MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND HIKING ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL IN CONNECTICUT

Thursday, May 25th-Picked up our son, Joel, at the airport and, in keeping with recent tradition, as soon as he gets home, we do a home project before starting any fun activities. Joel helped clean out the fish pond and did a marvelous job. We re-filled the pond in anticipation of Bernadette picking up some new goldfish as a blue heron took care of all our fish stock last year.

Joel and I then purchased some equipment, clothing and food supplies before doing our final gear check for our backpacking four day hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  My pack with all the gear weighed 22.8 pounds and Joel’s weighed 25.2 pounds. He agreed to carry the MSR cooking equipment. Our other son, Mike, had to work on Friday and Saturday so he was scheduled to join us very early on Sunday morning for the last two days of the hiking.

The plan was to start hiking northbound on the AT where we left off at the Hoyt Road crossing in New York State and hopefully do about four of the five AT sections that comprise the AT sections in Connecticut. These sections in order would be Section Five, Four, Three and Two.

DAY ONE- FRIDAY MAY 26, 2017

Joel and I met my friend and retired FBI Special Agent Jim along the way so he could follow us to drop our car at the Pine Knob Loop Trail parking area off Rt. 7 in Sharon, Connecticut and then to drive us back to the Hoyt Road crossing to begin our hiking adventure. It was raining lightly but the weather report said the rain was supposed to end soon. Thanks very much Jim. Jim took our photo before our first step.

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As soon as we start hiking northbound on the 11.5 mile long CT Section #5 we see the sign indicating you are entering Connecticut. The sign can be seen from the Hoyt Road crossing in New York State.

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Very shortly, we pass another trailhead parking area, this one off of Rt. 55 and there are signs to tell hikers which direction to travel. Some of the hiking paths were edged with landscape ties and filled with some stones. I presume this was to protect the soggy areas of the trail.

After crossing Rt.55 we climbed 500 feet to the top of Ten Mile Hill which was about two miles into our hike. The rain was starting to let up and the clouds were lifting. Notice the stylish way of tucking my pants into my socks. Tick preventive measures in play.

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On our descent we passed a trio of southbound hikers from Kentucky. We chatted briefly and then we continued our descent to the Ten Mile River Shelter where we met Chickadee(trail name) who hailed from Bangor, Maine.

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Chickadee had spent the night at the shelter as had the Kentucky trio who we had just passed. Chickadee was also hiking northbound. He was doing a longer multiple section hike until he had to work at a summer camp.

I used the nearby open air privy before signing the trail register with my trail name Condor 3. We said we would see Chickadee up the trail.

After leaving the shelter, we crossed the Ned Anderson Memorial Bridge, which is located at the confluence of the Ten Mile River and the Housatonic River. The bridge, erected in 1983, was in memory of Mr. Anderson’s work as a naturalist and trail maintainer between 1929-1948.

The next couple of miles were fairly level and we passed the western side of the Bulls Bridge which is one of two covered bridges in Connecticut which still permit vehicular traffic. The other one is located in West Cornwall, just a short drive away.

Joel took a selfie in front of a blaze which had been adorned with a red heart.

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We encountered a female hiker from Germany who was taking a break while hiking northbound. Her trail name was Trail Snail. She said she hikes faster in morning and then runs out of energy in the afternoon. She had started at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and was going to keep hiking as long as she could until she had to return to Germany. She intended upon returning another time to complete the other parts of the AT.

Trail Snail came by us while I was photographing this orange colored spotted newt. We kind of leap-frogged past each other a couple of times during this day. I took the photo of the newt with the black colored end of my trekking pole next to the newt for scale purposes. Although very tiny, this newt appears to be the same kind of newt I have seen on different AT sections in New York State.

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After crossing Schaghticoke Road, the trail begins about a 1,000 foot climb up to the top of Schaghticoke Mountain. Hikers actually leave Connecticut and reenter New York State for a brief period. There is no sign to indicate we are leaving Connecticut but there is a sign to informing us we have reentered Connecticut. So when I had said previously that I had hiked all the parts of the AT in New York State, I was technically wrong because I had not done this little part until this trip.

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The AT then crossed through the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation. According to some reference  information, this is the only location where the AT crosses Indian Reservation land.

We kept heading north and enjoyed the views from the trail which had some ups and downs but we never went below 1,000 above sea level.

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We crossed various brooks, which, thanks to the recent rainfall of the past couple of weeks, were surging with water. As I was trying to ford one of these streams, I slipped off a rock and sunk my left boot, sock and lower leg in the chilly water. My right boot got wet as well. I later took off my boots before crossing another stream. After walking through the next stream wearing my socks, I sat on a nearby rock, removed my wet socks and put my boots onto my bare feet as we only had a short way to go to the Mount Algo Shelter which was our destination for the day. This is located just .3 miles before the end of Section 5 which ends at the CT Rt. 341 road crossing. Some hikers had already arrived and were claiming spots inside the shelter. Here is a photo of the shelter.

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This was to be my first time sleeping on the AT. I strung my ENO two person hammock on two trees in a tent site immediately next to the shelter which had a six person capacity. Joel intended on sleeping inside the shelter. Trail Snail had already arrived at the shelter. So had another hiker from Germany. He did not know Trail Snail.

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After filtering some water, Joel heated up the water for our dehydrated meals. I had Beef Stroganoff which was not too bad. I later cleaned our few utensils and bowls and then filtered some more water to take on our next days hike. Joel hung our food bag on a tree limb a little ways away from the shelter.

The shelter/tent site got very quiet by about 8pm as all the hikers were tired. Sleep came quickly and I had a brief startle when a late arriving hiker tripped over one of my guy wires for the rain fly which protected me from any rain. The hiker and at least one other companion got situated with their tent and hammock and then it was very quiet. No bear activity.

We had hiked 11.2 miles with 34,017 steps (according to Joel’s FIT tracker).

I almost forgot one other thing. I picked a trail name for Joel. He is forevermore “Luna Chaser”. The derivation of this name is that his dog is named Luna and when they hike/run trails together, Joel seems to always be chasing Luna. I thought it fit. Now I have to come up with something for Mike.

DAY TWO- SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2017

I did not want to get out of my hammock too early so as not to make much noise but after hearing other hikers stirring, I arose and took down my hammock at 6:15 am. Joel started heating the water for our breakfast and I had a cup of Tea along with my first and very last Biscuits and Gravy dehydrated meal. Yuck! One of the hikers who started sleeping inside the shelter moved during the night and slept on top of the nearby picnic table. I am not really sure why.

Today’s hike plan was to do the last .3 miles of Section Five, all of the 11.1 miles of Section Four and then the first 1.3 miles of Section Three before we would turn right at the southern junction of the AT and the Pine Knob Loop side trail so we could hike about a mile down to the parking area where we had left my Kia Soul yesterday morning. We were doing this as we were going to use a tent site at the Housatonic Meadows State Campground as our base of operations for the next three days/two nights.

We hiked the steep descent down to the road crossing for Rt.341, passed a man and some family members who were heading up the hill and then crossed the road. We climbed a stile over a fence and began Section Four with about a 400 meter climb and did a series of small ups and downs staying a little under or a little over 1,000 feet above sea level for about four and a half miles. We covered Fuller Mountain, Skiff Mountain Road, Caleb’s Peak and St. Johns Ledges before starting a very steep rock scramble descent toward the River Road crossing. Our hiking pace slowed dramatically on this descent as a misstep would have very painful consequences. Joel was a big help in scouting the safest route down.

The good news is the next 4.8 miles were almost as flat as Texas. We passed the Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter and the Stony Brook Group Campsite. This part of the trail basically paralleled the bank of the Housatonic River. We had a lot of stream crossings, some done by rock hopping and others by walking on top of two/three trees where a sliver of wood was taken off the top edges to make a flat section for the bridge. Traction grooves were etched into the wood with a chainsaw. Joel did one of his world famous “jumping” photos.

We then began another 600 foot plus climb past the Silver Hill Campsite to the top of Silver Hill. Not wasting any time we rolled on past the top and started the steep descent back down the mountain as we approached the road crossing at CT Rt. 4 which is the northern end of Section 4.

Our original plan was to keep going another 2.5 miles to get to the trailhead where my car was parked. We needed to get to the car to drive to and check in at the campground. We discussed our options and made the executive decision to end our hike this day at 11.4 miles. We came out of the woods and started walking east on CT Rt. 4 and tried hitchhiking. This is something I had not done since around 1970 when I hitched to western Pennsylvania with a college friend. A few cars zoomed past us but a trail angel driving a club cab pickup truck pulled over. Joel helped get the packs into the back of the truck and we sat inside the cab. The driver said he figured we walked enough today and could use a lift. Boy was he right. We thanked him very much and he took us the mile trip to our car and dropped us off.

We drove my Kia to the Housatonic Meadows Campground and checked in. The Park Office ladies were very nice, gave us a map and sent us to Tent site #30.  I let them know that my son Mike would be arriving in his car about 6am on Sunday morning. They gave me a parking pass for his car too. We headed right out of the campground to a general store we had seen while in the trail angel’s truck. Joel convinced me that an ice cold chocolate milk would taste great to hold us off until dinner. It was superb. We returned to our campsite. Joel offered to set up our tent while I took a shower at the campground. They had hot water but the valve was on a timer so you had to keep pushing a button to get the shower water to start again. I then attempted to contact our recently made friends, Jack and Nancy Rafferty, who live in South Kent, for dinner. After Joel took his shower, we started heading south toward Kent, CT hoping we would get a cell service signal. Our calls kept getting dropped.

Finally we had a complete cell conversation and the plan was to have a cocktail at Jack and Nancy’s house before going to the nearby Bulls Bridge Inn for dinner. That was a wonderful plan. Jack and Nancy shared some stories about their children and grandchildren, some of whom had just graduated college. We had a nice chat followed by a very tasty dinner. We said our good byes and returned to the campground. We checked in with Mike by phone and planned to see him around 6-6:15am the next morning. Sleep came real quickly. Again.

We hiked another 11.4 miles with 37,958 steps (aggregate total for this trip so far is 22.6 miles/71,975 steps).

DAY THREE- SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2017

As Joel had done most of the heating of the water for meals, I got up early to set up the MSR stove. The only problem was that Joel’s butane lighter, which he had used for ten years, had finally run out of fluid. My self sparking one was left at home since Joel was bringing his kit. I won’t make that mistake again. As I explained this to Joel while he was still inside the tent, Mike pulled up to our tent site. Perfect timing. Mike lent us a lighter and we had breakfast. I had tea and some beef flavored Ramon noodles. We discussed some logistics for parking of vehicles at trail-heads and the topography of Section #3 which is a 11.5 mile section running in the northbound direction from CT Rt. 4 road crossing to the intersection of CT Rt. 112 and CT Rt. 7. This section featured about eight different small peaks to traverse. Almost all of them were between 1,000 and 1,390 feet in elevation.

As I was packing my backpack, Joel said we should leave most of our gear in the car or at the campsite to lighten our load. He suggested we just bring fluids and some snacks. That sounded like a good plan. Then Joel started putting his stuff in my backpack. He said we might as well only take one backpack and, if it was okay with me, Joel would carry my pack today. I could just use my trekking pole and could get a drink or snack out of my pack when we took a break. That sounded great. I had two sherpas working for me. Joel carried the provisions in one backpack and Mike carried a medical kit and other unknown exigent necessities in his backpack. Joel had to cinch up my waist belt so the pack fit securely on him.We started at CT Rt. 4, the same place we left off the prior day, and, after just a few tenths of a mile, we came to a stream crossing that was deep and rapid enough with minimally good rocks to hop across. I agreed with Mike and Joel that I should use both trekking poles, take off my socks and boots, and walk barefoot through the stream. It was too early in the day to risk getting soggy socks and boots. I managed to get across safely, dried my feet as best I could with some tissues from my pocket, put on my socks and boots and we kept on trucking. Joel was hiking in hiking flip flops so his feet could get wet. Mike just used his good balance to get through the stream. After we topped a couple of peaks, we then passed the Pine Knob Loop Trail southern junction at 9:08am. It is marked by the sign below.

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I was glad we opted to shorten our hike yesterday. It would have been a lot of work to do late in the afternoon. The hitchhike was the ticket. A half hour later we passed the northern junction of the Pine Knob Loop Trail which overlaps with the AT for this short part. The Pine Knob Loop Trail then turns right and leaves the AT. The side trail goes back down the mountain and meets the southern section at the same trail-head parking lot along Rt. 7.

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Mike and Joel took turns being the lead scout while the other was the caboose behind me. They are great hiking companions. I always felt they kept a watchful eye on their dad.

No better proof of this was when Joel at 11:07am, in the scout role, heard the sound of the rattlesnake under a bush just to the right of the trail. We all halted until we could see exactly where the snake was coiled up with his rattle rattling. See photo below.

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I looked around the area to make sure there were no other snakes or problems and we then continued northbound carefully staying away from the snake. The snake was probably getting tired of warning people as a group of four trail runners had just run past us. I am not an expert in snake identification but I think it could be an Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake from the color and markings. It is either that or a dark colored Timber rattlesnake.

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Around noon we stopped in at the Pine Swamp Brook Shelter where one female hiker was just resting and another male hiker from Germany was also taking a break. I signed the trail register and noticed that the trail entry above mine was dated May 27th. “Captain Underpants” stopped in for lunch and had another 11 miles to go before his/her hiking day ended. I wonder how he/she got that trail name. Note Joel’s trail name of Luna Chaser was written into the register for the first time.

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The hiking on this section continued the pattern of climbing additional hills such as Mount Easter, all between 1200-1400 feet above sea level for another five miles before the trail started a fairly steep descent past a sign for Belter’s Campsite. One of the hikers we briefly met at the Pine Swamp Brook Shelter was planning on staying the night at Belter’s Campsite.

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As we continued to descend we passed a location called Belter’s Bump before we finally emerged out of the woods onto Rt. 7 just south of the trailhead parking area at the intersection with Rt. 112.

We had hiked another 11.5 miles with another 38,538 steps (Aggregate total for this trip was now 34.1 miles/110,513 steps).

Mike and Joel gave me a ride back to my car and they went off to find a market for some food/snacks. I went back to the campsite to get a shower and get some things organized for tomorrow’s hike. There was no hot water in the campground shower which made it an exhilarating experience.

Mike and Joel returned and we heated up some water for some dehydrated food. Joel made a fire to help dry off Mike’s boots and to keep bugs at bay. Mike set up his cot with a rain tarp over it. He had even purchased bug netting at a fabrics store in case he needed to make a bug net. Mike is always so resourceful. We played a couple of games of the card game Pounce thanks to Mike who brought a few decks of cards with him. It was great talking and playing cards in a campground setting.

I expressed my concerns to Mike and Joel about the length of Section #2 which was a 9.9 mile stretch originally planned for tomorrow. I was worried that there was a chance of rain and I was concerned about the possible problems of Memorial Day traffic since I had to get Joel back to JFK for his return flight to Seattle in the late afternoon. Once again, Mike and Joel helped reach a consensus and we decided to do a shorter part of Section #2, about 2.6 miles, so we could be assured we would be done in the early morning as that part of the trail was very flat. We could use the extra time together to have a late breakfast or early lunch before saying our goodbyes. Joel fell asleep before 7:30pm and did not wake up until about 5:30am on Monday.

DAY FOUR- MONDAY, MAY 29, 2017 (Memorial Day)

We arose early to pack up our tent site. Mike went out and picked up coffee and brought back a hot tea for me. Joel wanted to have the coffee variety he had packed. I heated up the water while I finished packing.

Our plan was to drop my car off at the same trailhead parking area from yesterday at Rt. 112/Rt. 7 and then we would park Mike’s car further north up the AT. We would then hike southbound toward my car.

We got started about 7:45am at the bridge over the Housatonic River near the intersection of Falls Mountain Road and Housatonic River Road in Falls Village, CT. A light rain began to fall. Mike’s good navigational sense kept me pointed in the right direction.

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After just a short hike, we passed this informational sign:

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The rain increased only slightly as we hiked and crossed Water Street and Warren Turnpike. We were mostly under the cover of leaves and the trail was almost entirely flat so the hiking was easy. Joel warned me once in jest that we had a “nine foot high hill coming up”. We soon came down Warren Turnpike and on our right was the Roland H. Chinatti – John L. Mahoney Region One Tennis Courts park where there was a portable toilet and a water well pump which can be used by AT hikers. I stopped to take a few photos.

We left the Tennis park, walked past the Housatonic Valley Regional High School and turned right to return to the intersection of Rt. 112 and Rt. 7. We looped the farmer’s field where recently planted corn appeared to just be emerging through the soil.

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We passed Chickadee who was hiking northbound. We gave him a power bar and he had pulled a clear plastic bag over his pack due to the increasing rainfall. He did not use a high tech, purchased elastic cover from an outfitter store. He improvised and used a clear plastic trash bag. He said it even had a hole for his head. We wished him well and we returned to our car.

We hiked another 2.6 miles with about 12,023 steps (Overall total for this trip is 36.7 miles/122,536 steps).

We got in my car and I drove back to Mike’s car before we heading south to Kent, CT where we had a tasty breakfast at The Villager Restaurant. Mike had the sweet potato pancakes; Joel had the rice and beans burritos; and I had the 1-2-3 Special which was one slice of french toast, two pancakes and three eggs (scrambled). I got a couple of sausage links on the side. Kent was having its Memorial Day Parade while we were eating. Mike and Joel treated me to breakfast as I had paid for the tent site. Bernadette and I are so lucky to have such amazing children.

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As I drove Joel to JFK Airport, Joel  researched on guthookhikes.com the information that the overall elevation gain/loss along the entire Appalachian Trail is about 917,760 feet along the 2,185 mile length of the AT. That equals to an average of about 420 feet of change per mile. We did a few of those ups and downs during the past four days.

I have now hiked 146.4 miles of the AT (89.8 in NY, 19.9 in NJ and 36.7 in CT). Thanks to Michael and Joel and to my friends who have either hiked with me or helped get me to trail-heads.

Thanks to Bernadette for supporting my interest in the AT.

I will get the last part of CT done on another day.

RAB

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