Housatonic Range Trail, Connecticut

Approaching the Suicide ledges

Approaching the Suicide ledges

One of the earliest trails Fielden Stream and I hiked when we were really beginning to get into regular hiking was a 1.3 mile section of the Housatonic Range trail in Connecticut. The total trail is 5.9 miles long and traces an old Native American footpath along the ridgelines south of those the Appalachian Trail follows as it enters Connecticut in Sherman.  That day we did a total 2.6 miles out-and-back, to cover the southern end, where Route 37 splits the trail.

Linus outside the cave

Linus outside a boulder cave

Those mountains, Pine Knob and Candlewood mountain have some beautiful walks through evergreen forests, as well as twisting, piled boulders to scramble through and over, if you’d like to.  (There’s a few views to the ridges to the east from Pine Knob, but the summit of Candlewood is wooded). Luckily, the rest of the trail had beautiful forests and fun scrambles too. And five years later I finally got back and finished it.

Maybe it was the name of the included rock feature “Suicide Ledges” on this portion of the trail that sub-consciously made me pass by so many times on the way to hike elsewhere to be safe? Or maybe it was just that I was falling in love fast with the A.T. and my volunteer work on that trail, so this nice little trail had to wait a bit longer to be finished.

Brian climbing through

Brian climbing through

Either way, it was time. I reached out to my friend Brian who is an AMC-CT chapter member as well and a frequent hiking buddy.  A tree surgeon, he’s also a great source of tree species knowledge and I’m always picking his brain on which bush or tree I’m looking at. Slowly but surely I’m getting some of them memorized.

We dropped one car at the northern terminus on Gaylord Road in Gaylordsville and headed back to the trail crossing on route 37 in New Milford. From there the trail north follows a road about a quarter mile and then through a marshy strip nestled between homes and back yards.  Unfortunately as we passed one giant glacial erratic, someone had spray painted anti-semitic symbols on it. I will not show a picture here. I will not let that message infiltrate any more space than it already has or make anyone else feel bad.

Me in the cave

Me in the cave

But I reported it after the hike to the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association who manages the trail and they are taking action. Being so close to backyards here, I guess mischief didn’t have to travel far to spread their message of hate. Sadly, these messages seem to be much more prevalent in today’s political climate. I’ve never seen anything like this on a trail before. Graffiti, lots ; hate graffiti, none. Let’s hope they quickly cover up the graffiti. But while that made me sad, it’s worth continuing as the trail gets quite beautiful, and challenging. If only I had remembered my micro-spikes! Shortly after reaching the woods proper, you come face to face with a large boulder wall.

Scrambling up to Suicide Ledges

Scrambling up to Suicide Ledges

Here, sooner than I expected, was the feature known as “Suicide Ledges.” It’s really a large wall of boulders with a route through some “caves” made up of gaps in boulder piles similar to Maine’s Mahoosuc Notch. Next it takes you scrambling up to the top of the flat wide ledge, which I hope was not named for an actual suicide that took place from here.  The scrambling was a lot of fun, and we took our time exploring the rocks and then took a short break enjoying the view south to Candlewood Mountain, which is notably pointy and pronounced and easy to spot.

The view down from Suicide Ledges

The view down from Suicide Ledges

Having just been at almost 5,000ft in North Carolina the weekend before, and with no snow on the high summits, I for some reason forgot I lived in New England. Much colder, and with recent snow while I was in North Carolina, I arrived in trail runners to find at least an inch of snow down in places. Luckily, while it added a little more effort to the long plods through snowy trail, it wasn’t deep enough to really tire me out.

Deer tracks

Deer tracks

We crossed a few brooks, following the tracks of turkeys, deer, and later, raccoons and passed through Hemlock forests, Mountain Laurel stands, and a half mile street walk (with a rather confusing re-entry to the woods) before descending off the first ridge. There, after one more very short road walk, the trail climbs higher once more to the top of a ridge which is adjacent to Gaylord road below. We saw a couple hiking with their dog there, but other than the wildlife we were alone on the trail that morning.  The trail followed this ridge to another boulder pile along the northwest crest of the mountain, and this feature is known as Straits Rock. From there, a quick steep descent that challenged me the most without my boots and micro-spikes, took us past another ‘cave’ in the towering boulders.

Not to be confused with Tory Cave, off the trail a bit on a side trail

Tory Cave is off the trail a bit down a side trail

This one the trail doesn’t go through as it’s too small for an adult to pass through easily. The trail was narrow and still following a steep drop off here so I took it slow and used my bottom to slide in one or two places so I wouldn’t slide off the mountainside. Here it reminded me a lot of Cheshire Cobble on the A.T. in Cheshire, Massachusetts.

As we reached the bottom of the ridge, the trail passed a few nice little cabins that we gladly would have called our own had we the means and then across another brook and up to the road. Our section hike was only 4.6 miles, but came out to about 5 with our wandering around a bit on the rocks and the road at the top of Boardman Mountain trying to find the trail again after the road walk.

Straits Rock, which also has a small cavern

Straits Rock, which also has a small cavern

If you don’t mind a little civilization in between your forest walks, this is a nice local trail I recommend. There is an actual marble solutional cave along Route 7 called the “Tory’s Cave” where Tories in the Revolutionary war hid. And there is a connector trail to it and the road parking from the Housatonic RangeTrail and vice versa. It is believed to be the only actual cave in Connecticut. Everything else is really just boulder piles with spaces in between. But it’s not open to the public at this time, to protect the bat population.  There is now a steel gate installed there.

I really enjoyed following the path once trod by native people, and at one point felt that I, like the deer, were following their spiritual path through a historic forest and through history itself. This trail was as fun as I expected it to be, and I got a few of my hiker friends excited about it too through sharing photographs.

Raccoon Tracks

Raccoon Tracks

With this trail done, my next non-Appalachian Trail adventure is to finish the northern ten miles of the Mohawk Trail. This bit was once the A.T. itself, and this is the steepest, most dramatic section. It will make for a great warmup to my ridgerunner season, so i will fit that in late in the spring.

Miles: 4.9

Wildlife: Deer, Raccoon, Turkeys (we saw the actual deer later…)

  • Linus

2018 Ridgerunner Kickoff weekend

It was great to be back out on the trail again in my ridge runner role! I really love the job, I wish I could do it year round! I met several thru hikers, many of them flip floppers who started mid trail and are heading north to Katahdin first, then back to do the southern half in the later months of summer and early fall. They do this to minimize overcrowding at Springer in Georgia and have the quiet walk in the woods experience intended. And also to not have to worry about hitting Katahdin too late in case of an early winter in Maine.  I also met a few Northbound (NOBO) thrus and a Lasher (Long-a**-section-hiker) doing a several-hundred-mile portion in New England. Of course there were many day hikers out enjoying the trail, especially on Saturday. Saturday was hot and humid but I took my time and enjoyed a break at all the scenic spots along the way. All the brooks were running strong, and the rain held off until Sunday afternoon so didn’t have to deal with it much. I did have a log I stepped on roll under my foot when crossing Guinea Brook, so my left foot/sock/shoe got soaked, but it was quite refreshing in the heat.  Sunday was cool and overcast with strong breezes bringing rain around midday.  I saved the easier portion of trail for Sunday should the rain hit early and I was hiking all morning and early afternoon in the rain. Steep rocky surfaces are not as fun or safe when wet.

I took the Mohawk Trail up Breadloaf Mountain to reach the A.T. Saturday morning.  When I was a boy scout in the 1980s this was still the A.T. and it is still a quick steep climb! But it had amazing views from the top like Pine Knob. Both were worth the effort.

I camped with many great people at Silver Hill campsite, and my first freezer-bag-cooking test with a Knorr rice sides (a half portion) was a huge success as was my peanut butter and Nutella tortilla wraps for breakfast! And my new (used) tent’s maiden voyage with me was also a success…. It’s so light to carry and had plenty of room. I need to work on my pitch a bit, and though my feet were touching the end wall, I looked it up and realized I didn’t extent my trekking poles to 130 cm as advised which probably explains that!  I saw a doe grazing on the banks of the Housatonic River early Sunday morning, as well as a family of Geese. It seemed to be mating season as the chipmunks were frolicking in pairs throughout the forest.

Day 1 miles: 5.5 (1,834ft elevation)

Day 2 miles: 8 (335ft elevation)

  • Linus
One of our beuatiful new signs

One of our beautiful new signs

Pine Knob

Pine Knob

Silver Hill from Breadloaf Mtn

Silver Hill from Breadloaf Mtn

Linus on the trail

Linus on the trail

Hatch Brook

Hatch Brook

My Lightheart Gear solo

My Lightheart Gear solo

Freezer bag cooking - using the pot as a cozy

Freezer bag cooking – using the pot as a cozy

Knorr Rice sides w/Sriracha

Knorr Rice sides w/Sriracha

The "trail" up Silver Hill

The “trail” up Silver Hill

Doe on the Housatonic

Doe on the Housatonic

Liners Farm

Liners Farm

Name that flower

Name that flower