A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Campsite Cleanups, Sharon, CT

Climbing Sharon Mtn

Climbing Sharon Mtn

As the season ramps up, I’m finding more work to be done in terms of cleanup as well as more prep on my part to be in my best shape for the longer days and hikes ahead. I filled the gap between the last patrol hike and this one with a quick hike at a local nature preserve near home, which has some nice historical artifacts to add another layer to the appeal of the hike. I am a history buff as well. I just bought the book “Hiking through history: Civil War sites on the Appalachian Trail” and am really looking forward to reading it. That was one of my favorite parts of hiking through Harper’s Ferry, though the trail itself through there is also very beautiful.

Steep ridgelines

Steep ridgelines

On this day I was planning to cover a section just north from last time. I had suggested this and one other option to my crew leader as places I was considering to get out and do any cleanup necessary. He had responded that this area hadn’t been walked over lately so it was settled. My friend in the AMC, Chilly Cheeks, joined me again and we started the hike just a few trail miles north of our last outing to Pine Swamp Brook shelter and campsites. We were considering NOBO vs SOBO but as I was feeling under the weather from a recent cold going around my family, and she having had a late night, we opted for NOBO as the large elevation change would be a long descent at the end  rather than kicking off with a huge ascent. There were still plenty of ups. There always is.

At Sharon Mtn Campsites

At Sharon Mtn Campsites

There was a forecast for some possible rain but I didn’t really know how it was going to play out… do we ever? Oh so many times I’ve re-worked or canceled a hike due to rain only to find it tapered off and moved on through quicker than expected. More on that to come…

We left one car at the end of the hike in Falls Village, and it turns out our overseer of trails was there too preparing to do the same hike (though the full section) with his chainsaw to cut any problem blow downs. He shuttled down to where we started the section a few weeks ago at West Cornwall Road.

Our path behind us

Our path behind us

As we already cleaned up the campsite at Pine Swamp recently, we drove the second car up Mt Easter road to where the trail crosses near the summit and parked the second car there. This did save us several uphills which was nice but really the point was to be closer to the first of the two campsites as we had a limited amount of time as well.

The trail climbs pretty quickly up to the summit of Mt. Easter, and I recalled my notorious mud wasp sting here two years ago as well as the large slabs of pink marble all along the trail near the summit.

Hang Glider View, Taconics beyond

Hang Glider View, Taconics beyond

Chilly cheeks enjoyed the mud wasp tale and we arrived at the summit view which is somewhat grown in. Though when in winter, you can see the peaks of the Catskills. While I love a good view, I also understand that we can’t clearcut large areas of forest everywhere there’s a potential nice view.

Not long after the Mt. Easter summit we passed a group of 4 backpackers who were section hiking and said our greetings. There was an adult and a few teenagers or college aged kids so I’m assuming a father and kids. We then reached Sharon Mountain campsite and immediately saw some issues. There was a campsite that had a fire ring, as well as a shirt left hanging on a tree nearby. Surely we all know the rules of pack it in, pack it out. And with almost no leaf cover yet and the shirt being bright white, there was no missing this. In fact we saw it from 20 feet away as we approached the camp site. This is blatant disregard for nature and the rules of the trail.

Chilly Cheeks climbing some beautiful stairs on Sharon Mtn

Chilly Cheeks climbing some beautiful stairs on Sharon Mtn

Sadly so many hikers are either entitled or blissfully ignorant and so cleaning this up becomes someone else’s job. Fire rings also always come with foil or some other kind of trash in the ashes. Folks, you need a much hotter fire to melt metal, and even if you could it would just liquify the metal which would then melt onto the earth leaving a different but just as ugly mark on the landscape.

We cleared the ring and took the shirt and other trash and checked the other campsites. As we were walking out of the campsite and starting our next climb over the undulating ridges and peaks of Sharon Mountain, we heard it. We heard it several more times as well. Loud thunder.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The darkening skies had given us some expectation things might get wet, but now it was definite. Ironically this is also the same spot Fielden Stream and I began to get soaked on what would be a 6 mile slog in the rain 2 years ago. The rain began as we ascended to the first peak. Sharon Mountain is a very large landmass, similar to nearby Scaghticoke Mountain. There are many shoulders and peaks and the mountain reaches for miles in each direction. This entire section is pretty much Sharon Mountain, though Mt Easter is another summit that is encircled by and attached to this one.

Please don't

Please don’t

You can’t really tell the difference when hiking it other than its another peak. The first peak and in fact all of them are no more than a few hundred feet elevation gain but its the downs before each up that give you the roller coaster experience. Nonetheless, we both had our new raincoats and were eager to put them to the test. It wasn’t really cold, and we only had about 3 more miles to go today, with no significant rock scrambles. So there was no real concern. We just enjoyed it, its part of the experience.

We passed a few more section backpackers (everyone seemed to be headed south today) and as we reached the beautiful “Hang Glider view,” the rain subsided and we were treated to expanding views. At first we just saw the Lime Rock race track and nearby Gallows Hill.

Not a trash can

Not a trash can

We could hear the announcements as a rare cyclist race was going on (we followed their route to the track up and down rt 7 to and from our hike) and was we watched, the clouds and fog moved out and you could now see the entire Taconic Range beyond. Lion’s Head and Bear Mtn in CT, and Race, Everett, Bushnell and Jug End in Massachusetts. You could also see Prospect mountain and we remarked how we loved being able to trace the path of the trail in front or behind you as you progress on your hike.  We took pictures and had a quick snack, wary of a returning rainstorm.

We rode over two more ridges and got a few more ups and another route of the trail behind us. We stopped at a stream so I could show off my new water filter and system and camel up. I made multiple airplane references as we began our initial and final descents in to ‘the greater Falls Village area.” The descent into Belter’s Bump was through a beautiful Hemlock forest, though the destruction by the wooly algelid beetle was rampant. We reached Belters and found not only 3 different areas where campers had made fires, but one scattered with all sorts of trash.

On Belter's Bump looking East

On Belter’s Bump looking East

Large piece of wood from hazard trees we cut were partially or fully burned and one of the fire rings barely had any protection from the bed of pine needles all over the ground around it. These are extremely flammable. I can’t tell you how upset this made me, as this was not far from being another large brush fire on our trail. We found a nail on a tree with no sign which we are pretty certain was the stoves only no fire sign that used to be there. Likely burned as firewood. There are many that have a deep disrespect for nature, and for rules. Sometimes I wish you had to have a leave no trace class before you get to hike the A.T. There are already so many beautiful parks defaced by graffiti. And today’s generation of young hikers as well as many locals just feel like they can do whatever they want because they will never be back.

Crossing at 112/7 with Barrack Mtn Beyond

Crossing at 112/7 with Barrack Mtn Beyond

Anyway we cleaned up the trash and the fire evidence and took in one last view on Belter’s Bump. This is a smaller hill with a little rocky outcrop requiring one last up to a rewarding view of the peaks of the Mohawk Trail (formerly the old route of the A.T. here) to the east. As we descended we were glad we chose the direction we did and joked about nearby Barrack Mtn on the Mohawk and what a beast it is. We plan to conquer it this summer. The rain never did come back. We picked up the second car back atop Mt. Easter and headed home.

Folks, please respect the trail. Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. There will always be those of us there to clean up and protect the trail but we can’t be everywhere and its your personal responsibility. Just like at home.

Miles: 4.7

— Linus

 

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A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Old and New

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Last weekend I did another trail patrol hike, mainly to check in on a campsite and its water supply. I also added a little side jaunt on a section that was once the A.T. but is now known as the Mohawk trail.

I headed back up to Falls Village, where we did our family backpacking trip over labor day weekend (scroll down to the next entry). But from here I headed south instead. This section runs from the crossing of Rts 7 and 112 to Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge.

Top of the bump

Top of the bump

It also includes the famous “hang glider’s view” on Sharon Mountain to Lime Rock racetrack and beyond. There’s a campsite farther south of that view known as Sharon Mountain campsite, though I was not headed that far today. I was here to check out Belter’s campsites, just south of Belter’s bump, a small outcrop on a ridge only .75 miles south of the intersection on the northern end of the section. Then I would turn around, head north and pick up the blue-blazed Mohawk trail.

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

I parked in the hiker lot on Rt. 7 just south of the bridge over the Housatonic that the trail crosses. The trail loops around a cornfield as it skirts the river, then crosses the busy road. From here it’s pretty much right up to Belter’s bump. This spot is named after a local farmer whose land it used to be. It’s a few hundred feet up but rather quickly and so it definitely gets your heart going. At the top is a small rocky outcrop where you get a nice little view of the mountains to the east. In summer, the rattlesnakes like to sunbathe here. Luckily I didn’t meet any this time or when we were through here last as it was a downpour on that trip.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The campsites are a little bit farther down the trail but one of them that is farther up the hill from the others is close to the outcropping. The spring for the campsite is still a tiny bit farther down the trail on the opposite side of the campsites. I went up the blue blazed campsite trail and inspected the three different camping areas and privy. These are nice sized campsites and had recently had some trees cut down and so there were many log seats around them. The campsites were mostly in a hemlock and pine grove so lots of soft needles covered the ground and it looked like a really nice place to camp. I’d say the primitive exposed privy might be the only deterrent for some, but it was clean, and it’s better than no privy. There are very few of these left on our section of trail.

Early autumn on the trail

Early autumn on the trail

I didn’t find any fire rings or issues at the campsites, so I then went to check out the spring. It was running just enough to be usable. I believe this one is fairly consistently reliable.

I then headed back up and over the bump and met a northbound section backpacker with his dog. This time of year really is a popular one for these folks as the weather has cooled down, the thrus are all long gone so the campsites are less crowded, and the leaves are changing.  It’s a much more individual experience which is what most of us are seeking when we backpack. Someone had left their coat up on the outcropping so I brought it down with me. I dropped it in the car as I passed right by it again before heading north over the bridge. The bridge has several official Appalachian trail logos in it and a few blazes painted on it. Last time we were here in that downpour and were crossing the road from the bridge, a large group of bikers at the light had a bit of a laugh at our expense. We were as miserable as we looked after 9.5 miles in the cold rain that day.

The Bridge is also the trail

The Bridge is also the trail

Ahead of me I had views of the shoulder of Barrack Mountain, my next exploration. It rises steeply over the river and the climb begins quickly after leaving the A.T. The A.T. follows Warren Turnpike for a short distance from route 7 and alongside the Housatonic Valley Regional High school before returning to the woods. I picked up a lot of trash here along the road, more likely from high school students than hikers. Just before the A.T. returns to the woods, the northern end of the Mohawk trail begins. Before a big re-route a few decades ago to the west of the river, this was the original A.T route. It includes many scenic spots including Breadloaf Mountain, Cathedral Pines, Mohawk Mountain ski resort, Deans Ravine, and Barrack Mountain. I have done about the southern 9 or so miles from its southern end on Breadloaf Mountain to the top of Mohawk ski resort with its incredible views all the way to the Catskills and beyond.

Trail along the road

Trail along the road

I had heard that Barrack Mountain was quite steep and challenging, and I wanted to see just how steep and challenging it was. I made the turn off at the blue-blazes and climbed up a railroad embankment. After crossing the railroad tracks, and passing to the south of the hiker — and biker-loved Mountainside cafe along route 7, the trail quickly climbs. After a brief but steep section it follows the edges of the mountain along narrow and pretty eroded dirt tracts. Rock piles and dry creek beds through them break up the dirt path and provide some breaks from watching your feet every step. As I rounded the next corner. the trail headed straight up through larger rock piles.These required a lot of careful negotiation with the path covered in piles of leaves. In several places I had to scramble and climb hand over hand and get my balance.

Barrack Mountain

Barrack Mountain

The trail here reminded me a bit of Agony Grind in New York, but steeper and less maintained.

The climb became steeper and the leaves more precarious. After a few more switchbacks I realized I was running out of time quickly and that the pace I was taking to do this safely would leave me short of the summit today. Looking up, the trail became even narrower and steeper and there was no way I’d be able to summit any more quickly than I was going. So I prepared myself for the slippery descent and turned back.

Turning onto the Mohawk

Turning onto the Mohawk

Its easy to feel defeated in these situations but I knew if I had more time I could have made it all the way.  And sometimes we have to make these decisions whether for time constraints or just for safety reasons. A slip on this part of the mountain meant severe injury, and without any other hikers around, help would be hard to come by. I made the judgement call that I think was best, and I know I will be back to complete it when I have more time. I’d like to backpack the rest of the Mohawk Trail since the original shelters are still there from when it was the A.T. I have about 18 miles or less of it now to complete and could do that over a weekend, perhaps next summer. The mountain certainly lived up to its reputation at least.

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

I got back down to the cafe and walked route 7 back to my car, already planning when I could get back to finish this challenge.  In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I are off to Warwick in 5 days to finish the last 6 miles of New York and celebrate her birthday on the trail and then at a beautiful B&B on Greenwood lake. I promised this year I wouldn’t make her sleep in a tent on her birthday. That section promises to be a tough climb up from the state line trail to the ridgeline, with rebar ladders and lots of steeps. But once we’re up there we will enjoy miles of lake views from the ridgelines and it will be a gorgeous finale to another state. That also means I can finish our New York video that I’ve been working on the last two years and share that with you in about 2 weeks or less. I can’t wait.

Steep and steeper

Steep and steeper

I also hope you will join our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain club for our 10th annual A.T. day on October 15th. We have hikes all along the CT section of the trail, as well as hiking in Macedonia Brook State Park along what was also once part of the A.T. There’s also paddling trips, a beginner’s rock climbing class at St. John’s Ledges, trail work volunteering projects, and family hikes. All followed by a BBQ.  I and many of the great caretakers of our trails in Connecticut will be there. Come hike, help out and have a burger afterwards!

Miles: 4

— Linus