Ridgerunner weekend #1 – Back in the Wild Corner

I am trying a new format here. I’m going to make the entries more brief and to the point going forward with exception of an occasional longer piece. It’s getting tougher to find the time to write in such detail so I promise to keep providing nice images and a summary of each hike without writing a book! Lets start with last weekend.

Officially a Ridgerunner!

Officially a Ridgerunner!

It was my second Memorial Day weekend up on the Riga plateau in the Northwest corner of Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail. And my first as an official Appalachian Trail Weekend Ridgerunner. The role is what I have been doing as a volunteer but with pay and some other nice perks. The job is for 5-6 weekends during the peak summer months. Fortunately, it was not 100 degrees this Memorial Day weekend. I stopped up at Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts to pick up my uniform and rain gear and then headed back down to Salisbury.

Shortly after you head north out of Salisbury on the trail, you hit the 1,500 mile marker. We have a newish sign there and it sure adds to the excitement.

1500 miles

1500 miles

DAY 1:

The trail was packed with hikers. I met over 80 on day 1 between Rt 41 in Salisbury and the summit of Bear. That was Just the day hikers. Many take the Undermountain trail from Rt. 41 trailhead near the Massachusetts border. This 1.9-mile trail meets the AT at Riga Junction about 1,000 ft higher. That lot was full and I wanted to spend more time on the A.T. vs side trails so I kept driving down to the lot in town.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

There were about 20 Backpackers on Day 1. Most were NOBO (Northbound) whereas on Day 2 there were a lot more SOBOs (southbounders). I met a marine on the summit on day 1 among the crowds and thanked him for his service.

On top I also met the caretaker of our Northwest Cabin. He’s summited Bear over 300 times now as he lives nearby and is at the cabin each week. It’s at the bottom of Bear near Sages Ravine and you can rent it with your family. I also met a lot of locals who do the hike often as well, even bringing up their lapdogs.

From a perch on the summit tower, I educated everyone on the different mountains in the views as well as about the stone tower itself and how Mt. Frissell’s shoulder is actually higher than Bear. Though Bear IS the highest SUMMIT in the state. We talked about how if Bigfoot can leave no trace, so can you. The kids loved this, but I confess I saw it on the internet and can’t take credit for coming up with it! It’s a fun and friendly way to breach the LNT subject without anyone feeling like I’m lecturing them!

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

I also found the elusive pink Lady Slipper. They love it on Lions head. The only other place I’ve seen them is near Hatch Brook down by Pine Knob Loop.

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The other prominent flower was pink Honeysuckle which was blooming everywhere. Usually it’s the Mountain Laurel going wild up here. Their time is coming soon.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

I met some great section hikers when I got to the beautiful campsite and shelter at Riga where I was staying for the night. We talked at dinner and played some fun charades games before everyone went to bed. There was another group too, and wow did their dinner smell like it tasted WAY better than mine. I was trying some new more organic lentil meal and i forgot to add my Tabasco and salt and pepper. Lesson learned.  I still enjoyed a great view for dinner though. The view (and the sunrise) are famous at Riga. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and is clear cut to show the view.

Vegan Camping Food - I'm not a vegan

Vegan Camping Food – I’m not a vegan

Gripes of the day: 1 ) campers leaving full sized pillows, and a bunch of trash and food they didn’t want to pack out in the bear box. That was about 10 lbs for me to pack out the next day, It was not appreciated. Pack it in, pack it out. It was nice to see another hiker (not a maintainer) rant about it in the shelter register because this way other hikers learn they are being disrespectful from their own peers.

2) Someone made a fire ring right under the ‘no fires’ sign again. Who are these people? I keep seeing this. Someone is out to make a point. So I cleared it.

There was a porcupine chewing on the Privy walls all night. It was about 50 yards from my tent so you couldn’t NOT hear it. It didn’t bother me that much though.

Miles Day 1: 8.2

Porcupines: 1

DAY 2:

I caught the famous sunrise and woke up some of my new friends to watch it come up with me. Then enjoyed breakfast with the great view. My Backpackers Pantry Granola with Milk and Organic Blueberries and my Starbucks VIA with a few mini moos I took from my office kitchen hit the spot.

The famous Riga sunrise!

The famous Riga sunrise!

My friend Brian was training for a White Mountains hike in a few weeks so he hiked up to join me at Riga and hike with me for much of the day. We hiked back up to the summit of Bear together. He met a woman in her 60’s from Tennessee who was doing a LASH (Long a** section hike). We saw her again when cleaning up remains of a fire at Brassie Brook shelter and had a nice chat with her.

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Along the way up, we saw a young couple packing up a camping spot right on the side of the trail and I asked them to please stick to designated campsites as we are reforesting there and that’s the rule either way in Connecticut. They had been tired last night and didn’t know there was a campsite 1/2 mile ahead! I then saw them again when at Brassie brook filling up my water and gave them a map and helped answer some other questions for which they thanked me. We would see them again on Bear and Lion’s head before the day was over.

We met and hiked with some other of my new friends from the night before at Riga (the ones with the delicious smelling food!) and one of them was an entomologist. She taught me about some wildlife and plants as did Brian who is a tree expert. He showed me a lot of species I didn’t previously recognize. We also talked gear a lot, comparing and talking about our new gear upgrades and water/sleep and pack systems.

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion's head

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion’s head

Today was more overcast but still we encountered at least another 20 backpackers (most of these were southbound and a large group of them were wearing bug nets which was smart) . There were two thru-hikers including Captain Underpants, whose family was joining him for this section over the weekend. Most of the backpackers were section hiking this weekend. You can usually tell who are thru and who are section.

At Lion's Head

At Lion’s Head

There were about another 75 day hikers we met along the trail and on the summits of Bear and Lion’s head. We took in the views and a snack on Lion’s head after picking up the trash and the pillow from Riga so we could pack it out. (No point in carrying it up and down Bear so we came back for it).

There were lots of families with small kids on Lion’s head. Some asked if they could drink the water and I told them not without filtering and offered them water but they had enough.

We made it down to Rt 41 around 3:15 and Brian was then headed south to Limestone spring shelter for the night as he couldn’t overnight on Saturday.

It was a great weekend. Not too hot, no rain ever showed during my shift, and I met a lot of great people and pushed my personal weekend mileage goals.

Miles Day 2: 8.5

  • Linus

 

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

Bad place for a nest

Hiker Map Box: Bad place for a nest

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

Break Time

Break Time

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

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

In this heat, no paradise here

In this heat, no paradise here

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

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

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

Southern view from Bear Mtn

Southern view from Bear Mtn

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

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

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

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

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

Brassie Brook Shelter

Brassie Brook Shelter

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

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

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

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

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

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

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

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

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

Linus at Lion's Head

Linus at Lion’s Head

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

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

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

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

Boundary Marker

Boundary Marker

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

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

Miles day 1: 5.9

Miles day 2: 5.83

Snake sightings: 3!

— Linus