Appalachian Trail – Fall Hiking | Average Hiker
Fall Hike – Day 1
One of my favorite sections, for Fall hiking on the Appalachian Trail, is the 50 miles that stretch across Connecticut, from Pawling, New York to Salisbury, Connecticut. The roller coaster does not disappoint, climbing up to Caleb’s Peak, and climbing down (sometimes with your hands) from St. John’s Ledges.
There is also eye candy – rolling farmland with sweeping fields, dotted by bright splashes of hardwood color, and quaint New England Towns joined by rolling river walks along the Housatonic River. This 50 mile section offers some of the best moderate fall hiking in New England.
Unfortunately, peak foliage week fell around the same time as my brother’s wedding in New Orleans. I tried to talk him into hiking instead of getting married, but he is stubborn like that. I was pretty excited about the wedding though, so I let the fact that he was putting a marriage ahead of hiking slide.
I read a poem at the wedding, and my shoe fell off as I stepped up onto the stage, but other than this minor snafu the ceremony was perfect. The highlights of New Orleans were the wedding, Swamp Tour, Mausoleums, Architecture, and street wandering – not necessarily in that order.
Peak leaf peeping was probably about 1-2 weeks over, but there was still plenty of color to chase. I began packing as soon as I got home, and if it had not been raining, I probably would have left the next day. I settled in to watch the weather channel and wait for my window.
I was dropped off at US NY 22, across from Native Landscapes. The sun was shining, temperatures were perfect, and I strode quickly up the AT, leading away from the road. It had rained the night before, and my shoes were soaked by the high grass within about two minutes. I don’t use waterproof trail runners, and I was fine with soaked feet. The shoes would dry a lot faster without liners.
This first section of trail was well maintained, and bridges and stiles were in good shape. Quick movement at the top of the last meadow, made me stop and look down across the field. I saw four whitetail deer bounding through the tall grass. They were far away, so I was surprised as the last one stopped and turned to look at me before bounding quickly into the woods. I had not moved, and there was no breeze, so I don’t know how it spotted me.
Ball Bearings (AKA “Acorns”)
The 5.7 miles to Wiley Shelter passed quickly, skirting the Pawling Nature Preserve, with a lot of side trails marked by different colors – red, green, yellow. I made note to come back and check them out.
I watched my feet closely as I walked. Leaves were thick on the ground, with the tips of rocks, and sometimes small rolling boulders, poking up through them. By far the worst obstacles were the acorns. Several times my feet shot out from under me as I stepped on the small ball bearings. The perfect storm was a wet slab of granite topped by acorns, and then covered in a blanket of leaves. This combination would burn me a couple of times on this hike.
The hike over to Wiley Shelter was quick, on well rested legs. I paused for a few minutes to take a look around the shelter site. The traditional shelter was clean and well used. I don’t usually stay in shelters, and this one was also way too close to the road for me (.2 of a mile). As a solo female hiker, I often avoid shelters and roads, but that is an entirely separate topic.
Wiley Water Source
The water source was just past the shelter, and a notice posted near it warned of Coli-form Bacteria. Did filters work on bacteria? It did not really matter. The old rusty hand pump was enough to deter me from pulling water from this source.
Ten Mile River
Ten Mile River Shelter was my destination for lunch. This would give me about 9.7 miles so far for the day, and would be a good rest stop before heading out along the Housatonic, and over to the covered bridge on Bulls Bridge Road. I was looking forward to the short side trip to the bridge.
The section of trail over to Ten Mile River Shelter was nice. I crossed CT 55, and climbed up Ten Mile Hill, which had a nice view. The climb down the hill was well maintained, and rock steps had been installed. This did me no good though, and was the site of the first acorn attack. I became over confidant as I hit the last few steps at a good clip, and screamed a few profanities as my foot shot straight out from under me. Bruise number one.
Ten Mile River Shelter received a good bit of traffic, due to it’s proximity to the river. It was also just down from a group campsite, and I had rarely not seen large groups there on the weekends. Interestingly, this shelter has a large field out front, but camping is encouraged in the site about .2 mile further down the trail. Connecticut likes rules, and this includes designating where you can and cannot camp. Like Wiley, this shelter also had a hand pump. I did not walk over to see if it was contaminated with bacteria. No handpumps for this gal.
I had never stopped to see Bulls Bridge, and the side trip was short, so I had decided to head over and take a look. The original bridge was built in 1760, and the current bridge in 1842. It is one of only 3 surviving covered bridges in Connecticut, at least according to Wikipedia. It is also rumored that George Washington crossed on the original bridge while it was under construction. Again, a claim by the definitive source, Wikipedia.
The Walk along the river to reach the Bridge was beautiful. Staying straight on the old woods road, and continuing past the turn off for the AT, on the blue blaze trail, I came out on Bulls Bridge Road. I then turned right, and walked .2 mile up to the small bridge. I attempted to get a picture with no human, but the individual on the other side of the bridge stood there until after I had taken my pictures. He seemed entranced with the bridge. He was still standing there when I left – probably also waiting to get a humanless picture.
I headed back up Bulls Bridge Road, to join up with the AT, and took a right on an old woods road, assuming it would join the trail. A quarter of a mile later, I realized there is a reason to check maps, and headed back out to Bulls Bridge Road to take the “suggested” route back to the trail. Assuming I know where a trail is going did not serve me well on the CDT either. Making a wrong turn on the AT is far more embarassing.
Climb Up from Schaghticoke Road
Leaving Schaghticoke road, I immediately started climbing. I would climb about 833 feet, to the highest point @ Indian Rocks, over the next three miles. Schaghticoke campsite was about a half mile past that point. The climbing was strenuous, with short little ups and downs, and a few little scrambles along some granite slabs. The AT always seems to make you work for the end of the day, and often reminds me why I find it physically harder than the other long trails.
I reached Indian Rocks, and paused at the view from the ledge. This was one of my favorite times of the day to hike, when nature was settling in for the evening, and shadows had begun to stretch out over the mountains. I listened to birds chirp and rustle, as they began to roost in the trees around me.
Schaghticoke Campsite was a group site about a tenth of a mile up the mountain, off the AT. I knew the site would probably be empty this time of week, but as I listened for the fast rushing creek located at the turn off, I began to smell smoke.
As mentioned, Connecticut likes it’s rules, and no campfires is also one of them, but I was not surprised to smell the smoke. If there were hikers out this time of the year, there was a high likelihood it might be thru-hikers going south. Being one of those roguish scoundrels myself, I knew following rules was not always one of our strong suits.
In my case, the same characteristics that drive me to hike long distances, probably also result in me not always following rules. I’ve matured as I’ve gotten older though, and I now try to follow the rules of others when visiting their homes.
I stopped to grab water at the creek, not bothering to filter (thou shalt not judge), and headed up the steep climb to the campsites. I reached the top of the climb, and quietly peeked towards the back of the tent area, knowing the fire setter would probably be tucked back there. Sure enough, there was a small fire with a figure crouching over it. He had not seen me.
Shadows had deepened, and I watched the dark figure crouching over the small fire, slowly adding sticks. I glanced towards his tent, and then studied his clothing. I’ve spent time around a few hikers over the years. He did not look like a typical hiker, with his dark cotton hoodie and jeans, nor did he appear to have the equipment I would expect.
The little voice that always served me well whispered quietly in the back of my mind, and I obeyed, slowly backing down the trail I had just climbed. Rolling my steps carefully reduced any noise as I turned and made my way quickly back down the trail. I would move on for the night. I hiked a few tenths of a mile, looking up the mountain for a small bench. It was late now, and hard to spot openings through the trees, but I finally thought I saw a spot, and Began to climb.
Camp for the Night
I reached a flattish area, just big enough for my tarp tent, and paused to take a look. Hearing a familiar tapping sound, I turned and looked down to see a hiker coming around the mountain. The trail was only about 25 yards below me. I remained quiet and watched until he disappeared around the slope. This was a busy area near town.
I had decided to cook on this short hike, and was trying some new dehydrated food from “Outdoor Herbivore.” I cooked the food and let it rehydrate while I set up camp for the night, watching the sun finish dropping while I ate and settled in for what would be a chilly night. Bundled up in my Feathered Friends 10 degree bag, probably my heaviest piece of gear, I drifted off to sleep quickly.
I looked forward to Day 2, and the Housatonic river walk I always enjoyed.