Last weekend, a good friend, her dog, and I decided to do an overnight on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
We started on Route 41 in Salisbury, CT. Most hikers and backpackers park at the Underhill Mountain trailhead, but since we got a late start, we kept driving for 2.5 miles to the well-hidden hiker parking lot at the 44.0 mile mark of the A.T. in Connecticut.
As we were changing footwear and applying a layer of bug spray, a thru-hiker passed us, but not before he recognized my friend. Her husband just finished his thru, and this gentleman (trail name Lorax) hiked with him a few months ago. I love the hiking community.
After they exchanged contact information and well wishes, we were off.
One of my favorite things about the Appalachian Trail is how well-blazed it is. I really appreciate and enjoy the scant blazing and marking in wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest, but it’s nice to know unequivocally that you are on the right trail. Plus, those white blazes are iconic.
The first mile or so of our hike consisted of relatively even, well-packed, well-groomed trails.
But before long, we were definitely climbing.
Roots and rocks and relentless uphill!
Before we knew it, though, we had reached the top of Lions Head.
We took in the views and enjoyed the breeze here for a bit, then kept moving.
Despite our very late (2:30pm) start, we wanted to make it to Bear Mountain before sunset. That meant we needed to hike 6.5 miles in about 4 hours – very doable, but we were reluctant to dilly-dally.
The old forest in this part of New England is absolutely breathtaking, and the mid-afternoon light made everything feel enchanted, magical.
As it happened, we made it to Bear Mountain well before sunset.
We could have kept going, but we were content to bask in the late afternoon sunshine, then watch the sun set as we cooked dinner.
In fact, we were so comfortable that we stretched out on the summit and stargazed for an hour or so. We were treated to three shooting stars in that time! After we had relished about half an hour of stargazing and chatting, a headlamp bobbed into view and then crested the ridge to join us. Another backpacker had decided to head out for a solo night hike. My friend and I are both outgoing, so before long, we were deep in conversation with this stranger, whose face we never saw and whose name we never asked. It was one of those rare moments of connection with another human being, and there was something extra special, extra cool, about it, somehow – establishing a human connection without any visual input.
After about an hour, the cold (45 degrees Fahrenheit) forced us to set up camp and take shelter in my tent.
I decided to get up early the next morning and make the short but steep trek to the summit for sunrise.
It was difficult to heave my body out of the warmth and comfort of the tent and into the 35-degree mountain air, but I’m so glad I did.
I had no idea what the dawn had in store for me…
Undercast! (Or a cloud inversion.) Those are clouds, not lakes or waves!
I had the summit all to myself. It was unreal. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I hadn’t had a chance to check the forecast, so I had no idea that the conditions were right to produce a cloud inversion – let alone a cloud inversion with these spectacular colors.
We had breakfast, broke down camp, and headed out for a 15-mile day.
This section of the A.T. is glorious. Within a mile or two of descending from Bear Mountain and its 360-degree views, it passes Bear Brook Falls.
Shortly thereafter, hikers and backpackers must contend with a major water crossing. My friend and I opted to remove our shoes and socks and wade, since the water was, at points, high enough to reach our mid-thighs.
The ice-cold water was refreshing and helped reduce the swelling in our feet.
Once we were back on dry, and steadily ascending, land, we were well on our way to reaching the ridges of Mount Race. These exposed ledges are fantastic. Each step brings new views, and there’s a wonderful breeze on stagnant or humid days.
The summit of Mount Race itself is actually viewless, but nevertheless, we stopped for lunch there at about 12:30. We needed to backtrack 11 miles to get to our starting point, so we ate relatively quickly and got back on our feet.
As we hiked along, we heard the distinct sound of plane engines, and it sounded like a lot of them.
We looked up as they got louder and saw four big, commercial-sized planes, flying in formation. You can see three of them in this picture:
The planes were circling the area for a couple of hours.
We enjoyed the hike out just as much as the hike in, stopping to marvel at the interesting vegetation and rock.
There’s so much beauty in these woods. It’s almost enough to tempt you to do a thru-hike.
After a long day of hiking and with a long drive ahead, we were relieved – but still a bit sad! – to hear and see the parking lot come into view. After this section, though, we have plans to hike all the miles of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and then in New Hampshire and Maine. It’s beautiful and rugged and wild and completely different from our usual stomping grounds in the White Mountains.