Volunteer Roundup and Overnight at Silver Hill (with new gear reviews!)

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

Last weekend saw a lot of trail activity for me – which was just what I needed! We kicked off our Connecticut AMC Chapter trail season with our annual volunteer roundup. This consists of a morning meeting where we do recognition/awards over coffee and donuts, and discuss trail issues and any other pressing chapter issues and interchapter issues. Then we break up into several groups and head out on to the trail, doing as much trail work as possible on each section and then reconvene for a brief social in the late afternoon.

This year I achieved my 250 hours of volunteer work award, and my son received his 12 hour award. That felt good, and I am glad to be getting my son out there to help as well.

My 250 hour patch and my son's 12 hour pin

My 250 hour patch and my son’s 12 hour pin

I went out on the section from West Cornwall Road south to Caesar Brook campsite with that section’s maintainer, our overseer of trails, and a new volunteer. We used a hazel hoe to clear water bars and drainage ditches of leaves and duff. We met a few hikers out enjoying the beautiful weather and even gave one a ride into town when we returned to the trail head later.

We also cleared a log jam at Caesar brook that was causing the water level to be too high to cross using the stepping stones. We noticed some animal damage to the chum privy at the campsite as well as a few larger blowdowns we couldn’t clear with saws. All of these get reported so that a sawyer or structure specialist can get out there and remedy those problems. Our trails overseer maintains the next section south to Rt 4 so he continued on to check over his section and we headed back.

Creek on Surdan Mountain

Creek on Surdan Mountain

After some paperwork for the maintenance and a few snacks and refreshments, I carried on with the next stage of my plan which was to head up to the Silver Hill campsite for the night to meet my friend Brian, as well as our trails overseer who by coincidence was also planning to camp up there that beautiful night.

The climb from the road is a short .9 miles but its all uphill, and I loaded up on water at the spring in case the pump was out of service, and some refreshments from the social. So it was a bit tough until I got my flow back. Its also always tougher to hike several hours, then stop and then start again. Especially when switching from a light day pack to a fully loaded backpack! It was fine though and before I knew it I was at the campsite.

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Brian was already there, and had been a few hours. I was eager to set up a new piece of gear: the REI Flash Air Hammock. This was my first time with a hammock setup, and I watched a video the night before that had convinced me to buy it in the first place, about how to set it up. So when I found the right trees and spot, I was able to set it up without issue. However, the hammock does have full instructions in the packaging.

We also had a troop of 25 boy scouts and leaders show up at the campsite around dusk, just as we were finishing our dinner. I tried out my new GSI soloist cook set, with good results. I have a decent titanium cook pot but its getting a little beat up, and the larger handle and capacity of the pot in this set means its easier to eat out of and prepare food in, as well as being able to boil enough water for multiple meals when we have friends along.

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

It also has a large plastic bowl which fits the same lid as the pot. The pot lid has a strainer for liquids and a pour spout area. It comes with a bag to protect your stove, as well as a carry bag for the pot that can hold water, with a rigid wiry structure that keeps it standing when holding liquids. This could come in handy in many ways. The spork isn’t all that great, but it did the job for eating my peanut butter ramen out of the pot. If I was having a mountain house meal out of the bag, I’d want my longer titanium spork. But all in all it was hardly heavier or bulkier than my existing setup, so I will probably stick with this one unless I have a particular reason to go back to my original pot setup.

Arriving at the campsite

Arriving at the campsite

As the scouts fought the sunset while getting dinner cooked and all their tents setup, we enjoyed a conversation on the wooden deck with the mountain view. We answered any questions they had about their upcoming trail itinerary and then checked in on the privy conditions which we had heard might have included a raccoon stuck in the privy hole! Luckily for the raccoon, he was able to dig himself out. But we may need to check the foundation for damage or instability. The note in the trail register from the initial discovery was quite amusing.

It was now approaching hiker midnight and time to hit the hammock for its inaugural use! The most appealing factors of the hammock were its ease of setup for a newbie, and its compact size and weight.

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

While not optimal for people over 5’8″, its a great first hammock at 2lbs 14oz and $179! I also knew that if it was not for me, I could return it to REI. I got it for my birthday and was excited to finally be able to try it out. Brian is also a gear geek like me so he watched while I set it up and took note of all its great features, remarking too that they seem to have thought of every detail. I’d say the only one they didn’t do is make the bag for it a tad larger. Squeezing it all back in was tough. But another great thing about the hammock is that every piece of gear is included, so there’s no handicap or learning curve to get all the necessary parts. I toss and turn a lot and am a side sleeper so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

I know larger and wider hammocks allow you to lie more diagonally and flat, which might be more enjoyable for a sleeper like me. Even though my pad was secured by the pad loops, I still had trouble getting used to being in a confined space like this, and not making it rock heavily while I attempted to get into my sleeping clothes and sleeping bag. When I did finally accomplish this, it took 10 minutes for it to stop rocking me like a baby.

Each time I rolled to one side during the night I was worried I would throw off the balance and roll it over, but I never did. New hammocker fear I guess! I did get a bit used to the balance after a few hours and a few position changes, but I didn’t get used to the feeling my body was being squished from the top and bottom like an accordian.

Moonlight at the campsite

Moonlight at the campsite

This may be a better hammock for a smaller person, but I will give it a few more tries before I make a final decision.  If I decide not to continue using it, I may give it to my son. The bug net design is very nice, but I am not used to having it so near to my face. It is held up and away by a crossbar, but compared to a tent, this was definitely foreign to me. I suppose if I had experience sleeping in a small bivy I’d be more used to it.

Ultimately I did like it but my tent is a pound lighter. It had its benefits over a tent but a tent also has its benefits over a hammock. So the jury’s still out. I didn’t sleep very well however, and Sunday night I slept a solid 12 hours in my bed!  It was nice hearing the owls out at night, it’s one of my favorite sounds. And it was fun listening to some of the scouts’ conversations as my son is the same age and was on a camping trip himself in North Carolina that night with his school. So it made me think of him a lot.

Brian heading up Silver Hill

Brian heading up Silver Hill

In the morning, packing it up was easy, except that part about getting everything to fit back in its bag. We were all rising around 630 am, so I headed to the pavilion building and heated up my water for a nice cup(bowl) of coffee. We answered a few more of the scoutleaders’ questions about their planned mileage and campsite for the day, and when the three of us were packed up we headed out of camp and up and over Silver Hill. It’s not a long climb from the campsite till you reach the ridge, but there’s a fun scramble or two on the way. We took photos at the view on the ridge, and then Brian had to race ahead because he was meeting a group for a day hike of another 11 miles north.

Brian and I on Silver Hill

Brian and I on Silver Hill

On the way down, we brushed in some areas of trail around steep parts where hikers would choose to go instead of the trail, causing erosion. We also cleared any fallen branches and reported a larger blowdown up top for the sawyers to address later.

We took an old portion of the A.T. back to the car, and that was very cool for me to see where it used to go. It however was loaded with ticks. Luckily my pants had been treated with permethrin and I only found one on my pants.

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

I had a BBQ planned in the afternoon so I headed home from my car once I got dropped back at that trailhead. You would never know from the heavy rain that Saturday morning on the way up, that it would be such a beautiful weekend. The rain didn’t return until I was long gone.

I learned a lot of new trail maintenance skills, and I just bought the same saw that our trail overseer Jim has, the Silky Big Boy 2000! My saw that was given to me by the ridge runner coordinator last year has taken a beating, and I had some dividend money left to spend at REI.

Miles total: 6

  • Linus