Easter Trail Work on the Appalachian Trail

Streams are flowing!

Streams are flowing!

On Easter I was very happy to have an opportunity to again be out on the trail doing my thing. Usually we’re celebrating the holiday in some capacity with family but it fell right during my kids’ spring break this year so we were in Florida and returned late the night before. Since my parents went out of town for the family visit and weren’t around Easter morning, Fielden Stream and I did a quick exchange of baskets with the kids and then I headed up north for the woods.

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

It was a very mild weekend and had I returned one night earlier I would have done an overnight. Quite a few hikers had, especially those who had Good Friday off as it made a great 3 day weekend. My friend on the trail crew let me know that there were already several camping at Ten Mile so I planned to visit the campground as part of my hike in case there was any cleanup to do. Just two weeks before when we were out on a volunteer work day, we had to clear two very large fire rings (and a few blowdowns) and I was glad to have the extra manpower. This is one of the most popular camping areas around so we visit and patrol it and have to clean it up very often.  I wanted to also visit the southern overlook on Schaghticoke Mountain, so the plan was to go up there and then back down to the campsite and in the meantime check out some of the side access trails along the route for any issues.

New water system

New water system

I parked and started the .4 mile road walk where the A.T follows Schaghticoke road north before cutting into the woods for the nearly 1,000ft ascent. While there are several switchbacks,  its still a tough climb, but worth the view at the top. I noticed the map box was empty so I made a note to myself to put any spares I had in the box on the way down if no hikers I met on the trail needed one.  As I started up the trail a young hiker in his late 20s passed me and we chatted for a bit about his hike and the work I do. He was doing a 3 day section of CT, having done another a few weeks ago with his brother in the northern end of the state.  He works the night shift and was up all night before starting his hike.

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

The trail heals all though, and I admire his tenacity to hike 12 miles in the heat after working all night. Ah to be in my 20’s again… I’d probably have climbed a few 4000s had I the passion I have now for hiking and backpacking. At that age I was deeply entrenched in the NYC music scene trying to make a name for myself. It was fun but in vain.  I still play music with my friends but I find more relaxation and purpose hiking and preserving the trail.

Anyway just a bit farther on at the first stream crossing (which was raging by the way) , I met an older hiker who was doing a NOBO thru. He was hydrating and enjoying some shade. While it was raining that morning the sun came out and the temperature quickly approached the 70s. Without much leaf cover to shade, you could feel every bit of the heat that day. I wished him well and moved on.

Schaghticoke from the road below

Schaghticoke from the road below

I met the younger hiker again, enjoying a snack high on a glacial erratic – a great spot if I say so myself! We said hellos again and I carried on up and up and up. When I reached the south overlook I was immediately treated to a Bald Eagle AND a Red Tailed Hawk flying over the edge of the ridge. I had been trying for months to spot one of the eagles as many hikers had reported seeing them in the area. Finally one greeted me in its glorious flight.  I was so captivated by the view and the birds of prey that it took me a few minutes to notice the fire area on the rock face. There was no ring at that point, perhaps they scattered it with the ashes after. I checked that it was cool and went about cleaning it.  Much of the residue was tossed down into a depression in the hillside and as I headed down to clean that up the young hiker reached the viewpoint. He thanked me for my work and as we were chatting we spotted a large black racer snake about a foot from where I was working. He did not bother me and just watched, perhaps a good omen or spirit animal visiting me to thank me for taking care of what was once native land? I’m such a history nerd.

Forsythia gone wild!

Forsythia gone wild!

The hiker moved on after this break and I too headed off, back down the mountain towards Ten Mile. I passed the older Nobo thru hiker I had met at the stream below and gave him some advice on nearest water and campsites ahead as he was wanting more water and a break from the heat.

Speaking of water, I also made a short video on the mountaintop discussing my new water system. I am again revisiting because I still want an easier solution than filling up my reservoir in my pack and using that as the water for camp and sleeping as well. I tried the new Katadyn BeFree with .6L bag and a Smart Water bottle with an Aquaclip, one of many solutions I researched to hang the water bottle in front of me since my pack pouch doesn’t have stitched in side pockets.

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

While my day pack does, it still requires practically dislocating your shoulder to reach back for access. With the BeFree I can just fill up at a source, camel up, then refill quick and easily to filter into my smart water bottle, and a Nalgene if I need extra. This thing filters super fast and doesn’t require backflushing as far as I can tell. I always bring emergency purifying tablets just in case, for myself or hikers I encounter who have no filter or water left.

I tend to carry too much water at any one time and this system and solution that was in the product reviews seemed a good one to try next. The water sources have all been great lately with all the epic rainfalls and snowmelt since winter died and so for the time being at least I wont carry more than the beFree and the 1L Smart Water bottle (with sports cap). Though I do still hate how those bottles crinkle. I may go the shock cord and Gatorade bottle next if the Smart Water bottles start to bother me that much. I will post the video on the blog  (Please note that I was rushing on the video and said I’d chug it right after filling it at the stream but I meant only AFTER the filter cap was back on.. very important!

Name that spider

Name that spider

I dropped off the maps in the map box on the way down, and some litter that I picked up on the trail when I passed my car and headed back into the woods towards Ten Mile Shelter and Campsites. There are some beautiful new signs in this area both for the side trails and the shelter – great work team! The Forsythia is also blooming like mad. When I reached the campsite no one was still camped there and luckily for me this time, no fires to clean up. Though there was a massive spider in the shelter that I noticed when I went to sign the register. I just saw his long legs peeking out behind a piece of the lumber frame, but could easily tell he was 1.5 inches or more around and brown and black. I’m not the hugest fan of spiders but all the time on the trail has helped that a bit. Many a day I found one of these in a privy or even on my pack in the morning. They’re pretty terrifying to look at but also fascinating and I’m quite sure not harmful. I believe this was either a wolf spider or a fisher spider. Anyone wanna have a go at identifying it from the photo?

An unspoiled view from the top

An unspoiled view from the top

I made my way back along the A.T. as it followed the Housatonic River, which was also at very high levels complete with raging rapids. I passed about 25 day hikers out here in the recreational area at Bulls Bridge which the A.T. passes by. I checked that side trail and left my friends on the Bull’s Bridge task force a message in their kiosk register, then headed back to my car.  As the season is starting up around here, and water is good, I should have a busy summer. On that note I am also very excited as I have some new roles in the AMC that allow me to further my love for the trail and protecting it and our natural resources. More to come on that but you will see me out there over the weekends this season often anywhere between the NY line and southern Massachusetts! Maybe I’ll even be on duty at your campsite for the night and you can share stories of your hike.

Miles: 6.3

Snakes: 1

Birds of Prey:2

— Linus

 

Rogers Ramp and Pine Swamp Brook Campsite, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Getting ready to go through Rogers Ramp

Last weekend I checked out another (short) section of the trail and stopped into one of the campsites to clean up. The temperatures had dropped from 65 degrees on the previous Wednesday to 19 by Saturday. What a wild winter it has been. It did the same thing in the week since. I had considered a longer route for this hike but would find out after not too long that keeping it shorter was the best plan. Frost bite can really spoil a good time!

Going through Roger's Ramp

Going through Rogers Ramp

I brought along my friend Lisa from our chapter of the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club), who now has a trail name, Chilly Cheeks! One of our senior members gave her the name and she loves it!  We’ll let you figure out what it means.  I enjoy solitude in the woods but I’m also a social animal so I get lonely out there sometimes and company is always welcome on the trail when I can get it.

 In Connecticut, like in several other states, the AMC is the organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail. We have people who do boundary work, trail building, trail maintenance, ridgerunners/patrollers (like me) and sawyers/carpenters to name just a few.  It takes many dedicated people to take care of this great trail from end to end. Our chapter is a great group of people, I truly feel like they are my extended family.

Southwestern view

Southwestern view

 The goal was to check out and clean up Pine Swamp Brook Shelter and Campsite. I had considered going on and doing the same at Sharon Mountain Campsite, but the frigid temperatures and the added chill from the high winds made an extra 6 miles round trip low on the priority list. That campsite is very primitive and less used when its not thru hiking season. So while I will get up there next to tidy up, the Pine Swamp Brook shelter was sure to have seen some recent camping. There’s a composting privy, a picnic table (complete with metal area to protect from stove accidents) bear box, water source and clean shelter in great condition.  

Campsite side trail

Campsite side trail

We started the climb up from West Cornwall Road, which rises quickly 500 or so feet and through a split glacial rock known as “Rogers Ramp”. It’s no Lemon Squeezer but it’s a very cool feature that’s both fun to hike and fun to look at. Another one of those that most of those long-distance hiking the A.T. don’t expect to find in a state like Connecticut.  The trail then switchbacks over the ramp to the south-facing ledges above. There are several nice views in the winter, and during the summer there is still one or two that are cut through the leaf canopy. This is the southern ridge of Sharon Mountain, a large mountain that reaches from here in Sharon all the way to Falls Village, sharing the space with its neighbor peak, Mt. Easter.

Signing the trail register

Signing the trail register

Once up on the ridge, the trail follows the edge for a bit before dropping down 1-200 feet into the woods to follow Pine Swamp Brook and the shelter side trail is reached just 1.1 miles from the road crossing. We took a bunch of photos both on the ramp and the ridgeline, as well as when we arrived at the campsite. I also made a short video of this hike on my video channel so you can see the terrain and the campsite, as well as a quick review of a sit pad my friend bought me in Iceland!

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

Chilly cheeks got to sign the shelter trail register for the first time with her new trail name. I did my usual sign in, and the previous entry from a hiker named Kingfisher a day prior contained some beautiful and inspiring poetry.  

We checked out the privy, bear box and campsites. In the group site there was one fire ring. We cleared the fire ring the best we could with the ground completely frozen, and covered it up.  We had a quick snack and I took a few clips for my video, then we headed out. We talked again about going farther to the next site but it was bitter cold still and so the decision was made to head back.

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

Chilly Cheeks in Rogers Ramp

We had a nice walk back down to the cars and then drove down to Kent to do a quick check on the condition of River road so that our trail crew could get in there and clear the large blowdowns I reported on that last trip. We made a quick stop in town for some nourishment and I was on my way. I had planned to be back out today but the conditions were similar with the added icy conditions from recent snow.  While I enjoy winter hikes, frozen ground makes getting trail work done far more challenging, and snow makes it more difficult to see issues.

If not before, I will be back out with the club in early April for our club-wide volunteer kick-off day. We do this annually and cover the entire trail so that we can assess all issues still needing to be addressed before the official hiking season is in full swing. It will be good to see everyone again, and spend another great day taking care of the trail we love.

Miles: 2.4 (with side trail)

— Linus

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Weekend at Ten Mile

Welcome to Connecticut!

Welcome to Connecticut!

Last weekend was sweltering hot, but that doesn’t keep the likes of me at home! Some last minute developments changed things quite a bit, and so not only did I not hike the previous weekend originally planned, but I also moved the hike from up in Falls Village to the southern end of the Connecticut trail. It also meant I had some company this weekend, and I was basically in charge of the campsite for the night to boot.  That was also good news to my ridge runner coordinators who were glad to have this popular campsite covered for the night. All the hikers were so curteous towards me, and I loved answering their questions and helping them out with whatever they needed to know.

Some friends from the city were doing their first backpacking trip in a long time, and bringing their sons along on their first overnight. I truly wish Jiffy Pop could have joined for this one but he had plans with a friend, and was really excited about that too.

Top of Ten Mile Hill

Top of Ten Mile Hill

I went through some options with them for good sections for a first adventure for the boys, and ultimately decided on this one. They were considering some New York locations but naturally I swayed them to a perfect one in Connecticut!  The section had a great campground, only one climb each morning of manageable challenge, a river to splash around in when were were overheating, and a shelter, should they want to stay in one. The distance was only 2.8 miles from car to camp, and had a nice view on the summit for their reward as well.

Brushing in the trail edge

Brushing in the trail edge

We made arrangements to meet at the trail head lot at Route 55. I started just a bit south at the New York state line, and met them at the lot just as they were unloading from the cars. I also saw our AMC crew in the lot, mowing. Having had been there a weekend or two before with my in-laws, the difference was appreciated. They would be headed to the campground we were after mowing here, but given the stifling heat they made quick work of it and were finished and gone by the time we arrived.

Home for the weekend

Home for the weekend

With the kids we took our time and made sure everyone had sufficient breaks for water and rest and snacks, including a nice lunch break at the top of Ten Mile hill. We also played a game where we quizzed the boys on the fourteen states that make up the A.T. route to distract from the tough climb. The view on the top has been cleared here recently which was nice because I was worried they wouldn’t see much for all that uphill they just did. The boys set a quick pace for the descent after lunch and wandered ahead of us a bit and accidentally down a side access trail to private property that abutted the A.T. We called them back and I saw the perfect opportunity for them to learn a bit about what I do. As  the boundary between these two trails was obviously unclear to anyone not looking closely, I had them help me brush in the trail edge more thoroughly with logs and leaves. In just a few minutes, a much more defined trail edge had been born, and everyone felt good to be a part of improving the trail.

Cooling off

Cooling off

We reached camp and got our tents set up by the river. Well actually my friends got there a few minutes before me, as I stopped to talk to some day hikers and section hikers and let them know about the campground amenities and the water situation north of here, should they decide to carry on (it was hot, and very tempting to stay here for the night). There were caches of water bottles left at both the Hoyt Rd and Rt. 55 lot kiosks by local trail angels, like we saw in Massachusetts the month before. I’ve read a lot of comments on the various hiking and backpacking websites where hikers are specifically requesting water at certain road crossings, and locals obliging. As long as the empty bottles are getting picked up later, I think this is the best kind of trail magic. Especially in these conditions. Luckily, this campsite is one of the ones that has a water pump, though you still need to filter that water.

Filtering at the pump

Filtering at the pump

When I got to the campground I teased my friends that they took my spot, but by that I meant they found the best spot, and I set up next to them. We compared notes on our tents and other gear old and new. Everyone enjoyed my new accessory, the REI camp chair as much as I did as we socialized. At only $25 and 1lb 2oz, it was a luxury I could afford for a quick overnight. I don’t have the best back in the world so it was great when I needed to change into my water/camp shoes or prepare a snack.  We said hello to some of the other hikers already in camp and then went to cool off in the water for a few. My friends in the AMC did a great job mowing the fields at the campsite, and later some hikers set up their tents on the lawn where on an earlier visit I made here the grass was 4ft tall. This is really when the peak thru hiker bubble passes through the area, so the timing was right. After a while I went up the trail to the Bull’s Bridge to see my friends in the maintaining club and check the other common stealth campsites along the way. It was nice to just have my nalgene and not a heavy pack and I made quick time of the visit and hiked back with a section hiker from New Haven and showed him around the campsite.

Dawn from my tent

Dawn from my tent

When I got back to camp my friends were still enjoying the water and I felt like it was high time to cool off myself. I spent about 30 minutes cooling off in the river and watching the crawfish pop out from the rocks by my feet and the trout swimming by in schools. I spoke to a nice man named Anthony who was from neighboring Putnam County, N.Y. who was walking his dogs and letting them cool off in the river as well.

We thought we heard either an eagle or a red-tailed hawk screeching as we hiked down the mountain to camp that morning, and we heard it again as we were at the river. A father and daughter who had come into the campsite earlier and who were hiking from Connecticut to North Carolina  (Lost Cause and Rewind) said they saw a bald eagle down river, though we did not. I’m still not sure which it was, but it was definitely a bird of prey. Rewind was 11 years old and has been hiking with her dad since she was 3. She was so curious and inquisitive and I loved how she kept coming over and asking me questions, particularly about why we have some of the rules we do here in Connecticut.

Linus and Ninja Roll

Linus and Ninja Roll

I lent my new friend, Janesport, my second stove as hers had a leak, and she treated everyone to spaghetti dinner. This was a nice treat as I didn’t have to cook my dinner, and my stomach was feeling a little iffy after some bad chinese the night before. TMI, sorry. But the pasta was perfect to settle my stomach.

They then went for a walk up the trail as I had recommended to check out the rapids and get some more exercise while I took a nap. When they got back we made smores and then spent some more time at the river. As sun set, we visited the Ned Anderson bridge so I could show them all the spider activity coming to life. They were just as amazed as me when I saw it on my last overnight there. We hung the bear bags and the boys came up with some imaginary theater, acting as bears trying to get to the bear bag.

Nature provides

Nature provides

We hit the hay and I think I slept pretty well but I was worried I would snore a bit because I forgot my allergy meds, and they let me know I did! I hope the three hammocking across from us didn’t hear it too loudly. Our tents were pretty close which is why I think my friends heard.

The next morning Janesport made everyone including Lost Cause and Rewind pancakes and I boiled my coffee and went for a walk to check out the shelter and get water after answering some questions for the thrus in for the night. As I made it up to the shelter not half awake from my coffee yet, I suddenly realized the hiker standing before me was Ninja Roll, aka Alan Craig, who we’ve been following on YouTube since he started in Georgia! I was so excited because I had missed several of the other hikers we had been following by as little as a few hours. I wish Fielden Stream had been there too, but she was excited for me. We chatted for a while about some other thrus he also knew about that we were following, and their progress.

Beautiful stone steps

Beautiful stone steps

I signed the register, got a head count, and asked him to stop by the campground after he packed up so we could get a photo. I was super happy when I went back to the campsite and told my friends and asked my friend Matt to take a picture of me and Ninja Roll. A few minutes later he came by and we all spoke for a while before he headed off. If you’re reading this Alan, great to meet you and have a great hike!

We packed up our campsite and I did my notes and cleared a fire ring by the ‘beach’ while they went for one more swim. It was a little cooler now, but was heating up fast. There were a few raspberry bushes and while not completely ripe, we enjoyed a few before starting up the beautiful stone stairway our club has built for hikers heading up the slope. It’s a steeper and longer climb up the mountain going southbound and we made our way up, admiring our trail work from the previous day, and meeting other hikers on their way north. I gave them more advice on the water and campsite situations and they were ever greatful, as was I for being the one that could help all these hikers, including another nobo hiker named Alan. At the top we stopped for another long snack break and I split off to let my friends enjoy the rest of their journey at their own pace while I cruised down the trail to make it back home for my own kids midday.

Trail angels provide

Trail angels provide

I stopped on the way home to find some dining room chairs for the new house and Fielden Stream came up the next day to look at them while I was at work. She picked up a few thru hikers who had zeroed in town the night before and they got talking about the trail, and eventually me and my volunteering. She mentioned that I was out at Ten Mile the night before and coincidentally it was the three hammockers across from us at the campground that weekend. Small world. Trail Karma, whatever you call it. It was cool for all of us.

Miles day 1: 6.2

Miles day 2: 3.25

— Linus


A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Father and Son

July 4th weekend spirit

July 4th weekend spirit

Just about two weeks ago, my son “Jiffy Pop” joined me again for a hike and some trail cleanup. We were going to be moving to a new home the following weekend and I knew things would be hectic for at least two weeks, so I took the opportunity to get myself and my boy back out on the trail. It had been a while since he was out and time was limited so I chose an easy, but well-traveled section — the Housatonic river walk in Kent.

This section is popular with day hikers as well as long-distance hikers because its a nice long flat scenic section where you can run or walk your dog. There’s also lots of weekenders out here camping, so there’s always plenty of cleanup to do. Fielden Stream and I did our first backpacking trip together on this section, and I do many regular hikes here with our AMC group including my patroller training and re-painting the white blazes.

Jiffy Pop in front of a blaze I painted

Jiffy Pop in front of a blaze I painted

It starts just north of where the trail descends St. Johns ledges and remains flat until the base of Silver Hill, about 5 miles north. There are two camping areas, one with a shelter and one with group and individual sites. Its a good training hike for young scouts and familes, and is very beautiful. Both campsites are along a brook, and both were flowing strongly on this day, the day before the fourth of July.  This was good to see as many of the water sources the previous weekend in Massachusetts were very low.

As we headed up River road to the south gate parking area, we passed by a very crowded parking area for the ledges, which is a popular rock climbing spot as well. REI had their van there too, presumably for a rock-climbing trip. The trail ascends a boulder field between the sheer cliffs.

Cooling off in Stewart Hollow Brook

Cooling off in Stewart Hollow Brook

You can see pictures in my previous entry when I did that section again a few weeks ago. We got to the lot and saw someone had placed a small American flag in a rock. Being July 3rd, people were already getting in the spirit. We took some photos and hit the trail.

We headed for the farthest point on the hike, the Stony Brook campsites, just over 2 miles north. We had some nice conversations, identified plants including poison ivy, and stopped at Stewart Hollow brook to splash water on our faces and cool off a bit in the humidity. That idea was my son’s, so I want to give credit where credit is due. It was a good one. Refreshed, we arrived at the Stony Brook sites and had a snack.

Jiffy Pop clearing a stealth fire ring

Jiffy Pop clearing a stealth fire ring

I let him cool off for a bit while I headed up to the group campsite, and sure enough there was one big fire ring there. I spent a few minutes clearing it and while I was there I saw they were recently doing a bunch of work on clearing problem trees so they don’t become more serious hazards to hikers.

I headed back down and Jiffy Pop and I walked up to the individual sites on the other side of the brook. There was one fire ring on the access trail so after we checked out the other sites which were thankfully clear, we got to work on this one. My son did the majority of clearing this one, and as we finished we found a coin that seemed to be a silver dollar but with Bermuda on it. Looking them up they seem to be worth anything from $12-$50, depending where you look. I feel bad that someone lost this here, but not really sure there’s much I can do about it. In any case, it felt like a nice little bit of good karma for the effort.

Bermuda Silver Dollar

Bermuda Silver Dollar

We then headed back south towards the lot. We stopped into the Stewart Hollow Brook campsites and shelter where we cleaned up the trash and looked for fire rings (none — thanks!). We did find an empty six pack of beer cans so we packed those out and Jiffy Pop wrote a funny anecdote in the shelter register about it. I signed in as well and then we picked up the remaining trash and departed.

We ran into ATC Ridgerunner Ryan on the way back, and we stopped to chat for a bit and I updated him on issues I saw so he could also put them in his report. He was headed from Algo shelter to Silver Hill. Jiffy Pop took some great photos of a daddy long legs on a plant that we spotted on the walk back.

Signing the register

Signing the register

We also ran into 14 other backpackers, about an even mix of Nobo thru-hikers and Sobo section hikers, and 16 day hikers. When we got back to the lot there was a family having a picnic on the other side of the river, and people all around on our way back were getting in the holiday spirit. While it’s always hard to get a teenager outdoors and off the video games, he told me how great a time he had, and that in itself is reward enough for me. I know I love doing this, but passing it down and seeing the joy it brings our kids to get outdoors and give back is very special.

We are going to be taking the kids on a backpacking trip in Massachusetts next month, continuing where we left off with our friends the previous weekend. We all learned to ski on Butternut, so it’s kinda neat that the next section of trail goes over the mountain that its part of.

Jiffy Pop's Daddy long legs photo

Jiffy Pop’s Daddy long legs photo

I will be heading up to Falls Village to check out the trail north of town this weekend. I’m excited to see the new Iron Bridge, possibly the best view in Connecticut at Rand’s view, re-visit Limestone spring shelter and cool off at Great Falls. Then I will spend some time with my family at a local vineyard where I like to volunteer in the fall for harvest. It’s gonna be a great day.

Now that we’re moved into our new home, I will have time to do more overnights for the remainder of the season. The thru-hiker bubble is really passing through now, so I’m sure to see many more backpackers out on the trail and look forward to helping them the best I can.

— Linus

Three Great Weekends of Volunteer Work

The greening tunnel

The greening tunnel

Now that the season is in full swing, I have been very active with the club! Not only does volunteering feel good, but I always have fun with this great group of people. I am going to start calling my volunteer weekend writeups “A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller” to lend some consistency to those entries during the season.

About a month ago I attended the wilderness first aid weekend course at White Memorial Foundation in beautiful Litchfield, CT. We spent two full days learning skills for emergency situations in the backcountry as well as a CPR class. They were taught by the reputable SOLO schools based out of New Hampshire. Those of us who wanted to stayed over in the bunk rooms over the classrooms. Meals were provided, and we all did some cleanup chores throughout the weekend as any good volunteers would! I learned a lot, made some new friends, gained some confidence and a greater sense of security for when I’m out hiking, and as an added bonus I got to visit with a Barred Owl! It was being cared for by the conservation center because it was no longer able to survive on its own in the wild. This is by far my favorite kind of owl and I’m sure it thought I was quite strange talking to it!

Where we first filtered water!

Where we first filtered water!

Then the day before mother’s day we had our annual “Give a day to the A.T.” On this day, we all get together to do various trail projects. Whereas our “A.T. Day” in October includes some of these projects, it’s mostly a bunch of hikes of various length and difficulty to enjoy the trail we work so hard on. Like on our volunteer roundup day, we started with a gathering over breakfast to do introductions, service awards, and then break off into groups for the various projects. There were a lot of first-time volunteers which was great, and a few ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) staff visiting from their office in Massachusetts. I will actually be heading up there in a few days to meet their ridgerunners who I will be running into often this season I imagine, so it’s good to be on the same page and know each other! I’m also excited to see the regional HQ and be at the foot of Mt Everett, which my friends from Miami will be hiking over with Fielden Stream and I in just over a month for our first section into Massachusetts!

As we all divided up into our various project teams, I joined my trail patrol group which I would co-lead on this day and we went over the different paperwork, scenarios and Q&A before heading to the trail for our hike.

Trillium

Trillium

We headed to the river walk section in Kent, which is where I too did my training. From end to end its about 4.5 miles. This time we started at the northern end of the section, just below Silver Hill. We headed south and within the first mile already I had spotted a stealth campsite. Despite having 2 campsites with privies, and a shelter with a reliable water source less than a mile away, this hiker set up right off the trail, and left not only the remains of a fire, but some empty beer cans.

While I don’t know the circumstances that might have led this person to camp here vs. the resources just ahead, it’s something that’s becoming more and more of a problem. I want to give the benefit of the doubt that this person had some weather-related or physical condition that forced them to stop here. But, its hard to believe that when there is trash in the form of alcoholic beverages left at the site. I’m hoping that by talking about these things bluntly I’m helping to educate and advocate leave no trace practices and about the hard work volunteers do when people don’t follow the rules. I hope it doesn’t sound like a lecture.

A no-no in Connecticut!

A no-no in Connecticut!

We do our best to patrol the trail and educate hikers as frequently as we can, but unfortunately we can’t be there every day, and so people with less consideration or understanding of the impact of their behavior are doing these things more and more. I want to believe they don’t know any better. But there is also a growing level of arrogance and irresponsibility with some of the hiking community, as well as locals who disregard the rules. I know they all can read the signs we have posted in either direction from here. You can usually tell pretty quickly which things are newbie mistakes and which are flagrant disregard for the environment and the maintaining clubs.

Stony Brook

Stony Brook

We cleared that site and headed for the next campgrounds at Stony Brook. I headed up to the group campsite while the others headed to the individual campsites. This is a beautiful area with a large flowing brook of the same name flowing down the mountain between these sites. At the group campsite I found and cleared evidence of a small fire, as well as several bathroom wipes someone had left where they had used them. Maybe they buried them, but animals will find these and they will dig them up. If you’re camping up there you probably know you’re going to be miles away from a trash bin, and should bring a bag to pack it out. These wipes are not especially biodegradable.

Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop

Along the access trail there was a large site where a fire had been made and many of the logs were left leaning up against another, almost with the intention of returning here to save them for later use. Hopefully my clearing of the area will get the hint across. Another constant: where there’s a fire, there’s trash. And sure enough I had to clean aluminum foil, styrofoam and other trash from the site. This at least gave me the clue that this was likely a local and not a thru hiker. Most thru hikers would not bring a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup out on the trail with them. Also, most thru hikers don’t make fires because they’re too tired and had too long a day to do anything but setup camp, cook their dinner, and go to bed. On the upside, I found a lovely bunch of Trillium blooming here.

At the individual sites we had to clean up two fire rings, one of which included some massive rocks. Had I not been with a group I’d be pretty peeved having to do that alone. They were very heavy and it took at least fifteen minutes for the five of us to clear and cover it.

Linus and Jiffy Pop on the Housatonic

Linus and Jiffy Pop on the Housatonic

We moved on to Stewart Hollow brook where we took a lunch break, signed the register and then got to the work of clearing trash from the shelter and privy,  and one fire ring we found behind the shelter. Again, its just baffling to me how we can post a sign saying no fires at every one of these sites and people will just do it. At this point our work for the day was over and we headed back to the picnic area a few miles north for our social and wrap-up.

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit

This past Sunday I did another patroller hike in the Ten Mile/Bull’s Bridge area. This was a special day for many reasons. I was thrilled to have my son “Jiffy Pop” along for his first day of volunteering with the AMC, and I also had been wanting to spend some time with my new friends on the Bulls Bridge task force and learn about what they do. My friend Ray is one of the members of the task force and he invited us up to join him Sunday and to do exactly that. I was planning on taking Jiffy Pop down from the bridge to Ten Mile River campground and shelter to learn about what I do and assist me, and Ray and his team also patrol this section regularly. So we planned to do that walk together today with my son.

Up until just a few years ago, people would come from all over, near and far, to party down by the river. They’d bring BBQ grills, coolers, chairs… a large spread. Then they’d have their party or their picnic or both, and promptly leave most of it there, or at the trailhead and go on their merry way. While they were at it, they would fish without a license, swim where you’re not allowed to swim, and get themselves into all sorts of situations, despite the posted signs stating these things were forbidden.

Jiffy Pop cleaning up a campsite

Jiffy Pop cleaning up a campsite

So the AMC and the other local land managers came up with a plan to have a group of volunteers man the trailhead and educate people as they came in about what’s allowed, and keep out what was not. And its a good thing. I remember our first section hike on the A.T. in Connecticut in 2013. When we passed by here there were piles and piles of garbage. It was revolting. And really sad to see. That was all trash that was left behind that someone had to clean up, and it wasn’t the people who left it. Its a shame people can’t be more responsible but I’m sure you’re seeing the pattern here. So for the last few years the task force has been a fantastic solution. Like me, these guys volunteer their time all season for free. So if you see them, thank them for their hard work to keep the area beautiful and safe.

Columbine

Columbine

Ray, Jiffy Pop and I headed down the trail, which at this point from the kiosk is a blue-blazed trail which soon intersects with and forms a loop with the A.T. It is going to be called the Homestead trail soon, as there used to be an old homestead along it just past where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail. You can still see the two chimneys from the home – the original stone and later brick chimneys. And during the winter when its not leafed out you can see the foundation of the old barn. I had not been on this trail before though I had passed it many times thinking it was just a dead end since it said it was not maintained. Just before we headed off towards the homestead, we went down to a spot along the river and Ray told us about some of the situations they’ve had to deal with there. We saw lots of beautiful Columbines in bloom and I snapped away with my camera. We then headed down past the homestead and to the old Ten Mile River group campsite which is no longer in use and now along this homestead trail. However someone had set up and camped here recently and so we had Jiffy Pop help clear and brush over a fire ring and camp site for the first time. He loved helping. I was so proud!

Oxeye Daisy

Oxeye Daisy

We then crossed the Ned Anderson memorial bridge which was lined with cobwebs and a fun conversation piece for Jiffy Pop. At the campground we met two backpackers that were out for an overnight section hike and were camped in my favorite spot by the river that I set up in last month. We chatted a while and they said they had also seen the blue heron I saw on that trip. We cleaned up the trash in the privy and another small fire site at the shelter. On the way back we met a northbound flip-flop hiker headed to Maine who had started in Shenandoah, as well as another couple out for an overnight.

I also wanted to just say that the buckets in the privy are not for trash, they are for composting material like leaves or woodchips for the privy. Please don’t leave your trash in here. We just end up having to pack it out.

Name it

Name it

We headed back over the bridge and picked up the A.T. northbound back to the blue trail and the trailhead where Ray gave Jiffy Pop an Appalachian Trail junior park ranger pin and we had some birthday cake one of the other Bulls Bridge guy’s wife had made him and that he had left for us. As I was writing up my notes, a few more of the guys showed up and we spent a little time with them before we left. We met a lot of nice day hikers and families out that day too, and my son had a great time and is looking forward to doing it again. Hopefully he can talk his friends into it now that he had such a good time.

And as you can see above I enjoyed spotting all the wildflowers like Columbine, Chicory, Oxeye Daisy, Violets, Buttercups, Spotted Wintergreen and some I was unable to name as I packed up my wildflowers book for my upcoming move. Feel free to chime in if you know the others.

– Linus

Weekend volunteering and the first overnight of the season!

Trail cleanup last weekend

Trail cleanup last weekend

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

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

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

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

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

Along the Housatonic River

Along the Housatonic River

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

Ten Mile Shelter

Ten Mile Shelter

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

Livin' in a tent, down by the river

Livin’ in a tent, down by the river

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

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

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

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

My favorite 'blazes'

My favorite ‘blazes’

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

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

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

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

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

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

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

A royal throne with a view

A royal throne with a view

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

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

Is this New Hampshire?

Is this New Hampshire?

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

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

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

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

I'm lichen this tree

I’m lichen this tree

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

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

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

Day 1 Miles: 1.8

Day 2 Miles: 9.2

— Linus

More volunteering (and hiking!)

Trail Patrol register entry

Trail Patrol register entry

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my trail patrol training with the AMC coordinator. We went back along the river walk section of the A.T. in Kent, CT and spoke about the many leave no trace practices and how to convey them in a friendly and inspirational manner to hikers. While we have no legal authority to write any sort of citations, that’s not the point. It’s the hope that in teaching other hikers about these concepts and educating them in a friendly way, they will adopt these practices on their own, and maybe even teach others.

Pruning back some briars

Pruning back some briars

I am currently reading a great article on the subject, about using the authority of the resource rather than the authority of the position to convey these ideas in a way that won’t upset those you are talking to about it. While it’s written more for actual park rangers who do have the authority to cite and prosecute offenders, its concepts are applicable here as well. Explaining how certain practices affect the vegetation, and the local fauna in a negative way is often more effective than telling someone they shouldn’t be doing something or they will get in trouble.

Lake Wintergreen

Lake Wintergreen

We also cleared stealth campsites and fire rings (some in very dangerous places) and picked up trash and cleared deadfall and bittersweet root that encroached on the trail. We spoke to a few day and overnight hikers as well. I had fun signing the register as a trail volunteer for the first time, and learning how to protect and educate others to protect our trail. The corridor is very narrow in many places in Connecticut, often just a sliver of land allowed by the local landowner, so it’s essential to stay on the trail and not build fires and campsites outside of designated areas because you could be on someone’s private property!

Regicides Trail on West Rock

Regicides Trail on West Rock

I will receiving my identification materials in the mail shortly but as it didn’t arrive by today I thought it better to wait to do my first solo patrol. Don’t want someone thinking ‘who’s this guy who thinks he owns the trail and is telling me how to take care of it!’ But I did want to hike and I did want to do some volunteer work. Luckily one of the club leaders was hosting a morning pruning work party followed by a hike on some local trails he himself cut and blazed and maintains in West Rock State Park in Hamden, CT. So I spent the morning with loppers and a saw cutting back lots of invasives, including some pretty nasty briars which did a number on many of our arms! We also cleared a large blowdown crossing the path.

A steep dropoff with a view

A steep dropoff with a view

Afterwards we met with a large group of hikers who were meeting for the hike segment up West Rock and along the ridge. The blue-blazed Regicides Trail traverses the entire ridge for 7 miles and crosses a highway tunnel below. It is part of the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association)’s 800-mile network of trails in the state. It’s also the site of the “Judges Cave,” though we did not visit it on this hike as it was farther south. The cave and the trail are named after the Parliamentary judges who sentenced King Charles I to death in England in the 1600’s. When the monarchy was restored some years later King Charles II had many of those responsible hanged, drawn and quartered.

View to Konolds Pond

View to Konolds Pond

Three fled to the colonies and settlers there that were sympathetic to their cause and were still very anti-monarchy helped hide them in a cave on this ridge above New Haven. The local roadways in the area are named in their memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the cave on another hike.

The hike did provide some nice ridge walking along the trap rock ledges and some good drop offs which made me a little nervous with all the leaves on the trail that would be quite easy to slip on, and off, the edge.