Feb – Cobble Mountain

Published in The Hour Online – February 2013.


View from Cobble Mountain, Macedonia Brook State Park, CTOne day in my 30s, when I was rediscovering hiking, I found myself clinging to a modest Scottish mountain. There was a trail to the top, but I had lost it and instead started up a rocky outcrop. After a while this route became precarious, and I decided to turn back and search for the trail. But then I realized that getting down would be more precarious still. I was stuck. I imagined the shame of being the subject of one of those TV news reports that begin “A rescue team was called out today to aid a walker trapped on _ ”. I even imagined a weary shake of the head from the anchor. It didn’t come to that, thank goodness. I worked my way uneasily over the rocks and progressed to the summit. It happened 15 years ago, but sitting now on cold gneiss on my way down Connecticut’s Cobble Mountain brought it all back.

I thought the descent today might be challenging. The trail on Cobble’s northeast side is more clamber than walk. Even a summer descent can mean getting down on your backside. It hadn’t been too bad this February morning – until now. Careful foot-placement, strategic tree-grasping and a controlled slide down a few feet of rock had got me halfway down. But now I had to admit that none of my holds – feet, hands or backside – were especially secure. It wasn’t obvious either where I could safely place any of these parts next. The “trail” went into a deep gash in the rock below, one that somehow I had to maneuver into. Now I crab-walked to its edge using the feeble holds available, and stretched, twisted and levered my way down. It wasn’t elegant, but soon I was in and out of the crevice, down a final pile of boulders, and admiring the rows of yard-long icicles hanging from the cliff.

Indignity and risk apart – and you can avoid both by taking the White Trail down Cobble instead of the Blue – the Macedonia Ridge Trail in Macedonia State Park is one of my all-time favorites. The bit I had hiked so far this morning climbs the steep hills that flank the Macedonia Brook on the west. The trail meanders for a mile and a half, rising and falling – mostly rising! – until it reaches Cobble Mountain 700 feet above the brook. At intervals there are fine views of the tight valley and the wooded, lumpy hills that shut it in. The valley was dusted with the lightest of snows when I set out, but the covering vanished higher up wherever the sun had found unshaded ground. After the first steep section, the trail forded a small stream, cackling as it tumbled to the Macedonia Brook. Chickadees whistled in the woods – feebee feebee. I was in no rush at all to get to the summit.

Arriving at the top of Cobble is nonetheless a Wow! moment. It seems that half of New York State is suddenly laid out below. On a good day, the Catskills – 50 miles west – are visible. They were hidden today, but lingering on the rock bleachers was still a must. The west wind was stiffening and carrying tiny snowflakes. It tugged at the conifer behind my seat and huffed around the mountain. A large, dark bird soared far above. I fancied it might be a bald eagle, but it was too far away to pick out a white head even with binoculars. It was probably just a turkey vulture. When it disappeared around the hills, and the wind forced me back into the jacket and gloves I had shed on the way up, I decided it was time for me to move on too. Then, as I walked off the summit towards the precipice, sunshine and snow arrived together, flakes glittering against the gray of the trees.

Macedonia Brook State Park, Kent, CTI could not say that after Cobble Mountain the hike was an anti-climax. How could it be? There was still the best view of the valley to come, and a gentle walk on the gravel road that follows the Macedonia Brook downstream. The brook gushed brightly between shelves and islets of white ice. The walk was serene now, nothing like being in a jam on a mountainside.

If you go …

PARKING At Blue trailhead, half a mile beyond State Park entrance (Macedonia Brook Road off CT 341, Kent).
DISTANCE A little under 5 miles.
DURATION 3½ hours with plenty of time for views.
MAP AND ROUTE Trail maps available at CT.gov (DEEP, State Parks and Forests). Hike followed Blue trail clockwise to Weber Road, then gravel Macedonia Brook Road back to start.   
WHAT TO TAKE Sturdy shoes. Walking stick or poles recommended. Layers of clothing, water and snacks, your dog.

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