Taking a Hike – Peekamoose-Table Trail

Let me quickly proclaim publication of my August “Taking a Hike” column, then move smartly on to what is really preoccupying me right now.

So, “Taking a Hike” – Peekamoose and Table mountains in the Catskills – can be found at The Hour (Exploring the Catskills) and Hersam Acorn (Peace and big views in the Catskills). May’s column (about Shenandoah National Park) is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2015: “May – Shenandoah NP” – or by clicking here).

The human knee - courtesy Blausen.com staff

The human knee – courtesy Blausen.com staff

Now, my left knee!

It gave me significant trouble in June, then seemed to fix itself. I did some strenuous hikes and trail maintenance in late June and July, and everything stayed OK. The knee was fine after the Peekamoose-Table Trail too. Then, after a short stroll on asphalt, it began to play up again – big time.

One of the nice things about writing about my hikes is that I can go back and check a better record than my memory. A year ago, in the Catskills again, I complained of “bashing my knee on a misplaced boulder”. Hmm. In Shenandoah this spring, I was “feeling my knees a bit”. That was a month after my “legs fell unpredictably and knee-jarringly through the [snow] crust” on the CT Appalachian Trail. Then came the two weeks of soreness and stiffness in June, right after the Ives Trail.

So this has been coming, and there are potential causes aplenty (chief among them simple wear and tear). Last week, my difficulty putting weight on the knee, pain even at rest, and the size of my left knee relative to my right, combined to send me to an orthopedist. The doctor reckons it is a torn meniscus. I am hoping the MRI will confirm a nice, clean, fixable tear, just like one a friend had. He went waterskiing a week after the operation to remove the offending fragment of cartilage!

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Eighty years ago this summer, a 21-year-old Englishman set out on a long walk. Much later, he wrote a book about his journey. I bought my first copy of it in the 1970s (it cost 60 British pence – then, as now, about a dollar).

In my late teens and early 20s, I liked the book a great deal. Then it became just another part of my stuff. When – for a reason I forget – I plucked it from its shelf recently, the cover was missing and the back detached. The pages were brown and musty. I binned it, and ordered a copy I could read without sneezing.

Laurie Lee

My smart new edition

When I read my smart new edition, I still liked Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

Like a lot of books I like, it starts with a rough map showing the road taken by the intrepid author, in this case a curling line from the northwest to the south of Spain. Lee’s journey ended, at least temporarily, when the Royal Navy rescued him from Spain’s exploding Civil War in 1936.

Lee is best known for Cider with Rosie, a memoir of growing up in rural England. As I Walked Out is about what happened next. It starts like this:

The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.

As I Walked Out is about more than walking, but there is a lot in it that the hiker will recognize and enjoy – and it is all described by a poet. Have you ever, out on a hike, experienced misery followed quickly by exhilaration? On his first night out, on the road to London, Lee does not put up his tent. It rains. He feels wretched.

But when the sun rose in the morning the feeling of desolation was over. Birds sang, and the grass steamed warmly.

The following year, Lee sailed to Spain, and another set of twinned emotions – the anxiety and excitement of setting out. Looking into Spain’s “alien magnificence” from a hilltop at the end of his first day, he feels “a last pang of homesickness, and the first twinge of uneasy excitement”.

Montealegre de Campos en la provincia de Valladolid (España), en el verano del 2008. Paisaje de campos segados con la ermita de Nuestra Señora de Serosas al fondo.

Castilian Landscape, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Nicolás Pérez.

It was the landscapes that Lee describes that grabbed my young imagination the most, although he writes beautifully about the impoverished towns and courtyard inns along his way too. He treks through Galicia in the northwest and then across the burning plains of Castile (on “a white dust road as straight as a canal, banked by shimmering wheat and poppies”). He climbs the sierras that run across Spain west-east, and finally walks the Mediterranean coast of Andalusia, dirt-poor at that time.

Nobody will like As I walked Out just because they like to hike. But if you like some combination of lyrical writing, Spain, and foot travel, you might enjoy this book for as long as I have. Keep in mind that Lee, a man of powerful imagination, wrote As I Walked Out 30 years after his journey. Everything may not have been exactly as he describes.

Day Hike Notes – Peekamoose and Table Mountains

Reconnoiter Rock, 1.9 miles along the trail

Reconnoiter Rock, 1.9 miles along the trail

This Catskill Mountain hike is a 2.5-hour drive from home. By the time I reached the trailhead, the small parking area was full – two cars deep! The cause of the congestion was not so much walkers as picnickers. Every available space beside the road for some distance was filled with people unloading coolers and grills for a day at the creek.

I got lucky. As I passed the trailhead a second time, a group of hikers was coming off the trail, and they gave me their space. Ten minutes into my own hike, the shouts and motors of the valley had faded to nothing.

When, around 4:30, I returned to my car, rangers and police were about managing the traffic and people. Everyone was good-humored, but it looked too much for the tight valley of the Rondout Creek. Garbage had been abandoned, and I wondered how many bottles lay at the bottom of the swimming hole and along the banks of the creek. Next time I climb Peekamoose Mountain, it will be a weekday in a cooler season.

Unknown Catskill peaks seen from Peekamoose Mountain

Unknown Catskill peaks seen from Peekamoose Mountain

DATE: Sunday, August 2nd.
START & FINISH: Peekamoose-Table trailhead on CR 42, 10 miles west of West Shokan NY.
ROUTE: Peekamoose-Table trail to Table Mountain and back.
DISTANCE: 9 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours (10:50 a.m. to 4:30-ish).
TERRAIN: First and foremost, a 2,600-foot elevation gain; but on good trail, mostly free of scrambles and excessive “roots & rocks”.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny, warm. Trail shaded.
WILDLIFE: A delicate, light gray bird – almost hummingbird size – sat for a while at the very tip of a summit fir tree. I have no idea what it was.

PHOTOS: Just those in this post for now (click here for more, added 8/11/15).

A stretch of the Peekamoose-Table Trail

A stretch of the Peekamoose-Table Trail

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Fishkill.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwich on Table Mountain.
UPS: Lying on a ledge just off the summit of Table Mountain and watching the clouds dance. I didn’t actually sleep, but was nevertheless markedly refreshed for the descent.
DOWNS: The abuse of Rondout Creek.
KIT: I am still wearing a knee support on tougher hikes (since taking on the Ives Trail). Whether because of the support or not, my knee has been feeling fine the day after hiking.
COMPANY: The trail was not crowded exactly, but I ran into other hikers every 20 minutes or so.

Taking a Hike – Shepaug Trails

"Taking a Hike" in The Hour print edition.

“Taking a Hike” in The Hour print edition.

July’s “Taking a Hike” was published last week.

I wrote about three gentle hikes above and beside Connecticut’s sleepy Shepaug River. You can find the column at The Hour (Three nice Shepaug Valley hikes) and Hersam Acorn (Easy trails near the Shepaug), or even click here for a PDF of The Hour’s printed version.

April’s column – an early spring Appalachian Trail survey – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2015: “Apr – A.T. Sharon CT” – or by clicking here).

Day Hike Notes – Regicides Trail / Quinnipiac Trail

Our Objective - Sleeping Giant from West Rock Ridge South Overlook

Our Objective – Sleeping Giant from West Rock Ridge South Overlook

This is a two-car hike, which the good fortune of David’s company allowed me to undertake (David and I last hiked together two years ago on the Herrick Trail and A.T.). We left David’s car at the Sleeping Giant, drove mine to New Haven, and set off back toward the Giant on the Regicides Trail.

A regicide is a king-killer, in this case two gentlemen who signed the death warrant of King Charles I of England, and fled to the Connecticut Colony when his son – Charles II – came to the throne. In 1661, they hid from officers of the Crown on West Rock Ridge for some weeks, and lived to die in their beds.

A Stretch of the Regicides Trail

A Stretch of the Regicides Trail

DATE: Friday, July 17th.
START: West Rock Ridge State Park, South Overlook.
FINISH: Sleeping Giant State Park, Mt Carmel Ave entrance.
ROUTE: Regicides Trail north, then Quinnipiac Trail east.
DISTANCE: 11 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (9:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: In places, rougher underfoot than we expected; a few short, steep climbs (notably York Mountain where the Regicides and Quinnipiac trails meet); the Quinnipiac Trail uses short stretches of residential streets in Hamden.
MAP: West Rock Ridge SP map for Regicides Trail; hard-copy CFPA Walk Book West maps for Quinnipiac Trail.

Our Eastern Box Turtle

Our Eastern Box Turtle

WEATHER: Sunny and warm, not too humid.
WILDLIFE: An Eastern Box Turtle (pictured).

PHOTOS: The best are built into this post.

BREAKFAST: A rushed bagel in Hamden.
LUNCH: In a stand of pines above (invisible) Lake Watrous.

Lake Watrous

Lake Watrous

UPS: Hiking over a tunnel I had so often driven through (Rte. 15 at Woodbridge).
DOWNS: Goods views from the ridge that would have been better without transmission lines (but I was glad of electricity when I got home).
KIT: Fully 3 quarts of water easily downed.
COMPANY: David, but nobody else until we hit Nolan Rd in Hamden after 8-9 miles.

Day Hike Notes – Steep Rock Preserve

The Shepaug River in Steep Rock Preserve

The Shepaug River in Steep Rock Preserve

Friday was a three-hike day, the walks united by the Shepaug River. These notes are for the first, longest outing. I’ve added a few lines about the other two walks at the end of the post.

The Shepaug River flows – dammed twice in its upper reaches – through a beautiful part of Connecticut, its course largely untouched by major routes. In the towns of Washington and Roxbury where I hiked, the river occupies a steep, wooded valley, often accessible only by dirt road. This is a pleasant contrast with the valleys of the Housatonic and the Naugatuck to the west and east, utilized by routes 7 and 8 respectively.

The hikes were all in small preserves (Steep Rock, the largest, is just under 1,000 acres). The trails were always excellent, and once even a flat dirt road. Nevertheless, the hikes combined to make about 11 miles of hill and stream, enough to clear my conscience for 4th of July barbecue.

DATE: Friday, July 3rd.
START & FINISH: Parking area at north end of Tunnel Road, Washington, CT.
ROUTE: Steep Rock Loop anticlockwise as far as footbridge / Pinney Loop; then “Orange Square” trail anticlockwise back to Steep Rock Loop; Steep Rock Loop on Tunnel Road back to start.
DISTANCE: 6.5 miles approx.
TIME: 2.75 hours (7:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.)
TERRAIN: Excellent trails, only occasionally steep (e.g. climb to Steep Rock Summit, 776 feet). Long, flat riverside stretches.
MAP: Available from Steep Rock Association website. Print in color for easier navigation!

WEATHER: Perfect.
WILDLIFE: Nothing charismatic.


BREAKFAST: McDonald’s in New Milford (once again).
LUNCH: Not until after hike number two – a tailgate sandwich on a dirt road near Judds Bridge.
UPS: Cool morning air; carpets of pine needles; the sound of the river …
DOWNS: Vehicle use on dirt Tunnel Road (although, honestly, there were only a few, and they were respectfully driven – get over it, Rob!)
KIT: Best part was how little was involved – no raingear, no layers.
COMPANY: Almost none until the last half-mile, then plenty.

Clearing in Hidden Valley Preserve

Clearing in Hidden Valley Preserve

HIKE TWO: Hidden Valley Preserve, Van Sinderen Loop, 3.5 miles. Highlight – a riverside walk through magnificent tall, straight pines.

HIKE THREE: Battle Swamp Brook Preserve; only trail covers 1.35 miles out and back. Highlight – the little waterfalls of the brook as it flows to the Shepaug.

Heading Back to Baxter

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

I don’t like packing for hiking trips. I don’t care much for putting my gear away afterward either. What I do enjoy is the planning – the reading up on trails and landscape; the thinking ahead about weather, amount of daylight, challenges and risks. I am happily in that phase now.

Last weekend I completed camping reservations for Maine’s Baxter State Park, so, barring force majeure, I will be heading there in late September for a full week of day-hiking.

For anyone unfamiliar with Baxter, it sits bang in the middle of the hump of Maine, the bulge that sticks up into Canada. At 327 square miles, it is larger than Singapore, and one third the size of Rhode Island. It has no paved roads, and no permanent human inhabitants (just, to quote the park’s website, “moose, deer, bear, otter, mink, marten, fisher, weasel, coyote, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, woodchucks, snowshoe hare, squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, mice, and voles”).

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

I have been to Baxter twice before, once with two of my daughters long enough ago that they were then seven and five years old. Even the second time – quite fresh in my memory – is now nine years back. Both times I did not stray from the southern half of the park, around the base of Katahdin, the park’s emblematic mountain that is also the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The photos in this post are from that second trip (the first predated my digital camera).

This time, I will spend three days in the north of Baxter, based at South Branch Pond. The idea is to explore the Traveler Range and the “splendid U-shaped valley running north to south from the Travelers to South Turner” (park website’s words again). The Google Earth image below shows that topography rather nicely – the foreground mountains are Center Ridge and The Traveler, the ponds are South Branch (upper and lower).

Midweek, I will drive south on the Park Tote Road to Katahdin Stream campground, and likely meet A.T. thru-hikers facing the last, steep leg of their hike. I hope to climb Katahdin again too, as well find other trails to explore in the southern half.

More Baxter posts to follow for sure.

The Traveler Range -- Google Earth

The Traveler Range — Google Earth