My 2018 Seasonal Highlights

It’s the time of year again when I look back and—whatever else the year has brought, good and not so good—feel lucky that the outdoors was always within my reach, available to recharge, to rebalance, to be inspired, to share. For four years now, I’ve remembered this good fortune by picking a hiking highlight for each season. The exercise is a great reminder that, no matter how much I wish I could spend more time outdoors, I hike plenty. Without taking anything for granted, I hope 2019 will be another great hiking year—for me and you. Happy New Year!

(For fun, here are my previous seasonal highlights—2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.)

WINTER: A perfect winter’s day with my eldest on the western sections of the Ives Trail, Ridgefield and Danbury, Connecticut.

Ives cabin site, Ives Trail, Ridgefield CT

View from Charles Ives cabin site, Ridgefield CT

SPRING: Mid-June in Baxter State Park, Maine. I spent a week in the Park divided among the South Branch ponds area (north), the Pogy Notch Trail (middle), and the Mount Katahdin area (south).

Katahdin from the climb to Center Ridge

Katahdin from the climb to Center Ridge

SUMMER: Mohawk Trail woods, late July, Cornwall, Connecticut. I hiked the Mohawk Trail in four outings between April and August.

Mohawk Trail, Cornwall CT

Coming off Red Mountain, Cornwall CT

AUTUMN: October in Glen Coe, Scotland, start of the hike up the mountain of Buachaille Etive Mòr (mostly out of picture, left).

Trail into Lairig Gartain

Stob nan Cabar, Glen Coe

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

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!

Four Seasons, Four States, Four Pictures

I asked a friend recently if he’d been getting out much. I meant, of course, getting out to hike. He replied, with a hint of surprise that I wasn’t familiar with his routine, “every day!”.

I think I would like to take a long hike every day, but for now I can’t. This is not a complaint. Other things that I (mostly) want to do take up time. So, when I look back on 2016, hiking has been a frequent pleasure, not – as it could easily become – a way of life.

Mainly on account of those other things, my hiking this year was “confined” to the US Northeast (though it’s a crazy idea that New England could confine any hiker). The big event was discovering the central part of my home state on the 111 miles of the New England Trail that run through Connecticut. Another big event was hiking the whole year without the knee trouble that plagued me in the second half of 2015. I am very grateful for that.

Resolutions for 2017: backpack more; get out west again, or overseas; get into a routine of leading AMC hikes locally.

As I have done for a couple of years now, here is a hiking highlight for each season of the year that is now coming to an end. Happy Holidays and the best of trails in 2017!

WINTER: Just the right amount of snow in Fahnestock State Park (New York, February).

The path to the Appalachian Trail, Fahnestock SP

Short path to the Appalachian Trail

SPRING: Hitting the heights of the Bigelow Range (Maine, June 1st).


Avery Peak from West Peak

SUMMER: A steamy day on the Metacomet Ridge (Connecticut, July)


The Hanging Hills in the distance

FALL: About to be rained on at the lower of the Greeley ponds, White Mountains (New Hampshire, October).


Mad River Notch and a spur of Mount Osceola

Wittenberg Mountain, December


Wittenberg Mountain Summit

I remember planning this hike at work. Back then, I commuted three or four days a week into Union Square, New York. I traveled a lot too; not for a quick meeting in Chicago, but 15-hours-on-your-butt-each-way trips. Then there were the pre-dawn and late-night telephone conferences. The feeling of being trapped and sapped by all this gave my hike-planning urgency. I needed to get outdoors.

I bought leggings and liner gloves at Paragon Sports on Broadway, and – if my photo timestamps are to be believed – took Friday December 10th 2010 as a day off. Since I had major cobwebs to blow away, I headed not for my local woods and hills, but to the Catskill Mountains. I had good memories – one in particular – of hiking the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail before, but that had been in late May.

I don’t recall much of the 3.4-mile, 2,500-foot climb from valley to peak. I do remember that it was cold in the valley, but with little or no snow. As I climbed, ice lay underfoot, and I did not own microspikes back then. Higher up, snow covered the trail, but not so much as to impede progress. On Wittenberg summit, it was – leggings and two layers of gloves notwithstanding – far too cold to linger long.

I did something on this hike that I have never done on a day-hike before or since – I carried a stove, and with it a 1-pound can of soup, probably Beef Barley. I started down from the summit with a pretty good idea of where to set up kitchen.

[Flashback to the spring hike, and the particularly good memory: I am hiking the side trail to Terrace Mountain when I hear movement in the trailside brush. I look ahead and see a sleek black bear, too busy grazing to pay much attention to me. I shout and clap, and the bear retreats a few yards and resumes its grazing. I clap harder. The bear runs into the trees. Sometime after this encounter, the adrenalin only slowly wearing off, I find an open, rocky area where campers have built rock-slab seats and a rough hearth. I rest and eat, alert for any movement coming from the surrounding woods.]


Soup and tortillas on Terrace Mountain

Coming down Wittenberg Mountain, warming up a little, I headed for Terrace Mountain, which is really just a spur of the Wittenberg ridge. I thought how the bear would be hibernating by now. But when I reached the place where I judged the encounter took place, there were clawed tracks  in the snow, and pale blood smeared among them! I was even less expert at reading tracks then than now, and could not be sure what happened here. Maybe my bear was involved, or maybe a raccoon caught a squirrel. But as I heated my soup at the rough hearth in the rocky area, I was  again hyper-alert to any sound in the surrounding woods.

I would like to say that on Monday, December 13th 2010, I returned to Union Square restored, but I do not remember. Hikes do restore, but alas even the drive home is sometimes enough to undo the good work.

Bears on the Brain at Jacques Lake

Looking north from Jacques Lake outflow

Looking north from Jacques Lake outflow

Jacques Lake is in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It is not a big lake, but it sits in the spruce forest beneath massive, bare-rock peaks. There is a primitive campground at the lake’s northern end, 7.5 trail miles from the park road. When we told the warden (as Canadians call rangers) in Jasper town that we were thinking of spending a night at the campground, he said something like “A group encountered a nuisance bear up there a few days ago. They ended up taking refuge in the warden cabin. There’ve been no reports since, so you should be OK.”

So when my middle daughter (nearly 14 back then) and I set off for Jacques Lake the next day, bears were on our mind. It was a rainy day. We’d covered our packs in blue trash bags, and Caroline, a photograph reminds me, had on a red poncho. We had hardly walked any distance at all when Caroline said “Dad, it’s a bear!”.

The trail was swinging left, and Caroline was walking on my right, so she saw the animal before I did. I had a split second to imagine an enormous grizzly before the fluffy little black bear came into my view. I would not have been surprised to see stuffing falling out of a torn seam behind its ear.

On the trail to Jacques Lake

On the trail to Jacques Lake

But it was close, perhaps 20 yards ahead; and it showed no fear of us, even edging a little closer. Spraying this cub would have felt about as good as kicking a puppy, but even so I unholstered my pepper spray. Mama had to be around. Then cub ran into the undergrowth, from which we continued to hear its movements for a while as we pressed on for the Lake.

The rain eased off as we walked through the afternoon, and angular gray peaks sticking out of forest and cloud did their best to distract us from bear-thoughts. We sang as we hiked though (at least, I did; it was hard to get Caroline to join in the sing-song).

The campground was indeed of backcountry standard. A rough-hewn table and a pulley system for hanging food are the facilities I remember. There was no privy, for sure. On the hike in, I had kept the warden cabin in mind for insurance against nuisance bears. We wandered over to it before supper, but found it unoccupied and locked. We were on our own.

Fresh mid-August snow above Jacques Lake

Fresh mid-August snow above Jacques Lake

The night passed wet and cold, but undisturbed by wildlife. In the morning, there was fresh, mid-August snow on the peaks. Caroline was looking at the scene while I fiddled with gear at the rough-hewn table. Suddenly she said “Look, Dad!”. This time, I thought, it will be that enormous grizzly. I looked up, toward the outflow of Jacques Lake, and saw a large cow moose standing in the rain and the river, ducking for food. Relief and excitement at once.

(I am still grounded from hiking by a bum knee. Reliving old hikes is the next best thing.)

Lost in the Adirondacks

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

I have badly neglected the Hike List part of this site. In fact, I’m not sure that the list as it is currently conceived and structured is particularly interesting or useful. I am going to have to rethink it. But, in the meantime, I have added (under New York) notes for a 2010 backpack in the Dacks. It was in the company of my youngest daughter, then 10 years old. I don’t think she will ever forget it. I know I won’t.

It was the second afternoon of a three-day trek in the West Canada Lake Wilderness (nearest hamlet, Inlet). We had camped the previous night beside Brooktrout Lake, six miles into the wilderness from a trailhead at the end of miles of dirt road. That second day, we had hiked about ten miles and were on the Cedar Lakes Trail toward – most appropriately – Lost Pond. It was not a good trail, not wide or well-defined. In particular, its blazes were faded and erratic. There were blowdowns, fallen trunks that I suspect had taken blazes with them. We lost the trail once or twice, but soon found it again. This happens a lot when you hike in the woods, even in familiar places. Then, a few hours before sunset, we lost the trail and didn’t find it again.

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

Using the amount of time we had been hiking on Cedar Lakes Trail, I calculated we were on a particular half-mile section of it. If we bushwhacked north, we would – said the map – run into either Lost Pond or Otter Brook in no more than a quarter-mile, and from either of those features the Lost Pond spur trail would be easily found. Everything is simple on maps.

We followed the red needle of our compass into the woods. It was no easy procession even for a grown-up. The forest was a jumble of spiky blowdowns, ankle-snaring brush, and face-smacking twigs; but we did reach, and cross barefoot, a stream I took to be Otter Brook. The spur trail had to be just a short way ahead. When it didn’t show in the dusk, I was not too worried. We found a space in the forest’s clutter and made camp. We had planned to overnight at Lost Pond anyway. Snug in my sleeping bag, I studied the map by flashlight and fell asleep confident that we would find the trail quickly in the morning by walking north, uphill.

But the trail didn’t show in the morning either. We tried re-crossing the brook to search the south side again. We thought we saw blazes on trees, only to find they were natural stains. We crossed back to the north side, this time not bothering to take our boots off for Otter Brook. I did not fear for our lives. We had food, and shelter from the rain that was starting to fall. My wife knew our route and would raise the alarm when we did not call her that afternoon. But I did fear we would need help to get out, and for the first time in my life I blew my whistle and hollered. No answer. I knew I had to stay calm if I wanted Marjorie to do the same, and to her immense credit she held together, breaking down only once, and briefly, when she slipped on a streamside rock and hurt her tush.

Trail found!

Trail found!

Then, suddenly, it was over. Trying a northerly search again, we saw a vaguely linear thinning of the forest, and wondered if it might prove a trail. We followed it west, hoping. Its trail attributes grew – width, continuity, and eventually a rusty marker tacked to a tree. Four or five hours later, we were bombing down 1-90, and, boy, did it look good.