Heading Back to Baxter

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

I don’t like packing for hiking trips. I don’t care much for putting my gear away afterward either. What I do enjoy is the planning – the reading up on trails and landscape; the thinking ahead about weather, amount of daylight, challenges and risks. I am happily in that phase now.

Last weekend I completed camping reservations for Maine’s Baxter State Park, so, barring force majeure, I will be heading there in late September for a full week of day-hiking.

For anyone unfamiliar with Baxter, it sits bang in the middle of the hump of Maine, the bulge that sticks up into Canada. At 327 square miles, it is larger than Singapore, and one third the size of Rhode Island. It has no paved roads, and no permanent human inhabitants (just, to quote the park’s website, “moose, deer, bear, otter, mink, marten, fisher, weasel, coyote, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, woodchucks, snowshoe hare, squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, mice, and voles”).

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

I have been to Baxter twice before, once with two of my daughters long enough ago that they were then seven and five years old. Even the second time – quite fresh in my memory – is now nine years back. Both times I did not stray from the southern half of the park, around the base of Katahdin, the park’s emblematic mountain that is also the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The photos in this post are from that second trip (the first predated my digital camera).

This time, I will spend three days in the north of Baxter, based at South Branch Pond. The idea is to explore the Traveler Range and the “splendid U-shaped valley running north to south from the Travelers to South Turner” (park website’s words again). The Google Earth image below shows that topography rather nicely – the foreground mountains are Center Ridge and The Traveler, the ponds are South Branch (upper and lower).

Midweek, I will drive south on the Park Tote Road to Katahdin Stream campground, and likely meet A.T. thru-hikers facing the last, steep leg of their hike. I hope to climb Katahdin again too, as well find other trails to explore in the southern half.

More Baxter posts to follow for sure.

The Traveler Range -- Google Earth

The Traveler Range — Google Earth

Taking a Hike – The Ives Trail

Ives Trail in Tarrywile Park

Ives Trail in Tarrywile Park

My “Taking a Hike” column for June describes an adventure on the Ives Trail. I think the word “adventure” applies; most of the trail was new to me, it was physically demanding, and much of the hike was figuratively – sometimes literally – off the beaten track.

The Ives Trail is not a scenic extravaganza, at least not from beginning to end. There were suburban intrusions here and there – a couple of junked cars, wire fences running through the woods, the drone of chippers. But the trail led to some surprising places. I liked in particular the deep, cool, boulder-strewn canyon between Thomas and Moses mountains. The sections over Wooster and Pine mountains are beautiful, as are some stretches in Tarrywile Park. Bennett’s Pond is a fine finale.

You can find the column at The Hour (The ups and downs of Ives Trail) and Hersam Acorn (The Ives Trail: No stroll in the park!). Enjoy.

March’s column – a snowbound Sleeping Giant – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2015: “Mar – Sleeping Giant” – or by clicking here).

Radio Arts & Leisure, June 5th

HAN RadioI took part in Radio Arts & Leisure on HAN Radio for the second time on Friday (the first time was a month ago). Thanks to Sally and Rob for having me on the show again.

Click here to access the podcast. (If HAN Radio is broadcasting, better to pause the broadcast before starting the podcast unless you are good at listening to two soundtracks at once.) I start at minute 29:30.

Topics covered included:

Hope you are enjoying a trail right now!

Spring view from the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail -- trailhead in Woodland Valley

Spring view from the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail — trailhead in Woodland Valley

Day Hike Notes – Ives Trail

The view from Pine Mountain Lookout

The view from Pine Mountain Lookout

The Ives Trail meanders 20 miles through Redding, Bethel, Danbury, and Ridgefield CT. Emphasis on meanders. Start and finish are less than three direct miles apart. Most of the meandering takes place in Danbury, where the trail loops north to take in Tarrywile Park. In Ridgefield, the trail runs through Pine Mountain open space and Bennett’s Pond State Park. The sections in Redding and Bethel are both short.

Crossing the Danbury Line, Redding

Crossing the Danbury Line, Redding

I have known about the Ives Trail for two years, but only got around to hiking it yesterday. Given the pain today in my increasingly troublesome left knee, my decision to hike the trail in one go may not have been the wisest. There are a few easy sections, but most of the Ives Trail consists of short, steep ups and downs, and some are not so short. The trail is overgrown and rocky here and there. Needless to say, it is nearly all wooded. I thought the woods themselves were best west of Route 7, on Wooster and Pine mountains, but there were rewarding breaks in the trees all along the trail. Anyway, a few notes:

Parks Pond, Tarrywile Park, Danbury

Parks Pond, Tarrywile Park, Danbury

DATE: Sunday, May 31st.
START: Opposite West Redding Post Office, Redding CT. (This is the nearest parking. The trail itself begins inconspicuously a short walk along Sidecut Rd.)
FINISH: Bennett’s Pond State Park entrance, Bennetts Farm Rd, Ridgefield CT.
ROUTE: Ives Trail, minus the Parks Pond-Ives House section in Danbury.
DISTANCE: 18-19 miles.
TIME: 9 hours (6 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Mostly rugged, wooded hills; trails varied from excellent to rough. Two short road walks (under one mile in total).
MAP: I carried a laminated copy of the Ives Trail Overview Map, plus maps for the Ridgefield section. It would have been useful to have had the Tarrywile Park trail map too.

Between Wooster and Pine mountains, Danbury or Ridgefield

Between Wooster and Pine mountains, Danbury or Ridgefield

WEATHER: Calm, cloudy, sticky; one heavy shower about lunchtime.
WILDLIFE: A deer, a toad, squirrels …

PHOTOS: Not a good day for photographs. The best are here in the post.

BREAKFAST: Half a cold toasted bagel on the drive to Redding, the other half in the Bethel or Danbury woods.
LUNCH: Cheddar cheese sandwich on olive and red pepper ciabatta, eaten on Moses Mountain. Why rough it just because you’re in the woods?

Bennett's Pond, Ridgefield

Bennett’s Pond, Ridgefield

UPS: Hiking a local trail that was mostly new to me. Intermittent beauty – shallow, lily-choked ponds; wildflowers in a clearing; the bouldery chasm beneath Moses Mountain; Pine Mountain lookout …
DOWNS: Having to use bug spray; bug bites anyway; humidity; a couple of trailside junked cars.
KIT: Water filter to refill my 32 oz bottle twice from brooks.
COMPANY: None for long stretches; mostly confined to Tarrywile Park.

Thunder clouds, five minutes from the end

Thunder clouds, five minutes from the end

Taking a Hike – Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag Boulders

Old Rag Boulders

My newspaper column – Taking a Hike – was published last week. This month it is about Shenandoah National Park, and in particular a wonderful hike-scramble up Old Rag Mountain. You can find the column at Hersam Acorn (A hike in Shenandoah National Park) and The Hour (Taking on our closest national park).

I started the column by saying we don’t have many national parks near where I live (southwest Connecticut). Even as I wrote, I imagined a particular acquaintance of mine firing back, “Now wait a minute, you have one 7.5 miles up the road, in your own town”. My defense was that Weir Farm is a national historic site, not the same thing as a park even if it is run by the National Park Service and even if it does have a trail or two. My acquaintance, by the way, works for the NPS at Weir Farm.

This little dialog with myself set me to checking what else the NPS has in Connecticut. I found five “parks” on its website, of which I had heard of two (Weir Farm and the Appalachian Trail). What might the others hold for hikers?

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail (wow!), to judge from the website, is more an idea than a park, a road route at most for the time being. What about the Quinebaug & Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor then? Any good hiking there? There probably is, but since this “special kind of park” appears to consist of the northeast of Connecticut in its entirety, I doubt the trails have the customary NPS “look & feel”. In fact, the NPS website directs you to a third-party (The Last Green Valley) to find out what to do in this heritage corridor.

This left the New England National Scenic Trail – “From the Sound to the Summits: the New England Trail covers 215 miles from Long Island Sound across long ridges to scenic mountain summits in Connecticut and Massachusetts”. This sounded promising, a whole new mega-trail to explore! But then its route looked strangely familiar, little more than the established Metacomet and Mattabesett “blue-blazed” trails; and indeed the NPS site sends you to the stewards of the Blue-Blazed Trails if you click “Learn About the Park”.

Talcott Mountain on the Metacomet Trail — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “Jehochman”

Talcott Mountain on the Metacomet Trail — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “Jehochman”

So what does all this mean? (1) The NPS brands projects that it does not really manage (the A.T. itself is a case in point). I am sure this serves a purpose, and the NPS is still probably my favorite government agency. (2) I stick by my opinion that Shenandoah NP is the nearest true national park to home. And (3) I hope to post here soon about hiking the New England National Scenic Trail, although I doubt I will call it that.

Evening Hike, Devil’s Den, Weston CT – May 20th

AMC-logoJoin me if you can on Wednesday 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. Bugs likely.

Sunset on HiltebeitelWed., May 20. “Sunset on Hiltebeitel” (C2C) , Devil’s Den, Weston CT. Good forecast, let’s take an evening hike in the Devil’s Den Preserve with a view to 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. Meet Pent Road parking area 6:00 p.m. for 6:15 sharp departure. NOTE THAT GODFREY ROAD BRIDGE IS OUT. YOU WILL NEED TO APPROACH PENT ROAD FROM THE EAST (NEWTOWN TURNPIKE / RTE 53). Lead Rob McWilliams (203-434-0297, robert.c.mcwilliams@gmail.com). Co-Lead welcome. Call Rob to car-pool from Rte 7 commuter parking lot next to Orem’s Diner, Wilton. Heavy rain cancels.

 

Day Hike Notes – Shenandoah A.T.

Looking north from Hawksbill Summit

Looking north from Hawksbill Summit

I posted a week ago about hiking Old Rag Mountain with Mike and Lou. Mike is a friend from schooldays who I had not seen in 37 years. The next day, Lou – Mike’s partner – decided to take a horseback ride out of Skyland Resort, but before doing so she drove Mike and I to a point on the Appalachian Trail near Big Meadows. From there we hiked back to the resort, leaving the A.T. for a mile or two to take in Hawksbill Summit on a side trail. Lou rejoined us for an evening walk up Stony Man Mountain.

All of our route was within a mile of Skyline Drive. I had assumed the tourist road would impinge on the trail. It didn’t. Maybe this was because Mike and I were mostly distracted by nostalgia, or because it was mid-week in April. I have certainly read about grousing from thru-hikers who hit this section of A.T. in early summer.

DATE: Wednesday, April 22nd.
START: A.T. just south of Big Meadows.
FINISH: Stony Man Mountain, immediately north of Skyland Resort.
ROUTE: Straight up the A.T. (south to north), with “longcut” over Hawksbill Summit.
DISTANCE: 9-10 miles to Skyland Resort, plus 1.6-mile loop of Stony Man.
TIME: 5 hours to Skyland Resort, 1 hour on Stony Man.
TERRAIN: Up and down between 2,900 feet and 4,050 feet (Hawksbill Summit).
MAP: Appalachian Trail map for SNP Central District.

WEATHER: Sunny, then sunny with showers. Very breezy on summits.
WILDLIFE: I am sure there were deer.

PHOTOS: Here.

Evening light in Shenandoah Valley from Stony Man Mountain

Evening light in Shenandoah Valley from Stony Man Mountain

BREAKFAST: Muesli and coffee at Big Meadows Campground before meeting Mike and Lou at the resort.
LUNCH: Hunkering in the shelter beneath Hawksbill.
UPS: Reveling in schooldays reminiscence with Mike.
DOWNS: Can’t think of any.
KIT: Hike was a case in point for layers; mostly mild but numbingly cold when caught by the strong wind. I did not carry gloves, but would have welcomed them on Hawksbill.
COMPANY: Mike, Lou, plus a few other hikers.