Day Hike Notes – Mount Ellen, Vermont

Marjorie at Orvis Lookout (Colin busy with his camera, I think)

Mount Ellen is Vermont’s joint-third-highest summit, after Mount Mansfield and Killington Peak and tied (at 4,083 feet) with Camels Hump. I have climbed Mansfield and the Hump. Since Ellen is much nearer Burlington (always my destination in VT) than is Killington, it became, a while ago, an obvious next target.

My youngest is at college in Burlington, living up there year-round. Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t seen her this year, so I knew for sure where my first all-vaccinated-up trip would take me. I became officially vaccinated up on May 28th and did not wait long before heading up I-91. The good news is that Marjorie and boyfriend Colin are outdoors people, so I could be social and climb Mount Ellen at the same time! This was a hike that was really all about the company.

DATE: Saturday, June 5th.
START & FINISH: Jim Dwire Road, Starksboro VT (trailhead at GPS 44.176893, -72.968547).
ROUTE: Jerusalem Trail to ridgeline, then Long Trail south to Mount Ellen; return by same route. On the way up, we took a break at Orvis Lookout, a short distance north on the Long Trail from its junction with the Jerusalem Trail.
DISTANCE: 8 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 5¾ hours (7:30am to 1:15pm).
TERRAIN: Well, a 2,400’ climb but it was a steady one on pretty good trails.
MAP: Just the Gaia GPS app.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm (climbing to about 80 by finish), occasional welcome breeze.
WILDLIFE: Colin was good at spotting—and photographing—salamanders, mostly orange Eastern newts, I think.

BREAKFAST: For me, a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter and a croissant before driving to the trailhead, plus coffee by Marjorie in the car.
LUNCH: We snacked sitting on a chairlift structure on the summit—tortilla with peanut butter and an apple for me.
UPS: Having fun with Marjorie and Colin.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I anticipated needing loads of water and set out with 4 liters (which weighs 9 pounds). The day turned out to be not as thirst-inducing as I had expected so I ended up carrying around a lot of excess H2O.
COMPANY: Apart from Marjorie and Colin, a number of other hikers who never became too many.



Day Hike Notes – Mattabesett Trail Again

Cliff in Cockaponset State Forest

Five years ago, my eldest and I hiked a substantial portion of the Mattabesett Trail. We trekked in a generally southerly direction from Berlin to Guilford, mostly accomplished on three outings between July and September. But our project in 2016 was to reach Long Island Sound, so somewhere in the woods of Guilford we left the Mattabesett Trail. We went south and it made a sharp turn to the northeast, toward the Connecticut River.

Last weekend, I set foot on the Mattabesett Trail again, starting at the Connecticut River. I walked 4.8 miles on the Trail before turning around. Another 22½ miles would have taken me back to that trail junction in the Guilford woods. I may gradually walk those miles this summer.

DATE: Saturday, May 1st.
START & FINISH: Mattabesett Trail eastern (Connecticut River) trailhead, Middletown CT (GPS 41.554067, -72.582254).
ROUTE: Out—Mattabesett Trail to Brooks Road; back—Reservoir Loop Trail, Reservoir Road (a track), and Mattabesett.
DISTANCE: 9.4 miles according to my GPS.
TIME: 4¾ hours (7:45am to 12:30pm).
TERRAIN: Surprisingly rough in places. On the outward leg, beyond a feature called Rock Pile Cave, the Mattabesett was particularly prone to steep, twisting, bouldery sections for a mile or two. On the other hand, over the whole hike, elevations remained between 60 feet (start) and 530.
MAP: I carried the rather bulky CFPA Connecticut Walk Book for the relevant map (page 106), consulted only rarely.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, cool (40s at start, maybe upper 50s by finish).
WILDLIFE: Small turtles sunbathing beside their ponds.

BREAKFAST: I stopped at a deli that will remain nameless. The service was friendly but very slow. When, in my car, I unwrapped my bagel it was missing both swiss cheese and butter. I dreaded how long getting this corrected might take, so breakfast was a dry toasted bagel!
LUNCH: A cheese roll (camembert) sat on a boulder in the woods.
UPS: Watching the wind and sun create wavelet dances on the surface of Asylum Reservoir Number 2.
DOWNS: Finding garbage bags and weather-shredded tents abandoned beside an especially attractive portion of trail.
KIT: Bringing a third layer was a last-minute decision. With the stiff breeze and cool temperatures, it was a good—even necessary—one!
COMPANY: Almost none.


Day Hike Notes – MA AT: Jug End to the Housatonic

Shays’ Rebellion 1786-7

My most recent hikes, or at least those I thought it worthwhile to post about, have been on the New York Appalachian Trail. These outings took me to a point about halfway between the Hudson River and the New Jersey line. At one time or another, I have trodden the 130 or so miles north from that point to a spot ten AT miles inside Massachusetts from Connecticut. Last weekend, I decided to extend my AT coverage farther north rather than south. There were two main reasons for this: (1) I like the long, scenic drive up routes 7, 112, and 41 (a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts too); and (2) the next Massachusetts section was low-level and without steep gradients. We’d had some mild weather the preceding week, but I knew there’d be ice still in places where the sun don’t shine on higher and rougher sections of AT, and repeatedly putting on and taking off spikes is a pain.

DATE: Saturday, March 13th.
START & FINISH: Where the AT crosses Jug End Road, Egremont, MA (GPS 42.144443, -73.431467).
ROUTE: AT “north” (actually east) to Housatonic River bridge on Kellogg Road, Sheffield; retrace steps back to start.
DISTANCE: About 11 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (9am to 2pm).
TERRAIN: Fairly flat, with elevation always in the 650-900 feet range; dry trail, though with a few icy stretches; more than the usual frequency of bog bridges and boardwalk.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1509.

WEATHER: Sunny, cool (low 40s), and windy out of the woods.

  • On the edge of some woods, I heard a small, out-of-place sound, maybe a stick crunching. I peered toward where it had come from and at first saw nothing, but then spied a dark coyote trotting off through the trees.
  • Not much later, I came to a small, half-frozen pond. It wasn’t very pretty and I wasn’t looking at it when I heard a splash. I assumed the splash was a dog taking a dip. I looked for the dog but instead saw a beaver swimming in the melted half of the pond. Whether in response to me or not, the beaver again slapped the water’s surface with its tail. I believe this is beaver for “buzz off!’ so it may indeed have been directed at me.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel (with swiss cheese) from JP Gifford in Kent, consumed in the car and at the trailhead.
LUNCH: A cheese sandwich, standing in the woods somewhere.
DOWNS: Not really a down but, depending on exposure to the wind or shelter from it, I was repeatedly too cold or too warm.
KIT: I carried spikes but the stretches of icy trail were never long enough to justify the effort of putting them on.
COMPANY: Most memorable was a Boy Scout group that I passed on both my out- and back-leg. As you might expect, they—boys and adult leaders—were amiable and observed COVID protocols.



Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Harriman State Park

SECOND HIKE: Looking up from inside the “Lemon Squeezer”

On New Year’s Eve, I set off Into Harriman State Park. This post describes two more New York Appalachian Trail outings that, almost, take me out of Harriman on its west side. They cover the nine miles or so of AT from William Brien Memorial shelter to, nearly, I-87. However, since they were solitary, out-and-back hikes, I walked more like 20 miles. Nobody, I think, would say that these sections are spectacular, but they are pleasant and, here and there, rugged. I intend to press on to New Jersey, now maybe three out-and-back day-hikes away, but the snow that is falling extravagantly across the region today may set me back a while.

DATES: Sundays, January 10th and 24th.
1/10 – Parking at Tiorati Circle, Seven Lakes Drive (GPS 41.275019, -74.088849).
1/24 – Elk Pen parking, Arden Valley Road just off Route 17 (GPS 41.264634, -74.154314).
1/10 – Short stretch on Arden Valley Road to meet AT; AT north to William Brien Memorial shelter; AT south back to Arden Valley Road and on to Fingerboard shelter; blue-blazed trail down to Lake Tiorati; Seven Lakes Drive to return to Start.
1/24 – AT north to Fingerboard shelter; AT south to return.
1/10 – 11.2 miles (5.2 one-way AT miles); 5¾ hours (8:30am to 2:15pm).
1/24 – 8.5 miles (3.9 one-way AT miles—I took a few short sidetracks, on purpose or by mistake); 5 hours (9:15am to 2:15pm).
TERRAIN: The usual ups and downs. The second hike felt harder, and not just because of gymnastics at the rock formation called the “Lemon Squeezer”. The going felt rubblier underfoot too, lots of awkward rocks and roots. According to my app, this short section (out and back) involved 2,000 feet of ascent.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Both days were sunny and cold. But the second hike was the sunnier and the colder (highs only in the 20s and a stiff wind).
WILDLIFE: Nothing that was exciting enough to remember now.

BREAKFAST: Bagel and coffee on the road, both times.
LUNCH: On the second hike, I sat down to eat in the lee of a boulder at the south end of Fingerboard Mountain, but soon realized it was still too cold and exposed a spot. I descended to a warmer place and ate standing up!
UPS: Second hike—sparse, airy oak forest on Island Pond Mountain, and the Pond itself.
DOWNS: Nothing significant, but see KIT.
KIT: I felt significantly cold for a while coming off windy Fingerboard Mountain and realized I did not have my layers right. I was wearing a thick fleece over three thinner layers. I could have added my rain jacket but feared generating condensation and becoming even colder. I’ve since bought a down jacket to help with these “dry cold” situations.
COMPANY: There were plenty of people out both days, especially by lunchtime.


Red = 1st hike, purple = 2nd

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Into Harriman State Park

Silver Mine Lake

Back in September, I completed a long-drawn-out section-hike of the New York Appalachian Trail east of the Hudson River. West of the Hudson, I had already, several years ago, walked most of the Bear Mountain State Park AT. This hike picked up from that section and began what I suppose will be another long-drawn-out exercise to reach the New Jersey line. There are about 38 miles of NY AT west of the Hudson. I have now hiked 10 of them. Onward!

DATE: Thursday, December 31st.
START & FINISH: Hiker parking off Seven Lakes Drive on boundary of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks (GPS 41.304177, -74.015841).
ROUTE: Short section of 1777W trail to meet Appalachian Trail, then AT “south” (actually, south then west) to William Brien Memorial shelter; return by same route.
DISTANCE: My GPS said 9.95 miles.
TIME: 6¼ hours (10:45am to 5pm).
TERRAIN: Two significant ups and one significant down (each 650-700 feet) on the out leg, reversed of course on the home leg. Some short tricky descents requiring caution, hands, big step-downs etc. Trail decently dry and almost ice-free.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Overcast, low 40s. Rather dreary.
WILDLIFE: A hawk and a (probably old) bear warning (see photos).

LUNCH: Cheese sandwich and nuts at William Brien Memorial shelter.
UPS: Seeing the Manhattan skyline far in the distance from Black Mountain.
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: I started off in a wooly hat, quickly switched to a cap, and switched back again with a mile or so to go.
COMPANY: As I was nearing William Brien Memorial shelter from the north, I saw the back of a hiker heading away from it toward the south. That was the extent of my company for the day.



My 2020 Seasonal Highlights

I almost got into a rhythm of posting, at the end of the year, a hiking highlight for each season of the year just ending. Almost.

For anyone interested, My 2018 Seasonal Highlights provides, as you would expect, highlights for 2018, but also links to fond hiking memories for the preceding years.

I lost my posting rhythm last year. So, in this post, there are 2020 highlights and, with smaller photographs, a nod to 2019.

A lot of gratitude is generated by a look-back like this; gratitude for the outdoors and my ability to enjoy it, gratitude for the people who keep our wild spaces both wild and accessible; thanks for the family and friends who have often walked with me.

It has, of course, been the COVID year, 12 months of increased suffering and anxiety for so many. Where does that leave gratitude? The same important place as before, I think. Happy New Year!


WINTER 2020: It doesn’t look much like winter, but it was cold enough on the trail to Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park, Texas, on February 26th.

2019 – Hudson River and Storm King Mountain, New York, February

SPRING 2020: A hike at Breakneck Pond, Union CT, in early June marked the beginning of the end of my spring health concerns (probably caused by a bout of COVID in April).

2019 – Mohawk State Forest Lean-to, Connecticut – first night of a 3-day backpack with Jim Liptack, April

SUMMER 2020: It doesn’t look much like summer. August 26th on Mount Eisenhower, White Mountains, New Hampshire. Mount Washington, partially shrouded, is behind my left ear.

2019 – Shawangunk Ridge, New York, late June

FALL 2020: I had hoped to take a trip or two in the fall but, because of work, had to “make do” with local hikes. Some were very adequate. Bennetts Pond, Ridgefield CT, on an October evening.

2019 – Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia, November

Mount Eisenhower and Mount Franklin

Edmands Path – View to flank of Mt Franklin

I have been an incredibly poor blogger this fall. It’s not that I haven’t been hiking. I’m not certain why the posts dried up, but at least it’s better that I’ve been hiking and not posting than the other way around. Anyway, four months after the event, Mounts Eisenhower and Franklin! This outing took place on August 26th, immediately after my Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness treks.

It had been on my mind to climb Mount Adams today. Adams, 5,799 feet, is the second highest in the Presidential Range. But the morning was blustery and, seen from Route 2, the highest Presidential peaks were hidden in cloud. I feared what conditions would be like up there. Mount Eisenhower, at 4,760 feet, might also prove wind-blasted and socked-in, but at least the effort and discomfort of climbing would be marginally less if there was to be little reward.

I set off up the Edmands Path at about 9:15. Not far into the trees, I met a man already on his way down. He’d seen nothing from Eisenhower, he said, but added that he thought he’d just been too early and the cloud would break up. For an hour and 45 minutes, the Edmands Path was but a climb through the trees, ascending very evenly from the trailhead at 2,000 feet to a leveling-out at 4,400 feet—and there everything changed quite abruptly.

First came views toward still-shrouded Presidential summits, then a weather warning sign (see photos below) and an exposed, bouldery stretch of trail, and finally the end of the trees in the saddle between Mounts Eisenhower and Franklin. By now there was blue in the sky and I was optimistic that Eisenhower’s bald top (sorry Dwight) would offer grand views. But the wind was suddenly cold and fierce, and I went in moments from wearing a light layer or two to fleece, jacket, wooly hat, and gloves. Eisenhower—0.4 miles on from the saddle—did indeed provide magnificent views and I prolonged my stay by hunkering on the leeward side of its summit cairn.

I was not ready to go down yet and decided to prolong my time above treeline with a down-and-up to Mount Franklin. In truth, Franklin (5,001 feet) is really just a bump on the ridge to Mounts Monroe and Washington. I recall two things from this excursion; my phone’s battery dying from exposure to the cold wind and views north to cloudless high Presidential summits. Fortunately, a portable “power bank” that I carry resurrected my phone just long enough to snap a few pictures of those summits.



Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness

1ST HIKE – Hermit Falls, Basin Trail

It is now over a month since I returned from my New England Mountains trip. During this period, I have found it difficult to make time to think and post about the trip. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, and delay will provide perspective about what’s actually worth recording about the hikes I took. This post is titled “Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness”, a convenient catch-all for three hikes I took between Sunday, August 23rd and Tuesday 25th. Two of them were in the Wilderness for most of their distance; one—the first—was entirely outside, but in the neighborhood.

That first hike was an evening dash from Basin Pond to the ridge above it. It was a dash because, in spite of my meticulous approach to gear-packing, I realized just ahead of the hike that I’d left my headlamp at home. It was in my mind that sunset would occur at 7pm, and now I’d have to be done by not much after that. The hike would involve 2.5 miles and 1,300 feet of up or down each way, so when I set out a little before 4:00, I didn’t hang about; and I set myself a turnaround time of 5:35 latest. In the end, it was comfortable. I reached a ledge just south of Rim Junction in 90 minutes and there was rewarded with the view in the first photo in the set below. Back down near Basin Pond, I remembered that sunset would actually happen at 7:30!


Yesterday’s opening climb had been sweaty, and today promised more of the same. Further, afternoon storms were in the forecast. Not wanting to be caught on bare summits in thunder and lightning, I set off for Speckled Mountain right after breakfast. There was no drive to the trailhead; my hike began at Cold River Campground, my base from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning. I walked out of the campground, over the state line into Maine, past the Brickett Place (a historic farmstead), and soon entered the Wilderness. As federally-designated wildernesses go, Caribou-Speckled Mountain is small (11,236 acres/17.5 square miles), but it is wrapped in wider wild lands and civilization feels remote. For those unfamiliar, in designated wildernesses, nature is mostly left untrammeled and hiker conveniences are fewer than in, for example, a national park. This wilderness, however, did not feel much different to me than the surrounding National Forest. Good, well-marked trail took me to Speckled Mountain summit and its superb views west to the White Mountains and north deeper into Maine. This could have been the day’s highlight but, on balance, the stunted forest on the ledges of Blueberry Ridge on the return leg was more atmospheric, and its views just as good. There was a post-hike highlight too—a sweat-cleansing dunk in Basin Pond!

START & FINISH: Cold River Campground, Chatham, NH (GPS 44.265615, -71.010624).
ROUTE: Route 113 to the Brickett Place; Bickford Brook Trail to Speckled Mountain summit; Bickford Brook and Blueberry Ridge trails back to Brickett Place and home.
DISTANCE: 9.5 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (7:45am to 1:45pm)
TERRAIN: I recall the ascent (2,300 feet of elevation gain) as sweaty but steady. On the way down, the last half-mile of the Blueberry Ridge Trail was steep and required caution.


I had planned a bigger, higher climb for today, but afternoon storms were again in the forecast, this time more emphatically. The forecast was palpable too, the morning air thick beneath an oppressive overcast, and all the more so in the dense hardwood forest. There was a breeze on top of Caribou Mountain but only barely refreshing, and the views were as grand as the day would allow. Just beyond the summit, I paused on a substantial ledge with a view (eastward, I think) of gray sky and green hills. Down from the mountain, against expectations, the day brightened. It was only when I was back at my campsite that the storms came through, and brought with them the comforting pattering of rain on my tent as I rested. It was a cold front arriving and it meant that Wednesday would be a very different sort of day.

START & FINISH: Caribou and Mud Brook trails-head, Maine Route 113, (GPS 44.335940, -70.976233).
ROUTE: Caribou Trail to Mud Brook Trail; Mud Brook over Caribou Mountain and back to start.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles.
TIME: 4.5 hours (8:00am to 12:30pm)
TERRAIN: 1,900 feet of ascent/descent, the steepest section being coming off Caribou summit.


Day Hike Notes – NY AT: To The Hudson

AT bog bridge near NY Route 9

Almost a year ago, I realized that hiking the New York Appalachian Trail from Connecticut to the Hudson River had become a project. I admitted, though, that the project had “no target completion date; I’ll do what I can, when I can, and when I feel like it”. Well, last Friday, six months after last setting foot on the NY AT, I finally reached the Hudson. I have my friend David to thank that finishing happened even as soon as this. Section-hiking alone (and therefore on out-and-back hikes) is slow. The two NY AT sections I hiked point-to-point with David, including this last section, permitted much more rapid progress. We didn’t actually hike all the way to Bear Mountain Bridge today, an additional half-mile. I had done that section before and David, with a backpacking trip starting the next morning, was keen to conserve his energy and feet. Bear Mountain Bridge would have made for a more climactic ending, as the old photo at the bottom of this post attests.

Anyway, I am done; and being done, I calculate that I have now hiked about 117 contiguous miles of the AT that is nearest my home (from Jug End in Massachusetts to a little beyond Bear Mountain in west-of-the-Hudson New York). That sounds derisory enough to inspire me to further hikes.

DATE: Friday, September 18th.
START: Canopus Hill Road, Putnam Valley, NY (GPS 41.387458, -73.879057).
FINISH: NY Route 9D just north of Bear Mountain Bridge, Cortlandt NY (GPS 41.322625, -73.975863).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) south.
DISTANCE: 10 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (8:30am to 2:30pm).
TERRAIN: Ups and downs on good trail, oscillating between 375’ and 900’ in elevation. The final descent to (almost) the Hudson was a steep 550 feet over about a half-mile.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Great for hiking—dry, gentle breeze, becoming sunny, 60s.
WILDLIFE: On the hike, a circling turkey vulture; on my drive home, a bobcat crossed the road in front of me! 

BREAKFAST: “Energy cold brew” coffee and cheese & bacon bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts, Yorktown Heights, NY. (I am becoming a Dunkin’ expert. My college student youngest works at one of their locations and has taught me what to order.)
LUNCH: Ham & swiss roll on White Rock (view of the Hudson substantially screened by oak forest).
UPS: A day off from computer screens; talking with David.
DOWNS: Not really a down, but this AT section is a walk in pleasant woods but lacks any highlight.
KIT: We brought rain jackets in case the forecast showers (20% chance) materialized. They didn’t.  
COMPANY: David and, until the very end, just a few other backpackers and day-hikers.


JULY 2016 PHOTO: Looking north from Bear Mountain Bridge, Sugarloaf Hill to the right.

New England Mountains

Basin Pond, Evans Notch, White Mountains

SUNDAY – Basin Pond: I took an evening hike to the ridge that wraps around it

On Sunday, I returned from a week in the mountains of northern New England. My plan had been a hike every day that was also a climb, and I made a list of five summits to aim for. In the end, I climbed only one of them. No worries, I scaled five that were not on the list!

For my first three nights I stayed at Cold River Campground (rustic, tranquil) south of Evans Notch on the Maine-New Hampshire line. I set out from Cold River for Speckled Mountain (Monday) and Caribou Mountain (Tuesday). These modest summits are the highest in Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, a federally designated wilds on the Maine side of the line.

On Wednesday, I moved west to Crawford Notch, taking in mounts Eisenhower and Franklin on the way. These are Presidential Range summits and not modest at all, at least not on a New England scale. (Ben Franklin, of course, was never President but who would begrudge him a Presidential peak?)

The Presidential Range trails were not crowded exactly, but they were trafficked, and the following day I headed to a little visited part of the White Mountains, following deserted trails to a ledge named Owls Cliff.

On the final day of a hiking trip, I would not normally leave the White Mountains to drive 100 miles west to a mountain in Vermont. But since my plan for the weekend was to see my youngest in Burlington, Mount Hunger was conveniently located and involved a conveniently short—if quite steep—trek to its summit. So Mount Hunger is where my hiking week ended. I couldn’t really have chosen a better place—the Green Mountains all around, the Adirondacks visible off to the west, the Whites far away in the east.

Over the coming weeks, I will post about these New England mountain hikes in greater detail. For now, this post contains a photograph for each day, Sunday (top) to Friday.


MONDAY – On Speckled Mountain: Mt Washington faintly visible (far distance, just left of center)


TUESDAY – Entering the Wilderness


WEDNESDAY – Presidential Range from Mt Eisenhower (right to left in/touching cloud, Washington, Adams, Jefferson)


THURSDAY – Swift River, start and finish of the hike to Owls Cliff


FRIDAY – Mount Mansfield (right of picture, with ski runs) from Mount Hunger