Monday, June 27, 2011

Hiking the AT... sort of.

Written by Adam

On Father's Day we decided to travel a bit and hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. The highway system in Connecticut allows fairly quick access throughout the state if you manage to  avoid rush hour traffic, but reaching this particular area means traveling on more rural expanses of road and takes some time. To further delay our arrival, our method for long distance driving requires that we poke along, stop for snacks, do some sightseeing, etc. What can I say? We prefer to see any sights of interest the moment we see them.

Our first stop was in the town of Cornwall along the Housatonic River and the Appalachian Trail (hereinafter the "AT"). I will not go into the finer details of the AT, but suffice it to say that the AT runs over two thousand miles from Georgia to Maine (and, obviously, vice versa). Those hardy humans known as Thru Hikers start at one end and do not stop until they reach the other - if they can make it. Section hikers do just that - hike various sections of the trail whenever and wherever they can over time. For now, we are Section Hikers, having hiked sections in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

We parked alongside the Housatonic and broke out the food cooler because two hours of touring really works up an appetite. After conversation and a last minute gear check (as if we were Thru Hikers), we headed out on the flat, easy trail as it followed the banks of the Housatonic River. With heavy rain the week prior, the river was running fast and was quite turbid, perhaps just muddy from the rain?

I was concerned about the look of the water - standing on the bank with my fly rod ready to cast, and Emily eager to jump in for a swim, so I made the decision to Google it on my phone. Something that is not the norm on this day, but you should have seen how this water looked. 

It turns out that sadly, the Housatonic is known for great trout fishing and for high levels of PCBs caused by decades of dumping by GE upstream in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This means you can catch the fish, but be sure not to eat the fish (that's a good general rule of thumb in Connecticut). I took it a step further - no contact whatsoever, swimming was out. I know, I know, we are exposed to dangerous toxins everyday, but I say, "why knowingly up the dose?" 

Somehow, the trail and area just didn't flow for us. We just couldn't get into the hike, so we decided to find our hill/tiny mountain climb instead. The northwest corner of the state is known for its wealth and its disdain for developers. Therefore the scenic roads are some of the best in New England. Classic homesteads, lakes and wildlife abound. This area is spectacular.

Located in the town of Salisbury (check out the picture on their website), we took on another section of the AT that ended at a great look-out known as Lion's Head. So we get to the trail head and it's very nice: fields, birds, sunshine, easy access, good parking, lovely lovely lovely. And a motorcycle battery. Honestly, does the Battery Bandit know I'm coming? At least this one was at the parking area and did not require hauling it out of the woods. Thankfully, it was the only litter we saw all day. 

Remember the post about slowing down, being quiet, and dropping into the hike? 

Me neither, and Emily and I attacked the straight up slope with a vengeance. I like to climb with a competitive purpose, and Emily digs the challenge of a difficult pitch. Heather is more reflective and takes in everything, feeling her own pace up the hill. This works well, because we allow for each other's hiking style - a must for family outing. I tend to float in the middle to be sure we are in constant contact. Emily and I even developed a call system of "Where-are-you, here-I-am, wait-for-me" whistles that worked surprisingly well. We climb hard, stop for a drink, snack, and conversation until we can see Heather, then head off again.

At a split in the trail we waited again. This time we heard hiking poles and heavy footsteps that did not belong to my significant other. Then two Thru Hikers came into view. It was like seeing a wild animal for the first time. Heather later commented that she knew they were Thru Hikers because of their, shall we say, aromatic bouquet. I guess fifteen hundred miles on the trail will do that to you. I have read Long Distance Hiking by Roland Muesar and Bill Bryson's A Walk in The Woods, so I felt comfortable asking a few questions outside of the usual "Is it hard? Are you tired? What's that smell?" banter, which I think they appreciated. One did have the look of person spending far too much time in his own head, which he alluded to being true, so we let them go ahead of us.

It was a quick hike of maybe thirty minutes, with a good slope, and the last bit of the trail was all rock and a scrambling incline. We crested the top and what a view! 

It was so incredible, I could not believe we were in Connecticut. Remember what I said about the locals disdain for developers? I could not find a single cell tower! Not a one, it was remarkable. Also, very little road noise. Just forest, fields, and homes. Where the jello was I? Ravens congregated below us, sunshine above, and Nature as far as the eye could see. We soaked it all in up there for a good long time.

As we made our way down, we met a dapper elderly couple. They were spry and coherent, properly outfitted and living the dream. They knew the area well and identified the elusive Eastern Towhee for us and provided some comments about the wondrous Mountain Laurel in full bloom around us. The gentleman had a medium sized fanny pack with water, and carried a handsome, carved walking stick. His simple accoutrements made me realize how ridiculous I looked with my gear conglomeration (have I mentioned this before?). True I am working on the proper preparation balance for larger hikes to come, but I sure am quite a sight .

The nice thing about a great day out in the world is that it seems to last forever. On the way home we were true to form, meandering along to back roads and summiting another peak (albeit in the car) for another great view. When we finally rolled into our driveway it was well past 10:00 PM, but we really didn't care. We saw and did so much, in one day time nearly stood still.

  • For great info about the AT, click here.
  • If you are in southern New England or eastern New York, Berkshire Hiking is a great resource.


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