Day Hike Notes – New England Trail: The End

It look ten months, 11 hikes, and 111 miles, but around noon last Friday Katie and I arrived at Long Island Sound, having walked the New England Trail from Massachusetts. It doesn’t rank with thru-hiking the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails (which I have not done), but for me 2016 will forever be the year we hiked our home state.

the-east-river-guilford-ct-from-the-new-england-trail

The East River, Guilford

I was afraid that this last section would be an anticlimax, but it didn’t turn out to be so. For half the distance the trail ran through attractive woods, and past field and riverbank. Even the road-walk to reach the Sound was not unpleasant. And the finish line was atmospheric – a boardwalk out to a muddy, reedy foreshore, and the Sound shining wherever the sun was not obstructed by traveling cumulus. We took in the scene, took selfies, and then – after so many sandwiches on the trail – went into Guilford for a restaurant lunch.

DATE: Friday, December 9th.
START: Willow Road, Guilford.
FINISH: Long Island Sound near Guilford Point.
ROUTE: New England Trail south.
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 111 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 3 hours (8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy trails, then road-walking.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny, high in the upper 30s.
WILDLIFE: We thought we saw raccoon tracks on a bog bridge, but now I think they belonged to some other beast, wild or domestic.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, I-95, Milford.
LUNCH: Post-hike, Quattro’s, Guilford.
UPS: The varied scenery of East River Preserve (map).
DOWNS: None that I recall.
KIT: A gloves and wooly hat day.
COMPANY: Katie and very little besides.

selfie-beside-the-sound

That’s Long Island Sound behind us

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (10)

crossing-ct-80-on-the-new-england-trail-guilford-ct

Crossing CT 80 in Guilford

For nearly all of our hike down from Massachusetts, Katie and I were never off the Metacomet Ridge for long. Sure, it disappeared here and there; but sooner or later we were walking along the traprock ridge again. This continuity was broken on this, our tenth hike. From Bluff Head, the Metacomet Ridge runs southwest as Totoket Mountain and Saltonstall Ridge. The New England Trail, in contrast, heads pretty much due south. It led us into woodland; undulating, but without the uniting presence of the long ridge. Even so, it was some of the most attractive land we had hiked through, and it went by evocative, even enigmatic names – Broomstick Ledges, The Genesee, Cockaponset forest. Long Island Sound is now a half-day’s hike away.

DATE: Friday, November 4th
START: Route 77, Guilford
FINISH: Willow Road, Guilford
ROUTE: Mattabesett/NET for 1.5 miles, then the NET alone (the Mattabesett turns northeast to reach the Connecticut River in 27 miles).
DISTANCE: 10.5 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 103.5 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 5.75 hours (8:15 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Easier with every mile south; a short, steep climb to Broomstick Ledges, then gentle ups, downs and levels.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Near perfect; mostly sunny with a high of 59 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A bird of prey or two.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel at Little Store, Guilford.
LUNCH: The usual stuff, sat on a boulder beside Upper Guilford Lake.
UPS: Spectacular fall woods.
DOWNS: None at all.
KIT: I forgot my poles, did not miss them, but hope my knees won’t suffer later.
COMPANY: Given the beautiful day, fall colors, and gentle country, very, very little apart from Katie.

upper-guilford-lake-new-england-trail-guilford-ct

Upper Guilford Lake

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (9)

katie-at-bluff-head-mattabesett-trail-guilford-ct

Katie at Bluff Head, the rest of our journey to the Sound laid out to her right.

I won’t say that we could smell the salt air, but, by the end of this hike, Long Island Sound was only ten miles distant (if we could fly; it is 18 trail-miles). I don’t remember when we first glimpsed the Sound on our ridge-trek south from Massachusetts. It was, maybe, from the Hanging Hills. But from Bluff Head in Guilford, the Sound showed as a clear, gray-blue break between the Connecticut woods and the blur of Long Island in the distance. So, Katie and I will be done with the Connecticut portion of the NET after two more hikes. We already have a plan for our next home-state hike.

DATE: Friday, September 23rd
START: Reed Gap, Durham.
FINISH: Route 77, Guilford
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 93 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7 hours (9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Very moderate elevation gains and losses (hike terrain ranging from 300 to 750 feet above sea level), but plenty of short, steep climbs and descents to test the knees and stamina.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny with increasing humidity. High of 81 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Lots of toads, one fleeing white-tailed deer.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s North Haven.
LUNCH: On Pistapaug Mountain, the usual fare.
UPS: Many, but the views from Bluff Head near the end of our trek stand out.
DOWNS: The sound of shooting practice to the west filled the first hours of the walk.
KIT: I found my poles really useful, essential even, on steep descents on loose rock.
COMPANY: Really only on Bluff Head.

metacomet-trail-map-9

Our NET route through CT — solid green = hiked, green dashed = yet to hike

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (8)

At the start of the climb up Beseck Mountain

The Mattabesett Trail starts up Beseck Mountain

There are few places on the New England Trail (NET) in Connecticut where you feel far from civilization. This does not mean there are few natural or beautiful places along the trail. There are plenty. It is just that the NET hiker sees civilization all around in a way that, say, the Connecticut Appalachian Trail hiker does not. There are busy roads to cross, subdivisions to view, powerlines to pass beneath, hilltop antennas and towers. In this, the section over mounts Higby and Beseck – our eighth since starting from the Massachusetts line in February – was typical.

In fact, Higby-Beseck felt closer to civilization than any other section. On Higby Mountain’s cliffs, we were 500 feet above I-91, but its noise rose loud and clear. Subdivisions came right up to the foot of Beseck’s cliffs, and Powder Ridge ski runs ran down the other side. We could hear target practice from the police academy in Meriden, and stone-crushing at Tilcon in Wallingford. But on our ridge we were nearly always alone, and the clutter and hubbub seemed to belong, for now, to another world. It seems you can escape civilization while still within its sight and sound. Maybe watching a city from a boat bobbing a half-mile offshore is much the same.

DATE: Friday, September 2nd
START: Bell Street, Middletown.
FINISH: Reed Gap, Durham
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: A little over 12 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 83 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7.5 hours (9:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A very gradual climb to the top of Higby Mountain’s cliffs (650 feet over 2 miles plus), then a clifftop walk until descent to Route 66; a very gradual climb to the top of Beseck Mountain’s cliffs, then a clifftop walk until descent to Reed Gap. Some loose traprock underfoot.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Warm and sunny. High of 79 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A large black rat snake that slithered off with remarkable speed when we startled it, startling us in turn.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Lino’s Market, Durham.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwiches, pretzels, nuts, and dried fruit above Black Pond.
UPS: Being back on the trail with Katie.
DOWNS: Not a “down” exactly, but the views were westerly, with a heavily developed – and noisy – slice of Connecticut in the foreground.
KIT: The only things our packs contained that were really essential were food and water.
COMPANY: A couple out with their exuberant dog; an older man out with what seemed like a very large backpack for a day-hike.

Metacomet Trail Map (8)

Our NET route through CT — solid green = hiked, green dashed = yet to hike

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (7)

Highland Pond, Mattabesett Trail, Middletown CT

Highland Pond, near the end of our hike

Two weeks ago, Katie and I completed Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail, 62 miles from Massachusetts to the Hanging Hills southwest of Hartford. Last Friday, we began our hike onward to Long Island Sound. We will still be on the recently created New England Trail, but our first 33 miles or so will follow the overlapping, and more venerable, Mattabesett Trail (in the 1600s, the Wangunk Indians living near present-day Middletown apparently called the area Massabesec, meaning “at a great river”).

It is about 50 miles in total to the Sound, and we covered eight of them on Friday. Katie has moved into new digs, and before we headed up Lamentation Mountain we hauled an armchair and bookcase into her new place. Hiking is more fun than lugging – no awkward shapes to grip, or tight turns and doorways.

DATE: Friday, July 8th.
START: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Bell Street, Middletown.
ROUTE: Mattabesett Trail south.
DISTANCE: 8 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: About 70 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 6.25 hours (9:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Steady climb to Lamentation Mountain (720’), followed by 400-foot descent. Short waterside stroll at Crescent Lake/Bradley Hubbard Reservoir. Short, very steep climb to Chauncey Peak (688’), then gradually descending ridge walk. All mountain sections involved awkward footing here and there, including loose rock. Final miles were easy woods trails and a few short road-walks.

MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.
WEATHER: Cloudy and very humid until lunchtime, then gradually brighter. High 80 degrees.
WILDLIFE: Beaver lodge in Highland Pond.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cromwell.
LUNCH: Swiss-and-ham sandwiches on Chauncey Peak.
UPS: Discovering that the blister developing above my heel was not in fact a blister, but a small stick that had somehow found its way into by inner sock. Instant relief!
DOWNS: The toothache that has been bothering me on and off for days. It left me in peace after lunch.
KIT: Once again, three liters of water!
COMPANY: None on Lamentation Mountain; hikers, joggers, and fishermen around Crescent Lake and Chauncey Peak; none again thereafter.

Metacomet Trail Map (7)

Our NET route through CT — solid green = hiked, green dashed = yet to hike

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (6)

[Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail runs 62 miles from the Massachusetts line at Suffield to the Hanging Hills north of Meriden.  It is now a segment of the 215-mile New England Trail (Long Island Sound to New Hampshire). My daughter and I hope to section-hike the Metacomet Trail this year, and perhaps continue south to the Sound, if we have time and energy.]

Merimere, Mine Island, South Mountain

Lunch spot – Merimere Reservoir and South Mountain

On Friday Katie and I completed the Metacomet Trail! It required six day-hikes spread over four months. Above all, the hikes have been a great way of staying connected with my eldest daughter, hiking being conducive to real conversation. The Metacomet Trail has taken us to new places, and given us a fresh perspective on Connecticut. Places that, for me, were just names on a road sign now have associations and color – Farmington recalls the cliffs of Rattlesnake Mountain, Southington (which I can now pronounce properly) means views from Ragged Mountain, and Meriden will conjure up Mine Island nestled in the Hanging Hills. Our procession was also through seasons; since we took our first Metacomet steps, we have seen the leaves come out, the snakes and frogs emerge from hibernation, and the days warm by almost 60 degrees. Finally, we have decided that we do have the time and energy to hike on to Long Island Sound. Mattabesett Trail here we come!

DATE: Friday, June 24th.
START: Edgewood Road, Berlin.
FINISH: Spruce Brook Road, Berlin.
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail south, plus the first 0.7 miles of the Mattabesett Trail.
DISTANCE: About 12 miles, plus the obligatory wrong turn or two.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: A little over 62 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 7.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A fairly gradual 700-foot climb to West Peak (1,024’). Sometimes rough trail for the remaining three miles in the Hanging Hills (loose rock underfoot etc.). Second half of hike easy to moderate, including final two-mile road-walk.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny and hot. High about 87 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A black rat snake (see photos). We also startled, and were in turn startled by, a large bird on the ground. Katie then spotted her chick. Mom took flight looking too brown for a turkey, but now I am guessing that is what she was – a browner-hued wild turkey.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Starbucks, Newington.
LUNCH: Chorizo and manchego cheese sandwiches above Merimere Reservoir.
UPS: Everyone we met was open and friendly.
DOWNS: Saying “we really must keep an eye on the blazes today”, and almost immediately missing a turn in the trail.
KIT: Three liters of water!
COMPANY: Mainly around Castle Craig, to which there is an auto road.

Metacomet Trail Map (6)

The New England Trail within Connecticut’s “blue-blazed” trail system – Metacomet (dark blue) and trail yet to hike (green).

Day Hike Notes – New England Trail (5)

[Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail runs 62 miles from the Massachusetts line at Suffield to the Hanging Hills north of Meriden.  It is now a segment of the 215-mile New England Trail (Long Island Sound to New Hampshire). My daughter and I hope to section-hike the Metacomet Trail this year, and perhaps continue south to the Sound, if we have time and energy.]

The Hanging Hills from Ragged Mountain

The Hanging Hills from Ragged Mountain

On the long approach to Ragged Mountain we met two hikers, both gray-beards if I remember right. They were section-hiking the New England Trail south to north, and so had hiked some 65 miles from Long Island Sound to where they met us. They said that the stretch over Ragged Mountain, which they had just completed, was the best so far. Several hours later, when Katie and I were done with Ragged Mountain ourselves, we agreed with them. It had been the best section so far of our north-south hike. By then it was warm mid-afternoon, and we had hiked an additional few miles of rough trail because of a navigation lapse. Something else the gray-beards had mentioned felt very enticing – a refreshing plunge into the Sound when/if we reach it sometime this fall.

DATE: Friday, May 20th.
START: Crescent Lake, Southington.
FINISH: Edgewood Road, Berlin.
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail south.
DISTANCE: 11 miles, including 0.6 mile access trail from Crescent Lake (and we did at least 3 additional miles through poor navigation).
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 50.4 miles (excluding side trails and wrong turns).
TIME: 8.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Often rough trails interspersed with quiet road-walks. Highest point, Ragged Mountain, 761 feet.
MAP: AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm, and still. High about 75 degrees.
WILDLIFE: The black tail of a snake slithering into cover (probably a Black Rat).
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Meriden.
LUNCH: The wonderful usual, above Wassel Reservoir.
UPS: Views of the Hanging Hills. Quiet country lanes so close to so many towns.
DOWNS: Discovering we had walked a mile / 30 minutes down a side-trail by mistake, just when we were overheating and tiring.
KIT: We both brought 2 liters of water, but could have done with more.
COMPANY: On and off, mainly on Ragged Mountain.

Metacomet Trail Map (5)

The Metacomet Trail within CT’s CFPA trail system. Our 5 day-hikes so far are indicated.