A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Mt Algo and Bulls Bridge

Misty trail at Rt 341

Misty trail at Rt 341

Last weekend I was back up in the Kent area for another patrol hike, and for a special meeting of trail minds. Several years ago the AMC, with the support of local town officials, created a group called the Bulls Bridge task force. They monitor the historic Bulls bridge area and keep the parties out, the trails and riverbanks clean, and the people safe. Lately, larger and larger groups are attempting to come in to the area fully loaded with picnic coolers, alcohol, BBQ gear, and more. It’s not a state park and there are no bathrooms, or lifeguards, or janitors to clean up. It is a very beautiful area though so locals from near and far like to visit. This area is just .2 miles off the A.T. and while most of these big crowds aren’t coming to hike the A.T., many A.T. hikers also use the side trail through here as a shortcut to access the amenities on the road across the river. So our AMC chapter helps maintain and protect this spot as well due to its proximity to the A.T.

Algo Shelter

Algo Shelter

They invited me to join the meeting so I could see how the park service works with us, the towns and other maintaining clubs to keep the trail and adjacent properties safe. The special meeting the task force was having on this day was with the NPS ranger in charge of the A.T., and the first selectman from Kent, to address the current issues and come up with additional strategies to keep the increasing numbers of visitors manageable. I stopped by on the way to my hike to confirm the meeting time and say hello, then headed up to the trail crossing on rt 341. I passed many thru hikers walking into town to resupply, as well as several others down by the bridge when I stopped in.

I wanted to check in at Mt. Algo shelter and see what condition the water source was in there, as well as at Thayer Brook.

The Green Tunnel

The Green Tunnel

At last I heard the Algo brook was dry, but we had a lot of rain lately, and so I was hoping it had helped. Its a fairly steep 1,000ft climb up Algo, but I had a New York section to do the following weekend with Fielden Stream with a feature called “Agony Grind,” so it seemed like a little warm-up thigh-burner was in order. The shelter is about .6 up the trail from the road, or about halfway to the summit. The brook is on the side trail from the A.T. to the shelter, and I was happy to see it was running again. There were several hikers in the shelter packing up. There were 2 northbound and 2 southbound hikers. I asked them if they had any questions on town or trail resources ahead, and gladly answered them and enjoyed a brief chat about the weather and trail conditions ahead and behind. There were no fire rings to clear, so I swept the privy and signed the register. I was looking for some of the hikers I was following on YouTube but while I didn’t see them, I did see Vino’s name, who found Ninja Roll’s phone for him in Virginia. So that was kinda cool.

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

It was steamy and sweltering hot this morning – the air was not moving at all. I was soaked with sweat by the time I got to the summit, so I cruised quickly down the other side to the gap where Thayer Brook sits between Mt. Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. I took off my pack and cooled off and had a snack. Thayer brook was running strongly, as I suspected. I dipped my hat in the cold water of the brook before I started up again, which helped cool me down. As I left the brook to return towards my car I heard a very loud branch snap down the brook, and went into paranoia mode. All these stories of big predators in the woods by the trail lately, and my mind got the best of me. I made double time back up to the summit, and then even faster on the way down. I heard more branches snapping on the way down and imagined I was being stalked by a bear or panther!

Love on the Rocks

Love on the Rocks

I need to stop reading so much trail gossip on the forums… soon I had a nobo thru hiker right behind me, who was very possibly responsible for the noises behind me I let freak me out.  He made me laugh because not only did I realize he was probably the bear or panther, but he also said the southbounders who passed him earlier said the shelter was much closer, and I said hey well you’re here now, and there’s water! I said goodbye as he went down the shelter path and got to my car soon after. I was relieved to be back in the car and cooling off in the air conditioning. I drove down the dirt road that parallels Schaghticoke mountain back to the Bulls bridge. I passed a few more thru-hikers making their way up the section of trail that is on the road.

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

It was great to meet the ranger and hear his vast knowledge of all things trail and his ideas and suggestions to help the group manage the surging number of visitors to the area.  I felt privileged to be part of a meeting with such dedicated volunteers and our counterparts in the park service.  The next few weekends, Fielden Stream and I will be back in New York to work on finally finishing the state. We will do it in 2 or 3 more hikes, including some day hikes, especially on the treacherous rebar ladder up the cliff on what I think is Bellvale Mountain. I want to be going UP that, and with a daypack if I can have the choice!

Miles: 3.5

– Linus

Advertisements

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