taconic mountains

All posts tagged taconic mountains

As soon as I crossed the border into Connecticut, I could sense a difference in my surroundings on the trail. All of a sudden, the trail gets a little steeper and rockier. The country roads and farm pastures seem a little sleepier. The views from rocky outcrops take in meandering rivers and church steeples poking out of the woods to mark small towns. This must be New England.
As with the earlier parts of this trip, the difficulty of the trail in Connecticut surprised me. Maybe it was partly the heat, but the short and nearly vertical climbs into the Taconic mountains had me winded every day. I found myself hoping for pine groves (shade) and riverside trail sections (flat). Sometimes I got lucky and had both. Usually I had neither.
The Appalachian Trail in Connecticut is one of the highlights of the entire 2180 miles, and in such an unassuming place. I never think of Connecticut as a wild or rural place, but the AT cuts right through the best corner of the state, with mellow walks along the Housatonic River, and rocky ascents to 2000-foot peaks. It’s only 56 miles long, but those miles stick in your memory. There’s enough beauty to make up for the short distance.
On my second night in the state, I camped by myself at one of the many established tent sites, this one in a dark and quiet pine forest. I fell asleep to the sound of a lone Hermit Thrush echoing through the woods. Paradise.
There’s a lot of character to the trail towns in Connecticut, too. I finished up the state with a three-hour breakfast in Falls Village at a hiker favorite– a combination gourmet cafe and vintage British motorcycle shop. Then on to the ritzy town of Salisbury, where an octogenarian Italian woman rents rooms in her house to hikers. Maria McCabe, a legend along the AT, was full of stories and attitude. Hanging out with the hiking community keeps her young, although I don’t think she was ever a hiker herself. You meet all kinds out here.
After Salisbury, the AT climbs steeply again, this time leaving Connecticut and entering Massachusetts on one of the most scenic (and brutal) mountain ranges in the northeast. The AT traverses the southern Taconic range, climbing to Lion’s Head and Bear Mountain, then dropping to Sage’s Ravine, and back up to Mounts Race and Everett. The trail is rocky and cruelly steep, but loaded with waterfalls, cliffs, long views as far as Mount Greylock (where this trip comes to a close) and the Catskills in New York. Weekend day-hikers crowded a few of the summits, but the depth of the forest still felt secluded and wild.
I walked over the South Taconics on Sunday, so the crowds were to be expected. Through the rest of the week, I scarcely saw a soul. There were a few section hikers, and the occasional couple out walking the dog. The trail goes through plenty of farmland valleys, but nobody seemed to be out in those.
The wilder forests were more interesting, anyway. Miles of trail interrupted by nothing but ledges and cliffs, or ice gulches and quiet ponds. Large, lonely trail shelters with choruses of peepers and geese. The burbling sound of a trail-side spring running out from below a rock. I’d forgotten so many of these moments and scenes that are so common on the trail. In a few months, there will be more hikers on the trail, and some more distractions from the wilderness. For this trip, I had them mostly to myself.
On the second to last night, I stayed with another personality known up and down the trail– Tom Levardi, whose home is directly on the trail, and has been hosting hikers for over 30 years. I’d stayed with him in 2007, as a through hiker with a few others. This time I was a section hiker at the end of my hike, but he was just as generous and outgoing as before. The trail community is a pretty amazing thing. I’m beginning to realize all over again just how good people can be when connected by a bond like the AT.
The trip finished with a bang, going over Massachusetts’s highest peak, Mount Greylock. Being so early in the season, I had the usually crowded summit all to myself. There were clear views to Monadnock, Stratton, and Glastenbury– my home mountains for the past few years. This was a good backpacking trip to start out the season. In a few days, I’ll be back to work on the apps, doing some programming, lots of data management, and lots of computer work. But I’ll be starting with a clear mind after three weeks of walking.