Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mount Higby, Middlefield-Middletown

I am happy to report that the north side of Route 66 is a real joy to hike.  After all the ATVs and litter above Black Pond, it was relief.  Most people park in a large lot across Rt 66 from Black Pond and take a blue/red feeder trail to the Mattabesett, but I started at Guida's where the mainline trail crosses the highway. The plan was to reward myself with ice cream after the hike. Sadly, they were closed by the time I returned. 

It doesn't take long before the trail starts heading up the mountain and you get a seasonal view of Black Pond and Beseck Mountain.   They say that lighting is everything. The two photos above are the same view, the same day, with the same camera.  The left photo is washed out from the glare of a high sun, while the right photo is bathed in the low light just before sunset. 

Looking toward the Hanging Hills of Meriden

Before long you're up on the cliff and what can I say, there are views. Views and more views. It's beautiful. I could post about twenty of these vista shots but you would get bored.  

I am not crazy about heights, but this trail was fine.  In the few places where the trail gets really close to the cliff, there are alternative routes further back.  A few years ago a hiker died when took a misstep and fell off the cliff.  I never want to hike so close to the edge that a simple stumble could result in a tragic fall like that.  

Up on the very top of the south peak is this chunk of rock cantilevered out over the cliff, just large enough for a person to stand on.  I hope no one does that, but I'm sure they do. 

Looking towards Higby's north peak

Mt Higby has two peaks, the south peak in Middlefield and the north peak in Middletown. The north peak is a bit higher, is more remote, and less crowded.

Old road rising up the cliff into Preston Notch
Marker along the old road
In between, the trail drops down into Preston Notch, where an old road comes up impressively from below the cliff and follows the notch.  The town line between Middletown and Middlefield is here, and so is an old stone marker.  Is it a mile marker for the road, or a boundary marker between towns? 

Up on the north peak there's a great view of this active quarry on Chauncey Peak.  The next major leg of the trail goes up behind the quarry and comes down the left side, I believe.  So I guess I could wave to my future self. 

Natural Bridge
 I was wondering what the "Natural Bridge" feature would look like.  There wasn't much of an "NB" painted on it like many references note, but it's pretty obvious this is it. No, I did not walk across it, but I'm sure many people do.

Those poor saps down there are stuck behind a traffic accident in I-91. I can see the fire engines. And here I am on a beautiful spring-like day. Whoohoo!!!!! (My punishment for such sentiments came on the way home). 

 Holy cow, the Dutchman's Breeches are popping out of the ground. It's still February!

"Blue Ridge Mountains....West Virginia...." Well, no, but the neat thing about being on the ridge, especially the north peak, is that even though you're really close to lots of people, you still can get away from it all.  There were no ATV trails, almost no litter, and although I passed a fair number of hikers, they were all actually hiking and not some kids looking for a place to hang out unseen by the authorities.

Here's a colony of gray birch, probably all clones of each other.  The tree spreads by suckers.

Back at the Black Pond overlook just before sunset, the cliffs of Bluff Head can be seen in the distance. You can tell it's Bluff Head because the cliffs are backwards, meaning they face west instead of east. I've walked that far?   I guess I could wave to my past self. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reed's Gap to Black Pond

This section starts out well enough in Durham on Route 68, quickly hops over a set of train tracks, and heads up the hill along some ATV tracks.   The ridge has a sense of humor for hikers, with half a dozen false summits and elevation drops before you finally reach the top. 

Hepatica growing in the trail 

Along the south slope a few of the plants looked about ready to take off, including some growing chickweed I nibbled on - the first greens of spring.  

The trail soon crosses the town line into Wallingford and it doesn't take long before there are views. Lot's of views.  There are so many viewpoints along this hike that after a while I think I stopped looking.  

"Mountain Ridge"
Had a very strange moment when I suddenly realized I had been in the one of the buildings I was looking down on, a place called Mountain Ridge. 

After a couple of miles walking along the ridge, the trail crosses into Meriden and passes by the derelict Powder Ridge ski slope. 

The place reminded me a bit of the abandoned Pleasure Beach in offshore Bridgeport.  It's just sitting there rotting away. 

ATV's churned up the trail into slippery mud that was hard to walk on.
Two things stick in my mind for this hike: the endless views and depressing degradation of the place. Up to this point, the New England Trail, although surrounded by suburbs, has kept the illusion of being in the middle of nowhere. Not this time. 

Four sets of ATVs and dirtbikes passed.  I had forgotten it was a school holiday. The damage to the New England Trail is simply unacceptable. This historic trail, created by hikers after painstakingly obtaining permission from many, many private property owners, has been stolen by spoiled children on motorized vehicles. They are destroying it. I don't blame the kids. I blame their parents. 

There were lots of party spots along the ripped up trail as it passed into Middlefield, often on the edge of a cliff and filled with litter and broken glass. I don't know who Mike was, but I'm guessing he fell off the cliff during a party and his friends think he should best be remembered by spray painting the National Scenic Trail. Nice.

Really? Where's that old commercial with the crying Indian....Here it is (amazing what you can find on the Internet). 

 There's Long Island Sound in the distance. 

Black Pond marks the end of the hike.  But getting down to the lake takes some time.  The trail here gets very close to the edge in places so you want to be very careful not to trip and fall.  There's Mount Higby in the distance. That will be next. 

Here's a nice shot of some basalt (trap rock). 

I ended my hike at Black Pond because I've hiked this end before. The actual NET doesn't come out at the pond, but continues on to Rt 147.  When I got to the parking lot to wait for my ride, wouldn't you know there were three obnoxious yahoos blasting music and talking loud, so I walked up to the highway where it was more peaceful. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pistapaug to Trimountain, Durham

Biscuit up on Pistapaug
Another 50 degree day in February and we're back on the trail. Whoohoo!  Starting on Route 17, the trail  rises up Pistapaug Mountain pretty quickly and overlooks Pistapaug Pond. According to my reference book, Pistapaug means "muddy or miry pond."  The pond certainly doesn't look miry (what a great trail  word) from up above, but maybe they have dammed and deepened it. 

Sometimes the trap rock ridges are cliffs, and sometime they are almost cliffs, like the Pistapaug ridge. At least if you lose your footing you could hopefully snag a tree on the way down. 

Fowler Mountain, overlooking Ulbrich Reservoir

A very confused Green Stink Bug.
Before long, we've gone down the mountain, crossed Howd Road, gone back up, and are walking along the ridge of Fowler Mountain in Wallingford.  That's Ulbrich Reservoir down below.  It's a very pleasant stretch of trail with easy footing and broken views but no cliffs to worry about.

They are very welcoming to NET hikers in Wallingford, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the fireworks they were setting off to celebrate my passage.**  You can't see fireworks in the day light, of course, but at times they really got going in celebration and I made sure my dog was securely leashed lest she run off in a panic. Also to keep her from running between my feet.

There used to be a plaque for Washington  here.
The CFPA Walk Book notes an old colonial road that crosses the trail called Wadsworth Farm Road, now back in Durham, and I was on the lookout for that, expecting to find it in the notch between  Fowler Mountain and Trimountain (bingo).  An old USGS topo map shows it as George Washington Trail, but there appears to be no real trail there now. About 100 yards west along the road trace was a concrete post where there used to be a plaque commemorating George Washington, who supposedly used the road in 1775 and 1789.  

The trail up Trimountain.
Trimountain rises up pretty quick, and this way up involves a lot of loose trap rock cobbles called "scree." Well, at least the scree isn't miry.  Happy to have the trekking poles here.  Half way up I turned around and got a nice view of Bluff Head in the distance. Did I really walk that far?

Looking down on the Ulbrich Reservoir Dam. 

The hike up the rubble is quickly rewarded with a great lookout point at an eccentric boulder.  Many maps (including the CFPA map) and photographs mark this spot as "Three Notches," which was something of a mystery.  A "notch" is a gap between high points, not a peak.  

Back home, I found that Trimountain is named for its three peaks that form a triangle, with the three notches between the peaks.  The NET runs along the southern peaks, but misses the northern peak, which has been dug into by the quarry.   So this spot at the boulder overlook is not Three Notches.

USGS topo showing the three peaks and three notches

I'm guessing some map maker probably just put the label a bit low on the USGS map and everyone else copied it. That's how things actually get done. The boulder lookout point is just to the right of the "s" in Notches. By the way, if you click on that map you can see where the Mattabesett Trail used to go to the north, as well as the George Washington Trail, and the Tilcon quarry at the very top center of the map. 

Here's a shot looking north up the Metacomet Ridge across the Tilcon Quarry.  After enjoying the great views, the trail turns away from the ridge and meanders on down very gradually.  I was sad to see some wetland flagging along a stream crossing as the near neared Route 68. That's often a precursor to development. So much of our Connecticut blue trail system is on private property and can be closed at anytime. 

At the bottom of the mountain is one very cool shelter for hikers. There is a story here, but I don't know what it is. All I know is that it's not an official CFPA shelter (there are none along this trail), and the Walk Book doesn't even mention it.  Some nice person just maintains it out of the goodness of their heart. 

And it is VERY nicely maintained and stocked. Very clean and comfy.  Look at the benches built into the shelter facing the fire pit...you sleep behind them.

Biscuit immediately gave the shelter her stamp of approval by gnawing contentedly on her foot. 

Approaching Route 68 hides the Tree Troll.  Terriers like mine were bred for the purpose of entering dark holes, grabbing an evil varmint, and killing it. Go ahead, Biscuit. Get the varmint. I have seen her charge down a hole with only her back toes sticking out to get a woodchuck (which she shook in a gopher-killing frenzy), but she was trembling over this one.  

Back in the car, we just happened to use the driveway of the Tilcon Quarry to turn around in, so I snapped a photo. In the background is the northern of the three peaks of Trimountain, party eaten away by the trap rock quarry operations. Much lower down, behind the conveyor belt, are layers of red sandstone, also called Brownstone. It's neat to see the exposed redbeds and trap rock in the same location like that. 

** Apparently the "fire works" were actually people practicing at a shooting range and it had nothing to do with me. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where Are My Trekking Poles???

The goal for the day was to finish up the trail system at Bluff Head, and a quick hike was planned. I parked in Durham, got out of the car, and WHERE ARE MY TREKKING POLES???  Thinking, thinking...the last time I saw them was at the Bluff Head cemetery, on the opposite end of the park. Hmmm.

Oh well. I pick up a stick and use that. The trail on this end is mostly a muddy ATV track, and a few spots are slick with clay. The trail rises and just before the top it levels off a bit and there's a big gorge down below. Seems like a great place to leave the North Branford letterbox. 

What's neat about the gorge is that you can see where the hard trap rock above meets the red shales and sandstones below. Looking down the gorge, the eroded parts are all red. You don't see any bedrock because the shale and sandstone is very soft and disintegrates the moment it's exposed to the weather. 

At the top of the gorge, you can see the soils and rock outcrop are shades of brown, gray, and orange, but not red. You might have to click on the photos to really see it.

I'm making great time, and before long I'm back up to the cliffs of Bluff Head.  And you know, that cemetery where I last saw my poles is right down at the bottom of the hill.  Hmmm. 

Hey, I can see Long Island Sound today! 

I've got to see if those poles are there.  Instead of back tracking, I rearrange my schedule (thank you, Droid) and decide to press forward.  It's all downhill, of course, and I find a nice detour around the spot I had to slide down on my butt last time.  Pretty soon I'm at the cemetery...


And there's the poles!! Exactly where I left them a few days ago, visible from the trail if you're paying attention.  What are the odds? Elated, I decide to climb back up the steeper mainline NET rather than the easier route.  Although steep, it's not like you need to use your hands. There are a few steps and it just goes up pretty fast.

And I'm back up to the top. And tired. And at this point my camera battery mostly dies and I have to shut it down. But it is simply gorgeous up there. I hang out above the pond for a bit and watch a raven bringing in some sticks for a nest in the cliffs. I can hear the ravens clicking to each other. In the pond, there are silver flashes from fish.  

And on we go. Down the North Slope Trail (blue/white) all the way to the bottom to pick up where I left off a few days ago on the Lone Pine Trail (blue/red), which heads into James Valley Preserve. 

The preserve has the look of a young woods that were a pasture not too long ago. ATVs have really made a mess of parts of the trail, which were slippery from exposed clays.  

I managed one more picture from the dead camera battery, some really happy moss. 

Climbed Totoket 3 1/2 times this day. The first time was fun. The second time was tiring. The third time was grueling.  The Lone Pine Trail actually climbs half way up the mountain, changes its mind and goes all the way back down, and then reverses and climbs all the way to the top.  Are we there yet???  

At the top, I planned on turning right onto the NET, but the junction is terribly confusing due to an ATV track and scant trail markings coming from that direction. I floundered about for half an hour before I finally figured it out.  That's a good reason to turn the gps on at the start of the hike (I had not). The bread crumb feature of the gps is great when you're trying to retrace your steps.