Franconia Ridge, Abandoned


Katie, my eldest daughter, on the Falling Waters Trail

Our plan was to climb to Little Haystack Mountain, follow Franconia Ridge north to Mount Lafayette (5,260’), then descend back into Franconia Notch via the Greenleaf and Old Bridle Path trails. Katie was very keen to see the stunning views across the Pemigewasset Wilderness that the ridge offers (I was too, although I had hiked the ridge before). From our camp in the Notch we could see mist blowing over the Franconia summits, but the forecast was for clear skies.

It was blowy at camp too, but for most of our climb to Little Haystack the air was calm. At about 4,000 feet, we were delighted to see rime frost coating the pines around us. After Shining Rock – a huge, steep ledge – we started to meet warmly bundled-up hikers coming down from the top. It was brutal up there, they said, the wind would knock you down. We pushed on.


Rime frost on the Falling Waters Trail

Just below the ridge, among the last of the stunted pines, it was chilly in a thin mist, but not windy so that you would comment on it. But when we stepped onto the alpine summit we were hit straightaway by a fierce wind from the northwest. We learned later that it was busy channeling air from high pressure inland toward the low pressure of Hurricane Matthew out in the Atlantic.

If the sun had come out, the frosted summit would have looked beautiful. As it was, we hunkered from the wind in the lee of rocks. Just standing up to look around was to be shoved about, skin stung by the subzero wind. It was an easy decision to abandon our planned 2-mile ridge-walk. At the very least it would have required goggles and balaclava. 


Chilled on Little Haystack Mountain

DATE: Monday, October 10th.
START & FINISH: Lafayette Place, Franconia State Park.
ROUTE: Falling Waters Trail, 3,000 feet up and down.
DISTANCE: 6.4 mi roundtrip.
TIME: 6-7 hours.

More from New Hampshire to follow.


Falling Waters

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (9)


Katie at Bluff Head, the rest of our journey to the Sound laid out to her right.

I won’t say that we could smell the salt air, but, by the end of this hike, Long Island Sound was only ten miles distant (if we could fly; it is 18 trail-miles). I don’t remember when we first glimpsed the Sound on our ridge-trek south from Massachusetts. It was, maybe, from the Hanging Hills. But from Bluff Head in Guilford, the Sound showed as a clear, gray-blue break between the Connecticut woods and the blur of Long Island in the distance. So, Katie and I will be done with the Connecticut portion of the NET after two more hikes. We already have a plan for our next home-state hike.

DATE: Friday, September 23rd
START: Reed Gap, Durham.
FINISH: Route 77, Guilford
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 93 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7 hours (9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Very moderate elevation gains and losses (hike terrain ranging from 300 to 750 feet above sea level), but plenty of short, steep climbs and descents to test the knees and stamina.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny with increasing humidity. High of 81 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Lots of toads, one fleeing white-tailed deer.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s North Haven.
LUNCH: On Pistapaug Mountain, the usual fare.
UPS: Many, but the views from Bluff Head near the end of our trek stand out.
DOWNS: The sound of shooting practice to the west filled the first hours of the walk.
KIT: I found my poles really useful, essential even, on steep descents on loose rock.
COMPANY: Really only on Bluff Head.


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

Taking a Hike – Mattabesett Trail

The photograph below is deceptive and, to make it worse, deliberately so.

I took it on Higby Mountain on Connecticut’s Mattabesett Trail, and it faces approximately west. West looks pretty natural, doesn’t it? All those wooded ridges. The truth is, I stepped gradually back from the edge of Higby’s cliffs until the evidence of civilization mostly vanished. Then I crouched until all of it did. Still, I like the picture, and it nicely introduces this month’s “Taking a Hike” column:

On this trail, a desire to keep going at The Hour.
From the Metacomet to the Mattabesett to the Sound at Hersam Acorn.

The Sound (that’s Long Island Sound) is now two or three hikes away.


On Higby Mountain, Mattbesett Trail

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (8)

At the start of the climb up Beseck Mountain

The Mattabesett Trail starts up Beseck Mountain

There are few places on the New England Trail (NET) in Connecticut where you feel far from civilization. This does not mean there are few natural or beautiful places along the trail. There are plenty. It is just that the NET hiker sees civilization all around in a way that, say, the Connecticut Appalachian Trail hiker does not. There are busy roads to cross, subdivisions to view, powerlines to pass beneath, hilltop antennas and towers. In this, the section over mounts Higby and Beseck – our eighth since starting from the Massachusetts line in February – was typical.

In fact, Higby-Beseck felt closer to civilization than any other section. On Higby Mountain’s cliffs, we were 500 feet above I-91, but its noise rose loud and clear. Subdivisions came right up to the foot of Beseck’s cliffs, and Powder Ridge ski runs ran down the other side. We could hear target practice from the police academy in Meriden, and stone-crushing at Tilcon in Wallingford. But on our ridge we were nearly always alone, and the clutter and hubbub seemed to belong, for now, to another world. It seems you can escape civilization while still within its sight and sound. Maybe watching a city from a boat bobbing a half-mile offshore is much the same.

DATE: Friday, September 2nd
START: Bell Street, Middletown.
FINISH: Reed Gap, Durham
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: A little over 12 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 83 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7.5 hours (9:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A very gradual climb to the top of Higby Mountain’s cliffs (650 feet over 2 miles plus), then a clifftop walk until descent to Route 66; a very gradual climb to the top of Beseck Mountain’s cliffs, then a clifftop walk until descent to Reed Gap. Some loose traprock underfoot.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Warm and sunny. High of 79 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A large black rat snake that slithered off with remarkable speed when we startled it, startling us in turn.

BREAKFAST: Lino’s Market, Durham.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwiches, pretzels, nuts, and dried fruit above Black Pond.
UPS: Being back on the trail with Katie.
DOWNS: Not a “down” exactly, but the views were westerly, with a heavily developed – and noisy – slice of Connecticut in the foreground.
KIT: The only things our packs contained that were really essential were food and water.
COMPANY: A couple out with their exuberant dog; an older man out with what seemed like a very large backpack for a day-hike.

Metacomet Trail Map (8)

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

Taking a Hike, Not Taking a Hike

August is three weeks old and I haven’t hit the trail yet. Katie – the eldest of my three daughters – and I had penciled in a Friday for Day Eight of our hike to Long Island Sound on the New England Trail, but I postponed at the last minute. I had to have a tooth pulled; I was (am) busy with a work project; and the weather looked lousy too (very hot, humid, thundery). If we are lucky, the dog days will be over by the time we resume our trek. Mounts Higby and Beseck await.

I also have a plan to backpack in the Adirondacks, but that also will have to wait until the work project is done. It could end up squeezed against a plan to hit New Hampshire’s Whites in October. It’s great to have all these outings in the offing (to which I should add an embryonic plan to join Dave Byrnes for a section of the Pacific Crest Trail next year).

For now, while not exactly deskbound (I have my bike, and maybe a short hike this weekend), I am limited to contemplating hikes and writing about hikes past. My August “Taking a Hike” column (a sweaty day in Bear Mountain State Park) was published by The Hour and Hersam Acorn. Click Beauty, history mark a sweaty summer ramble for a PDF of the print version, or Bear Mountain State Park to read online. The picture below is the “sunlit woods of small, well-spaced oak” on Dunderberg Mountain.

Woods atop Dunderberg Mtn.

Day Hike Notes – Bear Mountain State Park

Looking north from Bear Mtn Bridge, Sugarloaf Hill to the right

Looking north from Bear Mtn Bridge, Sugarloaf Hill to the right.

Before the Appalachian Trail leaves Bear Mountain State Park to cross the Hudson and head for New England, it passes through Bear Mountain Zoo. As well as animals, the zoo offers a series of information plaques, posted beside the trail. One in particular caught my attention – “HOW DID BEAR MOUNTAIN GET ITS NAME?” I thought I might know the answer, but read on anyway: “ONE POSSIBILITY WAS THE ABUNDANCE OF BLACK BEARS ON THE MOUNTAIN”.

My first reaction was “well, duh!”, followed by “maybe the plaque-writer has a dry sense of humor”. But perhaps the origin of the mountain’s name is really not so obvious. I had hiked onto three summits in the park that day. The first, Dunderberg, is surely named for “donder”, Dutch for thunder. Next, I climbed Bald Mountain which, apart from one spacious ledge, was hardly bald (it could, of course, have grown or regrown its hair since its naming). Bear Mountain was visible from Bald Mountain and, though mainly wooded, was far balder than Bald. So it could originally have been Bare Mountain, the meaning lost by the time the map-makers came around.

Anyway, my meandering hike in Bear Mountain SP:

DATE: Wednesday, July 27th.
START & FINISH: NY Route 9D, just north of Bear Mountain Bridge, Cortlandt NY.
ROUTE: Start – Bear Mountain Bridge – Bear Mountain Inn – Cornell Mine Trail to Dunderberg Mountain – Ramapo-Dunderberg and 1777 trails to Appalachian Trail at Seven Lakes Drive – A.T. to Finish.
DISTANCE: Approximately 12.5 miles.
TIME: 7.25 hours (7:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Road-walk across Bear Mountain Bridge, otherwise good-quality trails (A.T. over Bear Mountain is smooth and highly engineered). 1,000-foot elevation gain to summits of Dunderberg and Bald mountains, about the same to Perkins Tower on Bear Mountain.

MAP: Bear Mountain State Park from
WEATHER: Sunny, humid, and hot (high of 92 degrees).
WILDLIFE: A couple of dozy deer. Vultures scavenging trash beside Hessian Lake.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cortlandt.
LUNCH: Cheddar and chorizo sandwich at Perkins Tower.
UPS: Sunlit mountaintop forests of well-spaced small oak. Hudson River views.
DOWNS: Nothing major, but maybe the trash in the park’s main recreation area.
KIT: The must-have, again, was water in abundance.
COMPANY: Very little until the A.T.; then a few hikers; then – descending Bear Mountain to Hessian Lake – masses of hikers, including little kids in big groups.

Bear Mtn and Perkins Tower from Bald Mtn.

Bear Mtn and Perkins Tower from Bald Mtn.

Do Know Where, Don’t Know When

Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness, Adirondack Park, NY

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

Usually, when I plan a backpacking trip, one of the first things I decide is the dates. There are good reasons for this. My trips must fit in with family commitments and, though I do not have an employer, my work projects. Backpacking can even require reservations (backcountry campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains and “huts” in the White Mountains, for example).

Fixed dates, though, have one big drawback – you are stuck with whatever the weather gods decide to serve up. On longer trips, weather risk cannot be avoided, but bad-weather days are also likely to be compensated by periods of fine weather. On shorter outings, the elements can set the tone for the whole adventure.

So, I am trying something new.

I have decided that my next backpack will be in Silver Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. I will hike up the Northville-Placid Trail for 16 miles and return by the same route. I’ll be out for three days. (A few years ago, my youngest and I hiked in nearby West Canada Lake Wilderness. The pictures in this post are from that trip.) I am making all my preparations as usual – studying maps and guides, getting the necessary gear together. But, this time, the goal is to be ready to go at the drop of a hat, whenever my diary is clear and the weather forecast is good. Everything will be packed and ready, except for items which really must be packed last-minute (perishable food mainly, and gear I will need for day-hikes in the meantime).

So, off to the Dacks in August, or September, or maybe October.


Backpacking West Canada Lake Wilderness