Taking a Hike – Connecticut’s Wild Corner

Before the month is done, I had better post that my December Taking a Hike column has been published:

Views are a high point of trek in Taconic Mountains at The Hour
Connecticut’s Wild Corner at Hersam Acorn

It was a great hike and, looking at the weather in the photographs, hard to believe it happened only six weeks ago. I submitted eight photographs to the publishers, of which five were used. Here is one that went unpublished – the moon over Mount Frissell.

Wishing everyone many beautiful treks in 2017.

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Mount Frissell from Round Mountain — CT/MA line

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Mountain

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Beaver pond near Great Hill Road

When I was reading up on this hike, I liked the idea of a long, steady ascent of a modest mountain. I liked that most of the ascent would pass through state forest. I was not so keen on the number of roads that the trail would use or cross.

Oh, how different the real world is from maps, especially out of date maps.

At first, the Mattatuck Trail was, barring a layer of snow, much as I expected. Then it reached where my map indicated a dirt road-walk. Instead, the trail swung off in another direction and meandered through woods – very beautiful woods in patches. When the trail used Camp Road for a half-mile, it was as quiet as a path, and pleasant relief from walking on snow (ice is easier, as long as you have spikes).

I followed the blue Mattatuck Trail blazes dutifully all the way to the top of the Mohawk Mountain ski runs (in use). But on the return journey, I cut corners using those roads I had not been keen on. Even on those open to traffic, there was hardly a car.

This was likely my last long hike of 2016. Great that it exceeded expectations.

DATE: Monday, December 26th.
START & FINISH: Flat Rocks Road, Cornwall, CT.
ROUTE: Mattatuck Trail north to where it ends at the Mohawk Trail.
DISTANCE: Something over 12 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 6.25 hours (7:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy to moderate topography, but a layer of crunchy snow made for a strenuous hike. Dirt road sections were very icy. Hike gains 600 feet from trailhead to Mohawk Mountain summit (1,683’).
MAP: From the CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book West, now out of print and out of date for this section. Trail well blazed though.

WEATHER: Sunny until 11:00, then overcast. It began to rain as I neared the finish line. Cold at first and on summits.
WILDLIFE: Lots of tracks in the snow, distorted by thaw and refreeze.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Bagel and coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, New Milford.
LUNCH: A sandwich, split between Cunningham Tower and Mohawk Pond.
UPS: Some fine woodland, ponds, and swamps; the views from Mohawk summit.
DOWNS: My phone – and therefore camera – announcing one hour into the hike that its battery was going flat (it survived at 4% for the remaining five hours, but I used it economically).
KIT: Microspikes essential.
COMPANY: All alone on the way out; a few walkers on the return leg.

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Looking north from Mohawk Mountain

Four Seasons, Four States, Four Pictures

I asked a friend recently if he’d been getting out much. I meant, of course, getting out to hike. He replied, with a hint of surprise that I wasn’t familiar with his routine, “every day!”.

I think I would like to take a long hike every day, but for now I can’t. This is not a complaint. Other things that I (mostly) want to do take up time. So, when I look back on 2016, hiking has been a frequent pleasure, not – as it could easily become – a way of life.

Mainly on account of those other things, my hiking this year was “confined” to the US Northeast (though it’s a crazy idea that New England could confine any hiker). The big event was discovering the central part of my home state on the 111 miles of the New England Trail that run through Connecticut. Another big event was hiking the whole year without the knee trouble that plagued me in the second half of 2015. I am very grateful for that.

Resolutions for 2017: backpack more; get out west again, or overseas; get into a routine of leading AMC hikes locally.

As I have done for a couple of years now, here is a hiking highlight for each season of the year that is now coming to an end. Happy Holidays and the best of trails in 2017!

WINTER: Just the right amount of snow in Fahnestock State Park (New York, February).

The path to the Appalachian Trail, Fahnestock SP

Short path to the Appalachian Trail

SPRING: Hitting the heights of the Bigelow Range (Maine, June 1st).

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Avery Peak from West Peak

SUMMER: A steamy day on the Metacomet Ridge (Connecticut, July)

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The Hanging Hills in the distance

FALL: About to be rained on at the lower of the Greeley ponds, White Mountains (New Hampshire, October).

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Mad River Notch and a spur of Mount Osceola

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail: The End

It look ten months, 11 hikes, and 111 miles, but around noon last Friday Katie and I arrived at Long Island Sound, having walked the New England Trail from Massachusetts. It doesn’t rank with thru-hiking the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails (which I have not done), but for me 2016 will forever be the year we hiked our home state.

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The East River, Guilford

I was afraid that this last section would be an anticlimax, but it didn’t turn out to be so. For half the distance the trail ran through attractive woods, and past field and riverbank. Even the road-walk to reach the Sound was not unpleasant. And the finish line was atmospheric – a boardwalk out to a muddy, reedy foreshore, and the Sound shining wherever the sun was not obstructed by traveling cumulus. We took in the scene, took selfies, and then – after so many sandwiches on the trail – went into Guilford for a restaurant lunch.

DATE: Friday, December 9th.
START: Willow Road, Guilford.
FINISH: Long Island Sound near Guilford Point.
ROUTE: New England Trail south.
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 111 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 3 hours (8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy trails, then road-walking.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny, high in the upper 30s.
WILDLIFE: We thought we saw raccoon tracks on a bog bridge, but now I think they belonged to some other beast, wild or domestic.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, I-95, Milford.
LUNCH: Post-hike, Quattro’s, Guilford.
UPS: The varied scenery of East River Preserve (map).
DOWNS: None that I recall.
KIT: A gloves and wooly hat day.
COMPANY: Katie and very little besides.

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That’s Long Island Sound behind us

Taking a Hike – Franconia and Wildcat

It has been a good autumn’s hiking, with four days in New Hampshire with my eldest the definite highlight. Three of those days were the subject of my November Taking a Hike column:

Fall in the White Mountains at Hersam Acorn
Enjoying fall in the White Mountains at The Hour

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Mount Washington from Bear Notch Road, Bartlett NH

Now I am left trying to shake off the feeling that the best hiking is over for a while. Part of it is, whatever the calendar may say, fall is over. The days are short, the leaves are gone, and temperatures, in fits and starts, are heading for cold. I am starting to accept – perhaps I shouldn’t – that a planned short backpack in the Adirondacks will not happen this year. There are plenty of reasons, or excuses, not to go – desk work; yard work (the leaves, in fact, are not gone; they are in my gutters); the hassle of packing; the hassle of unpacking afterward. Then there is the prospect of a night out in a pre-winter wilderness, although I resist the thought that this should be a discouragement.

Everything does not hang on the Dacks though. Except when there is deep snow or dangerous cold, winter is the second greatest hiking season around here. I need to buy a new pair of gloves and pull ideas together for some winter day-hikes to look forward to.

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Carter Notch Hut beneath, and in the shadow of, Wildcat Mountain

Day Hike Notes – Three Lakes Trail

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Unfinished beaver work on the Three Lakes Trail

I don’t fully understand what the beavers of Fahnestock State Park are up to. On this hike, Katie and I saw evidence of their gnashing away at some fairly substantial trunks, trees a foot and more in diameter (see photo). The trees were not right at the water’s edge either, and they were chewed only halfway through. My only guess is that the beaver will return and topple the trees so that their thinner, topmost branches end up in the pond, and there become beaver food and beaver construction materials. Clever critters if this is so. And we felt like clever critters for taking this Black Friday hike – not the brightest weather, not the widest views, but a good trek among lakes, swamps, brooks, and beaver ponds.

DATE: Friday, November 25th.
START & FINISH: Parking area beside Canopus Lake on NY Route 301, 1 mi SW of intersection with Taconic State Parkway.
ROUTE: Three Lakes Trail (blue-blazed) to Dennytown Road; return via Three Lakes again, Sunken Mine Road, and Appalachian Trail.
DISTANCE: 7-8 miles
TIME: 4.75 hours (9:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Mostly easy going, with a few short, steep-ish ups and downs
MAP: NYNJTC East Hudson Trails (Trail Map 103)

WEATHER: Cloudy, high in the upper 40s.
WILDLIFE: Evidence of beavers – gnawed trunks, dams – but no sightings.
PHOTOS: Here

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cortlandt.
LUNCH: Pastrami sandwiches, sat on a ledge near the old Denny iron mine.
UPS: Getting a post-Thanksgiving workout.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: We took waterproofs in case, but did not need them.
COMPANY: Katie, plus a few other hikers and dog-walkers.

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Hidden Lake

Day Hike Notes – Mount Frissell

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The highest point in Connecticut

As far as I know, Connecticut is unique among US states in having a high point that isn’t the top of anything (Nebraska might share the distinction). Even Florida’s Britton Hill – at 345 feet the lowest highest point of the 50 states – is higher than all the land immediately around it. Connecticut’s high point is 2,379 feet above sea level, a respectable 36th out of 50. Trouble is, it ain’t a mount, a peak, a butte, or a hill. It’s just a point on a slope. Take a step north from it, and you’re on higher ground in Massachusetts. Never mind; our high point on the south slope of Massachusetts’ Mount Frissell sits amid fine, remote hiking country. Here’s one route to take it in.

DATE: Friday, November 18th
START & FINISH: Undermountain trailhead, CT Route 41, 3mi north Salisbury
ROUTE: Undermountain Trail, Paradise Lane Trail, Northwest Road, and Mount Frissell Trail to lookout on South Taconic Trail just north of Brace Mountain. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 12.5 miles
TIME: 8 hours (7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Everything from flat and even to steep and rough. Starting trailhead 800 feet above sea level; Mount Frissell summit at 2,453; turnaround lookout at 2,100.
MAP: NYNJTC South Taconic Trails

WEATHER: Perfect; high close to 60 degrees
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note
PHOTOS: Here

BREAKFAST: Coffee, croissant, muffin from Cornwall Country Market
LUNCH: At the lookout, my turnaround point. Great view over the Hudson Valley to the Catskill Mountains (40 miles west as the crow would fly).

UPS: The big-sky views from Round Mountain, Mount Frissell, and my turnaround lookout.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I took a wooly hat, a fleece, a jacket, and gloves, and did not need any of them.
COMPANY: None on the outward trek. While I was eating lunch overlooking the Catskills, voices – or rather one voice in particular – approached from the north. It seemed to want to fill the entire landscape, and did not sound like great company. The voice  turned out to belong to James, half of a backpacking duo. James and his buddy, young guys, sat down next to me. They proved excellent company, and we had a right good natter.

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Looking into Massachusetts from Round Mountain (Mount Greylock – MA’s highest summit – in the far distance)