Friday, September 21, 2012

Skyline Trail and Avon Land Trust Loops

Trail locations per my gps receiver

Yet another way to hike to Heublein Tower: The Hazen and Skyline Trails on the steep west face of the mountain.  I found the maps online to be lacking, and offer the one above which was based on my gps track.  I parked on Hazen Drive near a sign that says "Hazen Park."  The trail actually starts on Nod Road, but parking here saved me an elevation gain of over 100 feet.  The Hazen Trail is blazed yellow (yellow-green on the map above). 

Paper Birch
The trail is easy to follow and well blazed, and not overly eroded from too many feet. Quite pleasant, with crisp air and leaves that were just starting to change color. My last hike to the tower started out with groups of joggers in spandex passing me, people with headphones, and couples chatting. So although the scenery was nice on the 'other side', the feel was more urban that here (my previous hike was also on a weekend -- makes a big difference).

Climbing the west face of a trap rock ridge is going be a different experience, because that's the steep side of the mountain, complete with cliffs and talus slopes.  And you're generally starting from a lower elevation. Hazen Drive is at elevation 280 ft.  That's 170 ft lower that if you were climbing up the mountain via the Metacomet (from either direction) and about 260 feet lower than if you were taking the popular Tower Trail. More climbing is what I'm saying.  It's also steeper.  It can't be helped. It's still a lot less of a climb that any of the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire.

Damaged trees from the October 2011 snowstorm
"Standard No. 10"
Surprise well under the iron door

I'm seeing a lot more storm damage in this part of the state. Avon and the Farmington River Valley were especially hard hit by the freak October snowstorm of 2011. You can see the small trees in the picture above arched over from the snow load (rather than blown over in a wind).  The trails up here are lined with lots cut up fallen trees. Tremendous amounts of work went into cleaning up the trails.  Now there are branches falling out of trees that had snapped last October and have been dangling ever since.  I ran across quite a few of these later in the day on the Avon Land Trust trails.

After passing over a boardwalk, a cast iron door laying on a rock by the side of the trail caught my eye. What is this?  It said, "Standard  No. 10" on it.  Maybe the door to an oven that someone found and propped up on the rock??  But also looking intriguingly like the door to a secret moonshine repository. I pulled on the door just to see what would happen, the heavy door quite suddenly popped off, and I had a 10-foot well at my feet. Whoa!

Getting near the top, the trail levels out for a spell

Onward ho and up we go. Past some powerlines steadily up the hill, and the yellow trail comes to the blue-yellow Skyline Trail.  Up, up, up. After a bit the trail comes to a grassy knoll with a hint of a view and then follows the grade for a bit. Very pretty. Great trail design, because it gives hikers a break from the constant climb.

Vesicular Basalt, aka lava rock with bubble holes

Never forget trap rock started out as a really deep lava flow.  I passed a pile of trap rock cobbles full of holes formed from gases escaping the lava.

The climb resumes up switchbacks to the top of the cliffs
Then the trail turns back towards the mountain and begins climbing again, using switchbacks as it nears the top.  Almost looks like an old narrow road or mule path. The blue and yellow blazes suddenly end, replaced with some faded orange survey tape here and there, but the trail is quite clear and easy to follow. It's just disconcerting if you don't notice it right away and then worry that you took a wrong turn.   I ended up backtracking down to the blazes, pondering the situation, and decided I was going the right way after all. 

The trail popped out on top of the ridge next to these two yellow signs and I knew instantly where I was. Two years ago I had followed an unmarked trail off the Metacomet along the ridgeline out of curiosity until I got to these signs, which indicate you will be shot or something if you trespass.  And I had wandered on over to the two signs again last week. I was standing right there and did not see the Skyline Trail. You simply can't see it unless you know it's there and walk right up to the edge of the drop off and look down, There are no trail markings other than a tiny piece of orange survey tape around a small tree up top. So if you are up by the tower and want to find this trail, go south on the blue Metacomet, past the pavilion and radio tower, following the ridgeline. The Metacomet will turn left to leave the ridgeline (it might be the second left), so you go straight onto an unmarked path for maybe 100 feet or so to these signs. (if you get to the paved park service road, you've gone too far).  The trail goes down over the drop off just before the signs - look for the tiny piece of orange tape.
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It's Friday and the top is a lot less crowded than last Sunday. WAY less crowded. It's beautiful. This time, I want to go up to the observatory, which means parking little Biscuit out front, something I don't like to do. But there was staff right there and only a couple hikers around, so it felt OK. I was determined to get back down to Biscuit as soon as possible, so I ran up the steps. For a few flights, anyway, then, gasping, I staggered the rest of the way up to the top.

It's a heck of a view up there, that's for sure. I could even see Totoket Mountain in Guilford, but it didn't come out well on the camera.

View looking south
The Hanging Hills of  Meriden were the easiest feature to identify looking south, and the profile of Sleeping Giant in Hamden was also visible through the haze to the right of West Peak. Closer, and to the right, were the twin radio towers on Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington.

View looking north
Looking north to where I'm heading over the next month is more of Talcott Mountain (which is a long ridge, not a particular peak).  In the far distance is Mt. Tom, in Massachussetts. I'm going to take a guess that the ridge in between is Copper Mountain and West Suffield Mountain, where I'm headed.

Beautiful observatory - Empty!!

Biscuit, right where I left her. 

I rambled on over the King Philip's Mountain, as I had something to hide there, then came back and started back down the Skyline Trail.  I did so carefully, and with my trekking poles, because there was loose stone. Nice and slow and easy does it. Past the yellow turnoff where I first got on the blue-yellow trail, and decended all the way to the next main yellow trail junction.

On the way, I passed the remnants of yet another balloon. Gosh, I'm so glad balloons are theoretically "biodegradable" (per companies who sell balloons). The balloon might be decomposed in another five years, although I don't know about the string. I picked it up off the trail and took it home to throw away. Thank you for littering, whoever released this. Also found another golf ball. I can understand how balloons get in the middle of the forest, but golf balls?? --- Hold the horses, I just Googled this mystery.  Crows and ravens are known to steal golf balls.  Most people believe the crows mistake them for bird eggs, which are part of their diet. Longstanding mystery solved. Thanks for your help.

Back on the yellow-blazed Hazen Trail, I took a left and headed towards the loops of the Avon Land Trust. If I lived closer or knew quite how long and hilly these trails really were, this would be a hike for another day.  But I charged forward and was quickly brought to my knees in tears by the unrelenting ups and downs of the Hazen Trail.  This was partly due to my lingering up near the tower.  It was now getting late in the day and I started to worry about sunset, which drove me to walk faster.

Finally I arrived at the BEGINNING of the Avon Land Trust loops. There is another way to get there, via Nod Way and up a grassy utility line.  So a normal person could start these loops nice and refreshed. The beginning is marked with some signage (including a sign letting me know where I had already been) and a nice little memorial bench.

There are three overlapping loops, the first white, then blue, then red. I actually combine them all into one big loop. All the loops were pretty well blazed. The trails were clear enough, although they could use a bit more work. But I am happy enough that there were blazed. The remote red trail had the most blazes and least tread.  Hiking parts of it was like bushwhacking with blazes, but that's OK. At least I knew where to go. Which was getting more important with the lowering sun.

Turtlehead, a wetland flower
Cankers from Beechbark Disease

Up and down and up and down and up and down. Phew! This is why I included the map up above. The maps available don't show topography, which is a really important part of these trails. I'm guessing I did more uphill hiking after I descended from the tower than on my may up to the tower.

Descending on the white trail, I saw a large stump that had been flipped over. I can only think it was a bear.

The setting on the side of the mountain is beautiful.  Although there are houses down below, I didn't really notice them much.  The red trail gets pretty close to Rt 44, and I could hear rush hour traffic as people raced home from work. So glad my LL Bean headlamp is in the pack -- it's that time of year when the sun is setting earlier and earlier every day.  I picked up the pace a bit, and got back to my car on Hazen Drive just as the sun hit the horizon. Nice!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Teresa,
    I haven't read through all your posts yet, but I wanted to say how much I like your blog. I will use it as a resource before I head out on my own hikes.