Day Hike Notes – Fahnestock State Park

At the start of last week, the weather forecast for Friday looked perfect for an outing. The little National Weather Service icon showed a dazzling white sun in a blue sky, without any spoiling “partly” or “mostly”. I made plans for a section of New York A.T., my first ever.

By Thursday, it was clear that snow was coming through, though not enough to warrant unequivocal cancellation of my plans. It was snowing on Friday morning, and our schools called a snow day. I headed out anyway. Only an inch or so had fallen, and the forecast accumulation was less in Putnam County, NY, than in lower Fairfield County, CT. I made it to Fahnestock State Park with only a little sliding on the most minor roads.

Fahnestock State Park, Blue trail

The passing of the storm brought out winter colors.

I walked the A.T. under gray skies and an occasional flurry. Then, like a lot of people that day, I was thrilled by how abruptly the storm passed – an approaching line in the sky dividing gray from blue, a breath of wind, and suddenly the sun was out for the second half of my hike.

DATE: Friday, February 5th.
START & FINISH: Small parking area by Canopus Lake on NY Rte 301, 1 mi SW of intersection with Taconic State Parkway.
ROUTE: Broadly, Appalachian Trail south to Sunken Mine Road, then Blue trail north back to start (follow detailed NYNJTC description).
DISTANCE: 6.3 miles
TIME: 4 hours (10:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Some very easy A.T. and woods road sections. A few tricky, though short, descents. Blue trail rougher underfoot, but not strenuous.
MAP: NYNJTC East Hudson Trails, Map 103.

WEATHER: Light snow, then overcast. Sunshine after 1:45.
WILDLIFE: Beaver dam, beaver-gnawed timber.

BREAKFAST: Bagel and coffee on the road.
LUNCH: Melted cheese on flatbread, nuts, granola bar.
UPS: Lots, but the sudden arrival of clear skies stands out, and the sunny ridge walk that followed.
DOWNS: My left knee has become like my 1998 truck – I always worry it’s going to break down.
KIT: Printing out and taking the NYNJTC hike description in my pocket helped me stay on track.
COMPANY: Nobody all day.

New York Appalachian Trail, Fahnestock State Park

On the A.T. before the storm passed.

Taking a Hike – John Muir Trail, Torrington, CT

My January “Taking a Hike” column was published a few weeks back, and I forgot to mention the fact here. The article is about the John Muir Trail through Paugnut State Forest, which ends near Burr Pond. Three names, three impulses toward the natural world – inhabit it, harness it to man’s purposes, preserve it. Better not to oversimplify though: we know little of Chief Paugnut; Milo Burr’s damming created eventually a beauty spot as well as a lumber business; John Muir befriended railroad barons.

The article can be found at The Hour – “Admiring the John Muir Trail” and Hersam Acorn Newspapers – “Connecticut’s own John Muir Trail”.

A ledge on the John Muir Trail

A ledge on the John Muir Trail, Torrington, CT.

“Hiking Across Scotland”

AMC-logoSave the date!

On Tuesday February 9th I will again try my hand at Appalachian Mountain Club dinner speaking. Here are the details from the the AMC announcement.

Scotland offers the hiker and backpacker exceptional choice and freedom, if not always the finest weather.

Join hiker and writer Rob McWilliams on a 420-mile trek from the far northwest at Cape Wrath to the English border on the Solway Firth.

Our journey will take in the lonely northwest Highlands; the renowned West Highland Way; the River Clyde from Glasgow to source; and the often neglected Southern Uplands. Come prepared for trackless terrain, storms, midges, spectacular scenery, solitude, and history.

Doors Open at 6.15 pm.  Drinks and appetizers 6:30pm; Presentation 7.30pm to 8.30pm. $6 members, $8 non-members. St Thomas Church, 95 Greenwood Ave. Bethel. No reservations. Pay at door.

Day 15 - You know who on the climb to the bealach

Approaching Bealach an Sgàirne, a mountain pass near Glenshiel.

Short Hike Notes – John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail in Torrington, Connecticut, that is; not the one in California’s Sierra Nevada. There are minor differences in length, difficulty, scenery etc.

Swampy Pond on Torrington CT John Muir Trail

“False Burr Pond”

Actually, I fell short of completing even the Connecticut version. Not deliberately, but because I thought I had reached Burr Pond and so the end of the trail. I had not. I had reached a nameless, swampy pond not shown on my map. It was attractive, certainly worth a name. False Burr Pond maybe.

I walked some way around and beyond this pond, thinking I was circumnavigating Burr Pond. I turned around after a while because rounding Burr Pond was not part of my plan. At this point – I worked out only after I was back home – I was actually still on the John Muir Trail toward Burr Pond. I probably ended up missing a few hundred yards of the JMT. A good excuse to go back.

Walnut Mountain Torrington CT

On Walnut Mountain, 1,325 feet.

DATE: Thursday, January 7th.
START & FINISH: Sunnybrook State Park parking lot, Newfield Road, Torrington CT.
ROUTE: John Muir Trail almost to its end, then back, taking in Walnut Mountain via side trail. Various wrong turns all along the way.
DISTANCE: Something over 5 miles with wrong turns.
TIME: 3.75 hours (9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Fairly easy, except where an icy layer of snow made for some awkward slopes.
MAP: I carried the map from CFPA Walk Book WestBut the CT DEEP Paugnut State Forest map gives a far better idea of the features of the land (like that swampy pond southwest of Burr Pond).

WEATHER: Sunny and cold (a few degrees either side of freezing).
: Nothing of note.
PHOTOS: Just those in this post.

East Branch Naugatuck River

East Branch Naugatuck River near the hike start/finish.

UPS: Fine stands of white pine; the swampy pond.
DOWNS: The crate of discarded beer cans on top off Walnut Mountain.
KIT: Boot chains made hiking a lot easier.

Taking a Hike – Housatonic Range Trail

On the Housatonic Range Trail

The Housatonic Range Trail between Pine Knob and Candlewood Mountain

Two subjects in this final post of 2015:

(1) Belated notice of my December column.
(2) A hiking highlight for each season of 2015.

(1) December’s “Taking a Hike” – Candlewood Mountain and Macricostas Preserve in western Connecticut – is available at Hersam Acorn as A holiday hike: New discoveries and at The Hour as Try something new – you can’t go wrong.

I still post older columns in full on this site with a 3-month delay (mouse over the “Taking a Hike” tab, and pick a year). There is now a 34-hike archive. Eighty percent of the hikes are either in Fairfield County, CT, or within a couple of hours drive. Most columns include “if you go” information like where to park, find a map, how long the hike will take etc.

(2) On now to the highlights. I have come to think of 2015 as being spoiled, hiking-wise, by knee trouble. Looking back now, I see how ungrateful that feeling is. My knee trouble did force the abandonment of what I hoped would be a culminating week of fall hiking in Baxter State Park, but otherwise the year still brought great moments in great places.

Here we go:

WINTER: Beautiful land- and skyscapes on Scotland’s Southern Upland Way in mid-January.

Southern Upland Way east of Overfingland

The Southern Upland Way east of Overfingland

SPRING: In April, meeting a school friend for the first time in 37 years, and celebrating with hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Mike and Rob on Old Rag - Photo by Mike Mehta

Mike and Rob on Old Rag Mountain — Photo by Lou Egan.

SUMMER: In early August, finding a ledge on Table Mountain in the Catskills, and stretching out “on sun-warmed rock to watch the clouds dance’.

The Catskills Wilderness

A summer view of the Catskills wilderness

FALL: A perfect late-October morning on the “Old Growth Forest” trail at Mianus River Gorge, Bedford, NY.

The Old Growth Forest Trail

The Old Growth Forest trail

Wishing you many and beautiful trails in 2016.

Wittenberg Mountain, December


Wittenberg Mountain Summit

I remember planning this hike at work. Back then, I commuted three or four days a week into Union Square, New York. I traveled a lot too; not for a quick meeting in Chicago, but 15-hours-on-your-butt-each-way trips. Then there were the pre-dawn and late-night telephone conferences. The feeling of being trapped and sapped by all this gave my hike-planning urgency. I needed to get outdoors.

I bought leggings and liner gloves at Paragon Sports on Broadway, and – if my photo timestamps are to be believed – took Friday December 10th 2010 as a day off. Since I had major cobwebs to blow away, I headed not for my local woods and hills, but to the Catskill Mountains. I had good memories – one in particular – of hiking the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail before, but that had been in late May.

I don’t recall much of the 3.4-mile, 2,500-foot climb from valley to peak. I do remember that it was cold in the valley, but with little or no snow. As I climbed, ice lay underfoot, and I did not own microspikes back then. Higher up, snow covered the trail, but not so much as to impede progress. On Wittenberg summit, it was – leggings and two layers of gloves notwithstanding – far too cold to linger long.

I did something on this hike that I have never done on a day-hike before or since – I carried a stove, and with it a 1-pound can of soup, probably Beef Barley. I started down from the summit with a pretty good idea of where to set up kitchen.

[Flashback to the spring hike, and the particularly good memory: I am hiking the side trail to Terrace Mountain when I hear movement in the trailside brush. I look ahead and see a sleek black bear, too busy grazing to pay much attention to me. I shout and clap, and the bear retreats a few yards and resumes its grazing. I clap harder. The bear runs into the trees. Sometime after this encounter, the adrenalin only slowly wearing off, I find an open, rocky area where campers have built rock-slab seats and a rough hearth. I rest and eat, alert for any movement coming from the surrounding woods.]


Soup and tortillas on Terrace Mountain

Coming down Wittenberg Mountain, warming up a little, I headed for Terrace Mountain, which is really just a spur of the Wittenberg ridge. I thought how the bear would be hibernating by now. But when I reached the place where I judged the encounter took place, there were clawed tracks  in the snow, and pale blood smeared among them! I was even less expert at reading tracks then than now, and could not be sure what happened here. Maybe my bear was involved, or maybe a raccoon caught a squirrel. But as I heated my soup at the rough hearth in the rocky area, I was  again hyper-alert to any sound in the surrounding woods.

I would like to say that on Monday, December 13th 2010, I returned to Union Square restored, but I do not remember. Hikes do restore, but alas even the drive home is sometimes enough to undo the good work.

Taking a Hike – Mianus River

Mianus River in Mianus River Gorge Preserve, end-October 2015

Mianus River in Mianus River Gorge Preserve

The Mianus River (that’s My-ANNE-Us, by the way) is not a mighty stream. Few people outside of southwest Connecticut and a handful of towns in neighboring New York will have heard of it, unless perhaps from crossing its estuary in Greenwich on Interstate 95. The river is only 20 miles long. Even so, when I thought about making it the subject of last month’s “Taking a Hike”, I imagined several walks spread out along its length. In the end, I took two, and really only had space to write about one – Mianus River Gorge Preserve .

I will certainly revisit the Preserve. It’s a pity it has now closed for the winter. I suppose I could enter anyway. What would stop me? Well, shame, I suppose; shame at ignoring the wishes of the stewards of the gorge because my own needs are more important. This brings me to my second walk, the one at Mianus River Park, six miles south of the gorge as the crow flies.


Good reasons to leash your dog?

At the entrance to the park, the sign pictured to the right was posted. As I walked, two things struck me about the dogs at Mianus River Park. First, they were everywhere. I was one of a few pooch-less walkers. I met a guy with a mountain bike, and felt like saying “Heh, man, you’ve lost your dog”. One woman – no exaggeration – must have been walking a dozen dogs. The second thing I noticed was that almost none of these dogs were leashed. I assume their owners either do not accept the reasons listed on the sign, or do not care about them. If it were otherwise, they would have been shame-faced when I met them. They were far from it.

I feel conflicted about dogs and trails. On the one hand, I like dogs and I like the idea of their running free (the only dog I ever had, 40 years ago, certainly did at times). On the other hand, dogs affect hikers and they affect nature, especially when present in such numbers; and the numbers seem only to grow. A subject to come back to.

In the meantime, you can read November’s “Taking a Hike” (no rants) at The Hour (A pleasant hike at Mianus River Gorge) and Hersam Acorn (Gorge-ous hike by the Mianus River).