Sunday, March 6, 2011

I just don't know what to wear!

   It's been a tough winter - more snow that I can remember.  And while hiking through nearly three feet of fresh powder was fun, the crusty stuff has put a damper on my hikes the last weeks/months.  But I have just a few trail sections to finish at Sleeping Giant, and just a few weekends to do it before winter is over.

   I had a six mile hike planned (Greg - that's about two leagues or 480 chains) over the Blue trail, doubling back on one section of the White - starting off at Hartford Turnpike.  This section of the Quinnipiac Trail doesn't see much traffic - compared to the rest of the trail though Sleeping Giant State Park anyway.  I tried to hike it a month ago, but first step in I was thigh deep in snow.  Better to put this one off until some of the ground is visible through the snow, right?

   Well, the day finally came.  It hasn't snowed in weeks, and the temperature was supposed to soar into the 50's (or into the teens for those of you whose temperature reading ends in a C instead of an F). As it turned out, the day was cool and breezy, a little rain threatening.  But close enough;  I packed up for the trip - fleece pullover, shell, gloves, gaiters, ice spikes, poles...  (One of the reasons I started hiking was that it's just a walk in the woods.  No gear required.  As it turns out, maybe a little gear.)

   Once out of the car and onto the trail, the snow was gone!  I left everything in my pack and started off.  Hiking up the hill, the trail was completely clear - of snow, anyway - there were tree branches across the trail every ten feet or so.  I cleared some as I went, but the trail crew is going to be busy in a few weeks.  I took off at a brisk pace thinking this might only take a couple of hours.  And then I crested the hill, turned the corner and walked into a foot of snow.  OK, pack off, pull out the gaiters, suit up and away we go again.  There was only one track through the snow so far, and his stride was a bit shorter than mine - no way I could stay in his footsteps.  There was a solid crust, and I was staying on top until - thunk! - post hole calf deep into the snow.  I tried to dance across the top, thinking light thoughts, but ended up crunching through for about a half mile until the trail had seen a little more traffic and was packed down.  (I did stay over on the side of the trail so anyone coming through with snowshoes has a clean track.)  By now, I was working up a sweat and stopped for the second wardrobe change - off with the shell and gloves, into the pack they go.

Photo borrowed from a
much better photographer
   As I crossed Mt Carmel Ave into the park proper, a red tail hawk swooped over - chased by a couple of blackbirds.  The hawk was an adult, full broad wings and tail, light feathers underneath and the characteristic black bar along the leading edge of the wing.  In full flight as the blackbirds harassed it.  Every time I see this, I wonder why the hawk doesn't just pivot and snatch one of the birds right out of the air - the fight would be over in a heartbeat.

   Hiking up the Blue trail toward Hezekiah's Knob, I started looking for signs of spring - anything starting to grow?  Sorry, not yet.  It's all still ice and snow.  I turned back toward Mt. Carmel on the White trail to finish off that section, and slipped down an icy spot on the rocks.  Another pit stop, donning my Kahtoola MicroSpikes.  These spikes have been great over the winter, easy to put on over my boots, helping to keep me upright over the ice covered rocks and trails.  I was on the Giant's head last weekend, following a group of guys in full packs practicing for an upcoming weekend backpacking trip.  Climbing up the west face, the cliff was clear of snow and ice.  I stayed at the top as they started down the back side - the side that faces north and was still covered in ice.  Soon after they left, I heard someone scream and groan, along with a few calls of "are you alright?"  The last guy in the group slipped on the ice going down the traprock cliff and ended up flat on his back - or backpack. Fortunately, the pack cushioned his fall and probably protected his head from slamming onto the rocks.  I got down to him as his friends helped him up.  "Nice spikes", he said.  "I should probably get some."  They have turned out to be a good buy.

photo from
Wallflower Dispatches
   So down the White and back on the Green trail until it crossed the Blue trail again.  The trail continues up and down the ridges, offering nice views toward the southeast.  This is one of my favorite spots in the park - sitting on the cliff looking over the hills in the distance.  The trees thin out here, and the trail gets plenty of sun.  The snow was gone and the trail dry, so I pulled off the cleats and gaiters.  My tan cargo pants were billowing out over the black gaiters, looking like a mismatched pair of jodhpurs.  That may be OK in a 1920's riding stable, but here isn't much of a fashion statement.  Everything back in the pack and I continued on to the Tower.

View northeast from the top of the tower

   The Tower is the most popular destination at the park.  You can reach it from the Blue trail, or from the much easier, crushed stone paved, wide and level Tower Path.  There's usually a crowd up here, and today was no exception - groups of kids running around, dogs trying to break leash and play with the kids, hikers and walkers enjoying the view.

Hiking along the stream that's the Blue Trail

   After a break and snack, I started back out down the Blue trail again.  The trail was swamped here, with the melting snow pooling over or running down the trail. I sloshed through hoping my boots stayed waterproof.  The Blue tail crosses the Tower path, and I met some of the people who left the Tower when I did.  But their walk down was a little easier, I still had another ridge to climb.  So the spikes come back on for another trip up and down the rocky trail.

End of the White Trail
Over the other side, the Blue and Tower Path cross one more time, and I met the same group again.  This time, I crossed to the White trail for the last leg of the hike.  Once again, this is a rocky and open trail, and the snow and ice had melted away.  Off came the spikes, this time I just held them dangling from my poles instead of stopping again to repack.  Just a little further and I hit the trailhead, back at the parking lot, done for the day.

Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, the snow and ice will be gone, and packing for a little hike will get easier.


  1. Nice post Jim. It's a great looking landscape you get to walk in. Thanks also for helping me out with the distance of 480 chains. Can I throw my abacus out now? At first glance I thought that was a photo of you in B&W rockin' the billowy pants. That look could almost work whilst hiking. Thigh high gaiters are a great idea...

  2. Does this mean you've finished the winter GM? What a winter to be trying to meet a goal! Glad I was done in December BEFORE all the snow started! Hope to see you on one of the group's hikes - yesterday was soggy, but always fun to get out in! Good luck, if you've more to do for the GM!

  3. Let's see... Blue, check. White, check. Green, check - yep, that's it. And only five weeks behind my self-imposed schedule. Now the pressures off - I'll bet we'll run into each other one of these hikes.


  4. SS - thanks for stopping by, and I have to agree with you. Though if I use my progress on CT's blue trails as a barometer, I've only seen about 15% of it!



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