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 nysparks.com.
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

Taking a Hike – Great Hollow

My July “Taking a Hike” column has been published:

Exploring the trails of Great Hollow – The Hour
Discovering New Fairfield’s forests – Hersam Acorn

Great Hollow Nature Preserve is a  new place to hike, located 10 miles north of Danbury CT. The accessible part of the preserve offers scenic variety in a small area – brooks, hills, wetland, meadows, and of course forest. Wildlife abounds, as captured on the preserve’s cameras.

The inaccessible, eastern part of Great Hollow is contiguous with a fragment of Pootatuck State Forest, though there are no marked trails in the area. I followed my Great Hollow hike with a (largely unsuccessful) exploration of the Pootatuck fragment, and then a hike in the mapped part of the state forest, which offered some fine overlooks.

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck SF

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck State Forest, New Fairfield CT


Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (7)

Highland Pond, Mattabesett Trail, Middletown CT

Highland Pond, near the end of our hike

Two weeks ago, Katie and I completed Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail, 62 miles from Massachusetts to the Hanging Hills southwest of Hartford. Last Friday, we began our hike onward to Long Island Sound. We will still be on the recently created New England Trail, but our first 33 miles or so will follow the overlapping, and more venerable, Mattabesett Trail (in the 1600s, the Wangunk Indians living near present-day Middletown apparently called the area Massabesec, meaning “at a great river”).

It is about 50 miles in total to the Sound, and we covered eight of them on Friday. Katie has moved into new digs, and before we headed up Lamentation Mountain we hauled an armchair and bookcase into her new place. Hiking is more fun than lugging – no awkward shapes to grip, or tight turns and doorways.

DATE: Friday, July 8th.
START: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Bell Street, Middletown.
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: 8 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: About 70 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 6.25 hours (9:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Steady climb to Lamentation Mountain (720’), followed by 400-foot descent. Short waterside stroll at Crescent Lake/Bradley Hubbard Reservoir. Short, very steep climb to Chauncey Peak (688’), then gradually descending ridge walk. All mountain sections involved awkward footing here and there, including loose rock. Final miles were easy woods trails and a few short road-walks.

MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.
WEATHER: Cloudy and very humid until lunchtime, then gradually brighter. High 80 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Beaver lodge in Highland Pond.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cromwell.
LUNCH: Swiss-and-ham sandwiches on Chauncey Peak.
UPS: Discovering that the blister developing above my heel was not in fact a blister, but a small stick that had somehow found its way into by inner sock. Instant relief!
DOWNS: The toothache that has been bothering me on and off for days. It left me in peace after lunch.
KIT: Once again, three liters of water!
COMPANY: None on Lamentation Mountain; hikers, joggers, and fishermen around Crescent Lake and Chauncey Peak; none again thereafter.

Metacomet Trail Map (7)

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

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (6)

[Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail runs 62 miles from the Massachusetts line at Suffield to the Hanging Hills north of Meriden.  It is now a segment of the 215-mile New England Trail (Long Island Sound to New Hampshire). My daughter and I hope to section-hike the Metacomet Trail this year, and perhaps continue south to the Sound, if we have time and energy.]

Merimere, Mine Island, South Mountain

Lunch spot – Merimere Reservoir and South Mountain

On Friday Katie and I completed the Metacomet Trail! It required six day-hikes spread over four months. Above all, the hikes have been a great way of staying connected with my eldest daughter, hiking being conducive to real conversation. The Metacomet Trail has taken us to new places, and given us a fresh perspective on Connecticut. Places that, for me, were just names on a road sign now have associations and color – Farmington recalls the cliffs of Rattlesnake Mountain, Southington (which I can now pronounce properly) means views from Ragged Mountain, and Meriden will conjure up Mine Island nestled in the Hanging Hills. Our procession was also through seasons; since we took our first Metacomet steps, we have seen the leaves come out, the snakes and frogs emerge from hibernation, and the days warm by almost 60 degrees. Finally, we have decided that we do have the time and energy to hike on to Long Island Sound. Mattabesett Trail here we come!

DATE: Friday, June 24th.
START: Edgewood Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail south, plus the first 0.7 miles of the Mattabesett Trail.
DISTANCE: About 12 miles, plus the obligatory wrong turn or two.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: A little over 62 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A fairly gradual 700-foot climb to West Peak (1,024’). Sometimes rough trail for the remaining three miles in the Hanging Hills (loose rock underfoot etc.). Second half of hike easy to moderate, including final two-mile road-walk.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny and hot. High about 87 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A black rat snake (see photos). We also startled, and were in turn startled by, a large bird on the ground. Katie then spotted her chick. Mom took flight looking too brown for a turkey, but now I am guessing that is what she was – a browner-hued wild turkey.

BREAKFAST: Starbucks, Newington.
LUNCH: Chorizo and manchego cheese sandwiches above Merimere Reservoir.
UPS: Everyone we met was open and friendly.
DOWNS: Saying “we really must keep an eye on the blazes today”, and almost immediately missing a turn in the trail.
KIT: Three liters of water!
COMPANY: Mainly around Castle Craig, to which there is an auto road.

Metacomet Trail Map (6)

The New England Trail within Connecticut’s “blue-blazed” trail system – Metacomet (dark blue) and trail yet to hike (green).

Taking a Hike – Bigelow Range Backpack

My June “Taking a Hike” column has been published. The Hour, suffering a few systems issues after acquisition by Hearst, is for now publishing it in print and e-editions only. I am old-fashioned enough to really like the way the column looks in a newspaper. Even so, it will be nice to see it up on thehour.com again soon. Hersam Acorn had their own IT issues recently (an exploding website is what I heard), but “Taking a Hike” is now posted there as Backpacking Bigelow — A Test, Completed.

Day 0 - My camp on Flagstaff Lake

Pre-hike camp beside Flagstaff Lake, Bigelow Preserve, Maine

Your feelings about a hike change over time. During is always different from before. Right after is usually different from several weeks after. As the column recounts, halfway through the first day my confidence was a little shaky. You start to forget that kind of thing, and remember mostly the upbeat. Three weeks on, one of my best memories is not about breaking out onto a peak or drinking in a fine view. I remember my happiness at reaching Safford Notch just an hour or so into the hike. The air was dry and clean among the pines and boulders, the bugs gone. And there was a cell signal to send a message home after 18 hours incommunicado at my pre-hike camp.

March’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site. I stayed close to home that month; Redding CT’s Little River.