The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain

Day 24 - Looking back to the Kings House

Day 24 – Leaving Kings House, Glen Coe

Because I live in southwest Connecticut, I mostly share hiking experiences from my home state and neighboring New York. Other parts of North America get a look-in when I am lucky enough to travel. I love the American wilds. But long before I ever set foot on an American trail, I loved the landscapes of Scotland.

Scotland just happens to be where I was born, although I did not get to stay there for long. The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is, for sure, about walking; 420 miles of it, in fact, from the far northwest to the English border. But the book is also about roots and heritage. If you like the outdoors, or Scotland, armchair journeying or memoir, you might like my book. Clicking on the image to the right will take you to bookstore links, as well as to cover reviews and the chance to read the opening pages. Here are snippets from two cover reviews, one from each side of the Atlantic:

“This is a book that inspires and it urges you to grab your boots and turn your face to the wind and set off into the Celtic twilight.”— Cameron McNeish, hiker, author and television presenter

“The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is travel writing at its best.”—David Miller, author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

Day Hike Notes – Pond Mountain via the Appalachian Trail

IMG_1594

More than half the hike is AT

Until very recently I thought of the Appalachian Trail and Macedonia Brook State Park as separate hiking places. In Kent, CT, you could either hike the AT or you could head for Macedonia Brook. I knew, of course, that the places were close, but assumed that the lands between them were off-limits. Then, in February, I discovered Pond Mountain Natural Area which, east, nearly touches the AT and, west, bounds Macedonia Brook.

I began to think about a hike I would call “Caleb to Cobble”—a trek from Caleb’s Peak on the AT to Cobble Mountain in the state park, from views of the Housatonic River valley to a panorama of the distant Catskills. I am saving Caleb to Cobble for another day, but this hike was a step toward it. It was a varied hike—ledges above the Housatonic, a loop around a glacial pond, big views to the west from Pond Mountain.

DATE: Sunday, April 29th.
START & FINISH: CT Route 341 west of Kent (GPS 41.731220, -73.490832).
ROUTE: AT north to Skiff Mountain Road; short road-walk to Red Gate Trail in Pond Mountain Natural Area; to Pond Mountain summit via Red Gate, Pond, and Mountain trails, circumnavigating Fuller Pond. Return by same route, except replacing Pond Trail with Escarpment Trail.
DISTANCE: A little over 9 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (8:20 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Good trails underfoot. Ups and downs, mostly gentle. Start at 400 feet elevation, Pond Mountain summit = 1,332 feet.
MAP: For Pond Mountain, trail map picked up at Fuller Mountain Road trailhead on a previous visit. There is a different map online.

WEATHER: Overcast with showers; a little sun on the return leg. Temperatures in low 50s.
WILDLIFE: I saw a couple of white birds swooping low through the forest, then realized they were deer tails—deer bodies well camouflaged!
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFASTJ.P. Gifford, Kent—bagel & coffee.
LUNCH: Sandwich on Fuller Mountain, return leg.
UPS: At the very start I felt a surge of joy to be walking across a field in a cool breeze and rain!
DOWNS: None.
KIT: The routine stuff.
COMPANY: No-one at all.

Almost done—Macedonia Brook near start and finish

Almost done—Macedonia Brook near start and finish

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail over Coltsfoot Mountain

Bonney Brook, Dark Entry, Mohawk Trail

Bonney Brook

I had hiked into Dark Entry once or twice before, over a decade ago. I had read back then of rumors of mountain lions, but what I found—or at least what I remember—was a steep climb to a mediocre view. So, in the run-up to this hike, Dark Entry was not what I was looking forward to, nor the views from Coltsfoot Mountain either. I was looking forward to a workout and seeing again the pretty flat-bottomed, steep-sided valley south of Cornwall village which I had first seen from the warmth of my car in February.

But how foolish it is to predict hikes based on old, half-forgotten experience! Soon after leaving Dark Entry Road for bona fide trail, I crossed Bonney Brook, pretty and decently full. Then, as I followed its bank upward, Bonney Brook served up a delightful succession of white cascades of all shapes and sizes, tumbling through boulders covered in moss and morning sunshine. My outing would have been worthwhile for this brook alone, but the remainder of my day turned out to be none too shabby either.

DATE: Sunday, April 22nd.
START & FINISH: Parking area at Furnace Brook Memorial sign, CT Route 4, Cornwall Bridge (GPS 41.818627, -73.369069).
ROUTE: Mohawk Trail from Dark Entry Road over Coltsfoot Mountain to Cornwall village; return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 11½ miles.
TIME: 6½ hours (8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 0.7 miles on steep Dark Entry Road, then rocky trail to complete climb to Coltsfoot’s ridge (600-900 feet above starting point). Moderate terrain along the summit, then steep, awkward descent to Cornwall village.
MAP: Unusually for me, I didn’t carry one. Trail was well blazed.

WEATHER: Sunny, temperatures rising from 30s to low 60s.
WILDLIFE: Wild turkeys, hawks, the sound of woodpeckers.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: J.P. Gifford, Kent—bagel & coffee.
LUNCH: In the forest on the return leg—cheese & chorizo baguette.
UPS: The little waterfalls on Bonney Brook were an unexpected delight.
DOWNS: None, period.
KIT: I carried microspikes in case of lingering ice in shady places; there was none.
COMPANY: Just one group of three guys and a barky dog.

Coltsfoot Mountain from Cornwall CT

Northeast end of Coltsfoot Mountain from Cornwall village

“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
Thanksgiving
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.
PHOTOS: Here.

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.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: At home.
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!