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 -


  1. Small world. I was just here recently. Beautiful section in autumn. Glad you enjoyed some fine views.



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