Tuesday, September 12, 2017

MA NET Section 18b- 19a Royalston Falls/ NH Border

Red Eft stage of the Eastern Spotted Newt
Day Four, the last day of our mini-vacation, and it was New Hampshire or bust. We checked out of the French King Motel, grabbed some coffee and muffins from the Pocket Saver Market on Route 2, and headed up Richmond Road, where we had to stop four times to let vast herds of turkey cross the road. My husband dropped me off at the trailhead and drove away in search of his own adventure.

Four Red Efts 

This explains the mileage confusion
Right off the bat, I nearly stepped on a newt. And another one. And another one. It was Newt City. It was the highest concentration of newts I'd ever seen up to that point, but I would see something even more amazing later in the hike.

The previous day I had considered trying to make it to Kelton Road, but there was were some map discrepancies about how much farther that would be (2.7 or 4 miles?). The first sign at the trailhead said it was 2.7 miles. A second sign said, "New M-M North 1.3 mi. longer." Ah, that explains it. OK, so four miles to Kelton Road.

" Rest Area - Sitting Rocks"
Back to the wildlife. You know what I didn't see? Deer. Not one. Back home in Fairfield County, Connecticut, it's pretty hard not to see a deer. They're on the trails, in people's yards, and along the streets. Here's a video I took this summer back home featuring a doe just standing there munching greenage right in front of me while I stood there with my two dogs. But up here in the Quiet Corner I didn't see a single deer in four days. Why? I imagine there is a lot of hunting in this more rural area. And not as much food, especially under those dark hemlock forests where plants grow very slowly, if at all. People don't appreciate how much deer food is in a backyard.

Heading up the first hill
From Richmond Road, Section 18 crosses over a series of hills, none of which are very steep.  The trail alternates between dry hilltops, old farming plateaus, rocky ravines, and mossy valleys, so there's a lot of variety. The first was Mallard Hill, where the trail emerged briefly onto the powerlines, providing a view of Richards Reservoir back to the west. That was the only vista for the day.

Looking back towards Richards Reservoir

Canada Mayflower berries on the dry hilltop
Then the trail dropped down into the mossy Tully Brook valley and followed the scenic brook for a good ways.

Heading down towards Tully Brook

Lycopodium - Clubmoss

Tully Brook crossing
The next hill was Mayo Hill, and that was a pretty good climb.  This was the highest point around, so I made sure to text my progress to my husband, because it looked like the rest of the trail may not have coverage.

Mayo Hill and the left turn I missed
The trail followed an old road at the top, and I was so distracted by the scenery I missed the left turn off of the road and instead followed the old road down the hill for a good ways before I realized my mistake. One thing about hiking in the bright light of mid-day is those white blazes tend to get lost in the sun patches. So back up the hill I went, sigh.

I wondered about those yellow areas labeled "sand"
According to the map sign posted as you approach Kelton Road, the next section was also new. This was a day where the trail tread was not always well defined, presumably due to the reroutes and lumpy ground. I really had to focus on the blazes and had to stop from time to time to look for the next blaze.

Kelton Rd
When I finally came out onto Kelton Road, the road where I had thought to get picked up the previous day, I was surprised to see how not drive-able it was. It was a good thing I had abandoned the idea of trying to get picked up on this road because I would have arrived exhausted, with darkness approaching, only to discover that Kelton is not a drive-able street and I wouldn't be getting picked up. Also, no cell phone. What then?

Kelton Road looks like a place where 4WD trucks go to play. This is where hiking maps, and Google Maps, failed. I wanted to know if it was a road I could get picked up on, and the maps were misleading. The AMC map used the same road symbol for Kelton that they used for Richmond Road and many other unpaved but drive-able streets. It should have a different symbol. The NET map didn't show anything at all because it has no detail. The M-M Guidebook map I didn't even look at because the trail was rerouted. And Google Maps showed it as a drive-able street.

Kelton Road - not drive-able!
The trail crosses  Keaton then swings back around to follow the road for a while. Lots of sand and gravel. The sand area shown on the map board were in fact big sandy areas. No idea why.
Sand and more sand along Kelton Road
Pond along Kelton Road
After a bit, Kelton Road passed a small pond and next to it was a water-filled tire track that caught my eye after a frog jumped in. Just a little mud hole, right?

Take a closer look
Then some shadows moved in the mud hole. Upon closer inspection they turned out to be nineteen Eastern Spotted Newts. Some were dark and others were in the red eft stage.
There were nineteen newts
This species can transform back and forth between two stages: a dark green aquatic stage and the bright red juvenile terrestrial phase, depending on environmental conditions. It looked like both phases were in the mud hole. Maybe they were warming up. The previous few days were crisp and cool, but the heat was creeping back during this hike and the mud hole was sunny and warm.

One of the Red Efts
But wait, there was more in this little patch of mud! Narrow worm tracks crossed the mud, leading to a thin white worm about six inches long. I don't know what it is, but it has a parasitic look to it.
What the heck is this?

The frog never moved

So Kelton Road turned out to be pretty memorable, but eventually the trail turned off the road and headed east towards Route 32 through the forest. No more hills to climb.

For a time it followed a stone wall where the land on the opposite side of the wall had been selectively logged and offered a marked contrast to the dark forest the trail ran through. The logged area was bright and sunny and filled with brush and saplings. Great wildlife habitat.

Dark side of the wall

Bright side of the wall
It was a fairly easy walk down to Route 32. Although the trail tread is not well defined in some spots, I could always find the next blaze.

Add caption
It was when first heard the cars on Route 32 that I had a sudden rush of emotion: I had made it. The New Hampshire border was just beyond this highway and I was almost done walking across Massachusetts.

Rout 32 and Royalston Falls
And there it was, Route 32 and the Royalston Falls entryway and I was done with Section 18. Let Section 19 begin. Here comes New Hampshire!

Winterberry along Route 32
Royalston Falls is a great destination for a day hike. Near the parking area is an old cemetery. It reminded me of the cemetery way back in Guilford at the base of Mt. Totoket, the one where I accidentally left my trekking poles behind but was able to recover them several days later right where I had left them. That was in 2012, shortly after beginning this sporadic New England Trail journey.

Miss Susannah, died 1827, age 16
The path heading down into the ravine is wide and well traveled. Not too steep, but it dropped down a lot further than I expected.

Royalston Falls Shelter as seen from Tully Brook
When the trail reached Falls Brook, the forest suddenly felt enchanted and I half expected to see Galadrial, Lady of the Golden Wood.  The Royalston Falls shelter was perched high over a foot bridge that lead across the babbling brook. A masterpiece of twisted tree roots guarded the bridge. Moss-covered rocks and trees lined the ravine. Wow.

Tree root art
There was a magic to the place. I crossed the foot bridge and was met with a sign enticing me to go to the falls. I hadn't planned on it.  But the hike was nearly over, and then what? The car ride down I-91 through Springfield and Hartford during rush hour traffic. I took a right onto the Tully Trail and headed for the falls.

Time for a little detour
Tully Trail was gorgeous and the Falls were more than I expected.  The footing is a bit tricky on the Tully Trail due to all the boulders and roots, and I was by myself with no cell phone coverage, so I took it nice and slow. I'm good at breaking my ankles is all I'm saying. The falls are viewed from above. You're walking along the trail when the ground in front of you abruptly drops away and the river falls into the deep chasm below you. Iron railings bolted into the rock were appreciated.

Falls Brook

Royalston Falls
The side trip was worth it. I headed back up the Tully Trail to rejoin the NET at the footbridge and shelter.

Back to the NET
Now. Just a bit further to the New Hampshire state line. This part of the trail looked much less traveled, but it was gorgeous.  What a day.  I was almost there and everything was great. Then I took a few steps the wrong way and realized the blazes were off to the left. I did a quick pivot, stepped on the root of a yellow birch, and when I did, my foot slid down the length of the root and I was suddenly on my butt. 

Not a bad fall. Except when I tried to pick up my trekking pole, my hand hurt. In a bad way. I switched to the left hand. I passed a rock arch in the river. Very cool. But when I tried to hold the camera with my right hand, I couldn't. This was not good. What did I do to myself?

Stone arch
And suddenly I was at the New Hampshire border. Yeah! It was marked by a simple notice tacked to a tree. I struggle to take a selfie with an injured right hand. My growing concern over my hand took away some of the joy at reaching the border. But not all of it. I had walked all the way across Massachusetts, except for the Connecticut River crossing, which I kayaked. And I was done with the official part of the NET. The rest of the trail was the M-M Trail, not the NET. 

Welcome to New Hampshire
The rest of the trail out to Greenwood Road was a treat. It kept following Falls Brook and went through a lush laurel thicket. Mountain Laurel is really common in Connecticut, but I didn't remember seeing any this far north on the trail.

Mountain Laurel thicket
The brook turned into a picturesque little pond and before long I was at Greenwood Road, the designated pickup point.

Falls Brook as a pond

Waiting for a ride Greenwood Road
I had to wait for about an hour for my ride, but it was fun watching the heron plying the waters for fish. There were no coverage bars at first for my cell phone, but after about half an hour one bar appeared, then disappeared, then appeared. It was enough to send and receive a text.
Falls Brook pond on Greenwood Road

Back in Connecticut, they took an X-ray of my hand and told me it was a Boxer's Fracture and I would need a full cast. Go figure. I got all the way from Long Island Sound up and down those trap rock cliffs without a mishap. And then break my hand about 0.1 mile from the official end of the NET.

Boxer's Fracture
And so the last four blog posts were typed by holding a pencil in my right hand and pecking at the keys with it because my fingers can't reach the keyboard. And I'm using the mouse with my left hand. It is so awkward.

But I had adventure, and that was the goal

Monday, September 11, 2017

MA NET Section 17b-18a Mt Grace

Turkeys crossing Northfield Road
Turkey crossing Northfield Road
What a great way to start the day: a commuter mug of hot coffee, a flock of turkey scampering across the road, and a hike up Mt. Grace from Northfield Road.

Hand painted sign showing mileage for the New England Trail
Richmond Reservoir, here I come
Day Three of our mini-vacation had the shortest hike. It's 6.5 miles from Northfield Road at the base of Mt. Grace, to Richmond Road at Richards Reservoir. I looked at going further, but it seemed like the next possible pick up point was pretty far down the trail.

Sunbeam through the trees along the New England Trail
Heading up Mt Grace with a good cup of coffee
It was a Monday, and most people were working or in school. A pair of retired-looking hikers came down the mountain as I was headed up, and these were the last two people I saw on the trail for the next two days. We exchanged our appreciation for the lack of crowds.

Hophornbeams seeds dangling from a tree
Hophornbeam Seeds
The left foot was doing better today. Really? The rest of me was getting pretty sore and tired after the previous two days of hiking, but the bad foot was improving. Huh. The podiatrist had said something about a possible nerve issue. I decided that must be it: It's fake pain. From this point on I would pretend it didn't exist.

View of distance hills from Little Grace as seen from the New England Trail
Teaser views on Little Grace
The tired, stiff legs didn't want to climb up Mt. Grace, though. I made a decision that when I finally get to Mt. Monadnock I would have to start out completely fresh.

White blaze on a utility pole directs M-M Trail hikers up the hill
Share the trail with the phone poles
The moderately steep trail went up and up and up, cresting briefly at the top of Little Grace, and eventually following some powerlines.

Survey benchmark set in rock next to the New England Trail
Mt Grace survey benchmark
There's an old fire tower at the top, and it's the only way to get a view. I'm not crazy about heights, but that's what the railings are for.

Looking up at the Warwick Fire Tower
Warwick Fire Tower - a long way up
I got all the way up those steps only to discover the observation deck was closed. So I clung to the railing and took my pictures from the steps.

Fire tower observation deck boarded up.
The top is closed :(
And there was Mt. Monadnack, closer than yesterday. The end is truly in sight. And it seems really high.

Mt Monadnock as seen from the Mt Grace fire tower
Mt Monadnock! 
I looked back the way I had come. The foreground was pretty gentle with the low rise of Stratton Mountain and Northfield Forest. There were more low ridges beyond that. But far in the distance was the familiar shape of a traprock ridge.

View looking back towards the route of the NET/M-M Trail
Looking back the way I came
Could that be Mt. Tom and the Seven Sisters off to its left? Or was it Mt Toby? Or something else? If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

Large hill far in distance
Is that Mt. Tom?
And what about the distance peak far, far off to the north through the haze? Mt. Washington?

Hill far to the north of Mt Grace
Looking north ... Mt Washington maybe in the distance?
And that was it for the views, so down the hill we go for some happy hiking. It was a pleasant walk down Mt. Grace. Not steep.

White smiley face painted on tree along the NET/M-M Trail
I see we're in a good mood
The AMC has a shelter towards the bottom near a stream, so I took a little break.

AMC shelter next to the NET/M-M Trail
AMC Shelter
Someone had left a bag of colored chalk in the shelter, which seems like a brilliant way to get people to stop carving their initials into it.

Chalk drawings on the AMC Shelter
They left a bag of chalk

Rattlesnake Plantain
Rattlesnake Plantain

NET/M-M Trail following an old road
A beautiful walk
It was a quick walk down a woods road to Route 78 and then Section 17 of the M-M Trail was complete. That was my goal for the min-vacation. But why stop there with the New Hampshire border so close and the weather so perfect? I continued on to start the next section.

Hand-painted sign saying MA RTE 78
Section 18 begins
Section 18 is the last full section of the M-M Trail in Massachusetts. It started out through an area with lots of ATV activity, heading uphill. The trail turned onto a gravel street for a bit. I like how the street crossings have wooden signs telling you what street you're at. This one was Old Winchester Road. My phone showed a bar at the top of the hill and I was able to text my husband my location with confidence.

NET/M-M Trail following old road through trees
Old roads and ATV tracks lead to Richards Reservoir
This part of the state has spotty cell phone reception. In general, the high places get a signal and the low places do not. I learned to check my phone at the hilltops and text my location. Even then, the signal was often weak. We learned not to text pictures, because they would jam things up for hours.

From Old Winchester Road, the trails turns east and follows an old woods road to Richards Reservoir. I found a beautiful silver cross laying on the side of the road. Looks like it may be a family heirloom, so I'm trying to find the owner.

Silver cross found on the New England Trail
Found: Does this belong to you?
There were plenty of fungi during the trip, the prettiest of which may have been the Amanita fruiting away in the middle of the old road. I'm not sure if it's the Yellow Patches species or the Fly Agaric. Both are poisonous and the latter causes hallucinations. It got its name from when people in the Middle Ages mixed it with a bowl of milk to kill flies. When flies drank the milk they became stupified and drowned. I wonder if any cats drank the milk and started acting silly.

Amanita flavoconia "Yellow Patches" or muscaria "Fly Agaric"
When the reservoir came into view, the trail turned off the old road to follow the ridgeline above the pond. Trees blocked the views, but you could tell the reservoir was down there. 
Richards Reservoir
The trail gradually got closer to the water as it meandered along, going down hill, but still no views until it crossed the powerline corridor. At this point the reservoir was narrow and rather swampy. I didn't realize it at the time, but I would be at the top of the hill under the powerlines the next morning. Looks pretty close, but it's a rather long, meandering walk to get there.

Wave to my future self
The path finally became close enough to the edge of the swamp for me to have a seat in a bed of pine needles and pull off my boots for a spell, and enjoy the view. I studied the trail maps. It seemed pretty early in the day, and I didn't want to stop at Richards Reservoir when I was getting so close to the state border. The AMC map showed a Kelton Road crossing the trail a few miles ahead. Maybe I could get picked up there. I began adding up the mileages, but there seemed to be some discrepancies. And was Kelton Road open to traffic? Hard to say. It did show up on Google Maps. I was leaning towards trying to make it to Kelton Road when my husband texted that we was on the trail walking towards me. That was very, very fortunate, because Kelton Road was much farther down the trail than expected, and was a very rugged 4WD road, as I learned the next day.

When I got up from my break, my backside was soaking wet. Turned out I sat on the hose for my new water pack and it emptied out where I was sitting. Need to lock the mouthpiece on that one! Lesson learned.

Emergency outlet?
A few minutes down the trail and I met up with my husband. Rounding the northern tip of Richards Reservoir, there's a man-made channel that comes up to the path and stops. Odd for the backside of a reservoir. Checking a map, the channel seems to point toward the top of a small stream heading away from the pond in the opposite direction from Black Brook, the stream that was dammed to create the reservoir long ago. Maybe this is an emergency spillway.
A bit of a bog

The NET circled around the reservoir in a real meandering way, with occasion views of the north end of the reservoir. Parts looked like they were transitioning to a black spruce bog.

Just before reaching the car, I heard a commotion behind me and caught the tail end of one of those long, dramatic trail tumbles being performed by my husband. He got up dusted himself off and seemed to be OK. And that's when I tempted Fate:  "You should have a trekking pole. I never fall now that I use one." And Fate chuckled quietly to herself, as we shall see in the next post.

On the way out, we stopped for more turkeys to cross the road. I began to crave cranberries.