Sep – Mattabesett Trail

The story so far. Back in February, Katie and I set out from the Massachusetts line to hike Connecticut’s Metacomet Trail in a series of day-hikes. Katie is my eldest daughter. The Metacomet Trail runs 62 miles from Suffield down to Berlin, following the Metacomet trap rock ridge. If we finished the Metacomet Trail, Katie and I thought we might just keep on hiking all the way to Long Island Sound, if we had the time and energy. Connecticut is not Texas, but it would still feel good to say we had crossed our state on foot. (I wrote about our first two hikes on the Metacomet Trail in April’s column – Discovering the Metacomet Ridge.)

Our February hike was accomplished on a raw, blustery day. Two months later, the leaves were budding as we reached Farmington and Southington. On June 24th, when the temperature topped 87 degrees, we hiked through Meriden’s Hanging Hills and wrapped up the Metacomet Trail. I think both of us were getting too much from these treks – staying in touch, discovering corners of Connecticut – to want to give them up. Continuing to the Sound was an easy decision. In more heat and humidity, we started on the Mattabesett Trail after the Fourth of July, arriving at I-91 where the highway meets the Metacomet Ridge. Then, for two months, we did not hike.


“Chauncey Peak half quarried away”

Muggy days were not the main reason we stopped hiking. It was a scheduling thing. Friday had been our hiking day (Katie works for the Hartford Courant, and has a Friday-Saturday weekend; my work time is usually flexible, and it is better to hit the trail when most poor souls are stuck at work.) But on the August Friday we set aside to hike I had work to do, and a tooth to be pulled. It wasn’t hard to postpone. The forecast was for a thundery day. Maybe September would bring more comfortable hiking weather.

At dawn on September 2nd, the air was dry and mild, and the rising sun dazzled as I drove east. Our hike began on Bell Street in Middletown, and only when we began to climb Higby Mountain did we seriously warm up. Even so, it was not an energy-sapping, drenched-in-sweat kind of warming-up. In part this was because of the fine weather, but it helped that the Mattabesett Trail eases up the gentle eastern flank of Higby (it is the western cliff that is seen from I-91, towering above the Middletown rest area).

When we broke out of the woods onto the clifftop – 892 feet above sea level, 500 above the interstate – we found a panorama that seemed to take in half the state, from the ridges of New Haven to hazy hills that had to be in Massachusetts. (Photos from our hike can be found at “McWilliams Takes a Hike” on Facebook.) It was a green panorama, though one well marked by civilization. In this, it was like many views we had enjoyed along the Metacomet Ridge. Today, civilization came in the form of I-91, neat lines of woodland cleared for power lines, and Chauncey Peak half quarried away. There was noise too, soaring to our empty summit from the industrious world below.

Too much civilization can spoil a hike. Today it did not. We had sun and  breeze, the huge views, and a forest trail to ourselves. Although we could see and hear the busy world, it mostly felt elsewhere, apart from us.

We came down Higby Mountain to cross Route 66 right at Guida’s diner, and might have been tempted in if we did not have lunch in our packs. Instead, we started up Beseck Mountain, another long Metacomet ridge  (although we were now on the Mattabesett Trail, this was still the Metacomet Ridge, the line of trap rock we had followed from Massachusetts). A mile up the mountain we came to a small ledge. The view was partially screened by trees but, framed in foliage, were the Hanging Hills five miles west and, directly below us, Black Pond. I bet Guida’s does great dogs, but it couldn’t match this scene for a long lunch break.

From the summit of Beseck, we saw that Black Pond was aptly named, its surface smooth and shiny as jet, reflecting next to nothing. The Mattabesett Trail wound briefly to the east side of the mountain, and here we found the ski runs of Powder Ridge. Resting on a ski lift platform, we watched two guys climb the hill on an ATV. “Enjoy the view,” one of them said when they reached us, “but we’re opening the lift in 30 minutes.” For mountain biking, it turned out. Then, as had happened before on the Metacomet Ridge, the trail gave us a preview of our next outing: another long, wooded ridge to the south, another lake beneath it. We will keep going.


PARKING START: Bell St, Middletown (near intersection with Saw Mill Rd). FINISH: Wallingford Rd, Durham, at Reed Gap.
DISTANCE A little over 12 miles.
DURATION 7.5 hours with two long breaks.
MAP AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide.
ROUTE Follow the blue blazes of the Mattabesett Trail south.
WHAT TO TAKE In summer conditions, snacks, lunch, and LOTS OF WATER.  I found trekking poles useful, particularly descending on loose trap rock.

Cooled lava beside the Mattabesett Trail