Ridgerunner weekend #1 – Back in the Wild Corner

I am trying a new format here. I’m going to make the entries more brief and to the point going forward with exception of an occasional longer piece. It’s getting tougher to find the time to write in such detail so I promise to keep providing nice images and a summary of each hike without writing a book! Lets start with last weekend.

Officially a Ridgerunner!

Officially a Ridgerunner!

It was my second Memorial Day weekend up on the Riga plateau in the Northwest corner of Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail. And my first as an official Appalachian Trail Weekend Ridgerunner. The role is what I have been doing as a volunteer but with pay and some other nice perks. The job is for 5-6 weekends during the peak summer months. Fortunately, it was not 100 degrees this Memorial Day weekend. I stopped up at Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts to pick up my uniform and rain gear and then headed back down to Salisbury.

Shortly after you head north out of Salisbury on the trail, you hit the 1,500 mile marker. We have a newish sign there and it sure adds to the excitement.

1500 miles

1500 miles

DAY 1:

The trail was packed with hikers. I met over 80 on day 1 between Rt 41 in Salisbury and the summit of Bear. That was Just the day hikers. Many take the Undermountain trail from Rt. 41 trailhead near the Massachusetts border. This 1.9-mile trail meets the AT at Riga Junction about 1,000 ft higher. That lot was full and I wanted to spend more time on the A.T. vs side trails so I kept driving down to the lot in town.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

There were about 20 Backpackers on Day 1. Most were NOBO (Northbound) whereas on Day 2 there were a lot more SOBOs (southbounders). I met a marine on the summit on day 1 among the crowds and thanked him for his service.

On top I also met the caretaker of our Northwest Cabin. He’s summited Bear over 300 times now as he lives nearby and is at the cabin each week. It’s at the bottom of Bear near Sages Ravine and you can rent it with your family. I also met a lot of locals who do the hike often as well, even bringing up their lapdogs.

From a perch on the summit tower, I educated everyone on the different mountains in the views as well as about the stone tower itself and how Mt. Frissell’s shoulder is actually higher than Bear. Though Bear IS the highest SUMMIT in the state. We talked about how if Bigfoot can leave no trace, so can you. The kids loved this, but I confess I saw it on the internet and can’t take credit for coming up with it! It’s a fun and friendly way to breach the LNT subject without anyone feeling like I’m lecturing them!

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

I also found the elusive pink Lady Slipper. They love it on Lions head. The only other place I’ve seen them is near Hatch Brook down by Pine Knob Loop.

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The other prominent flower was pink Honeysuckle which was blooming everywhere. Usually it’s the Mountain Laurel going wild up here. Their time is coming soon.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

I met some great section hikers when I got to the beautiful campsite and shelter at Riga where I was staying for the night. We talked at dinner and played some fun charades games before everyone went to bed. There was another group too, and wow did their dinner smell like it tasted WAY better than mine. I was trying some new more organic lentil meal and i forgot to add my Tabasco and salt and pepper. Lesson learned.  I still enjoyed a great view for dinner though. The view (and the sunrise) are famous at Riga. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and is clear cut to show the view.

Vegan Camping Food - I'm not a vegan

Vegan Camping Food – I’m not a vegan

Gripes of the day: 1 ) campers leaving full sized pillows, and a bunch of trash and food they didn’t want to pack out in the bear box. That was about 10 lbs for me to pack out the next day, It was not appreciated. Pack it in, pack it out. It was nice to see another hiker (not a maintainer) rant about it in the shelter register because this way other hikers learn they are being disrespectful from their own peers.

2) Someone made a fire ring right under the ‘no fires’ sign again. Who are these people? I keep seeing this. Someone is out to make a point. So I cleared it.

There was a porcupine chewing on the Privy walls all night. It was about 50 yards from my tent so you couldn’t NOT hear it. It didn’t bother me that much though.

Miles Day 1: 8.2

Porcupines: 1

DAY 2:

I caught the famous sunrise and woke up some of my new friends to watch it come up with me. Then enjoyed breakfast with the great view. My Backpackers Pantry Granola with Milk and Organic Blueberries and my Starbucks VIA with a few mini moos I took from my office kitchen hit the spot.

The famous Riga sunrise!

The famous Riga sunrise!

My friend Brian was training for a White Mountains hike in a few weeks so he hiked up to join me at Riga and hike with me for much of the day. We hiked back up to the summit of Bear together. He met a woman in her 60’s from Tennessee who was doing a LASH (Long a** section hike). We saw her again when cleaning up remains of a fire at Brassie Brook shelter and had a nice chat with her.

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Along the way up, we saw a young couple packing up a camping spot right on the side of the trail and I asked them to please stick to designated campsites as we are reforesting there and that’s the rule either way in Connecticut. They had been tired last night and didn’t know there was a campsite 1/2 mile ahead! I then saw them again when at Brassie brook filling up my water and gave them a map and helped answer some other questions for which they thanked me. We would see them again on Bear and Lion’s head before the day was over.

We met and hiked with some other of my new friends from the night before at Riga (the ones with the delicious smelling food!) and one of them was an entomologist. She taught me about some wildlife and plants as did Brian who is a tree expert. He showed me a lot of species I didn’t previously recognize. We also talked gear a lot, comparing and talking about our new gear upgrades and water/sleep and pack systems.

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion's head

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion’s head

Today was more overcast but still we encountered at least another 20 backpackers (most of these were southbound and a large group of them were wearing bug nets which was smart) . There were two thru-hikers including Captain Underpants, whose family was joining him for this section over the weekend. Most of the backpackers were section hiking this weekend. You can usually tell who are thru and who are section.

At Lion's Head

At Lion’s Head

There were about another 75 day hikers we met along the trail and on the summits of Bear and Lion’s head. We took in the views and a snack on Lion’s head after picking up the trash and the pillow from Riga so we could pack it out. (No point in carrying it up and down Bear so we came back for it).

There were lots of families with small kids on Lion’s head. Some asked if they could drink the water and I told them not without filtering and offered them water but they had enough.

We made it down to Rt 41 around 3:15 and Brian was then headed south to Limestone spring shelter for the night as he couldn’t overnight on Saturday.

It was a great weekend. Not too hot, no rain ever showed during my shift, and I met a lot of great people and pushed my personal weekend mileage goals.

Miles Day 2: 8.5

  • Linus


Appalachian Trail – CT Section 1 – Part 1

Scrambling up Lion's Head

Scrambling up Lion’s Head

After nearly a year of studying and planning this section to death on the map, quide book, and internet and trying to piece together any memories of hiking its peaks as a boy scout, it was time to head there together.

Section 1 currently describes the route from rt 44 in Salisbury to the misplaced state line marker .6 miles in from the actual state line crossing at Sages Ravine, Massachusetts. When I was a scout, this may still have been the section route, but the section start and endpoints were different, and my BSA Appalachian Trail patch in 1984 labeled it as section VII, aka 7, for those who don’t read roman numerals. I also don’t recall if we did the whole section.

Looking north at Bear

Looking north at Bear from Lion’s Head

While there was a re-route a few years later west of river and the old route becoming the Mohawk trail, it crossed back over in Falls Village to continue its original route so I’m going to assume this was still the path back then. I remember climbing either Bear or Lion’s Head, or both with the scouts, but that’s as clear as the memory gets.

View from Riga Shelter

View from Riga Shelter

Working on NY sections 2 and 3 earlier this spring gave us a nice warmup for this bigger hike, while allowing us to not repeat any sections.  As a couple, we had not been above 1,600 ft on any hike, overnight or otherwise. So in our heads it was quite a challenge ahead of us. But it turns out we underestimated ourselves. Now without a doubt, going from the road (700 ft) and up over Lion’s head (1,750 ft) and  Bear Mtn (2,316 ft) and back down to Sages Ravine (1,600 ft) in one day would have been hard work. And we broke this up by going over Lion’s Head and spent the first night at the Riga shelter and campsites (1650 ft) with its stunning views. For this we have no regrets. But really, the next day we expected to be far more difficult than it was. Day 1 we were a bit slower-going but day 2 we already had our hiker legs kickin’ into gear.

At the top of Bear

At the top of Bear

For fear of rain on the day we were to summit and descend Bear Mtn (enhanced by a few hikers we passed and spoke to – gee, thanks!), we got a move on early. The north face of the mountain IS steep – no lie. In the rain, it would be a veritable waterfall.  But despite the challenges, we summited, snacked, and descended like the best of mountain goats to Sages Ravine in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Surely, we could have gone on to tackle Race Mountain and stay at the Race Brook Falls campground. But we left our second car at Undermountain trail – so this would mean either thumbing it back, or making our 3.5 mile hike out to a greasy satisfying brunch into an 8-miler, and one that also potentially skirted a wet and slick downhill re-trace of the exposed rock ledges on Mt. Race. And the rain eventually DID come, and in droves, Friday night. So we were better off with a long, more relaxing stay at Sages Ravine.

My "Rudy" shot atop Bear

My “Rudy” shot atop Bear

Still, we felt like champions for our speedy climb over Bear (see my “Rudy” shot), and are planning to tackle Race and Everett to Jug End in longer days next time — maybe more along 7-8 mile days than  these 3-5, since we’re obviously getting the hang of this thing. While we’ve done a ten-miler, it wasn’t over two 2,000+ peaks with a 900 ft descent in between and on either side.

Steep north face of Bear

Steep north face of Bear

We had covered the first part of the section from rt 44 to 41 in Salisbury when we completed our last overnight section hike of CT. And I took an extra mile out-and-back loop from the campsite at Sages Ravine to the misplaced state line marker to officially bag the end of the section and satisfy my OCD, even though we will come through here again on the next one. I’m glad I did, as I got to see over 10 beautiful waterfalls and plenty of watering holes along the gorgeous ravine.

Cascade in Sages Ravine

Cascade in Sages Ravine

We finished the hike with a gluttonous meal at Toymakers cafe in Falls Village, a reputably very hiker-friendly establishment. This was proven so by the cook/owner giving us a ride back to our car after a very cold rainy hike into there last fall because the bartender at the Falls Village Inn made it quite obvious he didn’t want us staying there for the night. Clearly to this individual, hikers are all unemployed, dirty and rowdy. In contrast, Toymakers also lets hikers camp in their backyard – please patronize them.

When we stopped by the Inn yesterday for the second time on a hike to get our A.T. passport stamped, the door was locked tight, there was no doorbell, and no one responded to my knocking even though I saw several people walking around in back. I don’t know why the Inn is a location for an A.T. passport stamp and not Toymakers.

The End

The ‘Official’ end of CT

Its is not a very friendly place at all in my opinion, unless you’re dressed up nicely when you arrive and have reserved your two-hundred-and-fifty-a-night room well in advance and got your own key already when you checked in. Luckily the post office in town was more than happy to stamp my A.T. passport.

But anyway, this hike had it all – there were views for days, thru-hikers, a powerful thunderstorm to lull us to sleep, some great wildlife, and tunnels of mountain laurel. But I’ll let Fielden Stream tell you about that in part two.

— Linus