Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chauncey Peak and Lamentation Mountain

Mattabesett Trail – Middletown to the Berlin Turnpike trailhead in Berlin

The trail has been rerouted since the 19th edition of the WalkBook.  This link shows the new route.

I've spent a lot of time on recent hikes down in the lowlands.  Granted, that’s about all you get in southern Connecticut (from the Indian word for flat land with many rivers*) but there is still the occasional walk along a hill or cliff.  This description in the Connecticut Walk Book sounded pretty good – “This almost level ridge is one of the most scenic traprock ridge walks in the state, offering spectacular views to the west, including Silver Lake and the Metacomet Ridge.”  I feel the need for a little altitude – even if it’s just a little.

Red barn marks the turn
on to Bell Street
This 10 mile section of the Mattabesett Trail picks up where I left off at the Country Club Road trailhead north of Higby Mountain.  The hike starts with a 1.8 mile road walk, along Country Club Road, crossing over the highway, and a turn onto Bell Street past barns, goats, houses and yards.


While the blue trails originally went through woods and fields, they've had to be rerouted occasionally as land use changes, and these road walks develop connecting parts of the trail.  The road sections tend to be a little boring, and harder on the feet, but they do allow for interaction with the neighbors.  I passed a house with Keep Out signs on the fence, along with one that said “German Shepherd Playing” – maybe playing with a new hiker chew toy?  Another house noted historic status: “Hezekiah Sage - Before 1785”.  So sometime between the dawn of man and 1785, Mister Sage put head to pillow right here!  And there are always the friendly neighbors enjoying their Saturday morning  – one woman called from her porch to offer a cup of coffee, at the same time her young son – maybe eight or nine years old - was mooning me from the backyard.  Your mama would be so proud!






OK, enough of the neighborhood.  The trail heads west along a gated woods road on Middlesex Land Trust land.  This corridor leads between residential properties past Highland Pond, through the woods and out again onto Atkins Street.  Hike along Atkins a little while, and the trail leads back into the woods through a wonderfully peaceful section of pines and ferns – soft pine needle trail, ferns covering the ground between trees. After a half mile or so, the trail crosses a couple of streams, and becomes a little rockier.  It leads down along a stream and spillway where the footing changes to ankle twisting, knee jarring baseball and softball size chunks of stone – time to climb another of those traprock ridges, steeply up the north side of Chauncey Peak and out along the ridge to the first views of Crescent Lake and the land southwest.

Scramble up Chauncey Peak

to be rewarded with views off the cliffs over Crescent Lake


The trail leads along the west facing cliff, and then crosses to the east side of Chauncey where an active trap rock quarry has taken nearly half the mountain.  Continuing around the southern tip, the trail drops very steeply down a chute in the cliff and along worn switchbacks toward Guiffrida Park and Crescent Lake, 400 feet below the cliffs I just left.



Trap Rock quarry on the east side of Chauncey Peak

Looking out toward Mount Higby, Beseck Ridge
and Trimountain from the southern face of Chauncey Peak

There are park trails along the west shore of the lake, but the blue trail continues farther west past the lake and then turns north to skirt the woods along a power line clearing where you’re just one bad fairway slice away from the Hunter Memorial Golf Course.  The trail doglegs left, and then turns north again into the woods away from the utility clearing as you begin up the switchbacks climbing the southern side of Lamentation Mountain
Mount Lamentation was named in 1636 when a member of Wethersfield Colony became lost and was found by a search party three days later on this ridge, twelve miles from home.  There is some controversy whether the Lamentation refers to his behavior or that of those looking for him.  from this Giuffrida Park web page
This is another long traprock ridge, with the requisite “danger, cliffs ahead” sign.  The trail opens to the first outlook west toward West Peak in Meriden.  Someone tied a flag to the tree branch, I guess claiming this land for the United States

The trail flattens out and continues along the ridge, breaking out here and there to the edge of the cliffs.  It looks out west to the Metacomet Ridge and the Hanging Hills in the distance, and Silver Lake a little closer.  To the northeast you can make out the Hartford skyline, to the southwest lies the hills of Hamden and Naugatuck.  Halfway along the walk, I startled a group (does five make a flock?) of Turkey Vultures from their roost on the cliffs.  They flew off, swooping down then spiraling up over the cliffs, close enough to get a few photos.

The Hanging Hills and Castle Craig to the west

and the Hartford skyline to the north



The ridge walk continues for about a mile, through forest and grassy areas.  Just past a Berlin Land Trust sign, the trail leaves the cliffs and heads east down the mountain.  If you suddenly find a dearth of blue blazes, and find yourself scrambling up the rocks to Lamentation peak, you’ve gone too far.  Backtrack and find the blue trail hooking to the east.  This is part of the reroute that opened the trail again in 2006. 

Down the hill to a woods roads heading north, ATV and dirt bike use has ripped up the trail.  So keep to the edge or maybe just off the trail for better, drier footing.  After passing this half a car (and what could be the other half a hundred yards farther along) the trail exists the woods for a short walk on Lamentation Road and then cuts back into the woods at a utility right of way.  A small blue arrow on the curb directly across from Quail Run Road marks the turn.  An old woods road passes this second heap of car parts, crosses the gas line along a crushed rock path, and enters the woods again, this time along a narrow path between houses until it exits out along a residential driveway onto Spruce Brook Road.  Another mile along the road and the trail ends at the Berlin Turnpike. 



While the road walks and reroutes at either end are nothing to brag about, they do keep the trail intact against a constant struggle between development and conservation – just more of the great work CFPA does to protect forests, parks and trails.  But that part in the middle, up in the air along the cliffs, is one of my favorite hikes in the area.


*Actually, the 1938 book “Connecticut, A Guide To Its Roads, Lore and People” says the name of the state comes from the Algonquin word ‘Quinatucquet’, meaning ‘upon the long river’.  But I was close.




Click this link to more photos in my Picasa web album from the hike

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