Taking a Hike – Great Hollow

My July “Taking a Hike” column has been published:

Exploring the trails of Great Hollow – The Hour
Discovering New Fairfield’s forests – Hersam Acorn

Great Hollow Nature Preserve is a  new place to hike, located 10 miles north of Danbury CT. The accessible part of the preserve offers scenic variety in a small area – brooks, hills, wetland, meadows, and of course forest. Wildlife abounds, as captured on the preserve’s cameras.

The inaccessible, eastern part of Great Hollow is contiguous with a fragment of Pootatuck State Forest, though there are no marked trails in the area. I followed my Great Hollow hike with a (largely unsuccessful) exploration of the Pootatuck fragment, and then a hike in the mapped part of the state forest, which offered some fine overlooks.

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck SF

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck State Forest, New Fairfield CT

 

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (7)

Highland Pond, Mattabesett Trail, Middletown CT

Highland Pond, near the end of our hike

Two weeks ago, Katie and I completed Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail, 62 miles from Massachusetts to the Hanging Hills southwest of Hartford. Last Friday, we began our hike onward to Long Island Sound. We will still be on the recently created New England Trail, but our first 33 miles or so will follow the overlapping, and more venerable, Mattabesett Trail (in the 1600s, the Wangunk Indians living near present-day Middletown apparently called the area Massabesec, meaning “at a great river”).

It is about 50 miles in total to the Sound, and we covered eight of them on Friday. Katie has moved into new digs, and before we headed up Lamentation Mountain we hauled an armchair and bookcase into her new place. Hiking is more fun than lugging – no awkward shapes to grip, or tight turns and doorways.

DATE: Friday, July 8th.
START: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Bell Street, Middletown.
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: 8 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: About 70 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 6.25 hours (9:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Steady climb to Lamentation Mountain (720’), followed by 400-foot descent. Short waterside stroll at Crescent Lake/Bradley Hubbard Reservoir. Short, very steep climb to Chauncey Peak (688’), then gradually descending ridge walk. All mountain sections involved awkward footing here and there, including loose rock. Final miles were easy woods trails and a few short road-walks.

MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.
WEATHER: Cloudy and very humid until lunchtime, then gradually brighter. High 80 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Beaver lodge in Highland Pond.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cromwell.
LUNCH: Swiss-and-ham sandwiches on Chauncey Peak.
UPS: Discovering that the blister developing above my heel was not in fact a blister, but a small stick that had somehow found its way into by inner sock. Instant relief!
DOWNS: The toothache that has been bothering me on and off for days. It left me in peace after lunch.
KIT: Once again, three liters of water!
COMPANY: None on Lamentation Mountain; hikers, joggers, and fishermen around Crescent Lake and Chauncey Peak; none again thereafter.

Metacomet Trail Map (7)

Our NET route through CT — solid green = hiked, green dashed = yet to hike

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (6)

[Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail runs 62 miles from the Massachusetts line at Suffield to the Hanging Hills north of Meriden.  It is now a segment of the 215-mile New England Trail (Long Island Sound to New Hampshire). My daughter and I hope to section-hike the Metacomet Trail this year, and perhaps continue south to the Sound, if we have time and energy.]

Merimere, Mine Island, South Mountain

Lunch spot – Merimere Reservoir and South Mountain

On Friday Katie and I completed the Metacomet Trail! It required six day-hikes spread over four months. Above all, the hikes have been a great way of staying connected with my eldest daughter, hiking being conducive to real conversation. The Metacomet Trail has taken us to new places, and given us a fresh perspective on Connecticut. Places that, for me, were just names on a road sign now have associations and color – Farmington recalls the cliffs of Rattlesnake Mountain, Southington (which I can now pronounce properly) means views from Ragged Mountain, and Meriden will conjure up Mine Island nestled in the Hanging Hills. Our procession was also through seasons; since we took our first Metacomet steps, we have seen the leaves come out, the snakes and frogs emerge from hibernation, and the days warm by almost 60 degrees. Finally, we have decided that we do have the time and energy to hike on to Long Island Sound. Mattabesett Trail here we come!

DATE: Friday, June 24th.
START: Edgewood Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail south, plus the first 0.7 miles of the Mattabesett Trail.
DISTANCE: About 12 miles, plus the obligatory wrong turn or two.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: A little over 62 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A fairly gradual 700-foot climb to West Peak (1,024’). Sometimes rough trail for the remaining three miles in the Hanging Hills (loose rock underfoot etc.). Second half of hike easy to moderate, including final two-mile road-walk.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny and hot. High about 87 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A black rat snake (see photos). We also startled, and were in turn startled by, a large bird on the ground. Katie then spotted her chick. Mom took flight looking too brown for a turkey, but now I am guessing that is what she was – a browner-hued wild turkey.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Starbucks, Newington.
LUNCH: Chorizo and manchego cheese sandwiches above Merimere Reservoir.
UPS: Everyone we met was open and friendly.
DOWNS: Saying “we really must keep an eye on the blazes today”, and almost immediately missing a turn in the trail.
KIT: Three liters of water!
COMPANY: Mainly around Castle Craig, to which there is an auto road.

Metacomet Trail Map (6)

The New England Trail within Connecticut’s “blue-blazed” trail system – Metacomet (dark blue) and trail yet to hike (green).

Taking a Hike – Bigelow Range Backpack

My June “Taking a Hike” column has been published. The Hour, suffering a few systems issues after acquisition by Hearst, is for now publishing it in print and e-editions only. I am old-fashioned enough to really like the way the column looks in a newspaper. Even so, it will be nice to see it up on thehour.com again soon. Hersam Acorn had their own IT issues recently (an exploding website is what I heard), but “Taking a Hike” is now posted there as Backpacking Bigelow — A Test, Completed.

Day 0 - My camp on Flagstaff Lake

Pre-hike camp beside Flagstaff Lake, Bigelow Preserve, Maine

Your feelings about a hike change over time. During is always different from before. Right after is usually different from several weeks after. As the column recounts, halfway through the first day my confidence was a little shaky. You start to forget that kind of thing, and remember mostly the upbeat. Three weeks on, one of my best memories is not about breaking out onto a peak or drinking in a fine view. I remember my happiness at reaching Safford Notch just an hour or so into the hike. The air was dry and clean among the pines and boulders, the bugs gone. And there was a cell signal to send a message home after 18 hours incommunicado at my pre-hike camp.

March’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site. I stayed close to home that month; Redding CT’s Little River.

Hiking Round Ireland

Hiking Round Ireland Still raining in the Finglas River valley

Rain in the Finglas River Valley, County Kerry – Courtesy Dave Byrnes

Back in mid-March, I received a mail with the same title as this post. It announced another Dave Byrnes adventure blog. Dave was my boss for a short time in Stamford, Connecticut, around 1999. He was a good boss, but not long after we worked together Dave returned to his native Australia to follow another calling – hiking, biking, and running adventures. We have stayed in touch, virtually.

When I first met Dave, I was starting to enjoy living close to the outdoors again after years dwelling in some of the world’s biggest cities. Part of the enjoyment was finding places to hike. One of my early conversations with Dave went something like this:

ROB: I walked on the Appalachian Trail at the weekend. It goes from Georgia to Maine. Have you heard of it?

DAVE: Yeah, about 12 years ago I hiked it.

I knew at that moment that Dave’s adventuring was out of my league.

When I received Dave’s mail, I replied that I’d be following his new adventure with interest, especially as a circuit of the nine counties of Ulster has been among my own hiking ideas. Several of my great-grandparents hailed from counties Cavan and Derry before they moved to Scotland. Dave invited me to join him on any sections I wished.

I seriously considered flying over for a week of Ulster hiking, but I had my recovering knee to consider. I imagined the indignity of crossing the Atlantic, tracking Dave down in, say, Cavan, and then heaving on my backpack only to develop excruciating knee-pain half a mile up some boggy trail. I opted to test my knee for backpacking nearer to home – Bigelow Range Backpack.

So, I have followed Dave via his diary. He has used the same format as on previous adventures (after which I pinched parts of it for my own hike posts).  It’s a good format – an overview in note form, plus a detailed journal. There are photos and a GPS track. I have posted (with Dave’s permission) two of my favorite photos here. I like to think that the Sperrin Mountains in the picture below, which border County Derry/Londonderry might have been known by my McWilliams ancestors.

As I write, Dave is in Dundalk. He has been hiking for 84 days, covered 1,468 miles, and eaten a lot of Full Irish Breakfast. If you are interested in walking in Ireland,  I can think of no better place to get familiar with what it has to offer than Dave’s blog.

Hiking Round Ireland Glenelly Valley

Glenelly Valley, County Tyrone – Courtesy Dave Byrnes

Bigelow Range Backpack

West Peak from South Horn, Bigelow Preserve

West Peak from South Horn

This was my first backpacking trip in 20 months. Maybe the hiatus is not such a big deal. Apart from a six-week trek the length of Scotland five years ago, I have been just an occasional backpacker. Recently, I’ve heaved on the big pack just once or twice a year, mostly for 2-3 night outings in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (see In and Out of the Wild River Wilderness and – four posts starting 9/30/13 – The Pemi).

I would backpack more if I had the time. Going out for several days requires greater preparation than a day-hike, and getting to backpackable places takes longer. But it wasn’t time that stopped me last year; it was a bad left knee. This Maine trip was intended to discover if my knee was up to supporting a 35-40 pound pack again. I chose a route that I hoped would be a good test but not knee-suicide. Thus the climb over rough terrain, but only for the one night.

Ten days after returning home, my knee is just fine. Next up, a 2-night backpack!

DATES: June 1st and 2nd.
START & FINISH: East Flagstaff Road at Round Barn Campsite, Bigelow Preserve (just east of Stratton, Maine).
ROUTE & MAP: Safford Brook Trail to Appalachian Trail. AT west to Horns Pond. Back by same route. I used the map that came with the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.
DISTANCE: 16 miles total, plus short side-trails to lookouts.
TIME: A little over one mile per hour including breaks (somewhat faster on the return leg).
TERRAIN: On the “out” leg, a cumulative elevation gain of about 3,750 feet. AT very steep in sections, and awkward underfoot (e.g. angled boulders). Limited scrambles. Safford Trail easy to moderate.
WEATHER: Mostly sunny and warm; but cool, even cold, summit winds.

MEALS: Trail food; Alpineaire Mesquite BBQ Seasoned Chicken with Beans & Rice (dinner); oatmeal and coffee below West Peak (Day 2 breakfast).
PHOTOS: Here.

HIGHLIGHT: The views along the Bigelow Range from the various peaks.
LOWLIGHT: If I must think of something, campsite mosquito activity.
WILDLIFE: A red squirrel; trout splashing in Horns Pond; something large, but unseen, moving in the lower-elevation forest on the second morning (maybe a moose).
WORRIES: That I’d kill my left knee again.
BEST BIT OF KIT: Well, my stove gave me the most happiness, but I’d probably have missed my boots more.

MEMORABLE PEOPLE: Alain from Quebec, who was excellent company at the end of Day 1; Erin, the friendly and diligent Horns Pond Campsite caretaker; the four AT thru-hikers who had set out from Georgia in January!
PEOPLE BEST FORGOTTEN: None.

Avery Peak, Bigelow Preserve

Mist below Avery Peak

Taking a Hike – Giving a Day to the A.T.

Imagine what it would be like if your favorite hiking place did not exist (never had or, worse, it was taken away). Life would be the poorer, as if a good friend were not there. Like good friends, we can take trails for granted, especially famous, established trails like the A.T. We don’t expect the A.T. to wither and vanish any more than Interstate 80.

Connecticut Appalachian Trail - Spring comes to Schaghticoke Mountain, Kent

CT A.T. — Spring comes to Schaghticoke Mountain

I have enjoyed my local, Connecticut A.T. for 17 years. This blog has recorded some great outings along its 51 miles:

Bulls Bridge to Conn. 55
Kent to Bulls Bridge
Bear Mountain via Lions Head
Bear Mountain via Paradise Lane

There have been A.T. hikes in our neighboring NY and MA sections too:

Fahnestock State Park
Mount Everett

This is all a longwinded introduction to the point that my May “Taking a Hike” column (first published 5/14, so this is a belated post) is about a day spent giving something back to the A.T., trying not take it for granted, helping to keep it in good shape.

Apart from some flying rocks, I didn’t have space to get across that “Giving a Day” was a lot of fun – meeting friends, meeting new people, some great wisecracks, and drinks and snacks by the Housatonic afterward.

A nearby treasure

“Taking a Hike” in The Hour

The column has resumed publication in The Hour after a month’s hiatus following the change of ownership. This month, the column appeared in print only. Hopefully next month it will be online again. I am delighted to be published by Hearst.

And of course by Hersam Acorn: GIVING A DAY TO CONNECTICUT’S AT.

Happy Trails!