I have no desire to be a thru-hiker. I think they are absolutely amazing athletes, but I enjoy modern plumbing way too much to be on a trail for many months. Instead, I decided I would start section hiking the trail. I was itching to get out to some mountains and see some foliage. Instead of driving up to Vermont or New Hampshire I decided to start my section hiking of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut.
Armed with my Connecticut and Massachusetts AT maps I headed out after work on a Thursday to Salisbury, CT. I arrived at the parking lot off of Route 41 that is most often used to hike Lion’s Head just as the rain was stopping and the sun was setting. While I don’t usually mind night hiking, this was a little different. The trail was covered in wet leaves and I was going solo. I admit I was nervous, and those 3 miles to the Mt. Riga shelter felt like an eternity.
As I neared the shelter I heard a voice, “Is that a headlamp?” What a relief, I wasn’t going to be alone at night. Sitting in the shelter was Scooch, a southbound thru-hiker. She had started northbound from Springer Mountain then flip up to Katahdin and was now working southbound. We chatted about the trail and gear until we went to sleep for the night. I slept like crap. The wind was howling all night and my feet just wouldn’t warm up even though I put clean, dry socks on. On the positive side, all the rain and clouds had gone away overnight and we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.
Neither of us was in much of a rush and hung out in our warm sleeping bags for a while. Eventually, at 8:30 AM I headed out northbound toward Bear Mountain, Connecticut’s highest summit. The last time I was on Bear Mountain was a few winters ago and there was snow and ice along the trail. This was much more pleasant. Although there was an amazing amount of fallen acorns on the trail. On my way to the summit of Bear I had the trail all to myself. When I reached the summit I was greeted by Ground Hog who was doing a long, multi-state southbound section hike in honor of a successful heart surgery. We chatted a little before parting ways.
After Bear Mountain, I headed into Sage’s Ravine. This section of trail is interesting in that it is in Massachusetts but is maintained by the Connecticut chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. With the drought that has been plaguing us this was one of only two spots I came across that had reliable water for filtering and drinking. This was a concern for some of the other hikes I came across since so many of the water locations were dried up.
My stomach was rumbling with hunger as I started up toward Race Mountain, now officially in Massachusetts. I was determined to not stop for lunch until I found a lookout. I settled into a nice spot in the sun and started boiling my water for my Good To-Go lunch. Somehow after I poured the water in and hadn’t sealed the packet yet, I knocked it over and all of my food and water went spilling out. I was not a happy camper. This meant I was going to have to cook up my dinner at lunch and not have a hot dinner later. I really needed those calories now. As I waited for my food to be ready I aired out my feet and studied the map. Not really knowing what I had in store on Race Mountain and Everett Mountain I packed up my lunch and headed out after only a 45-minute break.
A little further along, the trail opens up onto the ledges of Race Mountain. Here there is a beautiful ridge walk looking down into the colorful valley below. The higher you go the more views of other mountains you get. Eventually, near the top I was able to look north and see Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts highest peak, in the distance. In hindsight, I wish I had lingered here longer. This is a great place to hang out and, if you time it right, to have your lunch or dinner.
It was time for the trail to turn back into the woods and head down to the intersection of Race Brook Falls Trail and then back up to Mt. Everett’s summit. The trail up to Mt. Everett was fairly steep. So steep that in some spots there are wooden steps bolted into the rock. The summit of Mt. Everett didn’t offer much for views, especially after being on Race Mountain so I didn’t stay long. Coming down off the summit was a lot nicer of a trail than the way up. After a short distance I came across Guilder Pond were I saw a few groups of people. I continued on until I got to the Hemlocks Shelter. It was starting to get cold and I wanted to get my little area all situated for the night. Initially, I set up on a top bunk before deciding to go up to the loft. It was forecasted to get below freezing so I figured the loft would be the warmest spot. This time I shoved my ENO Hammock into my 20-degree Marmot sleeping bag to help keep my feet warmer. It helped a little, but the mercury dipped down to 25 degrees.
During the night a couple came into the shelter, and the next morning when I left at 8:00 AM they were still asleep in their sleeping bags. This was the first time I was on a time crunch since Jayne was meeting me at the parking lot below Jug’s End. The hike to Jug’s End wasn’t bad but the downhill of Jug’s End was rougher than I expected making me 10 minutes late for our meet up. From Jug’s End parking we drove south to Falls Village, CT. From here we planned to hike north the 10 miles to get to my car in Salisbury.
I switched to my trail running shoes, emptied out items from my Thule pack, and refilled my water before heading out again. Much of the trail starting in Falls Village runs along the Housatonic River. There were spots that the river didn’t even appear to be moving at all. Again, this area is in a server drought. While this may seem like a reliable water source the Housatonic has high levels of PCBs. PCBs haven’t been dumped into the river since 1977, but the pollutant still lingers. Thru-hikers only get their water from the river if they are confident their filters will clear the pollution up.
The real highlight came at lunch time when we stopped at Rand’s View. This spot is a favorite in Connecticut for many thru-hikers. There is a large open field that looks north into the Berkshires. In autumn Rand’s View is even more spectacular with the leaves changing colors. Yes, this is in fact located in Connecticut. And yes, the picture does not really do it justice. I bet this spot also looks beautiful when the area is blanketed with snow. With our stomachs full we continued our northbound trek. It’s mostly downhill from Rand’s View into Salisbury with a few steep, short switchbacks.
I was pretty excited to get back to my car. Mostly because it meant I would have a real bed to sleep in and a hot shower back home. In less than 48 hours I had hiked 26 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Hopefully , his is just the beginning of more section hiking on the AT. Maybe one day I will do the whole thing… by section hiking it.