Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Legend of Mad Mare's Hill

Gather round, my fainthearted friends.  It's a Halloween tale of ghosts and ghouls and the Mad Mare of Hamden's Hills.  She was a monster, black as night, standing 16 hands high.  Bred of Mustang and Shire Horse, she was wild and ill-tempered.

But when the moon rises on All Hallow's Eve, something evil awakens in her very soul.  Nostrils flared, searching the air; the red tint of her crazed eyes glowing like fire in the moonlight.

With a chilling whinny, an ear splitting neigh, she goes mad on Halloween night, terrorizing any who are fool enough to cross her hill...

hmmhmmwah ha ha...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Three Down, One To Go

Heartbreak Hill

I'm working toward the Four Seasons Giant Master - hiking all 30 miles of trails at Sleeping Giant State Park once each season.  Spring and Summer are done, and since we're almost halfway through Fall with weekends getting busy, I packed the trek into two days.  No stories, no camera, no photos - just plugging along, getting the miles done.

It's either training for a Giant Marathon (everything in one day) or justification for taking it slow and enjoying the trails.  Give me a couple of days to decide!

OK, one photo with my phone snuck through:  my version of Heartbreak Hill above - looking up the trail to the ascent of Giant's Head halfway through day 2, and wondering if my rubbery legs will get me there - go Gumby go.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

On Top of the World

or at least Connecticut's little piece of it.
Bear Mountain, Mt. Frissell, Brace Mountain loop

Bear Mountain - as seen from the west on Mt Frissell

Bear Mountain, in the northwest corner of Connecticut, is the state’s highest summit.  But not the state highpoint.  That honor belongs to a little section of the south face of Mount Frissell.  This New Haven Hiking Club hike took us up and over Bear and Round Mountains, and then up Frissell in Massachusetts, over to the Taconic Ridge and Brace Mountain in New York.  Three states, one state highpoint, four mountain summits and a great hike; about 12 miles on a beautiful autumn Sunday.

We started from the Route 41 parking lot and trailhead, about three miles north of Salisbury, CT on the blue blazed Undermountain Trail.  This is a popular spot; the parking was already filled when we got there at 9am.  Two groups headed up with us, but we were hiking at a pretty good pace, and lost them after a few minutes.  The hike starts with a brief walk through the flats, then a steady incline up the west side of Bear Mountain - it's a workout!

We passed Paradise lane, a cutoff trail that leads north around the summit of Bear instead of going over the top.  Note - This makes a good 6.7 mile loop hike if you just do Bear Mountain – head up over the summit and then take the Paradise Lane Trail back around.  Brassie Brook cuts across the trail next, and with rain yesterday, the brook ran over and flooded the trail making a wet crossing.

The trail levels off for a little while, and then starts back up again heading to the Riga Junction on the Appalachian TrailConnecticut has about 50 miles of the 2175 mile Trail, and this is just a little piece of it.  From this junction, it’s almost a mile to the Bear Mountain Summit.

Climbing the mountain trail
Bear Mountain summit

After another steep climb, the trail levels off again as the trees give way to scrub oak and pine nearing the top of the mountain.  And then the summit – there’s a stone tower, about eight feet tall, that gets you above the treeline for unrestricted views all around.   The tower was originally built in 1885 (much taller with 350 tons of stone hauled up),  and since vandalized, fixed, rebuilt and reset.  We were about an hour and a quarter into the hike now, so relaxed sitting on the tower enjoying the breeze and views –

View North - Mt Everett reservation

View East - Twin Lakes

Break's over – we headed west off the mountain, bushwacking through what used to the Bee Line trail, hands feet and butts down the rock tracks – wet leaves make slippery rock even more so.

Hiking into Northwest Camp
Nestled in the gap between Bear and Round Mountains, you'll find the Northwest Camp - an Appalachian Mountain Club maintained shelter and campsite.  It bunks six plus whoever fits on the floor and is available by reservation on the AMC website.  Just past the cabin, the path leads out to the Frissell trailhead on Mt Washington Road

Our hike leader also happened to be the steward for this section of the Frissell Trail.  The NHCC has maintained the trail to the tri-state line for about 20 years.  So, loppers in hand, we hiked up from the Mt Washington Road lot, past a Connecticut border marker and onto the trail.  There were a few stops to clear some of the brush, and note places that will require more work when the group comes back in the spring.

Up Round Mountain, it's a really steep climb through the last section to the summit.  Most of the forest is oak, and the leaves were just past peak autumn color.  But there were still fire-red maples sprinkled around, and the most striking colors were the bright white birch trees against the red leaves of blueberry bushes.

White Birch and blueberry bushes

After a more gentle descent off Round, it was a tough, steep climb up Mt Frissel.  We made the peak from the east side, and then hiked around to the south face of the mountain. I'm not sure what kind of monument to the highest point in Connecticut I expected, but this wasn't it.  A rock cairn is built up next to a small green post marking the spot.  We broke here for a rest, snack and a little work clearing a view point to the south.  If I had phone service up here, I could have texted out how I was head and shoulders above everyone else in the state, but a photo will have to do.

Around the face, then down through birch forest to the tri state marker.  This monument, dated 1898, has New York etched on one side, Massachusetts on the other, and a nice blank face pointing into Connecticut.  When the marker was placed, Connecticut was still disputing the border.  If that dispute is still on, I say we annex Mt Frissell and take the summit as the new highpoint.  Massachusetts would never even notice!  For now, someone has scratched and marked CT on the blank side just so we know where we are.

The Frissell Trail just past
the New York border
Tri State Marker, with CONN
scratched into the stone.

Continuing west to the end of the Frissell Trail in Taconic State Park, views open up at the southern end of the South Taconic Trail.  We made a quick hike up Brace Mountain, just in time to see a paraglider land in the valley to the west.  This is prime sailing real estate for the Mount Brace Outdoor Club, with near constant wind coming up the valley across the ledge.  After hanging out on the summit for a while, we started the hike back down one of the mountain roads and met a team from the Outdoor Club clearing the trail.  They truck the paraglide rigs in to the base of the mountain on the east, and then hike them up the road to the summit.  No sailing today because it was too windy - one of guys explained "it's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than be in the air wishing you were on the ground."

The view west from Brace Mountain summit

I found a video of a flight over the area - check it out here.

The trip back was a quick hike through the open mountain roads - wide level trails that have been used for logging over the years.  The trails were swamped in sections – running water down Brace Mountain road and in through the Bear Mountain road.  I got to test that the new boots really are waterproof.

Here's a summary of the hike route:
·    Follow the blue blazed Undermountain Trail west from the Rt 41 Trailhead.  Pass the Paradise Lane turnoff, and cross Brassie Brook.
·    Turn north on the white blazed Appalachian Trail to the summit of Bear Mountain (2,326’).
·    West off the summit on the Bee Line trail (not well blazed) to the AMC Northwest Camp.
·    Continue to Mount Washington Road at the CT-MA state border (marker 198) to the start of the red blazed Frissell Trail.
·    Up, over and down Round Mountain (2,293’)
·    Up Mt Frissell to the summit. (2,451’)
·    Down SSW to the CT Highpoint (2,372’) and green post border marker
·    West on Frissell Trail to the tri state marker
·    Continue west on Frissell Trail to its end at the South Taconic Trail in Taconic State Park.
·    White blazed STT south to summit of Brace Mountain (2,323’)
·    Backtrack on the STT and then take Brace Mountain Road down Brace, across Monument Brook.  North on Mt Washington Rd between Round Mountain and Gridley Mountain.
·    Southwest on Bear Mountain Rd to the AT. 
·    South on the AT, then east on the Undermountain Trail back to the Rt 41 parking lot.

5 hours out – including time for snacks, lunch, some trail maintenance, rests at the summits and time waiting for me to get my butt up the steep climbs.  Just under 2 hours back along the flat mountain roads.  Check out the rest of the photos here -

Monday, October 18, 2010

Butterworth Brook Reservoir

Have you been to Sleeping Giant State Park?  I spent a long lunch there today, but not where you'd expect. Northwest across Tuttle Avenue, the Butterworth Brook property is not developed - no trails yet - but this time of year is really worth a look...

Enter along Butterworth Brook

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Macedonia Brook Trail - Kent, CT

Sunny and 60o – an absolutely beautiful morning in Kent.  The leaves are starting to turn – reds and yellows brighten the day. 

        State Park Website                                    Trail Map

You couldn’t script a better start to the hike today.  Sound – babbling brook in the main park picnic area, wind rustling the leaves, a hawk screeches in the distance.  Cue the wildlife – three deer bolt off into the woods as the hawk circles overhead.  And action – start east up the hill on the Blue Trail in Macedonia State Park.  This 2300 acre state park has camping spring to fall, fishing and of course, hiking – seven marked trails including the 6.7 mile blue-blazed loop. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mattabesett Trail – Beseck Ridge

Route 68 to Route 66 section, Middlefield / Durham - 5.7 miles

But since I hiked it out and back and around a little, make it about 12 miles.

Where to hike next?  A friend from work remembered a photo she had, a view off a cliff with water in the background, somewhere around Middletown – maybe Mattabesett Mountain?  A confirming email from her friend came back – the Mattabesett trail south of 691.  Check the Connecticut Walk Book – that sounds like the Beseck Ridge section of the trail.

I parked at the Route 66 parking lot on the north side of 66, just west of the Baileyville Rd (Rt 147) intersection.  A trail leads north and then east from the lot, passing the Mattabesett sign, and the ubiquitous CFPA warning: “STOP – PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  This section of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail traverses a portion of the Metacomet Range, a series of high traprock ridges that drop precipitously at the cliff edge.  A fall from the ridge will result in serious injury or death….”   oooo this will be fun! 

Somewhere in my blog description, I said you can find a trail near pretty much anywhere in Connecticut.  That means you can go from life’s hustle and bustle to the peace and quiet of the forest and trail in no time.  The Mattabesett Trail here is a perfect example. 

With just a short hike, you can go from this…                 To this.

But let’s start at the beginning.  After hiking toward 147 and across Route 66, and then a little walk through the woods, you start to see a clearing through the trees.  Maybe the first views of the pond and mountains?

Well, maybe. But it does get better once you pass the power lines.  There are water views through the trees as you descend the trail – steep and a little tricky with loose stone in spots.  Pass a stone chimney and then what was an old stage road.  Lake, mountain, old road – would have made a good spot for the cottage, or whatever was attached to that chimney.

Start the ascent again, and you break out of the woods onto the first set of cliffs, with great views.  The trail continues along the edge of the cliff, and the views get better the higher you go.  Nearly two miles of traprock ridges that drop precipitously at the cliff edge (now I remember that warning).

... and here.

Precipitous drop here...

Soon the trail moves inland a bit, along old woods roads.  And into what’s left of Powder Ridge Ski Area.  The lifts, operator shacks and snow guns still line the ski trails, just waiting for the town to negotiate a new owner and open up again.  Good Luck Middlefield, I hope it works out this time!

Back into the woods, and then out on the cliff again, this time looking out on the neighboring homes.  You cross another set of power lines, the wander down toward Reed’s Gap with one more cliff view south toward Trimountain.  The trail leads down the hill, over the railroad tracks and out onto Route 68 near its intersection with Route 157.  And that would be the end of this section’s 5.7 mile hike, except that now I have to go back and get the car.  So I took a break near the tracks for a quick snack, and then got on my way again.

When you come to the fork in the trail, take it.

The walk book describes this trip south to north.  So having been through the hike once, I can look through and note anything that’s, well, not quite right.

Let me read how it goes after crossing the railroad tracks… “Start gradual ascent first north then northwest to Beseck Ridge.  Turn north again and follow ridge, passing many cliffs with vistas and views of Talcott Mount and Meriden to the northwest and Long Island Sound to south.” (Connecticut Walk Book, 19th edition, pg 99).  And the topography shown on the trail map bears that out. 

It sounds good, a gradual ascent.  Here’s what it’s really like.

Reed's Gap is the hollow between Beseck Ridge and Trimountain where Route 68 and the railroad tracks run through.  From there it is a easy ascent, and then a drop, and then a steeper ascent and then a drop, and then an even steeper ascent to the first cliff lookout.  I guess that does average out to gradual.  At least this topo map shows some elevation change (follow the blue line down between Mount Higby and Trimountain, find Conrail cutting across, now go up a bit, zoom in and find those small peaks)   Footing on the north side of the second hill is tricky – rocks and pebbles, so take it slow there.  From then on, it’s a nice hike up along the ridge, never straying far from the cliff edge, to the lookouts along the way.

Black Pond and Mount Higby to the north

West Peak, Hanging Hills to the northwest

Sleeping Giant (Mt Carmel) and Prospect Ridge to the southwest

Trimountain and Ulbrich Reservoir to the south

And when you finally come down out of the woods onto 147 and cross Route 66 you find gold - Guida's Restaurant.  Hot Dog and shake to go, please.  I have another half mile to hike back to the parking lot and my car.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall Wildflower Hunt

Over many hikes around the state, I've learned to identify some of the trees - red and pin oak, beech and maple, sycamore and hickory, pines and hemlocks. But wildflowers? No. And since this is fall wildflower time (check out the Sleeping Giant hikes here and here), I tried to identify flowers from Quinnipiac Trail and Mattabesett Trail hikes the last week. Without a lot of success.  I could find a few on a quick web image search, but for me an aster is an aster...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quinnipiac Trail - North End, Rte 68 to Rocky Top

North terminus of the Quinnipiac Trail at Rt 68 in Prospect, to Rocky Top Road in Hamden, 14 miles.

Maybe the most photographed
boundary marker in town

To finish the Quinnipiac Trail, I started at the end (according to the Connecticut Walk Book, anyway) and hiked back through a couple of sections.  The trail starts at the corner of Route 68 and Chatfield St. in Prospect, and the initial ¾ of a mile takes you up the street, around the corner, past the farmer’s field and to the water towers at the end of Cornwall Ave.  And we still haven’t hit the woods yet!  Around the fence, and onto an old stagecoach road, the trail heads up the hill into the woods at a Cheshire – Prospect boundary marker. 

...up the hill to the crest of Prospect Ridge. This traprock ridge forms the border between Cheshire and Prospect – there are stone walls along the way marking the properties.  The trail follows the ridge, which should give you a look in the distance east and west, but it would take a little selective logging to clear the views.

and I really mean the trail follows the ridge
One of the stone walls marking the
Cheshire - Prospect border

Past a small creek, the trail crosses the stream leading to Roaring Brook Falls.  The trail has been rerouted recently; brand new blazes guide the way.  Roaring Brook is babbling brook now; the falls along the trail are just a trickle compared to the spring when I was last through here.  But there is still plenty of evidence of camping at the top of the falls – old campfires, a few plastic sheets and someone’s tent hanging to dry. Somebody missed the "carry in, carry out" lecture.

Roaring Brook, or not

Continue along the ridges - down one and up the next – one of the neighbors has American Indian flute music playing.  It seems fitting in the woods here.  The trail passes a small pond and crosses Route 42, Bethany Mountain Road, entering the Sanford Block of the Naugatuck State Forest. Then it’s a quick climb to the peak of Mt. Sanford, and down to the false summit.  Views from both look out over Prospect, the leaves are just starting to turn color – some red and yellow among all the green.  The trail continues down through YMCA Camp Mountain Laurel and out onto Downes Road.  Much quieter than when I came by in the summer when camp was in full swing.

The road leads you past Westwoods Cemetery, with graves from the early to mid 1800’s.  A big warning sign restricts stone rubbing, artificial decorations (signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs…), but in this case I don’t blame them.  The grave markers look like they need a little TLC.
Walk down the street – near the end of Downes Road, the trail cuts east back into the woods and leads through a really nice section of trail.

Up through the open forest, across clearings for gas and power lines, through a pine forest and then up into a grove of Mountain Laurel that forms an arch over the trail, leading to what’s left of stone cottages. I took a break on what was the front porch.

Up the front steps

Old Stone Cottage

And then up to the next peak - Mad Mare's Hill.  The Walk Book says views east, but I think that was before the trees grew.  Check it again in a couple of months after the leaves fall…

Gather your strength – the next section drops down the hill fast from the 720’ peak, cuts across Brooks Road, leads back over a stone dam and then a steep climb up to High Rock at 670’. Whew! Feel the burn.  The High Rock area marks the north end of West Rock Ridge, yet another traprock ridge running south to New Haven.  The trail runs along the west side of the ridge, bringing you out to the cliff with views west to Woodbridge and Bethany, and a great place to sit and have lunch!
View west into Woodbridge

The trail turns east again at the junction with the Regicide Trail, and a look out through the trees to the New Haven skyline.  The trail along here is due for reblazing – since it’s open and well hiked, it’s easy to get off the trail.  Or maybe I was reading what was carved into the trees instead of looking for blue blazes. “Time Wounds All Heels” – what do you think – Barefoot Hikers?  John Lennon fans?  Maybe jilted girlfriends?  Who knows, but the sentiment has withstood the test of time, and tree growth.

Hazy view to New Haven from York Mountain
Wind down from York Mountain, out onto Paradise Road for another hike along the street.  Then back into the woods, down past Shepard Brook and then out again on the road to Rocky Top.

The Quinnipiac Trail is done!  24 miles along the oldest of Connecticut’s blue-blazed trail system.  What a sense of accomplishment…  Now will someone please give me a ride back to my car?


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