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

 

Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Adventure (Sections 9&10)

Packs on, let's do this!

Packs on, let’s do this!

Last weekend we finally ventured into Massachusetts on the Appalachian Trail. Mind you, Sages Ravine campsite is officially in the state, despite the state line crossing sign being down the ravine half a mile. So we have dabbled in the state at least. Last year when we finished the Connecticut section we stayed at that campsite and had some adventures. Even Fielden Stream wrote about it. The sign placement is based on which state chapter manages the trail on either side vs the actual geological border. So this confuses many thru hikers. Though at the end of the day, they’re going to keep on going so it doesn’t really matter.

AMC Northwest Camp

AMC Northwest Camp

Anyway, we’ve been looking forward to heading north for a long time, and conquering the ledges of Mt Race, and the highest summit we’ve done so far on the trail, Mt Everett. But we were saving it for our friends to do with us and continued to work on the New York section in the meantime. We have 17.9 miles left of that state, and plan to finish it by the end of the season.

It took some time to get the planning with them in place, as they live in Miami. But it finally happened, and it was everything we could have wanted. While we were down there in Florida for winter break in February we nailed down the rest of the details and they bought tickets. We went through the equipment lists and luckily had most of what we needed to outfit them too, since we had extra gear from car camping and my gear upgrades over the years. They found a place to rent packs and had them delivered to our house a few days before the trip.

Bears!

Bears!

They did buy some nice new trail runners and Fielden Stream and I are thinking we will head over to REI and pick up some too. Clearly the hype around these within the hiking community has to be legitimate at this point. And their praise after the hike only strengthened the point. They said that they were extremely comfortable and gripped onto the rocks and roots in every tricky spot. For Fielden, she wants to try them mostly because the boots and wool socks continue to leave her feet covered in blisters no matter what we’ve tried… toe socks, different fabrics, duct tape. For me, I want to see if it will help with traction as much as they say and keep my ankles from nearly rolling on every unexpected root or rock I encounter at the wrong angle. We’ll keep you posted.

Linus and Ledges at Sages Ravine

Linus and Ledges at Sages Ravine

They arrived late the night before and Fielden and I were packing everything in their packs while they were on their flight. When they got to our house we walked them through all the gear and helped them pack it all in the most efficient way. We had some drinks and caught up a bit before getting to bed. We stayed up a little later than we probably should have and so we slept in a bit. But with June sunset at around 9pm and just over 6 miles to hike the first day, I wasn’t too concerned about not getting on the trail till almost noon. It’s about a 2 hour drive to the end point, then another 25 minutes up the mountain road to the beginning. I almost extended the end point another 2 miles, but am glad I didn’t.  Even though it was almost flat those last 2 miles, I knew it would be hot and we’d be tired from the challenging climb and descent that morning. Turns out that was a good call.

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

We parked just south of the Connecticut line at the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) Northwest camp. The camp has a cabin, but it is primitive in that there is no electricity or running water. There’s a privy at least. I wanted to check it out a little closer but there were people staying there. As members we can rent it, and I think that would be fun sometime. We took the old ‘northwest road’, a trail that skirts the CT-Mass state line on the north side of Bear Mountain and connects with the Appalachian Trail about a half mile down. I remember seeing the trail when we came over Bear Mountain last June and figuring it had to go up there to the cabin, or at least to a road somewhere. I told them about the crazy climb up Bear and asked if anyone wanted to do it for fun! After a laugh we headed north down into the ravine and along the brook as it widened and flowed past the campground.

Bear Rock Stream

Bear Rock Stream

We stopped in to the campground so they could use the privy and get a look around. I was hoping some of my AMC/ATC friends would be in the caretaker tent but I realized it was Friday morning so that was unlikely. I took a few pictures including the sign about bear activity in the area (there is no doubting this in my mind after our stay there last year) and then we ventured on down the trail along the ravine. I had been to this lower section on the last trip but Fielden stream had stayed in the campground. So I enjoyed showing her and our friends all the swimming holes and little waterfalls farther down. We ran into a father and daughter backpacking team a few times that morning along Sages Ravine, and would later run into them on Mt Race and at the campground. We chatted with them at the ‘official’ state line crossing and took some photos. The trail then headed up the side of Mt. Race, gradually but steadily, and the day began to warm up.

View southeast from Mt. Race

View southeast from Mt. Race

The trail made its way towards the ridgeline and climbed gradually through the woods, passing what was once an old campground at Bear Rock stream and it’s replacement across the trail, Laurel Ridge. I checked into Bear Rock to make sure no one was stealth camping and was happily surprised that people were staying out of the area and heeding its re-vegetation area signs. It is a lovely spot right on the ridge, with the stream cascading off its edge. I heard that there had been some accidents there in the past, which I’m sure had as much to do with it being moved west of the trail.

It was safe enough here to take a photo!

It was safe enough here to take a photo!

We continued to climb, some sections more steeply now, until we came out onto a large exposed ledge with sweeping views south to Connecticut, east and north as far as Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest peak near the Vermont border. We were lucky to have such great weather and endless views like that. There was one other backpacker here and we sat for lunch.  We were getting a little worked up about how bad the ledge walk would actually be. I had seen many pictures and had been preparing myself. And judging by the ledge we were having lunch on, I knew there was a big drop. I ventured over to look through the trees where the trail went to try and make it seem less intense, a lump in my throat growing the closer I got. I took it in — the very narrow trail following a precarious ledge thousands of feet high. I turned back around just as the father and daughter arrived and smiled and said “it’s not that bad.” I guess my game face isn’t very good.

View of Bear and Round Mtns in CT from Mt Race

View of Bear and Round Mtns in CT from Mt Race

Four vultures flew overhead and I joked that there was one for each of us. I don’t think that helped. We finished lunch and got ourselves ready for the cliff walk the best we could. As we passed through the little hole in the trees everyone saw what was ahead. Luckily there were only a few spots where it was this precarious, but those were enough. We gave each other a pep talk throughout and I was actually happy I had been working on these types of challenges because I felt sure footed and confident.

Pink Laurel on Mt Race summit

Pink Laurel on Mt Race summit

Though I won’t lie there were a few spots where a wrong step would mean certain death. Talking my friend through it and focusing on that also distracted me from any of my own fear. We were also heading up it so I think if we were coming down I might feel a little less sure.  I stopped to take in the views, and some pictures, which also helped me feel less afraid. I was really proud of myself.  I know these were big cliffs, and I know I had good reason to have been nervous and try and overprepare.

Mt Everett beyond from Mt Race summit

Mt Everett beyond from Mt Race summit

This section lasts only .6 miles and in many spots does widen out as it approaches the summit. So I was able to get one or two shots out there. There was a cairn a few hundred feet south of the summit and from there you could see 360 degrees around. The summits of Connecticut’s Bear Mountain and Round Mountains to the south became visible from here, as well as Mt Brace in New York, and Mt Frissell, Mount Washington and Mt Alander to the West. Directly to the north you could see the next day’s summit, Mt. Everett. And as we reached the true summit and walked its rocky spine, the high peaks of the Catskills were visible in the distance, their craggy peaks a shade of deep blue. A few pink mountain laurels were blossoming on the peak, and I was thrilled that the tunnels of laurel I wanted our friends to see were abundant on the hike. We took some summit photos and then negotiated our way down the steep rocky spine on its north side.

Descending from Mt. Race

Descending from Mt. Race

We were anxious to get to camp and unwind after the crazy cliffs. As we trekked through more tunnels of laurel, I decided I needed a bathroom break and told the others to go up ahead a bit. As they got ahead about 20ft, I turned around and headed into the woods but was stopped by a rattle! I did not see this guy, but Fielden and our friends heard it too and asked if I was ok! I decided I didn’t need to go any farther into the woods! I headed cautiously back up the trail and didn’t hear any more rattles before I met up with them. We picked up the pace a bit and kept an eye out for the trail junction to our campsite.

While we had entertained going over Everett on this day too, we decided when we reached the junction of the Race Brook Falls trail that we had had enough for the day. It was already nearly 5pm and after going over Everett the next day we were glad we had made this decision.

Time for a nap?

Time for a nap?

There was no way we were going to have made that climb feeling the way we were at this point in the day. The Race Brook Falls trail is one of many that climbs steeply up to the ridge from Route 41. From the A.T., the campsite is only about .2 miles down the trail, or so the guide says. I feel like it was more, but we were pretty darn tired. Those printed distances never seem accurate. They definitely are not on my tracking app, I learned the next day!

There are big falls at the bottom of this trail but I have heard its very steep down to the falls. And since the brook was barely moving up here, and we were so tired, we decided not to go down and explore them. Sages Ravine provided enough beautiful water scenery for us today, and we will come back to the falls from the road end another time. We did want to swim and pictured ourselves washing off under a cascading waterfall and everything. But reality is always a little different isn’t it. We were happy just setting up camp at this point. The father-daughter team came into camp around the same time and took the tent platform next to us, so we said hello again to them and told them we’d report back on the water source as we were going to filter once we set up camp.

Finally, the campsite trail

Finally, the campsite trail

After we got the tents set up, Ledges and I made a few trips to the brook and filled up on water. We had run almost completely out by the time we got to camp due to the heat. Its especially easy to overheat on all that exposed rock on the mountain summits. We sat around the fire and made dinner. Fires are permitted here and while I was surprised, I was relieved not to have to clear any fire rings, and that our friends could have that experience they are used to when camping out. Fielden is the best at making fires in our group so we let her get it going while Ledges and LB filtered water and I got dinner going. It was nice having two stoves, so we could get everything ready at the same time. I had made sure they had their own cook kit with stove (and their own water filtration) should we get separated or lost.

Home for the night

Home for the night

We had a great evening telling stories and then went to bed. It was a beautiful night and we left the vestibules open and watched as the stars came out. None of us slept very well though, hearing lots of critters scurrying about in the middle of the night. In the morning, we filtered some more water and had breakfast and I signed the register on the way out. We had a really big hike ahead for day 2. It started with a nearly 1,000ft climb up Mt. Everett. The trail had taken us several hundred feet downhill into a saddle between the two mountains where our campsite was. So once we got back on the A.T. it was right back up.

Aaand, back up!

Aaand, back up!

And it was STEEP. I would compare it to the climb up the north face of Bear Mountain, but twice as long. There were many elaborate scrambles and long sheets of rock to traverse as we ascended. Ledges said it definitely reminded him of the white mountains. That made me happy because I wanted an exciting section of trail, and it provided. We pushed on quickly, some thru hikers passing us on the way and making us look like snails with their pace. But we got up there and took in the views as they opened up, mostly to the south of Mt. Race and the Taconic plateau in its entirety as it stretched south to Salisbury.

At the summit I was immediately stung by something, either a yellowjacket or a black fly. But it didn’t hurt much or ruin the excitement. We took pictures at the summit and I had a celebratory toast. This is the highest peak we’ve hiked up together. I haven’t hiked the whites since I was a teenager, and in Shenandoah last year we only took the stony man trail from the Skyland lot, as we were driving Skyline drive. One of the hikers said when he arrived up there earlier there were some rattlesnakes he scared off. We talked to the other thru hikers and a couple that was day hiking. We sat on the foundations of the old fire tower and enjoyed our break. We thought it was going to be easy from here. Just downhill and then flat. Ha!

View south from Mt. Everett

View south from Mt. Everett

It was a nice easy downhill to the Mt. Everett State Reservation parking lot, where we found large coolers of ice cold water. This was much appreciated as the big climb depleted our supplies significantly, and we had many miles until the next reliable water source. Conditions have definitely been on the dry side. We talked to a thru hiker Matt who didn’t have a trail name yet. I wish we could have come up with one, but even LB is just our friends initials because we are waiting to come up with a trail name for her. You can’t force these things. He told us that in the 1,500 miles he’d done so far, the cliffs on Mt. Race were the most extreme he’d encountered yet. Even Tinker Cliffs in Virginia weren’t as precarious! That made us feel better. There’s a privy here too which is always nice.

Old fire tower spot

Old fire tower spot

The trail here is easy and after passing by Guilder pond (which I think is the highest pond in the state) descends gradually to a forested ridge where there are two shelters, Glen Brook and Hemlocks, situated .1 miles apart.  The water source here was very dry, and I was concerned about those staying here for the night. Maybe there was more water closer to the camping area, but where the brook crossed the trail was mostly mud. We traveled the forested ridge for a bit before it climbed to the rocky spine of Mt. Bushnell. Here the trail jotted up and down, up and down, taking a bit of a toll on us in the heat. We stopped for lunch in a shady spot before another climb. These were not big ascents but the repetitive climbing and descending was arduous. We passed a family day hiking and stopped on an outcropping with great views east and north of Mt. Greylock. We were stopping more and more now as the sun was baking us on these rocks and we thought for sure we’d be at Jug End by now.

Monument Mtn and Greylock beyond, from Mt Bushnell

Monument Mtn and Greylock beyond, from Mt Bushnell

Seemingly hours later, we arrived at the aptly named peak, which marks the northern end of the plateau on this ridge. A day hiker we passed who has hiked here about 100 times laughed when we asked if it was steep. Now I know why.  You might as well have rappelled down it. It began with several long, steep, rock faces to cross. After that, a literal rock wall we had to climb down. After that, the trail came out to another definite ledge. It routed you around at a downward angle on some slick rock with nothing but a huge drop off if you took the turn wrong.

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

Needless to say, some of us took a less dangerous path past it. Here we thought we’d be done with all that cliff walking! LB took the scary route. Go LB!  But that was not the end of it. The trail, though now in the forest, steeply descends the mountainside on a series of rock staircases and switchbacks. A bit like St. Johns ledges but far longer and not quite as easy to get footings on. It went on seemingly forever. We met the day hiker again, and when we asked where there was water, she said she’d leave us some at Rt 41, which we greatly appreciated. We were running low again. And its good we did because the water sources beyond were scarce except for a swamp right before we reached the car.

Bridge in Egremont

Bridge in Egremont

As we headed north from Jug End Road, we entered a forest of hemlocks, and then came out into the meadows alongside the Kellogg Conservation Center. From up on Jug End and Bushnell it seemed so far away and so far below. Finally we were passing fields of cows, and fairly close to the KCC and reached rt. 41 where we found the water she left us. We filled up and continued on through the fields. Here I was fooled by outdated distance information on my app. I knew from the AWOL guide that the mileage was something like 2.5 to the car from Jug End Road. But the old data on the app said 1.4. Needless to say it seemed like a really long walk, though it was beautiful. A large, very old hemlock forest again opened up from the meadow edge. I commented that it was like Middle earth, where you pass from realm to realm, this one being that of the elves!

Done!

Done!

There was supposed to be a large swamp here, and we crossed several bog bridges and planks, but there was hardly any water. Only as we approached the road did we cross an actual large brook on a big bridge. As we reached the end of the hike (1.5 miles shy of the actual section end at Rt. 7), we saw that the cooler of trail magic we found there when we dropped off the car the day before was still there. We meant to leave notes saying thank you for all these trail angels, but we were completely exhausted. Thank you trail angels!

Looks like we made it

Looks like we made it

We did just under 9 miles today and proceeded to throw our packs and ourselves on the grass and took a few photos to celebrate finishing the hike. There were also lots of deer ticks in the grass! So we quickly gathered up our things, made sure none of them were on us, and hopped in the car. We were so tired we just pointed to the Shay’s Rebellion monument and felt pleased that we didn’t leave the car at the originally planned point almost 2 miles farther.

Luxurious rewards

Luxurious rewards

Once in the car, it was back up the road again to the AMC Northwest camp to get the other car, and then down the dirt road across the Connecticut line into Salisbury. We saw beautiful waterfalls from the road as it wound and descended the mountain ridge alongside Lion’s Head. We got to our hotel and enjoyed a much needed shower and beer before going to dinner at a great restaurant called the Black Rabbit, next to Mizza’s pizza where I met Rainman a month or so ago. The food was amazing and we slept like logs that night in the king sized beds. The next morning we headed out of the mountains, grateful. We are already planning our next adventure. Though maybe we will do that one farther south in Virginia or North Carolina.

The video is here.

Miles day 1: 6.3

Miles day 2: 8.6

Bears: 0

Rattlesnakes: 1

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: A Weekend in the Wild Corner

Bad place for a nest

Hiker Map Box: Bad place for a nest

My friend Rob McWilliams used the phrase “Wild Corner of Connecticut” when I told him where I was backpacking last weekend, and I loved it. So thanks, Rob, you just made my blog title snap! Check out Rob’s blog here. There’s lots of rugged trail here in Connecticut, but I definitely think this is an accurate description of the Riga Plateau. On the A.T. it starts in Salisbury, quickly rising a thousand feet to Lion’s Head, a very scenic outcropping on the southeastern corner of the plateau. The entire plateau includes several peaks in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Fielden Stream and I completed the Connecticut section of the Appalachian trail through here just about a year ago by completing this final section and ending just over the Massachusetts border at Sages Ravine.

Break Time

Break Time

While I didn’t cover the section up to Lion’s Head or Down from Bear’s summit this Memorial Day weekend, the alternative route up was hardly less strenuous. I was up here to cover the trail between these two very popular peaks and the A.T. campsites in between, to greet and assist hikers during the day and overnight.

If I made any mistake it was not hitting the trail until just after noon, on a scorching hot day. The undermountain trail is a blue blaze that is one of several which climbs from Rt 41 up to the plateau where the A.T. traverses along its eastern ridges.  The others are the Race Brook Falls Trail and Elbow Trail behind the Berkshire school, both just north of the Massachusetts line. At its starting point the elevation of the undermountain trail is about 675ft. When it finally reaches the A.T. its 1,000ft higher. And as my goal this morning before returning to camp at Riga shelter was the summit of Bear Mountain, Connecticut (2,316ft) … well I had a good climb ahead and I knew it.

In this heat, no paradise here

In this heat, no paradise here

It was a busy holiday weekend and luckily I got the last of the spots in the trailhead lot. There were also many cars along the road, which is not a big deal if you’re just out for a few hours. Overnight I’d worry about parking on the road. As I was getting my gear together I chatted with some day hikers headed up the same way and gave them a map and made sure they had plenty of water. I also spoke to a section hiker who just did the entire Connecticut section and was waiting for a ride from a family member, and would then join them for a family get together just over the New York border. He gave me useful information on the water sources, and had lots of enthusiasm post-hike to talk trail, which got me sufficiently fired up to start the long climb. While never really terribly steep, one must not be fooled by the long continuous ascent. While I have done worse, in the heat and humidity it was tough. I was thankful to meet a lot of hikers along the way and stop to chat with them.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

I was more than relieved when I reached Riga Junction and the intersection of the Appalachian Trail. I was 2/3 of the way up now, so I took a snack break here and appreciated the last bit of shade I would get from the forest canopy, as the ascent up the south side of Bear opens up to a series of gentle scrambles along a rocky spine with nothing but a little krumholz and mountain laurel to shade you from the sun. It’s about .9 miles from here to the summit but its a good 600ft ascent. But, at least the views south and west are extremely rewarding. Just like last year, I snapped away on my camera. I love photography so always go a little overboard. Better to have more and filter out the bad ones, than less. I took a break every spot there was shade and kept a vigilant eye out for snakes. I startled one on the way up the undermountain trail which I pointed out to a group of day hikers on their way down. I ran into snakes two more times on this trip. Fortunately they were all garter snakes!

Southern view from Bear Mtn

Southern view from Bear Mtn

I reached the summit and promptly headed to the shady area behind the tower. I spent about an hour alternating between this spot and the hot rocky summit tower, interacting with day hikers and backpackers. This is probably the most popular section of trail in all of Connecticut. We all took lots of pictures and I educated them on the history of the summit tower, the plaque and the past notion that this was our state’s highest point. While it is the highest single summit entirely within the state, the shoulder of nearby Mt. Frissell has the honor of the highest point in Connecticut, even though its own peak is over the border in Massachusetts.

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

From the remains of the stone tower, I reveled in the sweeping views east and north to Mts Race and Everett, which Fielden Steam and I will hike along the trail in just less than three weeks with our Florida friends. I made sure to send them these great shots, and they were happy to see them! I also met my first annoying set of bees and flies of the weekend. They would harrass me for the next 24 hours, either because I was such good company, or smelled half dead. I helped hikers with directions and information for a while longer before taking one more long look and then heading back down the south side of the mountain. I met the day hikers I saw in the lot that morning on the way down and they treated me to some fresh carrots and broccoli they were snacking on at a viewpoint near the summit.

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

Once back at the junction, the trail gently undulates south along the ridge through mountain laurel tunnels for miles until a short ascent to Lion’s head on the southern end of the plateau. I would visit there tomorrow. The laurels were only blooming at the summit of Bear at this time, but the pink honeysuckle was abundant, and I would find some coveted wildflowers in my near future. I stopped briefly at Brassie brook to fill up on water, as I had depleted nearly my full 3 liters at this point. I met a nice couple section hiking with their dog Jimmy and who would be at the campsite with me later that night. Shortly after I stopped into the Brassie Brook shelter and campsites where I cleaned up a stealth fire ring. Boy I was tired at this point, but it had to be done! There was no one at the campsite recently as far as I could tell. Sages Ravine and Riga really draw the most crowds and so this and Ball Brook really handle the overflow when those two are full or for tired hikers stuck in between.

Brassie Brook Shelter

Brassie Brook Shelter

As I headed out of the Brassie Brook campsite, I ran into another section hiker I saw at the summit of Bear and we hiked south together and spoke until we reached the Riga campsites. While we passed Ball Brook campsite on the way, I decided I’d check it on the way back tomorrow. It’s a lovely little group site on the ridgeline, but not often used except by scouts.

She told me she had never met a volunteer ridgerunner before and thanked me for my work. That happened again later as I headed down undermountain trail the next day, and I have to admit, it felt great. We traded stories and reached the Riga site about 30 minutes later.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

As I got into the campsite I briefly chatted with some hikers who were also excited to meet a trail volunteer, and signed into the shelter as we took in the famous view. You can see at least 50 miles east over the mountain tops here. It’s a well loved spot. I then headed to set up my great new tent the REI Quarter Dome 1 for its maiden voyage and afterwards, set about the business of meeting all the hikers and helping them as they settled in for the evening. I talked tents with some of them, fascinated by the cuben fiber options out there though happy with my purchase.  One was a former caretaker for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont.

All in all, there were many flip-floppers (hiking from the middle of the trail one direction, then the other from the middle again to mitigate crowding), the section hikers I met at Brassie Brook, a couple celebrating the second half of their honeymoon hike by doing all of Connecticut and a NYC group who coincidentally was led by an outdoor shop a block from my sister-in-law’s in Brooklyn, NY! Small, small world.I’ve been in the shop often. We became quick friends, as you can imagine. I’m very happy to hear that his business is growing. I showed him the demerit badge I got in his shop of the bee, which Fielden Stream gave me when I was stung by a mud wasp on Sharon mountain and screamed so loudly that she thought I was bitten by a rattlesnake! Another group came in closer to dark as I was finishing my dinner of beef jerky. (left my titanium spoon in my wife’s pack!)

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

I chatted with the girl from earlier and the honeymoon couple while filtering water, then spent the rest of the evening looping around the camp showing hikers to the privy, bear box, water source, and reminding them fires aren’t allowed. It was a full house, but I loved feeling like a helping hand to them all.

The rain never came though a nice breeze blew through the treetops through the night, and I drifted in and out of sleep until I knew I spotted the makings of the famous sunrise. I ran out to the clearing in front of the shelter, and many of the hikers were there snapping the epic photos of the sun rising over Canaan mountain and the misty valley below.

I retreated to the tent to try and catch a few more Z’s since sunrise was at 5:45, but it was no use, and I knew it was going to be beastly hot again. So best to get going and beat the heat as much as I could. I made my breakfast, said goodbyes and inspected the campsites as everyone was leaving, and then headed south to check out Lion’s head.

Linus at Lion's Head

Linus at Lion’s Head

As I approached the northern viewpoint, I spotted the rare pink lady slipper, a favorite flower of ours. It’s also quite rare. Conditions have to be just right, and because of that I haven’t seen one since 2014. I took oodles of photos and then headed to the southern viewpoint with its sweeping views over the twin lakes of Salisbury all the way to Rand’s view in Canaan/Falls Village. I met a nice couple there who were intriqued in what I do, and they took some nice shots of me there.

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

I told them about the lady slippers and the northern view and suggested some hikes for them tomorrow as they were staying in town. As I headed back and took more shots of the flowers I met them there, and a family that was day hiking past who spotted a whole patch of them! How did I miss so many on the way up. Tired, I guess. It was getting hot and hotter already and it wasn’t even 8 am. I ran into the honeymooning couple on the way back up to Riga Junction and one of the groups from the campsite who were hoping to make it another 20 miles to Silver Hill. They looked young and fit enough but in that heat, I suggested some alternates a little closer just in case!

On the way back I managed to irk a bee or wasp sufficiently so that it followed me and quickened my pace significantly back to Riga Junction. On the way I checked out Ball Brook campsites, which were empty. I entertained another go up Bear, but the temperatures were soaring and I was done.

Boundary Marker

Boundary Marker

I headed down the undermountain trail to my car and along the way got many kudos from a day hiker for my volunteer work again. She said “yay, Appy guy, love it love you thank you thank you!” I must have blushed. Her son smiled at me, a little embarrassed. Though it’s always great to be thanked. I also spotted one of the boundary markers I remembered here from last year.

On the drive home I stopped in Kent to visit some of my favorite shops and to pick up some dinner at my favorite bakery there. I had a great adventure, and was ready for my hike the following Saturday for National Trails day. As I’ve been working on this entry a while, that day was today. I had a great hike today and met more great people. I’ll write about that soon. I don’t think I’ll be out next weekend so hopefully I can catch up then on the blog!

Miles day 1: 5.9

Miles day 2: 5.83

Snake sightings: 3!

— 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