My wife suggested that my column this month begin with a nightmare. In this nightmare I would be dressed for hiking, down to my pack and trekking poles. And I would be walking, though dazed by bright lights and a thousand voices. I’d be jostled by other people who were walking, running even, though they are not in hiking gear. My wife, suddenly at my side, would say “Just a few more stores, dear. We have coupons for Old Navy and Aéropostale.” Then, as my poles clicked on the hard floor of the mall, I’d wake up screaming.
I thought of leading you on for a while that I really had this bad dream the night after the turkey and cranberry sauce, but then thought better of it. But the fact that my wife came up with such an idea shows how well she knows how black the day after Thanksgiving would be for me if I had to trade trails for sales. Luckily, Black Friday this year was open for hiking as usual; the only question was where.
You may remember that a storm came through the day before Thanksgiving. It put almost no snow on the ground at home, but the NOAA snow depth map showed plenty inland. I had thought about heading for a Catskill or Taconic peak, but feared I would drive for hours only to find my chosen ascent buried. There was always the option of taking my “Turkey Burner” hike once again, but I was in the mood for a change of scene from Fairfield County woods. (The Turkey Burner was the subject of this column a year ago. If you would enjoy a point-to-point hike across the Saugatuck watershed, you can find the article here.) In the end, only minutes before setting out, I decided to compromise and head for Macedonia Brook State Park. It is just an hour north of us, and the snowfall might have been lighter on its little mountains.
I did not have to drive far up Route 7 – averting my eyes at Danbury Fair Mall – for the snow to become more plentiful. By Kent, there was quite a winter scene, snow thickly coating the woods on the steep slopes west of the Housatonic. But when I stopped to admire the view where the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 341, the snow did not look too deep for hiking. On Macedonia Brook Road, the plow had been out, and I parked easily at the trailhead. The Blue trail is a 6.4-mile loop that follows the summits that surround the tight valley of the Macedonia Brook. The loop is bisected north-south by the brook and the park road. The park map showed several side trails running down from the Blue trail to the road – good bolt holes, I decided, if the hiking became too tough.
I followed the blue blazes up the hill. The trail itself was at most a faint depression in the snow, crossed by rabbit tracks here and there. By the first hilltop, it was clear that the hiking was going to be tough. There were, I estimated, six inches of snow on the trail, and nobody – shame on them! – had compacted it for me. I had left my snowshoes in the car, deliberately. I am clumsy in them, and figured that they would be useful only on some stretches, and a big nuisance on steep, rocky bits. So it was hard work, but you can’t complain when the sun is out, the sky ultramarine, and every twig and branch is still carrying its burden of snow. (Pictures on Facebook – “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, “Day Hike Notes – Macedonia Brook” album, no login needed.) A little more than an hour and a little less than two miles onto the trail, I stopped to rest on an uphill stretch. Here, the snow looked more like eight inches deep. As I caught my breath, a gentle breeze came through, moved the tops of the slender trees, and sent showers of snow to the ground, sparkling in the sun on their fall. Out in the woods, a woodpecker tapped.
Near the northern edge of the park, the trail came down to plowed Weber Road. Walking on it was so easy that I was tempted to follow it to Macedonia Brook Road and all the way back to my car. I stuck with the Blue trail only because I wanted to reach the ledges on the nameless summit northeast of Cobble Mountain, and enjoy the views down the valley I knew they offered. And after I had enjoyed them in a light flurry, I stayed with Blue because I wanted to reach Cobble itself. But there is an awkward clamber on the northeast side of the mountain, and today I could not find safe foot- or handholds on rock covered with melting snow and ice. So I turned about and made a 1.5-mile detour to approach Cobble from the south. By the time I reached its summit, longer and denser flurries were blowing in from New York. I was losing steam. My gloves were soaked. There were still 1.6 miles of up-and-down hiking to my car. But at least I wasn’t at the mall.
|If you go …|
|PARKING||At intersection of Blue trail with Macedonia Brook Rd, near the State Park’s southern entrance. Space limited.|
|DISTANCE||The Blue trail is a 6.4-mi circuit. My detour extended the hike to nearly 8.0 mi.|
|DURATION||6 hours (including detour) in snowy conditions.|
|MAP AND ROUTE||Trails map available from CT DEEP Parks & Forests website. Route followed Blue trail anticlockwise, with detour on Green, Orange, White and unmapped trails to reach Cobble Mtn via the Blue trail from the south.|
|WHAT TO TAKE||In snowy conditions; sturdy boots, poles, waterproof pants, layers, plenty of food and water.|