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.

IMG_3799

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

IMG_3822

TUESDAY – Entering the Wilderness

IMG_3847

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

IMG_3866

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

IMG_3869

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

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Mountain Loop

IMG_3702

Swampy brook beneath Mohawk Mountain

Sunday was forecast to be the hottest day of the summer so far, temperatures heading into the 90s by afternoon. Humid too. So this was a hike I wanted to finish by noon at the latest. Even heading into Cathedral Pines at 7:30am, the air was anything but fresh. I had wondered how to do this route so that it got easier and shadier as the heat grew. Should I walk the roads first? Should I hike clockwise or counterclockwise, go up or down the steepest section? When, from the car, I saw that Great Hollow Road seemed reasonably well shaded, I opted to climb first and finish on the country lanes.

I’m sure I was getting sticky even in Cathedral Pines; and, by the time I made it to the Mattatuck Trail and the high ground 45 minutes later, I was sweating like it was mid-afternoon. Mobbing bugs were an occasional nuisance on this stretch. Mohawk Mountain’s open summit brought a slight breeze—not a cooling breeze exactly, but welcome all the same. The descent from Mohawk, and then the relatively level ground to College Street, was in shady woods and I do not recall suffering much, hot and humid as it was. The 3.5-mile road-walk back to my car was not a torture either, but even this thin strip of asphalt radiated heat and, as the sun climbed, its shade retreated. Getting outdoors is great; air-conditioned cars can feel pretty good too.

DATE: Sunday, July 19th.
START & FINISH: Tiny parking area for Cathedral Pines, Essex Hill Road, Cornwall, CT (GPS 41.835546, -73.325444).
ROUTE: Clockwise loop: Mohawk Trail, Mattatuck Trail, College Street, Great Hollow Road, Essex Hill Road.
DISTANCE: 10.1 miles.
TIME: 4½ hours (7:30am to midday).
TERRAIN: In terms of what was underfoot, everything from asphalt to rough trail by way of woodland tracks. A generally steep start (750 feet over 1.6 miles to the junction of the Mohawk and Mattatuck trails at the top of the ski runs) yielded to easier grades over Mohawk Mountain (1,683’) and down to Mohawk Pond. The road-walk on College Street and Great Hollow Road was more down than up.
MAP: That in the CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book (final Mattatuck Trail map page).

WEATHER: Sunny and hot (the 90s by afternoon), a light breeze now and again.
WILDLIFE: A doe and her fawn crossed College Street ahead of me without showing much fear.

BREAKFAST: Bagel with cheese and iced coffee, both from home, on the drive to Cornwall.
LUNCH: After the hike, I bought a sandwich in Kent and took it to Macedonia Brook to eat in the shade.
UPS: Feeling energetic on the hot, 900-foot climb to Mohawk Mountain.
DOWNS: The road-walk, although almost free of traffic, was still a road-walk—hot and harder on the ankles.
KIT: I took three liters of water and consumed two of them.
COMPANY: Sporadic, but I did have a chat with a woman as her dog bathed in Mohawk Pond.

A FEW PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

GPS Track

A Mountain Again

IMG_3626

Cabin atop Red Hill, Catskills

I mentioned in a previous post that, in April, I felt unwell for a few weeks. I didn’t say it was COVID because I didn’t know. I still don’t know for certain but I’ve come to assume that it was. Either way, by May I was feeling generally fine and began thinking about a mountain hike in the near future. My ambitions, however, were set back when uncomfortable symptoms showed up on a test hike at the mini-mountain of Sleeping Giant.

In my last post, about a trek at Breakneck Pond on June 7th, I reported that my body seemed to be taking the right direction. But Breakneck Pond is not a mountain hike.

A week after Breakneck, hiking with a friend at Great Hollow Nature Preserve, I accomplished a steep, 550-foot climb without difficulty or discomfort, and this while expending much breath on talk! Still, I didn’t think that progressing directly from there to a strenuous Catskills 3,500-footer would be a good idea. But it was to the Catskills that I went next to see how I’d do on a lesser summit. I chose Red Hill, an 800-foot ascent to a fire tower at 2,990 feet. I accomplished this mission fine. The only surprise was cramps in my thigh muscles which I had never experienced before.

My youngest has her birthday on July 3rd. She is living in Vermont and we had a longstanding family plan to gather up there to celebrate both 3rd and 4th. The out-of-towners stayed at Underhill State Park. Now, the hill that the park is under is Mount Mansfield, the Green Mountain State’s highest peak (4,393 feet). I’d climbed it once before, with my youngest in fact, back when she was still a kid living at home with mom and dad.

This time, I set off up Mansfield with my eldest, soon after 6 a.m. on the Fourth of July. I won’t say it was easy (a supper the previous evening that consisted solely of Ben & Jerry’s probably didn’t help). But is wasn’t any harder than it would have been before my April illness. I climbed a mountain again; and for that, in this time of suffering, I am grateful.

GREAT HOLLOW, JUNE 13TH:

IMG_3614

The Hills of Great Hollow, New Fairfield CT

CATSKILLS, JUNE 20TH:

MOUNT MANSFIELD, 4TH OF JULY:

Day Hike Notes – Breakneck Pond

IMG_3588

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

IMG_3568

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.