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

 

Weekend volunteering and the first overnight of the season!

Trail cleanup last weekend

Trail cleanup last weekend

The last two weekends I got some great hikes in while also joining the rest of the trails committee for some spring trail work.

Last weekend we had our committee kickoff work party where we started the day by reviewing the accomplishments of the previous season and thanked all the volunteers involved in the various projects. I got these great work gloves with the club logo which I happily dirtied up a few hours later. We broke off into work projects for the day, and I headed up Schaghticoke mountain with 3 other volunteers to do some cleanup.

I recall this section being a big climb, especially when fully loaded for an overnight. Fielden Stream and I were forewarned of its difficulty earlier in the season we backpacked it in 2014, and put it off until later in the summer when we were a bit more warmed up. Luckily, the frequent reports of rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the rock outcrops were not an issue on our overnight that summer, but it was certainly on our minds. In fact, this mountain’s campsite was once named “Rattlesnake Campground” until being renamed due to it frightening campers. This is one of the toughest sections of the Connecticut trail, from either direction.

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

This mountain alone has multiple shoulders, peaks in two states, and many sharp ups and downs in between. This first ascent when heading northbound is a good 880ft climb from the road along the river to the first overlook, which is just after you cross into New York for one last short stretch in that state. Originally the trail entered Connecticut up on this summit so this was the true state line crossing. Nowadays it comes into Connecticut farther south, follows the river until this climb, re-enters New York for 2 miles and goes back into Connecticut for good. The ascent southbound of Schaghticoke is no less daunting as you first have a steep 700ft climb up Mt. Algo before another steep 5-600ft climb up the north side of Schaghticoke. In between it dips down to lower ridgelines and climbs again and again from end to end.

Along the Housatonic River

Along the Housatonic River

On the work hike last weekend, I didn’t have as tough a time as I was only carrying day hiking supplies and a light saw. We also brought up loppers and a few hoes (insert chuckle here). We cleaned up leaf buildup around waterbars, filled in areas of trail that had been widened by erosion and lots of hikers, and cleaned off any debris from stone steps where needed. The weather was pretty crappy when I arrived in the morning but fortunately by the time the meeting was over it was clearing and we got a nice view from the overlook and some great conditions for our hike back down. Afterwards, we had a short social gathering and a little more planning conversation before heading home.

Ten Mile Shelter

Ten Mile Shelter

Yesterday I headed back up this beast, and again with a fully loaded pack. I was out for an overnight trail patrol hike, to check out a few campsites and resolve any issues I could in the process. I drove up after work on Friday night and hit the trail at the base of this mountain at around 630 heading south. I arrived around 7 at the beautiful Ten Mile River Campground. It is set 1.8 miles south along the confluence of the Ten Mile and Housatonic rivers at the base of Ten Mile Hill. This is a very popular campground because of its idyllic locale and easy access from town. I was here a few months ago to check things out as well.

Livin' in a tent, down by the river

Livin’ in a tent, down by the river

There is also a shelter here so the first thing I did before setting up my camp was to check out the shelter and sign in to the register there. Again, there was a campfire site and burned logs lying alongside the shelter. I cleared and scattered these and left a nice note in the register asking folks to please not make a fire — it is prohibited here, for good reason.

I then headed to the campground where there was another, bigger, fire ring. As dark was falling, I set up my camp, hung my bear bag, and got dinner started. It was a very chilly night which explains why I was alone for the night.  Luckily I had my new down bag, and brought along my down jacket and both my foam and inflatable sleeping pads. I had my usual long johns baselayers and a fresh pair of socks for sleeping in. I had a ‘nice dinner’ of Mountain House Lasagna and settled in for the night.

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

These days I’m in bed by 9 anyway as work and parenting wear me out quick. I checked in with Fielden Stream who was enjoying a night in NYC with friends, a stark difference to my evening plans. I said goodnight to my kids and soon the rushing river lulled me to sleep. Nothing makes me sleep better and faster than water. Rivers or rain or both. It was so peaceful, and also has the benefit of masking any small critter sounds that may be perceived as much larger when alone in the woods!

My favorite 'blazes'

My favorite ‘blazes’

It got down to about 25 but I was pretty cozy and happy I was properly prepared for it. I woke around 6 to the sounds of my favorite owls — the barred owl! I have missed their songs for the last year so it was a fantastic wake up call. While I made my breakfast I cleaned some trash left in the privy compost bucket and cleared the fire ring as I was too short on time the night before and no one else had come in that would be tempted by it.  I am a fan of most of the Mountain House meals but the scrambled eggs and bacon one…. eh. I had to drain the excess water and it just reminded me of cheap reconstituted eggs at a motel buffet. Maybe a couple days out I’d be ok with that, but I wasn’t that desperate for eggs and bacon. The mini-moos from my office kitchen were a nice addition to my Starbucks Via, and helped wash down what I could eat of that meal. I cleaned everything out at the wash pit, packed up the tent and sleeping gear and hit the trail around 715. I knew I had a big day ahead of me. About 9-10 miles, depending on the side trail distances into the next two campgrounds. And at least 2,000ft of vertical over challenging terrain. I ended up being pretty accurate on those numbers.

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

The hike back north to where I had parked was a good warm up with great views of the peaks I would soon ascend. There’s not much vertical rise here as it follows the river, only a small hill or two. I made note of a blowdown overhanging the trail which wasn’t supported by a very strong tree and could be a hazard. Farther north just before the road, a vulture peered down at me from the tree tops but I told him I wasn’t dead yet and to check on me about 8 or 9 miles up the trail as I might be by then! I also got video of a woodpecker at work, who luckily didn’t think I posed a threat and went on about his business.

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

I dropped the bag of trash from the campsite in the car and headed up the beast. I admired our trail work from the weekend before as I huffed and puffed my way up to the overlook. I took a break there to re-secure my sloppily attached foam pad and have a snack while I took in the view. I met a day hiker out for an out-and-back hike, and who I would meet again several miles up trail on his way back. I headed north along the western ridge on the New York side and was treated to a northerly view to Macedonia and Cobble mountain that I did not have when we passed through here that summer due to the leaf cover. As stated earlier in my blog, I’m really enjoying getting these extended views for the first time by doing these sections in the winter, late fall and early spring.

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

The trail crossed back into Connecticut, introduced by a nice climb up to the eastern ridgeline of the mountain and the only section of the entire trail that goes through an Indian reservation. That is the Schaghticoke Indian reservation, where the mountain got its name. Their home is along the tidal plain of the river at the base of the mountain below. Here the trail crosses a rocky steep ledge known as Indian Rocks with sweeping views south and north of the Housatonic river and valley.

A royal throne with a view

A royal throne with a view

Its a quick little scramble which I was worried would be a bit icy like my tent poles that morning and some of the other rocks along the hike so far. One rock is a bit of a perilous slide if wet or icy so my main goal was getting past it before the possible (though slight) prediction of rain or snow flurries. Luckily it was dry and I snapped some photos of the bucolic scene below before venturing on. The rocks are at about 1,330 ft and are visible from the road below. I also like to point them out when driving by. From here the trail rises and drops along the eastern face, with equally steep climbs and descents and views from many ledges.

Many water sources along the mountain were rushing heavily with water, so I was not worried about finding a spot to fill my water should I run out. There were two large brooks I knew of on the route and they were no less active. I reached the mountain campground side trail around 11am and made the steep climb up along the rushing and cascading brook to look things over.

Is this New Hampshire?

Is this New Hampshire?

There were a few blowdowns that needed noting, and I also checked out the privy, one of only 2 or 3 exposed ‘throne’ style privies along the trail in our state. Another 12 or 13 have already been updated to the enclosed moldering privies we all love. While not having any cover, this one did have a view!

I remember around this time on our hike through here together a few summers ago, that Fielden and I were both feeling pretty tired by this point from all the ups and downs we didn’t seem to notice in the guide. We seemed to think we would only have one last small climb over Algo before we made it to the shelter for the night. I too, was feeling it here, but this time I knew better. There was one more huge climb up the higher peak this mountain holds in Connecticut. But the trail drops down along the ridge to about 850 feet just before its climb back up to 1400 ft. Its a hell of a climb with many false summits, though there were some more sweeping views including one of the Taconic plateau in the distance far beyond Kent. When I reached the top, I had a long break to have some fruit and energy gels and share my equally hellish climb story with Fielden Stream.

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

I had to be in Kent at 2 to see the amazing lady who trained me do a presentation on her 2004 thru hike. She’s now retired and planning a 2017 PCT thru hike! So I knew time was ticking and hauled butt down the steep north face across Thayer Brook to ascend Algo and make my final campsite check before reaching the end of the hike. The rocks coming down here reminded me of the white mountains, as the trail was just rocks. I considered filtering some water at the brook but I had a bit left and other than one last easy climb up Algo from this side, I decided that was unnecessary. There’s also a brook at that shelter a half mile north should I have been wrong. Unfortunately it was around here, just before the end, that I was hitting a wall. This was my first fully loaded hike of the year and despite having 60 miles of day hikes behind me since the new year, I was feeling it by this point and my leg muscles decided to start growling at me. I took another break before making it over the top of Algo and down through the amazing mountain laurel tunnels to the Algo shelter and brook. I met a backpacker there who was waiting out the cold a bit longer and we chatted briefly while I signed in at the register. I looked around the rest of the campsite for any other issues and then called my friend from the trails committee who was picking me up at the road on the way to the presentation. He saved me a mile-plus walk into town. After over 9 miles on the dirt, paved roads can be pretty brutal on the feet.

I'm lichen this tree

I’m lichen this tree

We had a nice lunch in town and then made it to the library for the sold out crowd. It was great to see such enthusiasm for her story, and we even got to be part of the presentation and talk about our roles in caring for the trail in Connecticut. We invited everyone to our volunteer event next month called “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail” where you can volunteer alongside us to give back to the local section of the A.T. There were a few past thru-hikers in the audience, including one couple who were active members of the ALDHA, the Applachian Long-Distance Hikers Association, another great group who help care for the trail. They also provide all the information for the Connecticut section in the official Appalachian Trail guides.

I got home feeling fulfilled, satisfied, exhausted, and ready for the next adventure. I can’t do any hiking next weekend due to other commitments, but this hike was enough to hold me over and I am looking forward to my Wilderness First Aid training the following weekend, and then my and Fielden Stream’s first overnight together in New York.

I’d love to see you at Give-a-Day. Its free of course and snacks and refreshments will be provided at a social afterwards. Here’s the link.

Day 1 Miles: 1.8

Day 2 Miles: 9.2

— Linus