McWilliams is not taking a hike—yet

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie Sunset, west of Cleveland

Oh dear, a month has passed since I posted and almost as long since I hiked.

The main culprit has been work, but there was also a lightning trip to Ohio to see in-laws and a friend’s visit from the UK. The Ohio trip did not involve any hiking, but it did yield a memorable Lake Erie sunset which I am happy to share here.

My last hike was a quick loop at Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted CT at the end of July. The outing provided raw material for August’s Taking a Hike column:

The View from Peoples State Forest at Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

I never got around to posting July’s Taking a Hike either. Here it is:

A Walk on the Saugatuck Trail in The Hour.

Finally, the good news is that I do have a hiking adventure pending!

I booked an airline ticket to Reno NV for late September. I’m not going gambling; I’m planning to hike in the Sierra Nevada, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Much more about that plan to come. I can buy Cheryl Strayed red bootlaces at REI, right?

PCT Lower Echo Lake

Pacific Crest Trail, Lower Echo Lake – courtesy of Ray Bouknight–https://www.flickr.com/photos/raybouk/

Day Hike Notes – Saugatuck Trail

Early summer on the Saugatuck Trail

Somewhere about halfway along the trail

The Saugatuck Trail is more than it once was. Not so long ago, it ran only along the west side and northern end of the Saugatuck Reservoir. In those days, I hiked it only as part of my traditional post-Thanksgiving “turkey burner”, and I hiked only about 2.5 miles of it. In 2014 a new section of the trail opened (thanks CFPA volunteers!) linking it to the Aspetuck Valley Trail in Easton. I soon walked this new section, but I did so in a group, and therefore paid more attention to my companions than to the trail. This past Sunday, I hiked the Saugatuck Trail end-to-end, starting on the new section, moving on to the middle section that was completely new to me, and ending on my familiar turkey-burner stretch. Good to be still discovering new trail so close to home.

 

DATE: Sunday, June 25th.
START: Near 1165 Black Rock Turnpike, Easton CT.
FINISH: Near 205 Davis Hill Road, Weston CT.
ROUTE: Saugatuck Trail.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Gentle grades, with some short steeper sections. Trail mostly easy underfoot.
MAP: Saugatuck-Aspetuck Trail System (from ct.gov/deep, Centennial Watershed SF).

WEATHER: Warm (high around 80) and sunny until the very end, when an unexpected shower fell.
WILDLIFE: A turkey vulture settled on a branch close above, then flapped away to show off its wingspan and plumage.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: At home.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese and chorizo on olive ciabatta, sat on a pile of sunny rocks.
UPS: Some really beautiful stretches of trail – a shaded, narrow line through fern-carpeted woods.
DOWNS: Squirting DEET in my eye; getting stung by a yellowjacket.
KIT: I was grateful for the DEET in the morning, once I learned to squirt it in the right direction.
COMPANY: Almost no hikers, but much of the trail runs close to Route 53 and Valley Forge Road. They are pretty routes, so cars and motorcycles were frequently seen and heard; bicyclists too.

Shallow pond adjoining Route 53 and reservoir

Shallow pond adjoining Route 53 and reservoir

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

Taking a Hike – Mattabesett Trail

The photograph below is deceptive and, to make it worse, deliberately so.

I took it on Higby Mountain on Connecticut’s Mattabesett Trail, and it faces approximately west. West looks pretty natural, doesn’t it? All those wooded ridges. The truth is, I stepped gradually back from the edge of Higby’s cliffs until the evidence of civilization mostly vanished. Then I crouched until all of it did. Still, I like the picture, and it nicely introduces this month’s “Taking a Hike” column:

On this trail, a desire to keep going at The Hour.
From the Metacomet to the Mattabesett to the Sound at Hersam Acorn.

The Sound (that’s Long Island Sound) is now two or three hikes away.

on-higby-mountain

On Higby Mountain, Mattbesett Trail

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).