Mohawk Trail-Appalachian Trail Loop

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Mohawk State Forest Lean-to #3

Last year, I section-hiked Connecticut’s Mohawk Trail. In my final “Day Hike Notes” post, I wrote:

One day, preferably in the fall, I would like to join Mohawk with a section of the Appalachian Trail for a 3-day backpacking trip.

Somebody picked up on that and e-mailed me: “If you are looking for company let me know. It is on my list to do some day as well.”

The somebody was Jim Liptack. I knew Jim from helping him a few times to put in rock steps on steep sections of the Connecticut AT. Jim is generous toward the AT with his time and trail maintenance expertise. Although we’d never hiked together, it struck me that Jim would be an excellent hiking companion—knowledgeable, organized, and not overly talkative. Over the winter, we gradually fixed on an April outing; not the fall, but the next best backpacking season.

I am not going to post at length about our trip; this blog already covers the Mohawk Trail and the relevant AT section. I will confine myself to some details, special memories, and a few photos.

DETAILS

DATES: Sunday, April 14th to Tuesday, April 16th.
START & FINISH: Route 7 just NW of Route 4, Cornwall Bridge CT (GPS  41.821489, -73.375709).
ROUTE: Mohawk Trail counterclockwise to AT near Falls Village, AT south back to Start.
SECTIONS:
SUNDAY: Cornwall Bridge to Mohawk Mountain (lean-to #3)—8.7 miles.
MONDAY: Mohawk Mountain to Belter’s campsite (AT)—17.3 miles.
TUESDAY: Belter’s campsite to Finish—11.6 miles.
NOTE: The lean-tos and campsites in Mohawk and Housatonic state forests require a permit, easily obtained from CT DEEP.

SPECIAL MEMORIES

  1. Jim and I hung out at lean-to #3 from 3 p.m. Sunday to after breakfast Monday. The lean-to is at about 1,400 feet and a very short walk from a grand westerly view. It was fun watching the weather change the scenes, near and far. Not long after we arrived, light rain filled the westerly view. We took a misty evening stroll into Black Spruce Bog. The night was wild—thunder and lighting, wind and rain. In the morning, the grand view was restored and refreshed (see photos).
  2. (Special for the wrong reasons.) On Monday afternoon, instead of camp in Deans Ravine, we decided to push on to Belter’s campsite on the AT. We were tired, but stopping in the ravine would make Tuesday a long day. The problem was that the additional miles to Belter’s pass over Lookout Point, strenuous enough in good weather, treacherous—up and down—on rain-slicked rocks. Except for a minute or two at the lookout itself, I did not enjoy this hill.
  3. I did enjoy Belter’s campsite. The rain had passed; we had enough daylight to set up our tents and eat dinner; and then came a long sleep as a chill wind blew through the trees outside.

PHOTOS

Baxter State Park – Pogy Backpack

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THU – The end for me, but an apt warning

Pogy Notch Trail connects Baxter State Park’s less visited north with its Mount Katahdin-dominated south. Pogy is a relatively flat, low-level trail; its highlights are ponds—Lower and Upper South Branch, Pogy, and finally Russell. I had visited Russell 12 years before, hiking north to it from beneath Katahdin. Hiking south to it now gave me the satisfaction of connecting on foot the distinct worlds of Baxter’s north and south. I don’t think it’s a popular activity, particularly in bug season. I chose this trek to see Baxter’s deep woods and hopefully some of their “charismatic megafauna”. I met a lot of utterly charmless microfauna. I would repeat this hike, but in the fall.

DATE: Wednesday and Thursday, June 13-14
START & FINISH: South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Pogy Notch, Grand Falls, and Wassataquoik Stream trails to Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos; return via Wassataquoik Stream and Pogy Notch trails.
DISTANCE: About 24 miles (13 out, 11 back).
TIME: 8:45 a.m. Wednesday to midday Thursday.
TERRAIN: Mostly level or gently up and down; mostly dry underfoot; two thigh-deep streams to wade at Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.

WEATHER: Wed—sunny, warm, humid (70s); Thu morning—rainy and cool (upper 40s).
WILDLIFE: Of the bug variety.
MEALS: On Wednesday, oatmeal for breakfast and freeze-dried beef & veg stew for supper; otherwise, the usual trail rations.

UPS: (1) Making good time through the rain on the return leg. (2) The mountain views from pondsides and riverbanks.
DOWNS: After the first hours, I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday. The bugs were a plague and, when they were not, you knew it wouldn’t last.
KIT: I occasionally made use of a head-net that I packed at home at the last minute. Drawback—too hot to wear when actually hiking.
COMPANY: None at all in 27¼ hours.

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

Pacific Crest Trail Backpack

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, with the Carson Range in the distance

Dave told me about his plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) more than a year ago. I said I’d like to join him for a week or so. Dave lives north of Sydney, Australia, so this communication, and those that followed, was by e-mail or Skype call. I was serious about joining him and read Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles to get an idea of which sections of the trail I might like (I’d already read Wild).

By the time Dave set off from the Mexican border on April 24th this year, I was leaning toward Washington in September. But hiking the PCT does not permit firm itineraries, and Dave was always going to be a moving target. Sure enough, in June, Dave found the High Sierra blocked with lingering snow and swollen streams. He skipped it, planning to return in late summer. Between June and the last day of August, Dave hiked from northern California to Canada.

By early August, I was confident enough of Dave’s Sierra schedule to book flights and time off. We targeted meeting at South Lake Tahoe and hiking together to Donner Pass. Even so, it was touch and go until the last minute whether Dave’s schedule and mine would coincide. Just before I left home, Dave called to say he’d run into the first snowfalls of the season and might be delayed.

In the end, on Sunday, September 24th, I drove my rental car to Echo Summit and started hiking south. After about a mile, I met Dave hiking north. Dave took a “zero day” in South Lake Tahoe on Monday and I set out on the PCT. Monday and Tuesday, I hiked alone—18.5 PCT miles. On Tuesday, Dave covered those miles in one day to catch me up at Fontanillis Lake.

DATES: Monday-Friday, September 25-29.
START: PCT Mile 1090, Echo Summit, south of South Lake Tahoe.
FINISH: PCT Mile 1153, Donner Pass, west of Truckee.
ROUTE: PCT north, plus an unintended—but rewarding—excursion to Half Moon Lake.
SECTIONS:
MONDAY: Echo Summit to Heather Lake—10.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Heather Lake to Fontanillis Lake—8.0 miles (plus unintended side-trip).
WEDNESDAY: Fontanillis Lake to Mile 1127—18.5 miles.
THURSDAY: Mile 1127 to Mile 1144—17.0 miles.
FRIDAY: Mile 1144 to Donner Pass—9.0 miles.
TIME: 9 a.m. Monday to about midday Friday.
TERRAIN: The only real difficulties were some rubbly sections of trail, and a few long ascents (made tougher by the 7,000-9,400 feet of elevation). Otherwise, the PCT was rarely steep (lots of switchbacks) and nearly always dry. In places, it was a near perfect trail. Just one stream involved wet feet.
MAPS: Downloaded and printed from Halfmile’s PCT Maps (California Section K).

WEATHER: Sunny until the very last miles; temperatures from upper 20s to maybe lower 60s.
WILDLIFE:  Around South Lake Tahoe, before the hike, several coyotes. On the trail, a mule deer and very little else. On Friday, we saw scat, possibly mountain lion.
PHOTOS: Here.

CAMPSITES: All good, but the first was the best—right on the shore of Heather Lake.
MEALS: Freeze-dried meals for supper, cold stuff otherwise. Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala was the best.
UPS: So many, but Monday’s and Tuesday’s Desolation Wilderness scenery was spectacular.
DOWNS: Nothing really, but I was very tired on Thursday evening.
KIT: Pleased to have the right stuff to deal with some blisters that had developed by Thursday.
COMPANY: Dave, with whom conversation and silences were equally comfortable. The PCT, particularly in Desolation Wilderness, provided just about the right amount of company, neither empty not crowded.

Granite Chief Wilderness, PCT

Dave somewhere in Granite Chief Wilderness

Silver Lake Wilderness Backpack

Silver Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

Early morning on Silver Lake

Last July, I posted that I was going to backpack in Silver Lake Wilderness “at the drop of a hat” sometime in August, September, or October. I meant that I would go at short notice, when weather and free time aligned. It didn’t happen. It would not have happened last week either unless something else had fallen through. I was booked, you see, to spend the week of May 15th in Maine’s Baxter State Park. I had my hikes there all picked out.

Now, the people at Baxter State Park are helpful and friendly, and they did warn me that my part of the park might not open on time. It was, they said, all a question of how soon the snow on the park roads melted, and how soon after that the roads dried out. Four days before my planned departure, they called from Millinocket to say that the road to South Branch Pond would not be useable. Fortunately, I had a Plan B ready to dust off, and headed instead for the Adirondacks.

DATES: Monday-Wednesday, May 15-17.
START & FINISH: Godfrey Road, Upper Benson NY (43.252824, -74.345014).
ROUTE: Short side-trail (yellow-blazed) to Northville-Placid Trail (NPT, blue-blazed), then NPT to Whitehouse. Return by same route.
DISTANCES:
MONDAY: Godfrey Road to Mud Lake – 12.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Mud Lake to Whitehouse, then back to Silver Lake – 11.6 miles.
WEDNESDAY: Silver Lake to Godfrey Road – 7.0 miles.
TIME: Just over 48 hours (9:45 a.m. Monday to around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday).
TERRAIN: No big elevation changes (entire route between 1,300 and 2,100 feet up), but trail often rough, overgrown, and blocked by blowdowns and other obstacles.
MAP: The one that came with Adirondack Trails: Northville-Placid Trail guide.

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Trailside sculpture

WEATHER: Mild and breezy on Monday; hot and sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday.
WILDLIFE: Standouts: moose scat, wailing loons, calling owls.
PHOTOS: Here.

ACCOMMODATION: Mud Lake lean-to (Monday) and Silver Lake lean-to (Tuesday). At Silver Lake, to escape the evening bugs in the lean-to, I pitched my tent, but did not put on its fly (to catch a breeze and see the stars). About 10 p.m., I was woken by rain, and had to move everything quickly into the lean-to. It turned out to be a feeble shower, but I wasn’t to know that.
MEALS: Mountain House for dinner, otherwise cold fare (of which cheese and tortillas were the best).
UPS: Many, but I’ll settle for waking in the middle of the night to find the moon shining on Mud Lake and flooding the world with its light.
DOWNS: At times, bugs – no-see-ums? – were a nuisance. When combined with heat and fatigue, they made for a few no-fun stretches.
KIT: I need to lighten my load for future outings. I was weighed down with too much stuff I did not use.
COMPANY: None at all, and no cell coverage, for 48 hours. Two young women, trail-runners, passed me near the end (the sudden noise of them behind me had startled).

West Branch Sacandaga River, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

West Branch Sacandaga River, my turnaround point

Taking a Hike – Franconia and Wildcat

It has been a good autumn’s hiking, with four days in New Hampshire with my eldest the definite highlight. Three of those days were the subject of my November Taking a Hike column:

Fall in the White Mountains at Hersam Acorn
Enjoying fall in the White Mountains at The Hour

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Mount Washington from Bear Notch Road, Bartlett NH

Now I am left trying to shake off the feeling that the best hiking is over for a while. Part of it is, whatever the calendar may say, fall is over. The days are short, the leaves are gone, and temperatures, in fits and starts, are heading for cold. I am starting to accept – perhaps I shouldn’t – that a planned short backpack in the Adirondacks will not happen this year. There are plenty of reasons, or excuses, not to go – desk work; yard work (the leaves, in fact, are not gone; they are in my gutters); the hassle of packing; the hassle of unpacking afterward. Then there is the prospect of a night out in a pre-winter wilderness, although I resist the thought that this should be a discouragement.

Everything does not hang on the Dacks though. Except when there is deep snow or dangerous cold, winter is the second greatest hiking season around here. I need to buy a new pair of gloves and pull ideas together for some winter day-hikes to look forward to.

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Carter Notch Hut beneath, and in the shadow of, Wildcat Mountain

Wildcat Mountain Backpack

Presidential Range from Wildcat Ridge

From left, Huntington Ravine, mounts Adams and Madison.

Yesterday, the Falling Waters Trail to Franconia Ridge had been busy, well past the tipping point for “too much company” – Columbus Day, decent weather (off the ridge), leaves to peep at down below. After we finished our hike, Katie and I decided we wanted more solitude, and we wanted to backpack. We chose, after a cursory glance at the map, the Wildcat Ridge Trail to Carter Notch Hut. Two years ago, I spent a memorable night at the hut (In and Out of the Wild River Wilderness). Now as then, the hut was in self-service season, meaning we would get a bunk, use of the stove, and none of the hullaballoo of an AMC hut in full-service mode.

It is 5.1 miles to Carter Notch Hut along the Wildcat Ridge Trail. The map showed several steep bits. Even so, after we had stepped across the stones in the Ellis River to get started at about 10:30 a.m., we thought we would reach the hut hours before sunset at 6 p.m. We climbed and scrambled steeply for an hour, enjoying magnificent views of Mount Washington to the west. The day was cloudless, and every crease in the mountain was visible in sharp focus. We reached a ledge with huge views and thought we had broken the back of the 1.9-mile climb to the first of Wildcat Mountain’s summits (romantically called E Peak). In truth, we were barely half way there.

The next section was tough for being unanticipated – short ups and downs, followed by the slow, steep slog to E Peak and, just beyond it, the top of Wildcat Mountain’s ski runs. It had taken us four hours to cover 1.9 miles. Even allowing for a long break, some shorter ones, and a water-pumping stop, it was slow progress. We met a hiker near E Peak who said that the descent to Carter Notch was steeper than the climb we had just completed. He had not attempted it himself.

After a leisurely lunch, we set off along the forested ridge, a walk of significant ups and downs over Wildcat’s rough D, C, and B summits. We reached A Peak – Wildcat Mountain proper, 4,422’ – about 4:50. Notwithstanding the intimidating prospect of the descent to come, we were elated to finally see Carter Notch and the hut nestled in it 1,100 feet directly below.

In the end, getting down to Carter Notch proved the easiest part of the day. The trail descended 1,000 feet in little over half a mile, but the footing was mostly firm and straightforward. We pushed open the door of the hut a little before sunset. Then we ate, slept, rose for sunrise, and did the whole thing again.

DATE: Tuesday/Wednesday, October 11-12.
START & FINISH: Glen Ellis Falls parking area.
ROUTE: Wildcat Ridge Trail to Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch Hut and back.
DISTANCE: 10.2 mi roundtrip.
TIME: About 7.5 hours each way with long breaks.
MORE PHOTOS: Here

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West view of the Carter Range from Wildcat Mountain.