Hiltebeitel Trail, Devil’s Den, Weston CT – February 24th

AMC-logoJoin me if you can this Friday afternoon for an Appalachian Mountain Club CT Chapter hike in the Devil’s Den. Details from the AMC announcement below. C2C means <5 miles, fast pace, average terrain. There is no need to be an AMC member. Despite the picture, we should be snow-free.

Fri., Feb. 24. Hiltebeitel Trail, Devil’s Den, Weston (C2C). Looks as if our snow and ice will melt completely this week. Let’s take an afternoon hike in the Devil’s Den with a chance of enjoying the sinking sun on the ridge traversed by the Hiltebeitel Trail.  We’ll cover 3.5-4.0 miles of mostly gentle grades in about 1.5 hrs, stopping at vistas along the way. Muddy sections possible. Meet Pent Road parking area (41.237020, -73.396220) 3:45 p.m. for 3:55 sharp departure. Co-Lead welcome. Call Rob if you would like to car-pool from Rte 7 commuter parking lot next to Orem’s Diner, Wilton. Only heavy rain/snow cancels. L Rob McWilliams (203-434-0297, robert.c.mcwilliams@gmail.com).

Sinking sun on the Hiltebeitel Trail, Devil's Den

Sinking sun on the Hiltebeitel Trail

Day Hike Notes – CT AT: New York Line to Kent


Tenmile River, mile 3.0

Last year, between February and December, my eldest daughter and I hiked the New England Trail in Connecticut in a series of 11 day hikes. Katie and I are hoping that this hike will be the first of a series that will take us up the Connecticut Appalachian Trail to Massachusetts. The CT AT is less than half the length of the CT NET (52 miles versus 111). But it is far more rugged, and we will do well to complete it in five hikes.

There were, I think, two short sections of the CT AT that I had never touched before. One, at St Johns Ledges in Kent, is where I bailed from a north-south CT AT “thru hike” many years ago (more about that (mis)adventure in posts to come). The other was the very first section of this hike – the 0.7 miles from the New York line to CT Route 55. Nice to tick things off!

DATE: Friday, February 3rd.
START: Hoyt Road, Dover NY.
FINISH: Route 341, Kent CT.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 11.5 miles.
TIME: 7½ hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Varied, but often strenuous, especially where a layer of snow/ice covered steep descents. 1,000 foot elevation gain between Tenmile River and Schaghticoke Mountain, followed by a lot of up and down. A workout.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 4.

WEATHER: Cloudy, then brighter; high about 30 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Lots and lots of tracks in the snow.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, New Milford.
LUNCH: Cheddar on sourdough baguette plus bits and pieces, on Schaghticoke Mountain.
UPS: Starting on a new round of hikes with Katie.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I sometimes wheeze when exercising in cold, dry air. I have found that wearing a clava just for the first miles really helps. No problems thereafter.
COMPANY: Three dog-walkers early on, then nobody.


Unnamed summit, mile 9.5

Taking a Hike – Number 50!


Mohawk State Forest at sunrise

My January Taking a Hike column was, I realized only after its publication, Number 50. I am pleased to have delivered the column every month for over four years (I almost wrote “churned out”, but frankly too much effort goes into each article to make that true). I was never at serious risk of skipping a month either. Even when I spent long days on a work project in New York City, there was time for hikes and to write them up afterward on the commuter train. An unexpected trip to Scotland enabled an unplanned Scottish hike to write about. Even immobilized by an injured knee for two months in 2015, I found subjects to ramble on about. Anyway, here is January’s column – the first of 2017 and Number 50!

Up Mohawk Mountain, but not by ski lift at Hersam Acorn Newspapers
First Mattatuck Trail trek is a success, and a workout at The Hour


Mattatuck trailhead at Flat Rocks Road

Ambler Gorge, Devil’s Den, Weston CT – January 27th

AMC-logoJoin me if you can this Friday afternoon for an Appalachian Mountain Club CT Chapter hike in the Devil’s Den. Details from the AMC announcement below. C2C means <5 miles, moderate pace, average terrain. There is no need to be an AMC member.

Fri., Jan. 27. Ambler Gorge, Devil’s Den, Weston (C2C). Friday’s forecast is good, and after recent rain the Den’s water features should be in full flow. We will take an afternoon hike to Ambler Gorge and back, taking in streams, ledges, and the rocky chasm itself. We’ll cover approximately 3.0 miles of mostly gentle grades in about 1.5 hrs, stopping at vistas on the Ambler Trail. Muddy sections possible. Meet Pent Road parking area (41.237020, -73.396220) 3:00 p.m. for 3:15 sharp departure. Co-Lead welcome. Call Rob if you would like to car-pool from Rte 7 commuter parking lot next to Orem’s Diner, Wilton. Heavy rain/snow cancels. L Rob McWilliams (203-434-0297, robert.c.mcwilliams at gmail.com).


Ambler Gorge, Devil’s Den

Day Hike Notes – Minnewaska State Park

Castle Point, Minnewaska State Park

Mist over distant Sam’s Point, from Castle Point

This was only my second Gunks hike ever (for those outside the region, Gunks = Shawangunks, from the Shawangunk Ridge, which in New York runs from the New Jersey line to the Catskill Mountains). I really liked my first Gunks hike, so I don’t know why it took me more than three years to return. That first hike was in Sam’s Point Preserve, 7½ straight-line miles southwest of my starting point this time. I might have gone back to Sam’s Point, but I read that huge areas of it are still closed after a wildfire.

It turned out that what I liked about Minnewaska SP was – barring Sam’s Point’s magnificent Verkeerder Kill Falls – exactly what I had liked about Sam’s Point: huge views over and beyond the Shawangunk plateau, and hiking the high barrens of stunted pitch pine and birch. On the negative side, carriage roads make for easy hiking, but take some of the fun out of it. My best memories of both Gunks hikes are of the trails proper. Next time I hit the Gunks, I will try to map out a route without carriage roads.

DATE: Saturday, January 21st.
START & FINISH: Lake Minnewaska, Rochester NY (the one in Ulster County).
ROUTE: Lake Minnewaska, Hamilton Point, and Castle Point carriage roads to Castle Point; return on Blueberry Run Trail and Upper Awosting carriage road; finish with circuit of Lake Minnewaska.
DISTANCE: About 10 miles.
TIME: 5¼ hours (9:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Although Castle Point is some 2,200 feet up, it was only 550 feet higher than my start point, and that elevation was gained over many miles of gently graded and beautifully surfaced carriage road (the only difficulty being stretches of ice in places the sun doesn’t reach). Blueberry Run was a proper trail, with rock, snow, roots, and water underfoot.
MAP: NYNJTC Shawangunk Trails, Map 104.

WEATHER: Sunny and incredibly mild (low 50s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Newburgh.
LUNCH: Swiss cheese roll and granola bar, Castle Point.
UPS: The views from Castle Point.
DOWNS: Minor, but the park does not open until 9 a.m.
KIT: Especially early, I found myself putting on and taking off my microspikes with tedious regularity.
COMPANY: Next to none until Castle Point; then a little; finally, at Lake Minnewaska after 1:30 p.m., loads.

Minnewaska State Park

Brook beside Upper Awosting carriage road


Taking a Hike – Connecticut’s Wild Corner

Before the month is done, I had better post that my December Taking a Hike column has been published:

Views are a high point of trek in Taconic Mountains at The Hour
Connecticut’s Wild Corner at Hersam Acorn

It was a great hike and, looking at the weather in the photographs, hard to believe it happened only six weeks ago. I submitted eight photographs to the publishers, of which five were used. Here is one that went unpublished – the moon over Mount Frissell.

Wishing everyone many beautiful treks in 2017.


Mount Frissell from Round Mountain — CT/MA line

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Mountain


Beaver pond near Great Hill Road

When I was reading up on this hike, I liked the idea of a long, steady ascent of a modest mountain. I liked that most of the ascent would pass through state forest. I was not so keen on the number of roads that the trail would use or cross.

Oh, how different the real world is from maps, especially out of date maps.

At first, the Mattatuck Trail was, barring a layer of snow, much as I expected. Then it reached where my map indicated a dirt road-walk. Instead, the trail swung off in another direction and meandered through woods – very beautiful woods in patches. When the trail used Camp Road for a half-mile, it was as quiet as a path, and pleasant relief from walking on snow (ice is easier, as long as you have spikes).

I followed the blue Mattatuck Trail blazes dutifully all the way to the top of the Mohawk Mountain ski runs (in use). But on the return journey, I cut corners using those roads I had not been keen on. Even on those open to traffic, there was hardly a car.

This was likely my last long hike of 2016. Great that it exceeded expectations.

DATE: Monday, December 26th.
START & FINISH: Flat Rocks Road, Cornwall, CT.
ROUTE: Mattatuck Trail north to where it ends at the Mohawk Trail.
DISTANCE: Something over 12 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 6.25 hours (7:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy to moderate topography, but a layer of crunchy snow made for a strenuous hike. Dirt road sections were very icy. Hike gains 600 feet from trailhead to Mohawk Mountain summit (1,683’).
MAP: From the CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book West, now out of print and out of date for this section. Trail well blazed though.

WEATHER: Sunny until 11:00, then overcast. It began to rain as I neared the finish line. Cold at first and on summits.
WILDLIFE: Lots of tracks in the snow, distorted by thaw and refreeze.

BREAKFAST: Bagel and coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, New Milford.
LUNCH: A sandwich, split between Cunningham Tower and Mohawk Pond.
UPS: Some fine woodland, ponds, and swamps; the views from Mohawk summit.
DOWNS: My phone – and therefore camera – announcing one hour into the hike that its battery was going flat (it survived at 4% for the remaining five hours, but I used it economically).
KIT: Microspikes essential.
COMPANY: All alone on the way out; a few walkers on the return leg.


Looking north from Mohawk Mountain