where I wish I could have just set up my tent for the night , but that is obviously not allowed nor was an overnight in today’s plan or I would have gone elsewhere!  I highly recommend this park. I don’t recall the parking fees for the beach or if you have to be a resident, but if you just want to walk the trails I don’t think there’s any restrictions year round. I think the main issue would be finding parking on a nice weekend. That said you could access the trails from the side trails to the road I passed on my loop. I am sure they have small parking areas along the road for a car or two.

Miles: 4

— Linus

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Tyringham Cobble Appalachian Trail Loop

 

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

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

Signs signs everywhere signs

Signs signs everywhere signs

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

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

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

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

Views from the Western shoulder

Views from the Western shoulder

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

I'm a ham

I’m a ham

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

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

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

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

I love this sloping hill

I love this sloping hill

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

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

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

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

Miles: 2.1

— Linus

Easter Trail Work on the Appalachian Trail

Streams are flowing!

Streams are flowing!

On Easter I was very happy to have an opportunity to again be out on the trail doing my thing. Usually we’re celebrating the holiday in some capacity with family but it fell right during my kids’ spring break this year so we were in Florida and returned late the night before. Since my parents went out of town for the family visit and weren’t around Easter morning, Fielden Stream and I did a quick exchange of baskets with the kids and then I headed up north for the woods.

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

It was a very mild weekend and had I returned one night earlier I would have done an overnight. Quite a few hikers had, especially those who had Good Friday off as it made a great 3 day weekend. My friend on the trail crew let me know that there were already several camping at Ten Mile so I planned to visit the campground as part of my hike in case there was any cleanup to do. Just two weeks before when we were out on a volunteer work day, we had to clear two very large fire rings (and a few blowdowns) and I was glad to have the extra manpower. This is one of the most popular camping areas around so we visit and patrol it and have to clean it up very often.  I wanted to also visit the southern overlook on Schaghticoke Mountain, so the plan was to go up there and then back down to the campsite and in the meantime check out some of the side access trails along the route for any issues.

New water system

New water system

I parked and started the .4 mile road walk where the A.T follows Schaghticoke road north before cutting into the woods for the nearly 1,000ft ascent. While there are several switchbacks,  its still a tough climb, but worth the view at the top. I noticed the map box was empty so I made a note to myself to put any spares I had in the box on the way down if no hikers I met on the trail needed one.  As I started up the trail a young hiker in his late 20s passed me and we chatted for a bit about his hike and the work I do. He was doing a 3 day section of CT, having done another a few weeks ago with his brother in the northern end of the state.  He works the night shift and was up all night before starting his hike.

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

The trail heals all though, and I admire his tenacity to hike 12 miles in the heat after working all night. Ah to be in my 20’s again… I’d probably have climbed a few 4000s had I the passion I have now for hiking and backpacking. At that age I was deeply entrenched in the NYC music scene trying to make a name for myself. It was fun but in vain.  I still play music with my friends but I find more relaxation and purpose hiking and preserving the trail.

Anyway just a bit farther on at the first stream crossing (which was raging by the way) , I met an older hiker who was doing a NOBO thru. He was hydrating and enjoying some shade. While it was raining that morning the sun came out and the temperature quickly approached the 70s. Without much leaf cover to shade, you could feel every bit of the heat that day. I wished him well and moved on.

Schaghticoke from the road below

Schaghticoke from the road below

I met the younger hiker again, enjoying a snack high on a glacial erratic – a great spot if I say so myself! We said hellos again and I carried on up and up and up. When I reached the south overlook I was immediately treated to a Bald Eagle AND a Red Tailed Hawk flying over the edge of the ridge. I had been trying for months to spot one of the eagles as many hikers had reported seeing them in the area. Finally one greeted me in its glorious flight.  I was so captivated by the view and the birds of prey that it took me a few minutes to notice the fire area on the rock face. There was no ring at that point, perhaps they scattered it with the ashes after. I checked that it was cool and went about cleaning it.  Much of the residue was tossed down into a depression in the hillside and as I headed down to clean that up the young hiker reached the viewpoint. He thanked me for my work and as we were chatting we spotted a large black racer snake about a foot from where I was working. He did not bother me and just watched, perhaps a good omen or spirit animal visiting me to thank me for taking care of what was once native land? I’m such a history nerd.

Forsythia gone wild!

Forsythia gone wild!

The hiker moved on after this break and I too headed off, back down the mountain towards Ten Mile. I passed the older Nobo thru hiker I had met at the stream below and gave him some advice on nearest water and campsites ahead as he was wanting more water and a break from the heat.

Speaking of water, I also made a short video on the mountaintop discussing my new water system. I am again revisiting because I still want an easier solution than filling up my reservoir in my pack and using that as the water for camp and sleeping as well. I tried the new Katadyn BeFree with .6L bag and a Smart Water bottle with an Aquaclip, one of many solutions I researched to hang the water bottle in front of me since my pack pouch doesn’t have stitched in side pockets.

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

While my day pack does, it still requires practically dislocating your shoulder to reach back for access. With the BeFree I can just fill up at a source, camel up, then refill quick and easily to filter into my smart water bottle, and a Nalgene if I need extra. This thing filters super fast and doesn’t require backflushing as far as I can tell. I always bring emergency purifying tablets just in case, for myself or hikers I encounter who have no filter or water left.

I tend to carry too much water at any one time and this system and solution that was in the product reviews seemed a good one to try next. The water sources have all been great lately with all the epic rainfalls and snowmelt since winter died and so for the time being at least I wont carry more than the beFree and the 1L Smart Water bottle (with sports cap). Though I do still hate how those bottles crinkle. I may go the shock cord and Gatorade bottle next if the Smart Water bottles start to bother me that much. I will post the video on the blog  (Please note that I was rushing on the video and said I’d chug it right after filling it at the stream but I meant only AFTER the filter cap was back on.. very important!

Name that spider

Name that spider

I dropped off the maps in the map box on the way down, and some litter that I picked up on the trail when I passed my car and headed back into the woods towards Ten Mile Shelter and Campsites. There are some beautiful new signs in this area both for the side trails and the shelter – great work team! The Forsythia is also blooming like mad. When I reached the campsite no one was still camped there and luckily for me this time, no fires to clean up. Though there was a massive spider in the shelter that I noticed when I went to sign the register. I just saw his long legs peeking out behind a piece of the lumber frame, but could easily tell he was 1.5 inches or more around and brown and black. I’m not the hugest fan of spiders but all the time on the trail has helped that a bit. Many a day I found one of these in a privy or even on my pack in the morning. They’re pretty terrifying to look at but also fascinating and I’m quite sure not harmful. I believe this was either a wolf spider or a fisher spider. Anyone wanna have a go at identifying it from the photo?

An unspoiled view from the top

An unspoiled view from the top

I made my way back along the A.T. as it followed the Housatonic River, which was also at very high levels complete with raging rapids. I passed about 25 day hikers out here in the recreational area at Bulls Bridge which the A.T. passes by. I checked that side trail and left my friends on the Bull’s Bridge task force a message in their kiosk register, then headed back to my car.  As the season is starting up around here, and water is good, I should have a busy summer. On that note I am also very excited as I have some new roles in the AMC that allow me to further my love for the trail and protecting it and our natural resources. More to come on that but you will see me out there over the weekends this season often anywhere between the NY line and southern Massachusetts! Maybe I’ll even be on duty at your campsite for the night and you can share stories of your hike.

Miles: 6.3

Snakes: 1

Birds of Prey:2

— Linus

 

A Day In The Life of a Trail Patroller: Ten Mile Video Journal

Video Journal

Video Journal

I realized I was so chatty in this video that you probably will learn all about this hike by watching the video! The new setup with the phone worked better than the GoPro but I do need to remember to keep the same horizontal orientation throughout so please pardon the switches to the vertical shots. I’ve almost got this video thing down! I know I’ve covered this section before but it was not a great quality video… This hike was a windy and wonderful Veterans Day, and I got to cut my first blowdown! Thanks veterans for your service.

Click here to watch the video

Miles: 4.1

— Linus