Saturday, October 27, 2012

Higby Before the Storm

The air was so thick you can barely see West Peak in the distance. 

Saturday before the Hurricane Sandy was set to hit, the tropical air was thick, warm, and quiet.  A group of us set out to enjoy the last of the fall hiking before making final preparation for the massive storm that was predicted.  And so now I'm enjoying the last of the electricity, heat and water as the storm approaches and will leave you with these pictures. That may be it for awhile on the trails, depending on what kind of mess  Sandy leaves behind. [update: lost power for six days]

The popular first viewpoint. 

Looking towards the second Higby peak

Don't step backwards.

Delicate Harebell flowers in bloom on the edge of the cliff.

Harebell - a native species

Bayberries - the stuff they make candles from

Bayberry growing on the cliff edge

Friday, October 26, 2012

East River Preserve - Guilford

New trailhead on Clapboard Hill Road

And we're back in Guilford, where we started this adventure last January, because they've completed another 1.5 mile of trail heading south and I want to hike it before Frankenstorm Sandy gets here. I saw a CFPA notice about the new section, and there's a map online here showing the extension from Sullivan Drive down to Duck Hole Road.  So that's where I was headed when I passed the unmistakeable NET trail markings on Clapboard Hill Road. Yippee, they got the trail even farther than they said!

Trail map based on my gps route

This was great timing for a hike in Guilford, since their fall foliage was not as advanced as further north and it was like going back in time a week or so. 

Random ruins along the trail

This section of trail is lovely, with some of the most perfectly painted trail blazes I think I have ever seen. It is not easy to paint a perfect rectangle on rough bark, but these were perfect. 

Lots of bolders
Guilford has the only part of the mainline NET that is not on the Metacomet traprock ridge. This rock is more what I'm used to -- gneiss and schist. And there is lots of it. 

Skirting the meadows

There is a series of meadows that the trail eventually comes out onto, following near the edge. It's all very  tastefully well marked.

East River
And then the tidal East River comes into view.  I watched a King Fisher diving for fish and wondered what the impending storm would do to the trail.   There are a lot of leaves left on the trees, which will be bad for blowdowns.

East River

Bridge crossing off of  Foote Bridge Road
There is a lovely bridge that crosses the East River and looks like it used to take vehicular traffic coming off of Foote Bridge Road.

Four-foot diameter White Oak - the state tree
I noticed a lot of White Oaks along the floodplain here. One was a good four foot in diameter.  I just recently completed an inventory of White Oak trees that were planted in my town, many of which perished, so it was nice to see the state tree thriving here. Oaks throughout Connecticut are in decline for a variety of reason, one being that oak saplings are a favorite deer food.

Sullivan Drive
The walk to Sullivan Drive is about 45 minutes plus stops to gawk at the river or whatever. This is where I left off last January, so I turned around and headed back. If you park at the popular pulloff on Sullivan Drive just before the ugly concrete bridge, you have to continue walking up Sullivan over the bridge and then turn right into the meadow as soon as you see it, and the trail is right there. You don't need to walk as far as the boulders in the photo above.

Heading back from Sullivan Drive

More random ruins - an old breached dam (back near the beginning)

East River overlook. This is back near the car. 

Autumn Snooze - the joy of not racing down the trail
After this, I really don't know what the plans are for this trail. The endpoint is supposed to be Chittendon Park on the shore, but that involves a road walk of about 4 miles or so. It's not a bad walk, but not a hike, either. I read that plans for the route will be finalized by 2014.  I can't imagine how it might get off the roads, because it's a very densely populated area and if you look at a satellite photo every appears to be either a place of business, someone's yard, or a vast marsh.

Monday, October 22, 2012

West Suffield Mountain

...but the "Metacomet Trail" at heart
The Connecticut section of the New England Trail ends with a long road walk to the Massachusetts border from the corner of Phelps Road and Route 168, but it didn't used to be this way.  The Metacomet Trail once continued north along the forested ridgeline all the way to the Mass border and Rising Corner Road, a total distance of about two and a quarter miles. Sadly, a landowner shut down the trail on his or her property, making it impossible to thru hike. Although only the last quarter mile of trail was shut down, the entire 2 1/4 mile section of trail lost it's official status as the Metacomet Trail, and was demoted to the "Blue Trail."  :'(

Since I'm not a backpacking thru-hiker, and don't do the road sections, I'm treating the "Blue Trail" as though it were still the official Metacomet Trail (and New England Trail). You will not find any information about this trail in your CFPA CT Walk Book, but I've included a few maps here.

The trailhead is at the Howard H. Alcorn Wildlife Preserve just across the street from the Suffield Mountain trailhead.  I was not planning on hiking the Blue Trail on the same day as Suffield Mountain, but the it was right there across the street.  Although it was late in the day, it could not wait. The end of the trail! (for Connecticut, anyway).  I figured I could cover the four mile round trip before sunset if I moved quickly.

I picked up a trail map kindly supplied at the start of the trail (scanned at the bottom of this post)  and started up the White Trail, quickly passing another chimney, and very shortly joined the blue. The map at left is from my gps route (click it to enlarge). 

Chimney on the White Trail

There is supposed to be the remains of another cabin along the Blue Trail, but I couldn't find it and suspect it may be another casualty of the massive powerline work that's going on in a couple of towns up here. Part of the trail near the powerlines was likewise obliterated, but turn right along the powerlines for a bit and look for the blue to re-enter the woods on the left.  The top of West Suffield Mountain is not far after that. 

Gazing out over Massachusetts from West Suffield Mountain

It was a fast walk along the ridge in search of the end, racing with the sinking sun and trending down the hill, when all of the sudden there it was. Two horizontal blue blazes. 

So this is how it all ends.

The end of the trail.

So close to the Massachusetts line.  It would have been really nice to be able to go just another quarter mile and step over the boundary. It's a reminder that a lot of the New England trail passes over private property with permission from the landowner that can be revoked at any time for any reason. I hope there are some local people in Suffield working to find a way to reconnect the path.

On the way back, the low light of the sinking sun made for some nice fall foliage shots.

Sweet Fern (not actually a fern)

Red Oak

The Connecticut NET journey is not over!  There's a new section down in Guilford that was just completed in 2012, and then there's that long section of the Mattabesett Trail that looks like a spur off the mainline NET. And after that, there's always Massachusetts.

I will leave you with the hand-out maps for West Suffield Mountain:

Suffield Mountain

Last official section of the New England Trail in Connecticut!  Don't get too excited, though, because there's a demoted section of trail after this that will be the "real" end for me. It's also the last gasp of fall, at least in northern Connecticut. Great timing!

This was a long drive for me, about an hour and a half, and involved a moment of confusion when the Droid took me into Massachusetts. Wha? And then it dawned on me that I was driving through that little piece of land that Massachusetts stole from us, you know, the part that juts down into Connecticut.  And just like that all the plates were Mass plates.  I wondered if the people here pronounce their R's.

Another chimney
Before long the road swung back into Connecticut and I found a small pull-off  to park the car on Phelps Road near the intersection with Rt 168. A sign announced the land as Spencer Woods and the blue blazes headed quickly up the hill.

I believe there is an error in the CT Walkbook with regard to the distances on this mountain. According to the mileage given, it's 4.0 miles to the town line via Copper Mountain, but only 1.2 miles to the town line via Suffield Mountain, yet the town line is nearly halfway between the two trailheads.  I believe it is 2.2 miles, or slightly longer, to the town line from Suffield Mountain, but only 2.5 to 3.0 miles to the town line via Copper Mountain.

Shortly after beginning the hike, there is a well-worn but unmarked path on the left that leads quickly to yet another chimney. This one had some sort of seats built around it, but was pretty overgrown.  A bit further on there is a big routered sign for the George A. Harmon woodlot (which would explain the dense new undergrowth and rotting stumps), and a trail heading down the slope that was once blazed orange. They probably used cheap spray paint, because the blazes are nearly gone.

Now you know where you are.
And in less that two miles of hiking along the ridge there's a beautiful overlook accompanied by a mysterious sign informing you of the latitude and longitude, as well as a bench and a trail logbook.

Trail logbooks are fun. Sort of like letterbox logbooks but without the rubber stamps or the need to actually find the logbook, which means that everyone can sign it, not just those of us who have joined the cult. This book was nicely maintained and just full of signatures.

Trail logbook

Pages and pages of this stuff.

A beautiful view!

Heublein Tower in the distance.

Another balloon
After the overlook, it was just another 15 minutes of hiking to the town line, where I left off on my previous trip. I did manage to find yet another balloon on the trail. It was a wedding balloon, high up on Suffield Mountain.

I got back to the car at 2:45 pm and that's where I had planned on leaving off for the day. From the intersection of Phelps Road and Rt 168, the trail sadly follows the road for about 2 1/2 miles to Massachusetts and the Metacomet-Monadnock portion of the New England Trail.  Because I'm just a day hiker and not doing the road walks, this should end the Connecticut portion of the New England Trail for me.  It doesn't. There are two more miles of demoted trail that will take me within a quarter mile of the border. And rather than drive home as I had planned, I set out to finish the job and find what for me is the 'real' end of the trail. But that will be another post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Copper Mountain, East Granby

Doll's Eye Baneberry
What a glorious hike!  Peak foliage. The forest seemed to be positively glowing in yellow and gold. If only we could bottle this.  Parking was at the corner of Route 20 and Newgate Road, and this appears to be a pretty popular place to park considering there is no real parking lot. The trail is heavily worn, but on a Thursday morning I was able to walk to the Suffield town line without seeing a single person. It was only on the way back that I began to encounter groups of people walking up to the top of Copper Mountain for a look. And for good reason. This is a lovely stretch of trail where the sounds of the suburbs quickly drop away, leaving only a rarely passing jet taking off from nearby Bradley airport.
Junction with the Red Trail

Asters and Maple
The trail climbs steadily for nearly a mile to the red trail coming in from Route 187 to the east. This is also called the Brian Spears Eagle Trail. Later I followed the Red Trail almost all the way to the bottom, and sadly the "trail" had been recently widened and graded into a dirt woods road. Still hikeable, but nowhere near as pleasant as climbing up the mountain via the Metacomet Trail.

Just past the red trail the blue blazes head up a steeper section of trap rock to a spectacular overlook. Finally!  After the view-less hike along Hatchet Hill, this is just what I was looking for. And more. It was one of those, "Wow! I mean wow!" moments.
Copper Mountain

View south along the Talcott Mountain ridge and Heublein Tower

USGS Survey Marker
This mountain has two names.  On the CFPA map and on the USGS Survey Marker set in stone it is called "Copper Mountain."  In many other places it is called, "Peak Mountain, also known as Copper Mountain."  I refuse to call it Peak Mountain  because it just sounds daft, like saying "Street Road" or "Stream River.  And Copper Mountain is a perfect name.  Copper was discovered here in 1705, and two years later a group of investors organized the first chartered mine in the country. The ground was worked for decades, but it never turned a profit. They did make some interesting copper coins called "Higley Copper" that are now collector items.  Eventually the Colony of Connecticut purchased the underground mine and converted it into the nation's first state prison in 1776, now a tourist attraction (but sadly closed this year for renovations).

View northwest towards Massachusetts

After the breathtaking fall views, the  trail continued along the ridge for quite some ways with partial views, eventually coming to a second lookout almost as good as the first.  The remains of Old-Newgate Prison are visible from the ridge.

Looking down on Old New-Gate Prison


Nice to see fewer houses and more trees
Slug trails on trap rock
Further on, the ridge gradually descends to a broad level area, still high up on the ridge, where a granite monument marks the boundary between East Granby and Suffield, the 19th and last town in Connecticut along the New England Trail. Yippee!  It's a beautiful spot deep in the forest set between Copper Mountain and Suffield Mountain. This stretch of trail is over five miles long with no road crossings, one of the longer stretches, and the town line is roughly mid-way. The marker is only ten feet or so from the trail and easy to spot.  But if you're looking for it and miss it, it's very near a dramatic full-sized hemlock that is growing right out of a big chunk of trap rock at the edge of the cliff. Hard to miss it. And right after that is a great view point.  Nice spot all around.

East Granby - Suffield granite boundary monument

Near the granite monument are a couple of much older markings that I assume are previous attempts to mark the town line, which they would naturally do up here on top of the ridge. First is a pile of rocks. It's funny when you read old deeds or survey maps and they define property lines by things like "the pile of rocks."  What if someone from East Granby decided to just move the pile of rocks over and take part of Suffield?

Old boundary marker
And a bit further into the woods are a couple of  flat pieces of shale that have been stuck into the ground on end.  I'm guessing those are also old boundary markers.
Another old boundary marker

View at the East Granby - Suffield town line
There's a great viewpoint close by on the Suffield side. Beautiful! I can't wait to hike back to this point, but next time from the Suffield side.

Interesting spot for a mushroom to grow.