New ridge runner and LNT training overnight

Last week I joined the new crew of seasonal summer ridge runners as well as the coordinators for a trail training overnight. We had four main goals: LNT (leave no trace training), set up the caretaker tent at Sages Ravine, replace the shelter registers, and learn the job. That’s why I was there, to show everyone the job. We worked hard and they learned a lot. We cleared a lot of water bars, over seven fire rings, cleaned shelters and privies (and filled the duff buckets) and packed out a lot of trash. As this was the real season kickoff for this role, a lot of these issues like the fire rings may have been left over from winter.

We had a great night at the campsite, and a lot of great hiker interactions. They were glad to have me along to show them the ropes, and I was glad to have a great crew who were eager to learn. I loved learning the LNT lessons too and getting certified.

I will be out again this weekend for my first official solo ridge runner outing. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 4

Miles day 2: 8

  • Linus
Mountain Azalea

Mountain Azalea

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Entering Sages Ravine

Entering Sages Ravine

Setting up the caretaker tent

Setting up the caretaker tent

Sages Ravine

Sages Ravine

My campsite

My campsite

Red efts

Red efts

Trillium

Trillium

At the top of Bear looking north

At the top of Bear looking north

On the tower at the top of Bear

On the tower at the top of Bear

Looking south from Bear Mountain

Looking south from Bear Mountain

The famous Riga view

The famous Riga view

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Volunteer Roundup and Overnight at Silver Hill (with new gear reviews!)

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

Last weekend saw a lot of trail activity for me – which was just what I needed! We kicked off our Connecticut AMC Chapter trail season with our annual volunteer roundup. This consists of a morning meeting where we do recognition/awards over coffee and donuts, and discuss trail issues and any other pressing chapter issues and interchapter issues. Then we break up into several groups and head out on to the trail, doing as much trail work as possible on each section and then reconvene for a brief social in the late afternoon.

This year I achieved my 250 hours of volunteer work award, and my son received his 12 hour award. That felt good, and I am glad to be getting my son out there to help as well.

My 250 hour patch and my son's 12 hour pin

My 250 hour patch and my son’s 12 hour pin

I went out on the section from West Cornwall Road south to Caesar Brook campsite with that section’s maintainer, our overseer of trails, and a new volunteer. We used a hazel hoe to clear water bars and drainage ditches of leaves and duff. We met a few hikers out enjoying the beautiful weather and even gave one a ride into town when we returned to the trail head later.

We also cleared a log jam at Caesar brook that was causing the water level to be too high to cross using the stepping stones. We noticed some animal damage to the chum privy at the campsite as well as a few larger blowdowns we couldn’t clear with saws. All of these get reported so that a sawyer or structure specialist can get out there and remedy those problems. Our trails overseer maintains the next section south to Rt 4 so he continued on to check over his section and we headed back.

Creek on Surdan Mountain

Creek on Surdan Mountain

After some paperwork for the maintenance and a few snacks and refreshments, I carried on with the next stage of my plan which was to head up to the Silver Hill campsite for the night to meet my friend Brian, as well as our trails overseer who by coincidence was also planning to camp up there that beautiful night.

The climb from the road is a short .9 miles but its all uphill, and I loaded up on water at the spring in case the pump was out of service, and some refreshments from the social. So it was a bit tough until I got my flow back. Its also always tougher to hike several hours, then stop and then start again. Especially when switching from a light day pack to a fully loaded backpack! It was fine though and before I knew it I was at the campsite.

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Brian was already there, and had been a few hours. I was eager to set up a new piece of gear: the REI Flash Air Hammock. This was my first time with a hammock setup, and I watched a video the night before that had convinced me to buy it in the first place, about how to set it up. So when I found the right trees and spot, I was able to set it up without issue. However, the hammock does have full instructions in the packaging.

We also had a troop of 25 boy scouts and leaders show up at the campsite around dusk, just as we were finishing our dinner. I tried out my new GSI soloist cook set, with good results. I have a decent titanium cook pot but its getting a little beat up, and the larger handle and capacity of the pot in this set means its easier to eat out of and prepare food in, as well as being able to boil enough water for multiple meals when we have friends along.

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

It also has a large plastic bowl which fits the same lid as the pot. The pot lid has a strainer for liquids and a pour spout area. It comes with a bag to protect your stove, as well as a carry bag for the pot that can hold water, with a rigid wiry structure that keeps it standing when holding liquids. This could come in handy in many ways. The spork isn’t all that great, but it did the job for eating my peanut butter ramen out of the pot. If I was having a mountain house meal out of the bag, I’d want my longer titanium spork. But all in all it was hardly heavier or bulkier than my existing setup, so I will probably stick with this one unless I have a particular reason to go back to my original pot setup.

Arriving at the campsite

Arriving at the campsite

As the scouts fought the sunset while getting dinner cooked and all their tents setup, we enjoyed a conversation on the wooden deck with the mountain view. We answered any questions they had about their upcoming trail itinerary and then checked in on the privy conditions which we had heard might have included a raccoon stuck in the privy hole! Luckily for the raccoon, he was able to dig himself out. But we may need to check the foundation for damage or instability. The note in the trail register from the initial discovery was quite amusing.

It was now approaching hiker midnight and time to hit the hammock for its inaugural use! The most appealing factors of the hammock were its ease of setup for a newbie, and its compact size and weight.

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

While not optimal for people over 5’8″, its a great first hammock at 2lbs 14oz and $179! I also knew that if it was not for me, I could return it to REI. I got it for my birthday and was excited to finally be able to try it out. Brian is also a gear geek like me so he watched while I set it up and took note of all its great features, remarking too that they seem to have thought of every detail. I’d say the only one they didn’t do is make the bag for it a tad larger. Squeezing it all back in was tough. But another great thing about the hammock is that every piece of gear is included, so there’s no handicap or learning curve to get all the necessary parts. I toss and turn a lot and am a side sleeper so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

I know larger and wider hammocks allow you to lie more diagonally and flat, which might be more enjoyable for a sleeper like me. Even though my pad was secured by the pad loops, I still had trouble getting used to being in a confined space like this, and not making it rock heavily while I attempted to get into my sleeping clothes and sleeping bag. When I did finally accomplish this, it took 10 minutes for it to stop rocking me like a baby.

Each time I rolled to one side during the night I was worried I would throw off the balance and roll it over, but I never did. New hammocker fear I guess! I did get a bit used to the balance after a few hours and a few position changes, but I didn’t get used to the feeling my body was being squished from the top and bottom like an accordian.

Moonlight at the campsite

Moonlight at the campsite

This may be a better hammock for a smaller person, but I will give it a few more tries before I make a final decision.  If I decide not to continue using it, I may give it to my son. The bug net design is very nice, but I am not used to having it so near to my face. It is held up and away by a crossbar, but compared to a tent, this was definitely foreign to me. I suppose if I had experience sleeping in a small bivy I’d be more used to it.

Ultimately I did like it but my tent is a pound lighter. It had its benefits over a tent but a tent also has its benefits over a hammock. So the jury’s still out. I didn’t sleep very well however, and Sunday night I slept a solid 12 hours in my bed!  It was nice hearing the owls out at night, it’s one of my favorite sounds. And it was fun listening to some of the scouts’ conversations as my son is the same age and was on a camping trip himself in North Carolina that night with his school. So it made me think of him a lot.

Brian heading up Silver Hill

Brian heading up Silver Hill

In the morning, packing it up was easy, except that part about getting everything to fit back in its bag. We were all rising around 630 am, so I headed to the pavilion building and heated up my water for a nice cup(bowl) of coffee. We answered a few more of the scoutleaders’ questions about their planned mileage and campsite for the day, and when the three of us were packed up we headed out of camp and up and over Silver Hill. It’s not a long climb from the campsite till you reach the ridge, but there’s a fun scramble or two on the way. We took photos at the view on the ridge, and then Brian had to race ahead because he was meeting a group for a day hike of another 11 miles north.

Brian and I on Silver Hill

Brian and I on Silver Hill

On the way down, we brushed in some areas of trail around steep parts where hikers would choose to go instead of the trail, causing erosion. We also cleared any fallen branches and reported a larger blowdown up top for the sawyers to address later.

We took an old portion of the A.T. back to the car, and that was very cool for me to see where it used to go. It however was loaded with ticks. Luckily my pants had been treated with permethrin and I only found one on my pants.

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

I had a BBQ planned in the afternoon so I headed home from my car once I got dropped back at that trailhead. You would never know from the heavy rain that Saturday morning on the way up, that it would be such a beautiful weekend. The rain didn’t return until I was long gone.

I learned a lot of new trail maintenance skills, and I just bought the same saw that our trail overseer Jim has, the Silky Big Boy 2000! My saw that was given to me by the ridge runner coordinator last year has taken a beating, and I had some dividend money left to spend at REI.

Miles total: 6

  • Linus

 

 

 

 

Ten Mile River Campsites Clean-up with Ray and Jiffy Pop

March 23rd weekend I had my son “Jiffy Pop” home from school and in preparation for some trail volunteer work he will be doing there, I wanted to get him back out for some more volunteer trail work up here in Connecticut. A few seasons back he helped me for half a day, and he was eager to go out and hike and do some work. I am more than happy to encourage that! With this volunteer time under his belt he has now also earned his first volunteer award with the club!

We met up with Ray, our friend from the Connecticut chapter, and member of the Bull’s Bridge task force. They are there to keep Bull’s Bridge from being the trash pile it once was years ago, and manage crowds at this busy area.

We did a loop down to the Ten Mile River Campsites and Shelter, to pick up trash, clean up fire rings, and anything else that awaited us.

There was a good amount of trash and evidence of rogue fires at the shelter, and so we cleared all of that and checked the bear boxes and privies, filling up duff buckets and checking the water pump.

Unfortunately folks (suspecting locals) are still up to a bunch of bushcraft nonsense at this campsite. While that’s a neat skill, cutting down young saplings to do it, is not only illegal on National Park Service land, but just wrong. We will be addressing this with the town and the ATC so we can get some signage in place to that effect, and hopefully it will make a difference.

Curious about some colorful ribbons along the Ten Mile River, Ray told me the princess from the nearby Schaghticoke tribe placed these at many of the river confluences in the area to bless them in a ceremony. Fascinating! Please if you see them do not disturb.

Pictures below.

Miles: 2.6

– Linus

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking upriver to Schaghticoke Mtn

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull's Bridge

Linus, Jiffy Pop and Ray at Bull’s Bridge

 

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Ray and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

Jiffy Pop checking the bear box

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

LInus and Jiffy Pop at the shelter

Schaghticoke River blessing

Schaghticoke River blessing

Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail: Connecticut Chapter

Ready to lop!

Ready to lop!

A cold, rainy day for trail work, but still better than the office! Saturday was our annual “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail” for our Connecticut chapter.  While we have many annual work parties, this is the big one, where we have several different projects happening at once. We start with a volunteer recognition. I got a carabiner cup for 200+ hours so far, which I gave to Fielden stream as I have one already. This year we also recognized a volunteer who recently passed. He had been involved for decades all around the region. Maine, VT, CT and on his passing has been memorialized by more than a few organizations he was part of as well as publications in the places he lived. His widow was there today to join the work party.

waterbar clearing

waterbar clearing

One of the projects was a stone staircase in her husband’s honor and which was her specialty. However given the cold, wet conditions that was substituted with some waterbar upgrades. She was very nice and I enjoyed spending time with her on our project and learning more about her husband’s many accomplishments. After the recognitions we split up to the various project locations. This year included lopping, kiosk replacement, and the ‘great garlic mustard pull’ in addition to the waterbar project.

My friend Brian and I chose to do the “Loppa-palooza” and waterbar project on Bear Mountain, our state’s highest peak. This was led by our Chapter Chair Dave. Several other of my friends in the chapter came along, as well as a 2011 thru hiker from the area who was volunteering with us for the first time.

the trail winding up bear

the trail winding up bear

Luckily a road took us up to just below the summit and we only had about 300 ft to climb vs the 1600 or so feet should we have started in town.  It was raining the whole time but luckily it was light for the work part of the day. I didn’t have rain pants or boots on so I was grateful for that.  At 40 degrees, rain can get dangerous quickly.  I just find rain pants too clammy and your sweat just gets them wet from the inside. And on slabs of rock my trail runners are much better traction-wise. Its supposed to rain on much of our hike this weekend, so I will make a judgement call on boots vs trail runners before we head up there. If there’s lots of mud too, the boots will win.

among the summit pitch pines

among the summit pitch pines

We enjoyed hiking up to the summit despite the lack of views. I am up there often and it is one of my favorite views but I’ve seen it plenty of times. Its still a beautiful summit with all the exposed rock and pitch pine and the old stone tower up top. We made quick work of it as spring came late and most of the bushes hadn’t grown in much yet. I’m sure we will need to revisit in June when everything is leafed out. Then we will have a better sense of what needs cutting back.

The summit tower

The summit tower

We got back to the meeting spot around 130 pm and spent some time enjoying snacks and refreshments before heading home. It’s always great to be out on the trail, and it feels even better when I’m volunteering to help preserve it. The bonus is I get to do it with friends old and new in the chapter. And today, one of them was the woman who got me involved with volunteering with the club several years ago. It was a treat catching up with her and doing some trail work again together.

This weekend Fielden Stream and I are headed back to Massachusetts to knock off another section as we close in on completion of the state. We will do either section one or section two depending on how miserable the weather wants to be… either way I can’t wait.

Miles: 3.2

– Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Winter Weekend Cleanups

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

When it’s not ridge runner season, I am out doing the volunteer equivalent of the role the rest of the year for my Connecticut AMC chapter. Doing so is how I found myself in the ridge runner role for the first time last summer! I love being outdoors, especially on the Appalachian Trail. And giving back and taking care of the trail, even when I’m not getting paid for it, is a pleasure and a privilege as well!

Since the new year I have managed to get out and address some trail issues twice — once in late January and also last weekend.

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

In January my buddy Ray from our Bull’s Bridge task force joined me for a quick hike out to the Ten Mile River campsites and shelter. This is a very popular camping area year round and often we find lots of fire rings here from those who like to rough it in winter and practice their skills. Of course, fires are not allowed on the A.T. in Connecticut. I suspect the rings we find along our section are primarily from local weekenders. Most thru hikers and backpackers have put in high miles and are exhausted by the time they get to camp so they opt for a quick boil of water on their stove to heat up their dinner and then go to bed.

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

I was pleasantly surprised not to find any fire rings at the campsite. However, in the privy was a bunch of dry wood someone had left there for a fire, which I had to clear. These hikers either opted against the fire or cleaned it up before they left which is better than not. There were also some nasty wipes in the duff can. This is not a trash can, it’s where we put soil and leaves (known as ‘duff’) for you to throw in the privy after you go to help the decomposition process. Since the bucket had no duff, I’ll assume these hikers didn’t know. Always pack it out though, especially wipes which don’t biodegrade for a long time no matter what they say.

Ice sheets from the ice dam

Ice sheets from the ice dam

We then went to the shelter and found a few trash items, and a few spots where there were clearly fires, as there were piles of ash in the mud in front of the shelter and evidence of burned logs. I got my work gloves nice and muddy cleaning that up, as the ash and all the dirt around it were very wet from recent snow and rain. The bench in front of the shelter was also stuck in the mud so we moved that a bit. There’s a great new picnic table there with one of the metal sheets on one end to put your stove on when you cook. It had a plaque on it indicating it was an Eagle Scout project. Thank you!  We checked the bear box for trash, and that the pump was working. Our broom at the shelter was broken so I packed it out with the other trash and let management know that would need replacing. The privy at the shelter was clean.

Heading up the campsite trail

Heading up the campsite trail

It wasn’t a long hike but it was nice as it always is, and the river was raging after the recent clearing of the ice dam that afflicted the Housatonic river in the Kent area, even closing part of the A.T. for a few weeks as well as many of the roads in town to access it.

Our overseer of trails was out in early February at Stewart Hollow Brook shelter and reported many more fire rings and wood stored under the shelter that was still all frozen to the ground. So last weekend with several warmer days behind us, I set out to clean these up as well as check in on the Stoney Brook campsites about half mile north. Both of these are also popular for locals and weekenders as they are close to a road, and the trail here is completely flat and along the river.  So we are often cleaning up things at both sites, though the shelter is more popular as it has a nicer privy and obviously the shelter and a picnic table.

Nature adapts

Nature adapts

I went first to the farthest campsite, Stoney Brook group campsites. Its about 50-60 feet up a side trail on a hill west of the trail. There were no fire rings here but there was some trash and a tree that had fallen and was blocking the privy path. So I cleared the tree and the trash and headed back south just across the brook to the side trail up to the individual campsites. This trail goes up a bit farther, with several campsites on tiers higher and higher up the hill. At campsite #2 there was a decent sized fire ring. I immediately scattered the rocks and once the ash was removed, I covered it with leaf matter to hopefully not let anyone else get the idea this would be a good spot for a fire. In fact, its where a tent is supposed to go!

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

At the privy, which is a brand new though still just a basic box with a seat (we call a ‘chum’ privy), I cleared a wet frozen roll of toilet paper left there. That’s very nice and all to leave toilet paper for the next hiker, but we all know it could be weeks before someone else comes, and rain and the elements will surely get to it first. Luckily for me it was frozen so I was able to remove it without a lot of mess. Pack it out please!

I then headed back to Stewart Hollow to tackle the big rings and stored wood. There was a very large one with multiple logs right next to the picnic table, and though still a bit frozen to the ground they had thawed enough where I could knock them loose. And that I did. I then scattered the burned logs and ash and covered the site with leaves. Of course I would never do this if it was still potentially warm… but that was not an issue today!

Please no fires on the CT AT

Please no fires on the CT AT

I moved onto two more elaborate fire rings in the other camping areas, complete with seats the people had made from stones taken from the nearby stone wall. So those stones went back and I did my best to cover these sites and make them less obvious and inviting. Much of the ash was still frozen so I removed what I could and covered the spots with leaves.  I then moved onto what were many very large logs and branches under the shelter. A few were stuck but I managed to get them loose and scatter them as well.

I had a snack and packed out any trash I found, and left a note in the shelter register regarding the task performed and a reminder of the rules. This was only two entries after the culprits’ entry bragging about their raging fires.

A favorite trail plant

A favorite trail plant

Thanks, guys. Glad you had a nice birthday celebration here, but rules are rules and best not to brag about it and leave your names? Maybe go to a campsite in New York or Massachusetts next time where they’re allowed… We’ve had several large brush fires along our section of trail each year from this kind of behavior — feel free to google it. We have the rules for a good reason. And its hard work clearing all of this.

On the hike back to the trailhead, myself and a day hiker noticed what looked like tire tracks. He was quite amusing and said it looked like someone brought a Harley out here. I suspect dirt bikes or mountain bikes with very fat tires. At the trailhead gate I was able to find the point of entry where they drove around.

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

So thanks to these guys we will likely be blocking the route with large rocks and trees. Trouble will always find a way to cause trouble of course, but we will do our best to make it very difficult for anyone to get a large or motorized bike out there again.  There are some great trails in Connecticut for mountain bikes and dirt bikes, I’m sure a quick google search would return quick results if that’s your preferred outdoor activity. Tires cause a lot of damage to the trail and the delicate wildlife that grows alongside it.

The riverbanks were lined with large sheets of ice — some the size of cars. This was all that remained of the ice dam. It was really an interesting sight.

Another thing I do after these hikes is report any large blowdowns or trail damage that our sawyer and trail crews need to address, as well as update our water report spreadsheet so hikers visiting our chapter page know if they have reliable water sources along their hike. All of the brooks were running at full force with all the recent rain and snow.

Beech in winter

Beech in winter

It was a brisk 33 degrees but felt downright balmy compared to the deep freeze of the recent weeks. I can’t believe as I write this in the end of February that it’s 65 degrees and will be 70 tomorrow!  I was able to get out on a short hike close to home today as I needed to clear my head of some tough recent events, and I was virtually sweating. What a beautiful February day. I will write up that hike as soon as I can. It was a new park for me and I was very pleasantly surprised to find another great local spot so close to home. I can’t always make it to the A.T. for my fix, so it’s a bonus to find these other options when I have less time.

Miles hike 1: 3

Miles hike 2: 4.8

— Linus

Trail maintenance and a little Appalachian Trail history

Housatonic River

Housatonic River

If you’re reading my blog regularly you know by now I am a volunteer for my local Connecticut Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, who are responsible for maintaining the section of the Appalachian Trail in our state. For those of you who don’t, I do a job very similar to the seasonal ridge runners employed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and state maintaining clubs.

I believe it is the Berkshire AMC chapter in southern Massachusetts that hires the ridge runners for these two states. You can apply online to do this role in your region each year at the ATC website. If you get the gig, you are paid to be out there for around 5 days at a time, and off a few days for the duration of the season, something like April to October. You go back and forth along assigned sections of trail, interacting with and assisting hikers along the way. The only main difference in my role is I am out there when I can be or when occasionally asked to be at a peak time, and I’m not usually paid for it unless I am called up for these specific times. I’m pretty new on the job so this summer is when that will likely be the case for me for the first time. And pay or no pay that’s ok by me. I’m just happy to be out there giving back and taking care of the trail while doing something I love.

Fun Scrambles

Fun Scrambles

And as much as getting paid to do this all season long sounds like a dream to me, as a parent and full time employee of a marketing company, this is what works for me at the moment. Maybe one day I can work full time for the ATC. In the meantime, this role and my hikes with my family keep me happy on the trails. (See what I did there?)  The job also includes some manageable trail cleanup, campsite cleanup (including official sites and stealth sites), leave no trace education, and reporting any larger issues to the organization that are out of the scope of my responsibilities or abilities. You may also know from reading this blog that I also join the AMC for work parties on other state trails besides the A.T. when I am able.

So last Sunday I was back up on the A.T. to do some of my trail volunteer work. Despite being early February, El Nino has made for an unseasonably warm winter with little snow to date save for one blizzard (though it is currently snowing as I post this). It was in the high 30s by 9am and warming up quickly to the high 40s on this clear, beautiful day. Though I didn’t end up running into any hikers on this section of trail, just folks walking their dog or going for a walk/run on the flat river portion which begins just south of my starting point. I did my training on that section and another day walking the section from the state line to Bull’s Bridge recently, so I thought I’d pick a different area, and one with a camp site I haven’t visited recently.

Arriving at the camp site

Arriving at the camp site

I made note of blowdowns (fallen trees obstructing the trail) as I ascended up to Silver Hill campsite. This also happens to be the campsite Fielden Stream and I spent our first night on the trail together. And t’s a great one, about 800 feet up the side of the mountain, and complete with covered pavilion, deck, porch swing, water pump, and a new mouldering privy. There used to be a cabin where the deck and swing are, but that was burned down accidentally by some careless campers in the late 90s. The deck is all that remains and at some point the swing was added. I don’t know if the covered pavilion was there at the same time but it would make sense.  The campsite is only about a mile in either direction from a road and is easily accessible other than a bit of uphill hiking.

The deck & swing

The deck & swing

I enjoyed doing this section of trail again, even though it was short, and didn’t recall it being as much uphill as it was. There were a few spots where minor scrambling were required and I was proud of us for having done that on our first backpacking trip together, fully loaded up with heavy gear.

I stopped in to the campsite and cleaned up a fire ring, or should I say a fire site, because they didn’t even bother to put rocks around it! The ATC and AMC crews had recently downed a large evergreen that was a hiker risk, and the remnants were still there as the cleanup process was not yet complete. So unfortunately it made for easy firewood.

Silver Hill Pavillion

Silver Hill Pavillion

I also swept the privy and then checked for other campfire spots before sitting down to sign the register and try out my new MSR Micro Rocket stove and Toaks titanium cook kit — finally. I forgot the little peizo lighter the stove came with, but I had a mini Bic and matches along, and I was thrilled to be using it for the first time. It’s an even more compact version of the Pocket Rocket and fits perfectly in my new cook kit, allowing the lid to close fully. Ahhh, OCD. My original Pocket Rocket stove still works great and will be a great backup or loaner for friends hitting the trail with us that don’t want to make the investment for a one-time outing or the rare trip.

Coffee Break with the new stove

Coffee Break with the new stove

I had my Starbucks Via coffee and Tic-Tac container of powdered creamer and sugar (the backpackers spice and condiment hack!) and really enjoyed having the time to make a hot beverage. My only oversight was I forgot my homemade windscreen and since it was windy, efficiency on the stove fuel was compromised and I will need a new canister soon. Not to worry, as I was just out for the morning and any chance to use my backpacking gear is a good time. The stove performed exactly as its big brother, so it was familiar while being new and more streamlined. What a great product, in both cases. I then enjoyed my coffee on the swing before heading up the trail for one more ascent.

My down jacket being overkill, I wore my Patagonia Houdini wind shirt this time with a synthetic long sleeved base layer and an REI safari tech shirt (my ‘uniform’ shirt) and was plenty warm, even to the point of shedding the Houdini early on the climb. It is probably my favorite piece of gear I own. While not entirely waterproof it has a good DWR coating and I haven’t soaked through in it yet, either from rain or perspiration. It breathes despite not being ventilated so it keeps warmth in but doesn’t boil you from the inside out. And at 5oz, you can’t go wrong bringing it even if you never use it.

Camp fire cleanup

Camp fire cleanup

Besides I did some research over the last few days and almost everyone says you shouldn’t long distance hike in down (especially with a pack on that prevents room for air to travel between) but instead use it for a layer in camp after you’ve shed your pack and are not moving and generating excess heat and perspiration which can then cause moisture and freeze. I can certainly attest to this moisture accumulation on the last few hikes. It’s just too warm and wets with sweat too easy. I suppose your mileage may vary but I’m pretty warm-blooded. And over long periods of time this could become a safety risk as cold + wet = hypothermia danger. Synthetic is a better choice for this application. You could probably get away with skiing and snowboarding in a down coat as long as its got a waterproof coating and you’re not carrying a backpack. So that question has been answered for the time being. And I can layer either my Houdini or fully waterproof raincoat with my fleece and wool or synthetic base layers to achieve the warmth I need and shed them accordingly to avoid overheating.

Exped Trekking Poles

Exped Trekking Poles

I also got to try my new Exped trekking poles. These things are super light, and highly collapsible, which is great when every ounce counts. I guess my only negative feedback was they popped into the unlocked position a few times during use, and particularly when I was bearing weight down on them. This makes me think either I’m not using them right or they’re not strong enough to handle the weight of my body when using them to support it without disengaging, While it was only inconvenient on this hike, it could become downright dangerous. I’m going to reach out to the company to make sure that this isn’t a defective pair. Light and compact is great, if they do as good a job for me as my current REI Traverse poles or other more stout models.

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

The ridges of the Mohawk Trail to the East

On the hike I enjoyed extended views we did not have on that first overnight due to there being no leaf cover this time except for evergreens and the occasional Beech. I had great vistas almost 360 degrees around from the ridges.

The descent down to the road was on the steeper side, and with the heavy leaf cover I opted to walk back on the roads rather than reverse and retrace my steps when I reached the trailhead. While I prefer trail over blacktop any day, I had done what I came here to do, had a time restraint, and I felt there was no need to re-traverse rock scrambles on slippery leaves when I had an alternate, safer option. Though one could argue which is worse, slippery leaves and slick rocks or a mile walk on Rt 4, where cars heading to and from New York seem to maintain a 75mph average speed! Fortunately the second mile was alongside the Housatonic on the portion of River Road that is still paved, yet only used by residents. Along this road walk I could see part of the old town of Cornwall — it’s old church, historic homes and train stations — across the river, now nearly invisible from the modern bridge above which connects Rt 4 and Rt 7.

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

The rocky descent North to Rt 4

I passed many gorgeous country homes I would happily retire in, and disturbed a large family of blue jays along the walk back to my car. I made a detour to the stunning Kent Falls State Park on the drive back, to take in the beauty of the frozen cascade, and without having to pay the park entrance fee as it was the off-season. The A.T. in Connecticut at it’s earliest route passed behind the falls on its way north.

I got the 1968 Connecticut trail guide I ordered from a rare book store in the mail the other day, and while it didn’t have this 1930’s original route behind the falls (a massive hurricane in the 30s washed out the bridge once near my starting point and forced a reroute over Silver Hill),  it did have the later original route east of the river from Rt 4 in Cornwall over Mohawk, Red and Barrack Mountains. This route is now known as the Mohawk Trail. In a similar turn of events, a serious case of bad weather — this time tornadoes —felled the famous Cathedral Pines on this section in 1988. And at that time, with local residents also worried about the implications of what a now federally-protected trail would mean for their land ownership, the trail was re-routed west of the River from Route 4 to the Great Falls in Falls Village.

An icy Kent Falls

An icy Kent Falls

The book also includes the original trail route through Macedonia Brook State Park (see my last post) in Kent which took a large circular swing out of the way for the epic views I showed in that post all the way to the Taconics and Catskills. Apparently there was also a lean-to on Pine Hill. What a spot for it. I wish I had this book a week earlier — I would have looked for the location of the old lean-to. Oh, and that first southern section over Ten Mile Hill in Sherman to Bulls Bridge in Kent? Not on the original trail. I am still trying to find out when they re-routed that amazing section.

For a map geek like me, seeing this old map was like finding dinosaur bones on an archaeological dig or a pirate’s treasure map. It’s my favorite new book. I am hoping to find an even older guide or at least a map from that very first route from the mid-1930s.

Total Miles: 4.5

— Linus

A day of volunteering with my local AMC club

 

Painting white blazes

Painting white blazes

Every year my local Connecticut AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) chapter puts together their “A.T. Day.” This day consists of multiple activities. There are of course hikes of various lengths and difficulty along all 53 miles of our section of trail, as well as some in Macedonia Brook State park, including family hikes for small children and beginner hikers. We did one of these last year up Cobble Mountain in the State Park, a peak formerly on the A.T. with sweeping views west to the Taconic and Catskill Mountains. There are also boundary and trail maintenance workshops, rock-climbing lessons on St. John’s Ledges, training for trail patrollers, and road bike rides close to the trail. The Connecticut AMC is responsible for maintaining the portion of the Appalachian Trail in our state.

Birch forest

Birch forest

At the end of all of these activities, there’s a grand chapter BBQ at the main pavilion at the park. Camping season ends there September 30, as do the crowds generally, so its a great time to take over that space, and connect with other members and management. Group and chapter leaders work the grill, meet and greet longtime and new members, welcome non-members, and spread the word about volunteering. And with temperatures dipping into the 30s at this time of year, there is always a much-appreciated roaring fire. The cost is only $6 and that includes the food and drinks.

This club, and the Appalachian Trail, are what they are because of volunteers. I’ve always wanted to give back to the trail and the club but I am usually using whatever time I have off exploring new trails and sections of the A.T., as these adventures also provide much-needed therapy and balance in my hectic life.

Working on a blowdown

Working on a blowdown

This year I gave in, because I truly feel the need to give back to the trail is something I and everyone should do whenever possible to keep it the way it is. I’ve avoided more laborious maintenance job opportunities because my back is just barely strong enough for a lightweight multi-day backpack, with new gear thankfully as advanced and light as it is. But lifting of heavy rocks and tree limbs is not something I can do.

This work party however, included something I could, and something I think every A.T. hiker would love to do — re-paint the white blazes! It was so much fun, and the day hikers and backpackers we met along the way thought it was just as exciting, and thanked us for our work. There was also a blue bucket of paint, so we could touch up the campsite side trail blue-blazes along the way. There were some in our group addressing and clearing large blowdowns with heavy saws and chainsaws, and some with ‘loppers’ to help trim back overgrowth where needed. And I will be doing some ‘lopping’ I am sure, as I spent most of my childhood helping in the family gardening chores.

Liner's Farm, Silver Hill beyond

Liner’s Farm

Our group also created some new posts for campsite markers because some of those were formerly on unhealthy trees that were cut down so no one would be injured by a widowmaker. Another part of our group, some Yale environmental studies students, also cleared some water bars that had been congested with leaf cover and were getting jammed. The leaders also educated us on the new mouldering privies, why they have the rules they do in our section of trail, and a bit about the overall needs and characteristics of this particular part of the pathway.

Colors on parade

Colors on parade

While very likely the easiest section of the whole A.T., the famous 5-mile river walk along the Housatonic is also stunningly beautiful. With leaves nearing peak here, the foliage was practically glowing orange and red. This is also the first section Fielden Stream and I backpacked together, as it provided time to get the feel for our packs and make adjustments before we made our first climb up to our first overnight campsite on Silver Hill last year. Our maintenance crew finished at the end of the river walk just before the climb so there wasn’t any elevation change on this hike. But that is not why I was out there this time and it was good to just be out there and still get some scenic hiking done while giving my time to the trail.

Housatonic RiverI posted a picture of me painting a white blaze on one of my Facebook A.T. groups and got a barrage of thank you’s and likes. It’s great to see how many people appreciate volunteer work. I highly recommend getting out there a few times a year to give back to your local trails with a maintaining club.

My chapter are also short trail patrollers so I am going to take their training to be a volunteer trail patroller in the coming weeks. I am really excited about this because I can continue to give back doing what I love — hiking and backpacking! I’ve been seeking something in my life where I can contribute to preservation and conservation, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for me at this time.