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 – 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.

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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

Taking a Hike – Great Hollow

My July “Taking a Hike” column has been published:

Exploring the trails of Great Hollow – The Hour
Discovering New Fairfield’s forests – Hersam Acorn

Great Hollow Nature Preserve is a  new place to hike, located 10 miles north of Danbury CT. The accessible part of the preserve offers scenic variety in a small area – brooks, hills, wetland, meadows, and of course forest. Wildlife abounds, as captured on the preserve’s cameras.

The inaccessible, eastern part of Great Hollow is contiguous with a fragment of Pootatuck State Forest, though there are no marked trails in the area. I followed my Great Hollow hike with a (largely unsuccessful) exploration of the Pootatuck fragment, and then a hike in the mapped part of the state forest, which offered some fine overlooks.

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck SF

Candlewood Lake from Pootatuck State Forest, New Fairfield CT

 

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).