Day Hike Notes – The Frozen Giant

When I drive up Route 15 and I-91 toward Hartford (and with daughters at UConn, I do this quite often), I don’t think of the landscape I pass through as holding much in the way of interest. Mostly the windshield shows a movie of trees, unspectacular hills, and suburbia.

Looking east / southeast from the Sleeping Giant tower.

Looking east / southeast from the Sleeping Giant tower.

But on Friday, from the top of the stone tower that sits on the Sleeping Giant, I looked out on this same landscape, and it was full of feature! To the east, far beyond the knolls of the Giant itself, ran a long ridge, its escarpment looking like sheer cliff in places. It was impressive, and I decided later it was the eastern line of the Metacomet Ridge (the Giant forming part of the western line). To the north of the Giant, rose two smooth, wooded humps, side by side. Were these the Hanging Hills, another manifestation of the Metacomet Ridge?

Hikes have a habit of suggesting other hikes, and now I wanted to explore the Metacomet Ridge. Fortunately, there are trails that will help me – the Mattabesett and Metacomet trails (part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association blue-blazed system) lead from Durham’s Pistapaug Mountain in the south to Meriden’s Hanging Hills, and indeed right up into Massachusetts if I so choose. One day. In the meantime, next time I drive to UConn, I will appreciate tunneling under the Metacomet at West Rock and passing through a gap in it beneath Higby Mountain east of Meriden.

On Friday, the Sleeping Giant itself served up a fine hike and scenery. Notes and photos:

On Hezekiah's Knob, Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden CT

On Hezekiah’s Knob, Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden CT

DATE: Friday, February 27th.
START & FINISH: Sleeping Giant State Park Mt Carmel Ave entrance (off Route 10 in Hamden, CT).
ROUTE: Out – Violet trail all the way to Chestnut Lane. Back – White to Hezekiah’s Knob; Blue to stone tower; tower path to beneath Giant’s chin; Blue again over chin and head.
DISTANCE: About 7 miles.
TIME: Just under 5 hours (9:10-2:00).
TERRAIN: Packed-snow trails (deep, loose snow on some little-trafficked stretches of Blue east of the tower). Gentle ups and downs (Violet); steeper ups and downs (White, Blue); butt-scramble (descent from Giant’s head).
MAP: Color map from SG Park Association.

WEATHER: Sunny, calm, cold (20s).
WILDLIFE: Two turkey vultures took off (briefly) from a south-facing cliff face just beneath me. I think I disturbed their sunbathing.

PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Shef’s Bagels, Cheshire
LUNCH: A burger at Five Guys, New Haven, on the drive home.
UPS: The views from the stone tower, particularly east-ish, toward what I took to be the Metacomet Ridge.
DOWNS: None whatsoever.
KIT: I suspect my microspikes were essential to my enjoyment (even safety for the descent from the Giant’s head).
COMPANY: None on the way out, a few hikers on the way back, especially on the tower path.

Taking a Hike – January in Scotland

Loch Lomond from the Ben Lomond path

Loch Lomond from the Ben Lomond path

Southern Upland Way looking toward the Lowther Hills

Southern Upland Way looking toward the Lowther Hills

You would not choose to travel to Scotland in January to hike. Winter hiking, I suspect, is everywhere a local’s thing. Best to have years of experience of the terrain and weather, best to be able to head out at short notice when conditions are most favorable. I have hiked plenty in Scotland, but in the mild, light seasons.

Last month a family funeral took me to Glasgow – not as cold as the US Northeast, but windier, darker, and icy enough. “Taking a Hike”, my monthly newspaper column, is this month about some hiking I did after the funeral and family visits. The column was published this week in both The Hour (Winter hikes in Scotland) and at Hersam-Acorn Arts & Leisure (Winter in Scotland has its rewards).

The Wildcat River, New Hampshire, after rain

The Wildcat River, New Hampshire, after rain

November’s “Taking a Hike” – New Hampshire’s Wild River Wilderness – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Nov – Wild River Wilderness” – or by clicking here).

Coming to Terms with Snowshoes

Meadow, Brinckerhoff Preserve, Redding CT

Meadow, Brinckerhoff Preserve, Redding CT

“Snowshoes don’t allow you to magically skim across the surface like a water strider on a summer pond,” advised an article I read recently. Well, that is just too bad, because I really wish they did precisely that. When I set out from Redding’s Brinckerhoff Preserve yesterday afternoon, I thought I might hike over to the ledges on the far side of the Devil’s Den, a round-trip of 6 or 7 miles. I had brought microspikes and snowshoes, but it was soon obvious that it was the snowshoes I’d be wearing; and equally obvious, as I crossed the big meadow near the Preserve entrance, that big feet would not stop me sinking plenty into the powder.

Ensor's Trace trail, NW corner of the Devil's Den, Weston CT

Ensor’s Trace trail, NW corner of the Devil’s Den, Weston CT

It was a beautiful afternoon to be out, cold but cloudless. The bright, white woods were a joy to see – but a pain to walk through. I still sank 6 inches into the snow with every step, and my big clown feet increased the physical and mental effort expended. I moved forward too slowly for my liking, but sweated to do so. Winter hikers should avoid sweat, as wet layers will chill soon enough; but I baulked at the bother of stripping off and stowing my jacket. Not far over the line into the Devil’s Den – a line that is also the Redding-Weston boundary – I knew the ledges would be beyond me.

Ravine and hidden brook, Ensor's Trace, Devil's Den

Ravine and hidden brook, Ensor’s Trace, Devil’s Den

After covering perhaps a mile and a half in an hour, helped here and there where deer had trampled down the snow, I stopped where the trail called Ensor’s Trace meets the Donahue Trail and a brook. Although this spot is less than half a mile from people’s homes, it felt that it could have been deep in big woods. No one had come this way since the last snowfall. Apart from a solitary trail marker sticking out of the snow, there were no human sights or sounds. I had hoped to look out from high ledges, but this patch of woods would do just fine.

Brinckerhoff meadow again, 2 hours later

Brinckerhoff meadow again, 2 hours later

I have owned snowshoes for a while, but have not used them frequently. I might need to improve my technique, or at least manage my expectations. By the time I was back at the big meadow, I felt like I’d had a good workout. This morning I got an e-mail from a hiking buddy talking about his new snowshoes. “They are a remarkable improvement over boots alone in deeper snow,” he says. I guess that is the point. You don’t magically skim over the surface, but at least you are out in the snow.

A New Hike Arrives in the Mail

Vue du Mont-Blanc depuis les chalets de Varan, au dessus de Passy

Mont-Blanc from the chalets of Varan — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “TL”

Nine months ago I reconnected with a friend. I probably don’t need to add that this happened on Facebook. The last time this friend and I actually met was so long ago that I cannot place it. We first got acquainted in 1986, when we were part of a group of trainees that joined Reuters news agency at the same time. That was in London, but few of us stayed in London for very long, our friendships interrupted by overseas postings.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with hiking? I am getting there. When Seetha and I reconnected, we caught up on the big stuff – where we are each living, number and age of kids, what we are working at …  Then, a few weeks ago, Seetha said in a message that she wanted to send me a package. What was my home address? I was intrigued, but soon forgot about the matter when I became embroiled in an unexpected trip.

Well, last week a package arrived for me. It contained a thick paperback called The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking. I must have mentioned to Seetha that I liked to hike, and to write about it afterwards. Flipping through the Bible, I noticed the tables of information for each hike – 107 of them! I noticed the rough maps full of unfamiliar but exciting names – Col du Bonhomme, Gorge de la Veudale, Torrent de Miage …  There were photos of glaciers, jaggedy peaks, and mountain “refuges” that appeared to put the Appalachian Mountain Club’s rough huts to shame. Then I noticed that the book was signed by its author, Robert Quan, and Robert wished me happy trails.

I was, of course, very touched that Seetha would go to the trouble of sending me a book by a man she knew through a writers’ group in Geneva. But receiving the book also made me think that we should act on this kind of serendipity. I had not really thought about hiking in the Alps (my wilder thoughts recently have turned to Greenland or the Spanish Pyrenees if I should ever have the chance). But at the end of Robert’s book is a section on The International Tour of Mont-Blanc, a 10-day circuit of the mountain through France, Italy, and Switzerland. I’ve made a mental note of the Tour for an autumn adventure one day – an adventure with a tent; Robert says that those swanky-looking refuges mostly close in mid-September.

The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking by Robert Quan

The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking

Day Hike Notes – Pine Mountain via Bennett’s Pond

Bennett Ponds from Pine Mountain, Ridgefield CT

Bennett Ponds from Pine Mountain, Ridgefield CT

I have been thinking it’s about time I led another Appalachian Mountain Club group hike. The last one was back at Halloween. But where? The Devil’s Den again? I’ll never get tired of the Den, but after my New Year strolls at Bennett’s Pond, I had a hankering to try the trails that lead out of the state park into Ridgefield open spaces – Pine Mountain and Hemlock Hills. But you shouldn’t lead a hike you haven’t done yourself, so on Friday afternoon I set out for Pine Mountain all alone. I had hoped to do so over the weekend, but snow was forecast for Saturday, and Friday’s perfect weather was excuse enough to leave my desk early.

DATE: Friday, January 23rd.
START & FINISH: Bennett’s Pond State Park entrance, Bennetts Farm Rd, Ridgefield CT.
ROUTE: Green trail anticlockwise to meet White trail, then White to Red, and Red to Yellow. Anticlockwise circuit of Pine Mountain on Yellow, then back to Green on Red and White. Return to starting point on Green, anticlockwise.
DISTANCE: My guess, a little under 5 miles.
TIME: 2.5 hours.
TERRAIN: Gentle gradients on Green and White trails, although extensive ice (often hidden sneakily under a dusting of snow) made the going treacherous on many stretches. The south-facing Red trail into Pine Mountain open space was ice-free, but steep. Pine Mountain circuit is up and down, with one seat-of-the-pants descent made necessary by the slippery conditions.
MAPS: Two – Bennett’s Pond State Park and Pine Mountain open space.

WEATHER: Perfect blue skies, temperature about freezing.
WILDLIFE: Nothing much that I recall.

PHOTOS: Here.

Near Summit of Pine Mountain

Near Summit of Pine Mountain

LUNCH: Second half of a store-bought wrap, eaten on the move.
UPS:
– I am still delighted with Bennett Ponds, a place I discovered only at the very end of last year. They were frozen and white for this hike.
DOWNS:
– Feeling under time pressure can kill a hike, and I felt short of time on this one (things to get done at home before going out to the movies with my wife and youngest in the evening).
KIT: I should have brought my boot chains for the icy stretches.
COMPANY: None at all.

Taking a Hike – Bennett’s Pond and Saugatuck Falls

We didn’t have a snowy holiday season here. Normally, that would have opened up the opportunity to head for the mountains for a long, hard hike. But I was grounded this Christmas and New Year. Well, almost. Minor surgery on my hand put the Catskills and Taconics out of reach, but I could still manage short, gentle trails, at least if I did not trip and fall.

Bennett's Pond, Ridgefield CT - Slopes of Wooster and Pine mountains

Bennett’s Pond, Ridgefield CT – Slopes of Wooster and Pine mountains

My temporary disability actually yielded benefits, encouraging me to try new places I’d otherwise have missed out on. The big, pleasant surprise was Bennett’s Pond State Park in Ridgefield, CT. “Taking a Hike”, my newspaper column, is about these shorter walks this month. It was published last week in both The Hour (Some nice local ‘walks’) and at Hersam-Acorn Arts & Leisure (Two winter walks, connected by the Saugatuck).

October’s “Taking a Hike” – AMC hikes in the Devil’s Den, Weston – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Oct – Devil’s Den, Weston CT” – or by clicking here).

Taking a Hike – Macedonia Brook

Macedonia Brook SP campsites under Thanksgiving snow.

Macedonia Brook SP campsites under Thanksgiving snow.

“Taking a Hike”, my monthly column, was published last week. Although the content is always the same, each publisher chooses its own headline. December’s column is available at Hersam-Acorn as Escape from ‘Black Friday’ at Macedonia Brook and at The Hour as A wintery ‘Turkey Burner’ at Macedonia Brook.

September’s “Taking a Hike” – short hikes in Redding, CT – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Sep – Redding Trails” – or by clicking here).

The hike at Macedonia Brook was an early taste of winter, and a reminder of how the seasons give variety to our outings. Since this might be my last post this year, a highlight for each season of 2014 follows. Happy Holidays!

Mt Everett hike

Race Brook Falls A.T. Campsite

WINTER: Race Brook Falls A.T. campsite in early February brought one of those moments of “perfect comfort with the here and now”.

On the summit of Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains

On the summit of Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains

SPRING: Lunch with my eldest in the shelter of this magnificently twisted specimen on Gregory Bald in the Smokies was reward enough for the hike up, but then the mist blew off the summit to treat us to great views over Cades Cove too.

On Île Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago, Quebec.

On Île Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago, Quebec.

SUMMER: Quebec with my youngest included hikes on the islands of the beautiful Mingan Archipelago, including here on Ile Niapiskau. The pose is because we had learned that the plant is called Herbe à Robert.

The Devil's Den, Weston, in mid-October.

The Devil’s Den, Weston, in mid-October.

FALL: Finally getting round to leading AMC group hikes, all of them (so far) at the Devil’s Den in Weston.