Evening Hike, Bennett’s Pond and Pine Mountain, Ridgefield CT – April 15th

AMC-logoJoin me if you can tomorrow for an Appalachian Mountain Club Connecticut Chapter hike in Bennett’s Pond State Park and Pine Mountain open space. Details from the AMC announcement below.

B2B means 5-8 miles, fast pace, strenuous terrain, although we will be very close to C3C (<5 miles, moderate pace, average terrain). There is no need to be an AMC member.

Wed., Apr. 15. Bennett’s Pond and Pine Mountain, Ridgefield (B2B), Connecticut, West of River, CT. Make the most of forecast sunny skies with an evening hike to a scenic overlook (Ives Site). We will hike through Bennett’s Pond State Park into Pine Mountain open space, covering approximately 5.0 miles of mostly gentle grades in about 2.5 hrs (including break at overlook). There is one steep ascent, and one steep descent. Short muddy sections possible. Meet Bennett’s Pond SP parking on Bennetts Farm Road, Ridgefield, 4:30 p.m. for 4:45 sharp departure (sunset is 7:33 p.m.) Co-Lead welcome. Call Rob if interested to car-pool from Rte 7 commuter parking lot near Orem’s Diner, Wilton. Heavy rain cancels. L Rob McWilliams (203-434-0297, robert.c.mcwilliams@gmail.com)

Bennett Ponds from Pine Mountain, Ridgefield CT

Bennett Ponds from Pine Mountain, Ridgefield CT

Lost in the Adirondacks

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

I have badly neglected the Hike List part of this site. In fact, I’m not sure that the list as it is currently conceived and structured is particularly interesting or useful. I am going to have to rethink it. But, in the meantime, I have added (under New York) notes for a 2010 backpack in the Dacks. It was in the company of my youngest daughter, then 10 years old. I don’t think she will ever forget it. I know I won’t.

It was the second afternoon of a three-day trek in the West Canada Lake Wilderness (nearest hamlet, Inlet). We had camped the previous night beside Brooktrout Lake, six miles into the wilderness from a trailhead at the end of miles of dirt road. That second day, we had hiked about ten miles and were on the Cedar Lakes Trail toward – most appropriately – Lost Pond. It was not a good trail, not wide or well-defined. In particular, its blazes were faded and erratic. There were blowdowns, fallen trunks that I suspect had taken blazes with them. We lost the trail once or twice, but soon found it again. This happens a lot when you hike in the woods, even in familiar places. Then, a few hours before sunset, we lost the trail and didn’t find it again.

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

Using the amount of time we had been hiking on Cedar Lakes Trail, I calculated we were on a particular half-mile section of it. If we bushwhacked north, we would – said the map – run into either Lost Pond or Otter Brook in no more than a quarter-mile, and from either of those features the Lost Pond spur trail would be easily found. Everything is simple on maps.

We followed the red needle of our compass into the woods. It was no easy procession even for a grown-up. The forest was a jumble of spiky blowdowns, ankle-snaring brush, and face-smacking twigs; but we did reach, and cross barefoot, a stream I took to be Otter Brook. The spur trail had to be just a short way ahead. When it didn’t show in the dusk, I was not too worried. We found a space in the forest’s clutter and made camp. We had planned to overnight at Lost Pond anyway. Snug in my sleeping bag, I studied the map by flashlight and fell asleep confident that we would find the trail quickly in the morning by walking north, uphill.

But the trail didn’t show in the morning either. We tried re-crossing the brook to search the south side again. We thought we saw blazes on trees, only to find they were natural stains. We crossed back to the north side, this time not bothering to take our boots off for Otter Brook. I did not fear for our lives. We had food, and shelter from the rain that was starting to fall. My wife knew our route and would raise the alarm when we did not call her that afternoon. But I did fear we would need help to get out, and for the first time in my life I blew my whistle and hollered. No answer. I knew I had to stay calm if I wanted Marjorie to do the same, and to her immense credit she held together, breaking down only once, and briefly, when she slipped on a streamside rock and hurt her tush.

Trail found!

Trail found!

Then, suddenly, it was over. Trying a northerly search again, we saw a vaguely linear thinning of the forest, and wondered if it might prove a trail. We followed it west, hoping. Its trail attributes grew – width, continuity, and eventually a rusty marker tacked to a tree. Four or five hours later, we were bombing down 1-90, and, boy, did it look good.

Taking a Hike – The Winter Giant

The Mill River, Sleeping Giant State Park

The Mill River, Sleeping Giant State Park

It was summer the last time I hiked the Sleeping Giant. If you live in the US northeast, you might be idealizing summer right now. Here are some things I remember from that July hike – stickiness, bugs, bug bites, sweat, still air, and a daughter saying “it’s too hot”.

I went back to the Giant at the end of last month, all alone this time. Clammy? Of course not. Bugs? What are they? Instead I found blue skies, brilliant ice, pristine snow, tree shadows, and sharp-focus views. Let’s not damn winter just because it has stayed with us a little too long this year – again!

“Taking a Hike”, my monthly newspaper column, is this month about the winter hike from the Giant’s head to his foot, and back to his noggin again. The column was published this week in both The Hour (A perfect day at Sleeping Giant) and at Hersam-Acorn Arts & Leisure (Sleeping Giant in Winter).

Valley of the Macedonia Brook, looking north.

Valley of the Macedonia Brook, looking north.

December 2014’s “Taking a Hike” – more snow, this time at Thanksgiving at Macedonia Brook in Kent, CT – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Dec – Macedonia Brook” – or by clicking here).

Hiking Read – In the Abode of the Gods

Kawa Karpo - courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and  Jan Reurink

Kawa Karpo – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Jan Reurink

I hope this post will be the first of many about good hiking reads. I’d like to share what I have enjoyed, and perhaps get ideas in return. I’ve been prodded into this new territory by a gift.

Last month, for my birthday, my eldest daughter gave me the 2014 edition of The Best American Travel Writing. I had read none of the previous 13 editions, but was inspired to get stuck into this one because its editor was Paul Theroux, author of The Great Railway Bazaar and my favorite travel writer. I flipped through the contents, looking for an essay to read first, and settled for In the Abode of the Gods by Jeffrey Tayler. Mr. Tayler’s name did not ring a bell, but his first paragraphs promised a hike, the best mode of travel, railways notwithstanding.

Tayler’s hike is a 15-day pilgrimage around Kawa Karpo, a mountain on the border between the Chinese province of Yunnan and Tibet that is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. The hike starts on the upper reaches of the Mekong River. You can read In the Abode of the Gods free of charge at World Hum, so I won’t précis it here. I’ll just mention a few things I liked:

  • Tayler’s occasionally poetic prose (“Downward we strode, our mules’ bells ringing.”)
  • Background information – what makes Tibetan Buddhism “Tibetan”; the relations between the Chinese government and the Tibetan inhabitants of the region …
  • Glimpses into the lives of Tayler’s local husband-and-wife guides.
  • That Tayler explains why he is on the trek (“long enamored of Buddhism”) but is otherwise quite self-effacing.

Because I enjoyed In the Abode of the Gods, I googled Tayler to find out more about him. Only then did I realize I had read him before, a book called River of No Reprieve about a boat journey down the Lena River in Siberia. I enjoyed that too, and no doubt will reread it soon, even though it is not about a hike.

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.