Day Hike Notes – Pond Mountain via the Appalachian Trail

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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

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

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.
PHOTOS: Here.

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!
PHOTOS: Here.

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).
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 51.6 A.T. miles.
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.
PHOTOS: Here.

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