Day Hike Notes – Peoples State Forest

West Branch Farmington River

West Branch Farmington River from the Jessie Gerard Trail

I was supposed to go hiking on Friday, but it snowed. The snow did not look from the forecast as if it would pose a problem for hiking, but it might make for a slick drive to the trailhead, so my daughter and I postponed. On Saturday, I felt restless, in need of exercise and a change of scene, so I made plans for a Sunday outing. I leafed through AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut and settled on Number 20, Peoples State Forest (compelling attributes, “strenuous” and “incredible mountain views”). I had never hiked Peoples before. It did turn out to be strenuous, but only for a half-mile, until those incredible mountain views. Thereafter, the only difficulty was a wind that caught me when I stopped to admire – and photograph – a swamp. I would surely have ended up with frostnipped fingers if I had kept my gloves off any longer than I did. Otherwise, this was a near-perfect short hike.

DATE: Sunday, March 12th.
START & FINISH: East River Road, Barkhamsted, CT.
ROUTE: Falls Cut Off, Jessie Gerard, Charles Pack, Agnes Bowen, and Robert Ross trails.
DISTANCE: A little under 5 miles.
TIME: 3¼ hours (9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.)

TERRAIN: A rough, steep climb to start, then mostly easy going. Scenery a mix of big views, attractive forest, and beautiful swamp.
MAP: Available from CT DEEP website and at the trailhead.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, with a p.m. high of 25 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A flight, over the swamp, of small birds I could not identify.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Torrington.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese on ciabatta, sat on a rock on the Robert Ross trail.
UPS: A perfect winter’s hiking day; cold and just enough snow – decoration not impediment.
DOWNS: Frosty fingers when the wind caught me with my gloves off.
KIT: Took microspikes, but did not need them. I did without water because it froze in the reservoir tube.
COMPANY: A runner; a friendly couple hiking together (carrying full packs to prepare for longer treks).

Swamp on the Charles Pack Trail

Swamp on the Charles Pack Trail

Two Short Hikes in the Whites

After two days of lung-testing climbs and painstaking, knee-jarring descents, Katie and I wanted something gentler for our last day in the White Mountains. The night before, our garrulous campground ranger had said something like “the last thing the Whites need is more trails”. He’s probably right. Trails crisscross the map densely, and all Katie and I needed to do now was find one or two flattish, shortish ones that led somewhere pretty.

Sawyer River, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Sawyer River, rainfall needed

SAWYER POND TRAIL: Sawyer Pond is at least a nine-mile roundtrip hike from the Kancamagus Highway, but from the north, Sawyer River Road (smooth dirt) leads to a trailhead just 1.5 miles from the pond. Elevation gain from trailhead to pond is a modest 300 feet. This looked just right for Katie and I, and we arrived at the trailhead soon after 8 a.m.

Sawyer Pond Trail ran through mixed deciduous-conifer woods, the hardwood foliage running the gamut from green to already littering the forest floor. The trail was a breeze – no scrambles, no boulders, no unbridged brooks. We covered in 35 minutes as much distance as took us several hours yesterday. At Sawyer Pond, a young couple was camped at the rustic campsite, and it felt like we had gatecrashed their backcountry idyll. The pond – a quarter-mile across – lies beneath a spur of Mount Tremont and the distinctive hump of Owls Cliff, both splashed in yellows, oranges, and reds. It was grand scenery, but it felt a little flat (no pun intended) so soon after Wildcat Mountain.


Mad River Notch and a spur of Mount Osceola

GREELEY PONDS TRAIL: If Sawyer Pond inspired me less than it should have, Greeley Ponds risked ending our Whites trip on a low. By early afternoon, the Kancamagus Highway was busy with visitor traffic, and we only managed to squeeze into the trailhead parking lot. But perhaps because rain was expected, most of the walkers we met were heading back to their cars, and we soon had the Greeley Ponds Trail mostly to ourselves. We had picked it for two topographic features – Mad River Notch and the ponds themselves. On the map, the notch is a steep cleft between spurs of mounts Kancamagus and Osceola, but we hardly noticed it from the trail itself. The upper pond – the first we came to – was nice enough, but it was the lower pond I really liked. The northern end was swampy, opening up a view of the notch. And under the arriving rain clouds, there was something raw and wild about that swamp – its blowing rough grasses, the dead stumps and dead trunks. You could forget that a tourist highway lay just two miles to the north.

More photos from these hikes can be found here.

Short Hike Notes – John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail in Torrington, Connecticut, that is; not the one in California’s Sierra Nevada. There are minor differences in length, difficulty, scenery etc.

Swampy Pond on Torrington CT John Muir Trail

“False Burr Pond”

Actually, I fell short of completing even the Connecticut version. Not deliberately, but because I thought I had reached Burr Pond and so the end of the trail. I had not. I had reached a nameless, swampy pond not shown on my map. It was attractive, certainly worth a name. False Burr Pond maybe.

I walked some way around and beyond this pond, thinking I was circumnavigating Burr Pond. I turned around after a while because rounding Burr Pond was not part of my plan. At this point – I worked out only after I was back home – I was actually still on the John Muir Trail toward Burr Pond. I probably ended up missing a few hundred yards of the JMT. A good excuse to go back.

Walnut Mountain Torrington CT

On Walnut Mountain, 1,325 feet.

DATE: Thursday, January 7th.
START & FINISH: Sunnybrook State Park parking lot, Newfield Road, Torrington CT.
ROUTE: John Muir Trail almost to its end, then back, taking in Walnut Mountain via side trail. Various wrong turns all along the way.
DISTANCE: Something over 5 miles with wrong turns.
TIME: 3.75 hours (9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Fairly easy, except where an icy layer of snow made for some awkward slopes.
MAP: I carried the map from CFPA Walk Book WestBut the CT DEEP Paugnut State Forest map gives a far better idea of the features of the land (like that swampy pond southwest of Burr Pond).

WEATHER: Sunny and cold (a few degrees either side of freezing).
: Nothing of note.
PHOTOS: Just those in this post.

East Branch Naugatuck River

East Branch Naugatuck River near the hike start/finish.

UPS: Fine stands of white pine; the swampy pond.
DOWNS: The crate of discarded beer cans on top off Walnut Mountain.
KIT: Boot chains made hiking a lot easier.

Short Hike Notes – Macricostas Preserve

Macricostas Preserve, Washington CT

Looking east across Meeker Swamp to, possibly, mounts Rat and Tom

After Candlewood Mountain, I drove 13 miles to Macricostas Preserve for a second Black Friday hike. The Preserve had been on my mind since summer, mainly because I wanted to see the advertised views of Lake Waramaug. What better time to try it, a warm November afternoon when my knee seemed to be holding up?

The two hikes were very different. Macricostas lies far from the Route 7 sprawl; it was busy, in contrast to the solitude of Candlewood Mountain; its trails were super-easy after the scrambles of Kelly’s Slide; all trace of mist was long gone from the far bigger views.

DATE: Friday, November 27th.
START & FINISH: Parking area on Christian Street, New Preston CT.
ROUTE: Meeker Trail to Waramaug’s Rock and back via the most direct route.
DISTANCE: About 3 miles.
TIME: 2 hours (12:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Flat and easy, then steep, finally a gentle ridge walk, all on good trail. Waramaug’s Rock is 550 feet above the parking area.
MAP: Available from Steep Rock Association website. 

WEATHER: Sunny and very mild (it hit the low 60s).
WILDLIFE: None that I recall.

UPS: The open country around Bee Brook and Meeker Swamp, and farther on (and up) the big views from ledges in the wooded hills.
DOWNS: I’d like to go back on a less busy day.
KIT: Poles appreciated again, on the steeper, leaf-covered descents.
COMPANY: Plenty, all of it very friendly, like the little girl who told me “You have leaves on the end of your stick”.

Short Hike Notes – Candlewood Mountain

Misty Housatonic Range Trail

Morning valley fog rises onto the Housatonic Range Trail.

Candlewood Mountain does not fit exactly with the criteria I set for a “Short Hike Notes” post, i.e. about 2 hours, 4-5 miles, fairly local. But it’s close, and there are reasons it took me as long as it did. (1) Some way toward the summit I discovered that my glasses, uncased, were not in the pocket of my pack where I had put them, and I had to retrace slowly many hundreds of paces to retrieve them, undamaged, from the leaf litter; (2) the trail was much rougher than I anticipated, and my left knee is still not what it was; (3) Kelly’s Slide.

I had read that Kelly’s Slide is a “huge rock slide”, and when I saw the sign for it as I approached Candlewood Mountain summit, I thought of my knee and said “No way”. On my return from the summit, I thought “Maybe I’ll follow the loop a distance to see if there’s a view”. Well, I found no view, nor any spectacular slide, just a lot of slippery boulders and tree roots on a steep slope. I ended up doing the whole loop – slowly.

DATE: Friday, November 27th, “Black Friday”.
START & FINISH: Parking on Concord Way, off Rte 37, New Milford CT.
ROUTE: Housatonic Range Trail out and back, plus Kelly’s Slide loop.
DISTANCE: 3.5 miles.
TIME: 3.5 hours (8:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.)
TERRAIN: A 600-foot climb on an often bouldery trail. Care required on mist-dampened leaf litter and rocks. For me at least, a fair few short on-your-butt down-scrambles.
MAP: CFPA Walk Book West.

WEATHER: Valley fog and patchy hillside mist, then sunny and very mild.
WILDLIFE: A skittish deer near the summit.

DOWNS: The trail never fully escapes the sounds of Rte 7’s traffic and industry.
UPS: Relative peace of Candlewood Mountain summit. Growing confidence in my knee.
KIT: Can’t imagine doing this hike without the additional balance of trekking poles.
COMPANY: None at all until the very end, when a family group of 12 appeared!

Short Hike Notes – Mianus River Gorge

The Old Growth Forest Trail

The Old Growth Forest Trail

This is the first of a new category of post, “Short Hike Notes”. I’ve been posting “Day Hike Notes” for two years now, mostly for treks of 4-5 hours and up. Since my – hopefully recovering – knee will probably see me taking shorter outings for a while, I decided to create the new category. Knee-cessity is the mother of invention. I expect the hikes will be much like this one to Mianus River Gorge Preserve; about 2 hours, 4-5 miles, fairly local.

DATE: Friday, October 30th.
START & FINISH: Mianus River Gorge Preserve parking, 167 Mianus River Rd, Bedford, NY.
ROUTE: Old Growth Forest Trail, out and back, but ending with the River Trail.
DISTANCE: 5 miles.
TIME: 2¼ hours (10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Mostly smooth trails with gentle ups and downs.
MAP: Available at Preserve kiosk and website.
OTHER INFO: Dogs not permitted.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, low- to mid-50s.
WILDLIFE: A murders of crows gathering noisily in a tree.

UPS: If a sunny fall day in the northeast is not heaven, what is?
DOWNS: The background drone of leaf blowers on one stretch of trail.
KIT: Superfeet insoles, a brace, one ibuprofen, and trekking poles to cosset my knee.
COMPANY: A few other walkers, not many. I bet weekends are busier.