Day Hike Notes – Breakneck Pond

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Breakneck Pond

I took this hike with Katie—my eldest—and her pup, Munro. Breakneck Pond was Katie’s suggestion and a new destination for us both. On a fine Saturday in the time of COVID, I wanted to get an early start. Breakneck Pond is not much more than 30 minutes from Hartford, where Katie lives, but a longer trek from southwest Connecticut, where I live. So an early start at the trailhead meant a 4:45 rise for me—no hardship in the long light of near-midsummer.

After my health concerns at Sleeping Giant a few weeks before, I was keen to discover how comfortable this hike would be for me. Much better, it turned out. Even on the steep climb to Cat Rocks, I felt my lungs working well. If things keep going in that direction, I’ll be happy.

DATE: Sunday, June 7th.
START & FINISH: Parking area at north end of Bigelow Pond, Bigelow Hollow State Park, Union, CT (GPS 41.998711, -72.126300).
ROUTE: Counterclockwise loop of Breakneck Pond using the East Ridge, Nipmuck, Breakneck Pond View, Ridge, and unnamed trails.
DISTANCE: 7.8 miles.
TIME: 4½ hours (7:30am to midday).
TERRAIN: Even following the pondside, the trails are often up-and-down, rocky and rooty. The East Ridge Trail climbs steeply, gaining a couple of hundred feet as it winds between Connecticut and Massachusetts. And easy-to-moderate hike overall.
MAP: That in the CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book.

WEATHER: Beautiful early, more clouds later. Cool to begin with, rising to 60s.
WILDLIFE: A snake’s molted skin.

BREAKFAST: Katie had a bagel for me when I arrived in Hartford.
LUNCH: Skipped on the drive home (OK, and replaced with an ice cream).
UPS: Being out with Katie and Munro; beautiful Breakneck Pond.
DOWNS: Very minor, but when the wind dropped, the first mozzies of the season.
KIT: I carried bug repellant but did not use it.
COMPANY: We were mostly alone on the outward leg, and even the return leg was hardly crowded.

MORE PICTURES OF BREAKNECK POND:

GPS TRACK:

GPS Route

Day Hike Notes – Sleeping Giant Circuit

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The Giant’s Head—new tornado-improved view

Last month, on Good Friday, I started to feel unwell; not seriously unwell, but chills, aches, fatigue. I wasn’t laid low by any means, and after a few weeks I started to feel pretty good again. I resumed (masked and distanced) bike rides and began to look forward to resuming strenuous hikes too.

But I also noticed that I didn’t feel as robust as before Good Friday. Sometimes, randomly it seemed, I’d feel wiped out, or it would feel as if my lungs weren’t quite giving me enough oxygen. On the positive side, this didn’t happen when I was bike riding, even when pedaling uphill. Even so, rather than realize on some isolated peak that I wasn’t actually up to a tough hike, I decided on a test walk in a place where it would be easy to abort if necessary.

I completed my hike at the Sleeping Giant as planned and at about my normal pace. So, all good? Not really. For significant parts of my circuit of the Giant, I had that not-quite-enough breath feeling and the anxiety this caused me detracted from what would otherwise have been a perfect spring morning’s outing. I’m going to have to be patient about resuming strenuous hikes.

All Sleeping Giant posts

DATE: Wednesday, May 20th.
START & FINISH: Main parking lot at Mt Carmel Ave, Hamden, CT (GPS 41.421422, -72.898580).
ROUTE: Orange trail to White trail near Hezekiah’s Knob; White to reach Blue on the Knob; Blue east to rejoin Orange; Orange to Chestnut Lane trailheads; Violet back to Start.
DISTANCE: 6.3 miles (including one navigational error).
TIME: 3¼ hours (8:15am to 11:30am).
TERRAIN: A bit of everything from smooth trail to rocks & roots. 900 feet of ascent/descent overall. The Giant is a basalt ridge and surprisingly rugged for its suburban location. The head and chin, which I did not climb today, are particularly craggy.
MAP: Color map from SG Park Association

WEATHER: Sunny and comfortable (around 60 F).
WILDLIFE: Watersnake in the Mill River.

BREAKFAST: Sesame bagel, toasted, butter and swiss (eaten in the car and just before setting out).
LUNCH: Afterwards, in New Haven, with my ICU nurse daughter—Shake Shack take-out on the Green.
UPS: Sunny woods.
DOWNS: Health issues—see above.
KIT: It was nice to set out in only two thin layers.
COMPANY: Except nearer the parking area, very little.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK: Star marks Start; I walked counterclockwise.

GPS Track

Big Bend National Park—Mountains

Chisos Mountains trailhead advice

Chisos Mountains trailhead advice

More than two months after my return from Big Bend, a final post:

The Chisos Mountains are at the center of Big Bend National Park, physically and in terms of visitor popularity. They are, incidentally, the only US mountain range contained entirely within a national park, or so I was told. Throughout my stay in Big Bend, I based myself in the mountains, near the amenities of Chisos Basin. When I hiked in the desert and beside the Rio Grande, I drove down from the mountains to do so.

Of course, I also hiked in the Chisos. On the afternoon of the day of my arrival in Big Bend, tired and unsettled from my journey, I sought to restore body and mind on the Lost Mine Trail. It proved a good introduction to the Chisos. The physical trail was excellent, popular, and led to one spectacular view after another. My few hours on Lost Mine (2.3 miles each way, a thousand feet up then down) did not entirely “defrazzle” me, but they set me on the right path.

A FEW PICTURES FROM LOST MINE TRAIL:

Three days later, Wednesday dawned rather cold. Camped in Chisos Basin at 5,000 feet, I was snug enough in my sleeping bags (yes, two, one inside the other). Making coffee outside was another matter, a stiff wind adding to the chill of temperatures in the low 20s. And this was the morning I planned to climb Emory Peak, at 7,825 feet as high as you can go in the Chisos! 

Normally, I’d probably scramble to make an early start, to get ahead of any crowds. This morning, I was happy to let the sun climb and heat the air a little. I set out, well bundled, about 9:30. The day never got warm but the climb and the bright sun warmed me up and kept me that way. The climb to Emory Peak (2,500 feet over five miles) was about as steady as you can get, and unfailingly pleasing on the eye. Every twist in the trail brought a new scene, whether a vast panorama or the close-up beauty of oak, pine, and juniper forest. 

The very top of Emory Peak is about the size of a parking space—a bouldery, fissured parking space. The final feet to reach it had been a scramble too, one that would be harder going down. So I felt uneasy on Emory Peak, a little wobbly and nervous for the clamber down.  I hurriedly snapped a few pictures and made my way back to terra firma.

PICTURES FROM EMORY PEAK HIKE (PINNACLES AND EMORY PEAK TRAILS):

The South Rim of the Chisos Mountains is Big Bend’s iconic place. On Friday, my plan was to pitch my tent at a backcountry campsite (reservation required) just back from the Rim and hike to the edge close to sunset. For many miles, I followed my route to Emory Peak, but then swung down into Boot Canyon instead of up to the Peak. My campsite, labeled ER1, lay off the East Rim Trail. It was a long way from ER2 and I saw or heard not a soul throughout my stay. I was delighted with ER1, a patch of dirt close to the sky in scrubby forest, its only amenity a bear box. 

About four o’clock, I set off for the Rim, expecting to find company there. But the day-hikers had gone, making for Chisos Basin before dark. I had the iconic place to myself. I’ll let the photographs below do the talking about the views. Part of me wanted to stay at the Rim until the moment of sunset. Another part thought about the 1.5-mile walk back to ER1 at dusk, just when cougars and bears become active. As it was, I was back at camp with just enough time to make supper before sundown, singing now and again to let those beasties know I was there.

PICTURES FROM SOUTH RIM BACKPACK:

Big Bend National Park—River

Rio Grande with Mexican village of Boquillas (left, middle distance)

The Rio Grande with village of Boquillas, Mexico (middle distance, left)

Before my trip, I didn’t have any expectations for the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park; no image of it. I certainly did not anticipate its beauty. The country the Grande flows through is, of course, huge and rugged; but the river itself, modest though it is, has fine qualities too. I liked its slow, olive-green waters; its barren gravelbars; and the varied greenery that prospers here and there along its banks.

The Rio Grande, of course, is a border, but there is little evidence of this in Big Bend. The emotion and the hardship are elsewhere. I was told there are hidden cameras and sensors along the river trails, but all I saw were painted walking sticks and trinkets left on the Texas bank to be purchased on the honor system, the villagers of Boquillas in Coahuila crossing the river at a quiet moment to collect the proceeds. (Crossing would not be difficult; the Grande is no bigger in Big Bend than the Saugatuck River at Westport, Connecticut.)

What follows is a description of a hike at Hot Springs Canyon and notes on short walks at two other canyons, both justifiably popular.

Hot Springs Canyon Rim
(February 25th; 6 miles roundtrip in about 3 hours, excluding stops; sunny, low 60s but feeling much warmer)

I started at the eastern end of the Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail and marched west to the “Hot Springs Historic District” before retracing my steps. You could equally do the reverse. Going east-west, the trail first climbs away from the Rio Grande, loops back to a superb overlook, and then swings deeper into the desert. At two miles, it returns to the river and descends to the hot springs and, close by, the ruined buildings of the historic district. The trail is throughout good and the elevation changes modest. The only “nuisance” of my hike was a fierce sun, and this on a cool February day; I cannot imagine what this walk would be like in July.

That superb overlook: It looks out over Hot Springs Canyon, through which flows the Rio Grande. Half the view is Mexico, half the United States. On neither side is there much sign of civilization, just cliffs, plateaus, scrub, and of course that beautiful river. (See pictures for views.)

I didn’t choose this hike because of the hot springs and didn’t even know if you could dip in them. Even if you could, I had no swimming shorts. When I reached the springs, they were a riverside pool in what looked like the flooded foundations of a ruined hut. But they were busy and I hiked on to lunch in the shade of a huge tree opposite the old Langford post office. Starting on my return leg, I found the springs had emptied out and noticed too the informality of the bathing attire of the few users who remained. It ranged from near fully dressed to underwear. So I stripped down to my shorts and found myself a corner of the pool; floating in warm water, sun on back, Mexico just across the modest river—not bad at all.

Boquillas Canyon: I loved this place. I arrived early to avoid the crowds I feared, and met only a silent couple and a mounted Mexican from the village of Boquillas who was looking for his burros that had strayed across the border. (Yes, I know this sounds like a cliché, but it happened and we had a nice chat. I discovered later, by the way, that he is quite within his rights to cross the border for this purpose.)

Santa Elena Canyon: This canyon lies 66½ road miles from Boquillas Canyon. I visited Santa Elena in the afternoon of a different day. Even with the greater company of the hour, I found solitude enough to soak in the cool and the calm. Santa Elena is every bit as beautiful as Boquillas, and both must change their light and mood by the hour. It would be wonderful to be able to experience that.

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: South and North from Dennytown Road

A ledgy stretch of AT

A ledgy stretch of AT

When I returned from Texas on March 1st, coronavirus was only marginally on my mind, and that mainly from catching up on the news on my homeward flights. A couple of weeks later, I took a hike with my eldest and her dog. By then, people were hoarding and things were being cancelled, but it didn’t seem that the virus was affecting the outdoors.

This hike in Fahnestock State Park and adjacent AT land took place soon after Connecticut and New York issued “stay home” orders  that nonetheless permitted non-contact outdoor activities. It was my first true coronavirus trek. Until midday, the only change from my usual routine that this spurred was that, not knowing what I would find open, I brought along my own breakfast. By the afternoon (see notes), it was becoming clear that the virus was now affecting the outdoors. I hope this won’t mean that it too will be closed down.

I have now walked about 41 of the 52 AT miles between the Connecticut line and the Hudson River, many of them twice!

DATE: Sunday, March 22nd.
START & FINISH: Hiker parking on Dennytown Road, Putnam Valley, NY (GPS 41.420565, -73.868961).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) to Canopus Hill Road (south) and back, then to Sunk Mine Road (north) and back.
DISTANCE: 10¼ miles.
TIME: 5¾ hours (8:15am to 2pm).
TERRAIN: Mostly gentle ups and downs on good trail. To my surprise, my GPS says I climbed a cumulative 1,615 feet.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny but cool (20s to about 40).
WILDLIFE: A squirrel, a gliding turkey vulture, that’s about it.

BREAKFAST: At home and in the car—coffee and sesame bagel.
LUNCH: In my car between the south hike and the north hike—swiss cheese baguette, wasabi & soy almonds.
UPS: An enjoyable, socially distanced chat with a party of four walkers about—what else?—the coronavirus, and in particular whether, by being out, we were a risk to ourselves or others.
DOWNS: By afternoon, it was clear that people were flocking into Fahnestock State Park in much greater numbers than normal. Most passing on the trail occurred at a suitable distance, but I can’t say this was always the case.
KIT: I switched from warm skull cap to baseball cap at lunchtime as the day warmed (a bit).
COMPANY: Almost none on the south hike, lots on the north hike.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Big Bend National Park—Desert

Cliffs of Burro Mesa

Cliffs of Burro Mesa

The desert in Big Bend National Park is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, which occupies an area larger than Germany in the southwestern US and northern Mexico. At least in Big Bend, this desert is not bare sand and stones, not stereotypical desert in other words. Even in February, toward the end of the very driest months, it was patchily dressed in brush, cacti, brown grasses, and even flowers here and there.

I will cover in this post my Big Bend hikes that were neither right beside the Rio Grande nor up in the more abundantly vegetated Chisos Mountains. And I’ll concentrate on a trek that took me—rather indirectly—to Slickrock Canyon, providing just brief descriptions of shorter outings near Burro Mesa and in the Grapevine Hills.

By Creek Bed to Slickrock Canyon
(February 24th; 11.8 miles in 5 hours; sunny, 70s)

I discovered this hike in Hiking Big Bend National Park, a guidebook. The hike does not follow marked trails and Slickrock Canyon was not shown on my map. The hike is not publicized by the Park Service either. Given this need for self-navigation, I inexplicably left my guidebook in the car. I did carry a map and compass, food, and several liters of water. I made note too that I was setting out from a place near to a small, distinctive butte.

At first, I looked for passage along the bank of Oak Creek. This proved unrewarding and I was soon pricked and scraped by Big Bend’s sharp-edged flora. I took then to the dry bed of the creek and was soon making rapid and scrape-free progress northwest—toward the barren Christmas Mountains.

I remembered from the guidebook that, to reach Slickrock Canyon, I’d need to turn off Oak Creek onto another wash after about an hour of walking. And as I looked at the land ahead of me, I formed my opinion of where the Canyon would lie—a totally erroneous opinion it turned out. Finally, after following Oak Creek for two hours, I conceded that I had not found the creek bed turn-off. Still, it had been a fine walk and I was reasonably happy to call it a day and mosey back to my car near the little butte. I’d keep an eye out for that wash coming in from the northeast—just to see where I’d gone wrong, you understand.

A little way back up the creek bed, I saw a groove entering from the left that obviously channeled water when there was any to channel. I followed this wash a while but was rewarded only with more prickly caresses from desert vegetation. Defeated and back in the main creek, I ate my lunch on ledges formed and scrubbed by absent torrents.

Back on my feet, I soon came to two small human-made piles of pebbles. I had seen them on my way in too but had not realized then that they marked a creek-junction. I entered the side-creek to see where it would lead and saw boot-prints in its sandy bed. This looked like a route! And soon, away in the northeast, appeared a fissure in the dry cliffs—the Canyon, surely. It was far off and I’d already walked plenty, but I couldn’t resist the lure of doing what I’d set out to do.

Slickrock Canyon is not the Grand Canyon but, like all today’s hike, I had it all to myself. It offered shade too. I wanted to sit down in this shade, but judged that looking small and tired in mountain lion territory might not be the best idea. So I walked the Canyon looking, I hoped, like something that would fight back. In truth, cougars were only on the fringe of my thoughts. Mainly, I was just pleased to be in a still, wild place of simple beauty—sky, rock, wind, a few puddles of stagnant water.

Burro Mesa: Two walks. The longer (3.6 miles roundtrip) ends at the top of Burro Mesa “pour-off”—perhaps best described as a usually dry waterfall. I remember this hike for sotol (see photo), a holed rock wall, and the canyon ending at a sort of half-open cave. The shorter walk (1 mile) approached the pour-off from the opposite direction, ending at the foot of the “waterfall”.

Grapevine Hills: This is a short (2 miles roundtrip) walk on marked trail to a natural arch. The arch was fine but what I really liked was the walk through a shallow, rocky valley in the company of mule deer as the sun was lowering.

Big Bend National Park

A week ago, I returned home from a week-long trip to Big Bend National Park. For those unfamiliar, Big Bend is in West Texas, about 200 miles south of the city of Midland (into which I flew). The Park is larger than the land area of Rhode Island and about the size of the English county of Cornwall. Driving across the Park is 50-70 miles. The bend in the Rio Grande is indeed big.

Last autumn, I started thinking about turning 60 in mid-February. I would celebrate with my family, of course, but after that I wanted to go hiking somewhere memorable, somewhere a little different for me. The problem is that in February much of North America is—or can be—gripped by ice and snow. Big Bend seemed one of the few rugged places where I might dodge the worst of winter. It is, after all, on the same latitude as the Sahara.

In the end, I hiked 55-60 miles on (and off) the Park’s trails. Over the coming weeks, I’ll post about those hikes—a post for each of the Park’s main ecological zones: mountain, desert, and river. Here is a photograph of each to whet the appetite.

Stay tuned.

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Mount Egbert

Trees in morning light, NY Appalachian trail

Trees in morning light

My New York Appalachian Trail outing two weekends ago took me to the south end of Canopus Lake, some 32 miles southbound from the Connecticut line and 20 or so to Bear Mountain Bridge on the Hudson River. But, in choosing a suitable section for David and me to trek, I’d skipped the section over Depot Hill and Mount Egbert. This short hike was intended to, partially, close that gap. With a bit more ambition I could have closed the gap entirely, but now I can look forward to revisiting Mount Egbert from the north. Maybe this weekend after the rain.

DATE: Monday, January 20th (MLK Jr. Day).
START & FINISH: Hiker parking on NY 52, Stormville, NY (GPS 41.541165, -73.732849).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) north to Mount Egbert and Morgan Stewart shelter; return by same route.
DISTANCE: 7.0 miles.
TIME: 4½ hours (9:00am to 1:30pm).
TERRAIN: Easy grades, made slightly more strenuous by a few inches of snow cover. A short road-walk to cross Interstate 84.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Clear, a little breezy, cold (low teens Fahrenheit at start).
WILDLIFE:  Abundant tracks in the snow. For some distance, I followed the tracks of one particular critter along the AT, the only creature to have passed that way since Saturday’s snowfall. It had stopped once or twice to grub for prey, dirtying the snow with soil and leaves. I thought it might be a bobcat but, after cursory googling, now suspect coyote.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel bought in my hometown and consumed in the car.
LUNCH: A sandwich quickly eaten sat on a trailside boulder.
UPS: Bright winter woods and unexpectedly fine views.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: Balaclava, traction cleats.
COMPANY: Not a soul.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Route 52 to Canopus Lake

9/11 memorial on Shenandoah Mountain

Improvised 9/11 memorial on Shenandoah Mountain

Last fall, during an outing to the New York Appalachian Trail, I realized that hiking the NY AT from the Connecticut line to the Hudson River had become a goal—not an urgent goal, an “as I feel like it” goal. Soon after, David—a friend and occasional hiking companion—expressed an interest in joining me on a section. We didn’t make it happen last year. When we eventually settled on the first Sunday of 2020, I set about planning a point-to-pointer of decent length for still short days. This route fit the bill, even though it meant I was skipping a 7.2-mile section further north for another time. The scenery proved pleasant enough, if not spectacular, as we hiked over Stormville, Hosner, and Shenandoah mountains, and then down the side of Canopus Lake. All in all, it was an ideal route for catching up with a friend.

DATE: Sunday, January 5th.
START: Hiker parking on NY 52, Stormville, NY (GPS 41.541165, -73.732849).
FINISH: South end of Canopus Lake, Fahnestock State Park (GPS 41.452634, -73.837870).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) south.
DISTANCE: 12.1 miles according to my map, 11.5 according to my GPS. Take your pick.
TIME: 6¾ hours (8:45am to 3:30pm).
TERRAIN: Mostly easy-to-moderate going, excepting a few steep sections. GPS says we ascended 2,182 feet overall.
MAP: I forgot to bring my paper maps, but the AT is well marked and we used the Gaia GPS app to check our progress.

WEATHER: Overcast, breezy, cool (30s).
WILDLIFE: A glimpse of a bird of prey flapping in the woods.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Fishkill.
LUNCH: Sandwiches somewhere where the trail offered rocks to sit on and shelter from the wind.
UPS: Catching up with David; the view from the ledge high above the north end of Canopus Lake (my photo below does not do it justice).
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I think I brought six layers (!) but two remained unused.
COMPANY: We met very few other walkers, and those only in Fahnestock State Park (final third or so of hike).

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Day Hike Notes – On Guilder Pond

Looking into Massachusetts from Jug End

Looking N and NE into Massachusetts from Jug End—9:20am

I had been at Guilder Pond once before, a few years before I began this blog. That time, I came from the south, over Mount Everett. I don’t recall lingering at the pond, and I certainly didn’t circumnavigate it. Today, I made the pond my objective and focus. I reached it from the north, hiking in the process a few miles of Massachusetts Appalachian Trail (AT) which I hadn’t trodden before. This section begins at Jug End, the abrupt end of a ridge running north from Everett. I’m intrigued by the name. I’ve seen it said that it comes from German jugend (youth), but I’m highly skeptical of this.

DATE: Saturday, December 28th.
START & FINISH: Where the AT crosses Jug End Road, Egremont, MA (GPS 42.144443, -73.431467).
ROUTE: AT south to Guilder Pond, loop around pond, retrace steps.
DISTANCE: 8.4 miles.
TIME: 6 hours from 8:45am.
TERRAIN: A steep climb to Jug End to get the heart pumping. The ridge then ascends (via ups and downs) to reach Guilder Pond at about 2,000 feet. Today, stretches of the trail required caution on account of wet leaves, slick rock, and ice patches. The trail around the pond was tricky here and there also, particularly on the west side. Guilder Pond lies 1,200 feet above Start.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1509.

WEATHER: The forecast was for some sunshine, but hardly any materialized until the end of the hike. Temperatures were in the upper 30s, but it felt colder in the overcast and when exposed to the stiff breeze.
WILDLIFE: I saw what seemed to be an aerial dogfight between two species of bird—two larger birds, one smaller. It wasn’t clear which species was the aggressor.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and half a bagel at JP Gifford, Kent.
LUNCH: I really just snacked when I felt like it, but the second half of the bagel was consumed at Guilder Pond.
UPS: The views from Jug End were good and Guilder Pond was atmospheric.
DOWNS: Spending a lot of mental energy on boot placement and still ending up on my butt on one awkward descent.
KIT: I brought traction cleats and used them on the mile or two where the ice was most abundant.
COMPANY: Two solo hikers and a pair on the return leg. The first single, a lady, said “You’re the first person I’ve seen in four miles”. “You’re the first person I’ve seen all morning,” I replied. She planned to summit Everett and descend to Route 41 on the Race Brook Falls Trail.

A FEW PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

GPS Track