“Taking a Hike” at #62

Taking a Hike TNH

Taking a Hike Edition #62

I have not, for six months and more, said anything here about my “Taking a Hike” newspaper column. The culprit has been a lack of posting time. Often, too, “Taking a Hike” is about an outing for which I have already posted “Day Hike Notes”, so the incentive to post is reduced.

“Taking a Hike”, however, is alive and well, approaching its 63rd edition. And I don’t think I ever mentioned that last year it placed second in the general column category of the 2017 Connecticut Press Club awards. (Though, who knows, there may only have been two entries!)

For five years, “Taking a Hike” was a monthly column. Last fall, I decided to move to eight times a year. Time was a factor, but so too was wanting to continue to enjoy writing the column, avoiding its becoming a grind. What use would that be to writer or reader? The schedule for “Taking a Hike” is now, roughly, as follows:

Easter or early April
Memorial Day
July 4th
Labor Day
Columbus Day
New Year
Presidents’ Day

And the columns since I last posted have been:

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills
The Pacific Crest Trail
Redding CT’s Westway, close to home
West Kill Mountain, Catskills again
Three winter hikes in Connecticut

Taking a Hike Montage

FROM TOP LEFT, CLOCKWISE: Devil’s Path to Hunter Mountain, September; W. Branch Saugatuck River, Weston CT, New Year’s Day; Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain, December; Cracked Crag, Sierra Nevada, September; Redding’s Westway, November

Day Hike Notes – Ragged Mountain

Ragged cliff

Ragged Mountain Cliff

Time flies faster than sleet in a storm. Can it really be nearly two years since my eldest and I went up and over Ragged Mountain on our 11-hike trek from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound? Apparently it is, and I will have to accept this speeding-up of the reel of life just when I want it to go slower.

It was a different day in May 2016—green, warm, snakes basking. This time, I went to Ragged Mountain to avoid new snow that I knew would greet me north and west of home. Here—northeast—Friday’s nor’easter had brought just rain. Even so, I found a harsh day, what you’d expect of March—grays and browns, debris and blowdowns, black scavengers perched on bare branches … But I also found basalt cliffs, a (surely temporary) waterfall, and a windswept summit.

DATE: Sunday, March 4th.
START & FINISH: Andrews Street, Southington CT (41.630112, -72.833566).
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail to blue/red Preserve Trail. Blue/red clockwise to rejoin Metacomet near Ragged Mountain summit. Metacomet back to finish.
DISTANCE: 8½ miles.
TIME: 5½ hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Quite rough. Although Ragged summit (all of 761’) was only 350’ or so above my starting point, there are numerous short, steep ups and downs (some very steep). Moreover, the trails are often rubbly underfoot.
MAP: Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail System from ctwoodlands.org.

WEATHER: Overcast; low 40s; breezy on exposed ledges.
WILDLIFE: A pair of perched turkey vultures let me get very close before flapping off.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Southington.
LUNCH: On a ledge overlooking Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
UPS: The hike’s many big-view ridgetop sections—Hartford’s high-rise downtown, 12 miles northeast, was clearly visible from Ragged summit.
DOWNS: I was mentally tired toward the end and switched off somewhat.
KIT: Glad of a rain jacket to keep out the northerly breeze in exposed places.
COMPANY: I chatted a while with a hiker about my age. He is planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail when he retires at 65! Good on him.

Hart Ponds and Hanging Hills

Hart Ponds and Hanging Hills, Ragged Mountain, Berlin CT

Day Hike Notes – Ives Trail West

Danbury CT from Mootry Peak Lookout, Ives Trail

Danbury from Mootry Peak Lookout

Usually, I have a big hand in planning my hikes. When I go alone, mine is, of course, the only hand, Mother Nature excepted. But maybe because I am a moderately serious hiker, I find myself doing quite a lot of the planning and suggesting even when I hike with company. This hike was different. Katie, my eldest, suggested a Saturday outing, to which I agreed in a heartbeat. Then she said where, when, and how. All I did was make the sandwiches and turn up.

I was delighted with Katie’s choice of hike. I’d been thinking for a while about Bennett’s Pond to Route 7, but it would require two cars and that’s always harder to arrange. Katie’s plan gave me that hike and went a section better. Bennett’s Pond to Tarrywile Park is half the Ives Trail—the best and rugged half.

DATE: Saturday, February 3rd.
START: Bennett’s Pond State Park entrance, Bennetts Farm Rd, Ridgefield CT.
FINISH: Tarrywile Mansion, Tarrywile Park, Danbury CT.
ROUTE: Ives Trail.
DISTANCE: About 11 miles.
TIME: 5¾ hours (8:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Ups and downs, mostly short but often steep.
MAP: The Ives Trail and Greenway.

WEATHER: Sunny and cold (low teens to upper 20s F).
WILDLIFE: Snowy owls are about in CT this winter, and Katie saw a large white bird when we were stopped for lunch. A snowy? Maybe, but they are not primarily woodland creatures.

LUNCH: Sandwiches and snacks on Moses Mountain.
UPS: Being out with Katie on a perfect winter’s day.
DOWNS: None at all.
KIT: I think I worked my layers quite well to avoid sweating, the cold-weather hiker’s curse.
COMPANY: Katie, plus a few other hikers and runners, mostly in Tarrywile Park.

Bennett's Pond, Ridgefield CT

Bennett’s Pond, Ridgefield CT

My 2017 Seasonal Highlights

About this time last year, while looking back at my 2016 hiking, I rashly made resolutions for 2017. They were: “backpack more; get out west again, or overseas; get into a routine of leading AMC hikes locally.”

I suppose I can claim partial success.

Despite its having been a busy year in non-hiking areas, I did manage two backpacking trips, one in the Adirondacks’ Silver Lake Wilderness, one on the Pacific Crest Trail. The latter counts as “out west again”, even though California was not where I had in mind back in December 2016.

I failed on the AMC hikes, leading outings in January and February, but then failing to get it together again for the remainder of the year.

Before I am tempted to make hiking resolutions for 2018, here is my hiking highlight for each season of the year that is now coming to an end.

WINTER: Minnewaska State Park. It didn’t feel like winter, but a January hike still provided huge views over and beyond the Shawangunk plateau.

Castle Point - a good place for lunch

On Castle Point, Minnewaska State Park, NY

SPRING: Silver Lake Wilderness. Mud Lake, where I overnighted on my first night of a two-night backpack, will last long in my memory for its beauty and atmosphere.

Mud Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, May evening

Mud Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, NY

SUMMER: Connecticut Appalachian Trail. My eldest and I hiked the CT AT in five stages between February and November. Stage Three ended south of Falls Village where a storm was brewing.

CT Appalachian Trail, summer storm Salisbury

Appalachian Trail, Falls Village, CT

FALL: Pacific Crest Trail, Desolation Wilderness. Very early fall, but new-season snow had already fallen and can be seen lingering on the 10,000-foot mountains southwest of Susie Lake.

Susie Lake, PCT, Desolation Wilderness

Susie Lake, Desolation Wilderness, CA

Happy New Year and Happy 2018 Trails!

Day Hike Notes – West Kill Mountain

There is no reason to linger at the very top of West Kill Mountain (3,890 feet). It is utterly wooded in, nothing to see but fir trunks and fir branches and a sign announcing the summit attached to one of those trunks. But a short distance east of the summit, and scarcely lower than it, the real reason for scaling West Kill Mountain is found; this is Buck Ridge Lookout, a narrow outcrop with 180-degree views of Catskill summits, valleys, and notches. Buck Ridge Lookout will bring me back to West Kill Mountain again and again.

From Buck Ridge Lookout—Hunter Mtn (left) and Plateau Mtn (center distance)

From Buck Ridge Lookout—Hunter Mtn (left) and Plateau Mtn (center distance)

DATE: Monday, December 11th.
START & FINISH: East end of Spruceton Road, West Kill, NY.
ROUTE: Diamond Notch Trail to Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain summit.
DISTANCE: 6 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 1,800-foot ascent/descent, made somewhat tougher and trickier by 3-5” of powdery snow hiding—and making slippy—the trail’s underfoot features. A few half-scrambles. Trails otherwise good, with most of the climbing achieved on the first mile on the Devil’s Path.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Mostly overcast, calm, cold (23 degrees at start, likely less on summit).
WILDLIFE: I was scolded, or so it seemed, by a wee bird when I paused in the spruce forest.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Kingston.
LUNCH: Sandwiches and snacks at different times and places.
UPS: The views from Buck Ridge Lookout—fantastic!
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: I used microspikes on much of the descent; I was glad I took water bottles instead of my reservoir (tube would have frozen); I wished I had brought a second pair of liner gloves—mine became wet from sweat, and therefore cold when I rested at the lookout.
COMPANY: A set of footprints preceded me on the climb. At the lookout, I learned they belonged to Ron, whose company I shared for about a minute before he headed down.

No views from the summit (3,890 feet)

No views from the summit

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Nuclear Lake “Lollipop”

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

For many years, my habit has been to hike on Black Friday, blowing away the cobwebs after Thanksgiving and burning off any excess. This year, family schedules moved the turkey & stuffing to Friday, and my hike moved accordingly.

NYNJTC’s interactive map suggested a 12.7 mile New York AT loop starting from NY Route 22. That was a bit more than I wanted, so I shortened the lollipop stick by starting farther west/south. I parked at The Dover Oak, a thick old tree.

As for Nuclear Lake, I had hoped its name might have nothing to do with nuclear energy, let alone nuclear accidents. Not so, I am afraid. According to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, a 1972 bang in a research facility beside the lake sent “an unknown amount of radioactive plutonium dust dispersing throughout the structure and surrounding shoreline and woods”. Cleanups followed, and the lake I found on Thanksgiving Day was attractive, and home to waterfowl not nuclear scientists.

DATE: Thursday, November 23rd.
START & FINISH: The Dover Oak on W. Dover Rd, Pawling NY.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail south to Nuclear Lake Loop Trail, then AT north back to start.
DISTANCE: 7.2 miles (5.4 on the lollipop stick, 1.8 around the lake).
TIME: 4¼ hours (8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A steep climb (650 feet) from W. Dover Rd, then level or descending on good trail to the north end of Nuclear Lake. Nuclear Lake Loop Trail (lake’s east side) had a few short rocky bits, but the AT along the lake’s west side was often broad track.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (just below freezing at start, upper 30s by finish).
WILDLIFE: Squirrels; waterfowl; and I believe I heard a turkey in the woods!

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Danbury.
LUNCH: Cheese baguette, eaten on ledges overlooking Pawling.
UPS: A mostly gentle hike to a pretty lake.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I nearly forgot my gloves, and was glad I did not.
COMPANY: Later in the morning, I ran into several groups of backpackers. I assume they were using their Thanksgiving holiday to hike a section of AT. I can’t think of better weather for it as long as they carried warm bedding.

Boardwalk on the NY Appalachian Trail

Boardwalk, or puncheon, on the NY AT

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (5): Salisbury to Sages Ravine

Lions Head, CT Appalachian Trail, Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock—right of center, far distance—45 miles away in Massachusetts

Last year, Katie—my eldest daughter—and I hiked across Connecticut north-south, down the middle of the state. We covered 111 miles on 11 day-hikes between late February and early December. This year, we stuck to Connecticut’s northwest corner, hiking the 51.6 miles of CT Appalachian Trail—five hikes, early February to this one on November 4th. It has been a busy year for both of us, and even squeezing in five hikes has been none too easy. Back in February, we had notions of completing the CT AT in high summer and hiking on into Massachusetts. If we are lucky, we may still get a Massachusetts hike or two in before winter.

DATE: Saturday, November 4th.
START: CT Route 41 north of Salisbury.
FINISH: Undermountain trailhead, CT Route 41, 3mi north Salisbury.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north, Paradise Lane and Undermountain trails.
DISTANCE: 9.9 miles (6.7 A.T, 3.2 side-trail).
TIME: 5.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 1,000-foot climb to Lions Head, some easy miles, then 500-foot climb to Bear Mountain summit (2,316’). Steep descent, even scramble, off Bear Mountain’s north side, followed by easy going down to Route 41.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Sunny or hazy sunshine, cool-to-mild (40s to low 50s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing on the trail, but a stag trotted across Route 7 on our drive up, and another hiker talked about bears invading her Cornwall home and bull moose she had run into nearby.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagels, J.P. Gifford, Kent.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwiches on Bear Mountain.
UPS: Great hiking weather, great fall scenes.
DOWNS: I have been feeling under the weather for a few days and, by the end of the hike, was feeling weak and drained.
KIT: Glad, once again, to have trekking poles that collapse down and stow in my pack—useful for the steep descent off Bear.
COMPANY: Katie, of course; and lots of friendly hikers, notably Jim and his dog Dexter. We gave Jim a ride back to his car at the end, and bumped into him again over coffee is Salisbury.

Mount Frissell from flank of Bear Mountain

Mount Frissell from flank of Bear Mountain