Yuletide Winter Hike on the Ives’ Trail

This post is a month overdue, but nevertheless here it is. On my bush-biking trip I had mentioned a desire to come back in winter for a snowshoeing trek  along the continuation of the Ives’ up Spruce Mtn, Pine Mtn, through Hemlock Hills Open Space and then to the Bennett’s Pond Trail System. Well, in southern New England, we have yet to see any substantial accumulation of snow – and, like last winter in December 2014, it was a complete wash-out…you’d almost reckon it was spring. Still, I did want to make the trip, and I wasn’t going to wait any longer for Jack Frost and Loki’s Ice Giants. So, on the 22nd of December 2015, I drove to the parking lot of the Wooster Mtn public shooting range in Danbury, CT, to set out for a day hike and pick up where I left off in October. It was a rainy, damp, and rather warm (40 F/4 C) day.

From the parking lot I walked 150 yards to the continuation of the Ives’ Trail, heading up the looming, misty slopes of Spruce Mtn, summit 892 ft/272 m.

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Even though this part of the trail runs uphill, the folks who created it clearly paid attention to detail, as the path seemed to follow the contour lines, making the ascent relatively easy.

I’m not sure why it’s called “Spruce” Mtn, as I did not see a single spruce anywhere. However, there were plenty of Canada Hemlocks, many of them 80 ft/24.5 m or taller. The undergrowth was choked with Moosewood, known to the botanist as Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum), and younger, bushier hemlocks. The further up I went, the thicker the mist became. Even though I had wished for snow, the fog was satisfying enough, giving the forest an almost primeval feel. There’s just something special about conifers shrouded in a veil of mist that emanates a mystical touch.

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Here you can see the hordes of Moosewood saplings on either side of the trail.

Many of the older Canada Hemlocks were damaged and left “topless”, as it were, a consequence of being taller than most other trees and having brittle wood. I noticed several different bracket fungi along the way. I haven’t a clue as to their identity; fungi ID isn’t my forté.

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Some sort of shelf-polypore, growing on a decaying Canada Hemlock.

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These were found on a live Chestnut Oak.

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The last ones here I know are False Tinder Fungi/Horse’s Hoof Fungi, growing on a decaying Sweet Birch.

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As I neared the summit of Spruce Mtn, I stopped to put my name in the other Ives’ Trail Register. They tried making this one watertight, but it was swamped on the inside. I wrote a side note recommending a Rite In the Rain notebook as an alternative to the standard paper notebook that was in there.

I continued on to the north and the adjacent Pine Mtn, summit 997 ft/304 m. Again, the trail was well-planned, meandering around the contours of both slopes. There were several brooks to cross, some rather deep, swollen and gushing with rainwater runoff, heading down from the highlands to feed Bennett’s Pond, some distance to the west.

Ascending the rocky slope of Pine Mtn, I saw in the distance the first vanguard of Eastern White Pines, standing tall and proud, swaying a creaky dance in the strong northwesterly winds that rushed over the summit.

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No doubt they are reason why the place is called “Pine Mtn” :).

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Picture time :D.

A bit further on alongside the trail, I noticed these claw marks on a young Red Maple.

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It is definitely not the work of teenage vandals with sharp, pointy objects…these marks went deep, through the outer bark, cambium, and inner bark, into the sapwood. It also doesn’t seem likely that the scratches were made by a buck scraping his antlers. I’ve seen plenty of antler rubs, and these particular marks are consistent with the gouges made by claws. Whoever made them had powerful front paws, and the only animal I can think of that made them is a black bear. The space between each scratch/claw is far too wide to be a bobcat, as can be shown with my hand for size comparison. These scratches were made around 2 ft/61 cm above the ground.

I don’t have a problem with black bears, in fact I am delighted that they are making a comeback in the state. However, for my personal safety I raised my voice and spoke out loud to warn any bears in the area that a waffle-stomping, stumbling, bumbling, and no longer mumbling human was passing through. I tend to travel quietly out of respect for the wildlife, but the last thing I want to do is surprise a bear.

In a short while I came to the Pine Mtn kiosk, situated at the junction of the Ives’ Trail and the Bennett’s Pond Trail System.

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I had the option of following the Ives’ to the summit, the viewing lookout bluff, and then down the northern foot of Pine Mtn, with the option of going through Hemlock Hills Open Space, or taking a detour down the other path, part of the Bennett’s Pond Trail System, that makes a steep descent before reconnecting to the Ives’ at the northern end of Bennett’s Pond. I chose the former.

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This is the actual summit of Pine Mtn. Some people get confused and think that the bluff, further to the north, is the “peak”, but a check on the topographical map reveals that the highest point is about a quarter mile/0.4 km south from the bluff.

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Just before the bluff, I came upon the ruins of what was once Mr. Charles Ives’ cottage. This was not the house he lived in, but rather a forest retreat, a place he often visited in the summer and spring. All that remains is the hearth.

At the bluff itself, the winds were really picking up, roaring through the trees and pushing the fog through the woods. In the distance I could faintly make out Bennett’s Pond to the south.

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Here’s the view to the west….

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…and facing north. I should mention that I crossed the town line into Ridgefield a little over a mile/1.6 km back from this point.

A little ways after passing the bluff, I thought I had taken the wrong turn after another trail junction. A look at the topographical map confirmed this, so I backtracked and changed my mind to take the steep path of Bennett’s Pond Trail System back at the other trail junction. I wanted to get out of the wind and find a sheltered spot to have lunch.

The way down was quite steep, but it saved me about a mile taking the long way past the summit and bluff down the northern foot of Pine Mtn. Time wasn’t a major concern, but food sure was. It was around 12:30 when I found a place to stop, alongside a swamp that feeds Bennett’s Pond from the northern end. On the other side was the Ives’ Trail, hand-railing both water sources.

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This is a winter modification of my ultralight cook kit, which I find to be great on day trips when I want a hot meal. The kit includes a pot (a ‘Chockful of Nuts coffee can with a lid), a simple aluminum windscreen, and a DIY ebsit burner. Here’s a link to sintax77’s video on how to make the cook pot.

I could have brought along an alcohol stove because the temperatures were relatively high, but I wanted to test out my design of a DIY esbit burner. It did fantastic :). I will make a future post about how I made it. What I like about esbit fuel is that it is not effected by cold temperatures like denatured alcohol is. Alcohol requires a higher temperature in order to vaporise, and it’s the vapors that combust into flame, not the liquid itself. The closer to 32 F/0 C the temperature gets, the less efficient the alcohol will burn. I previously found out the hard way that trying to light an alcohol stove at 18 F/-8 C is next to impossible, no matter what I did nor how persistent I was. Esbit fuel, on the other hand, was designed to function in extreme conditions whilst also giving off no smoke and leaving hardly any residue. It was first adopted for the military before it came into the civilian outdoor market.

After a leisurely half hour engorging myself with a dehydrated meal, half a large bar of 88% cacao dark chocolate, and a cup of coffee. I packed up and headed on, crossing a small bridge to reach the Ives’ Trail.

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Approaching Bennett’s Pond.

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In total I could see 10 beaver lodges…it appears that they’ve set up their own village at Bennett’s Pond “Resort” :P.

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They left plenty of evidence of their gnawing activities along the shore.

Now that I was down from the rocky highlands, the trek was quite easy. I followed the Ives’ Trail down to the southern point of the Bennett’s Pond before it turned through a maze of old stone walls, close to Route 7 and Bennett’s Farm Rd. I passed through a small meadow outlined with Eastern Red-Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) before entering a rather thick, overgrown cluster of woods. A few more swollen brooks to cross, more than one slip and slide through the muddy trail, and at last I reached what is called “Bennett’s Pond Park”, with paved asphalt paths and several kiosks describing the place, the regulations (enforced by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection), with a few maps for the casual park visitor.

There were several large trees there, including this giant:

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Our friends in Europe should recognise this, as it is not an indigenous tree to North America, but rather an attractive ornamental introduced from overseas :). It is European Beech, sometimes called “Graceful Beech” or “Lady of the Woods” (Fagus sylvatica). The two latter common names accurately describe the character of this species. They grow much broader than our native American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), with a wide-spreading crown, reaching heights of 60 ft/18 m or more when mature, with wide trunks (I’ve seen some that are 6 ft/2 m diameter). And no wonder why these trees were introduced to the colonies – they have an old-world grandeur to them.

After marveling over the impressive trees, I continued on to the farthest extent of this section of the Ives’ Trail, where there was a parking lot for visitors and hikers, connecting to Bennett’s Farm Rd. From there, the trail turns back to the north before reconnecting at the halfway point along Bennett’s Pond, creating a loop.

Before I reached the junction, I took the wrong path for 1/8 mile, thinking it was the Ives’. After not seeing any trail markers or the pond in the distance, I knew I made a wrong turn, so I backtracked and eventually came to the loop junction and commenced back on course. I looked at my watch and read 14:00…that would give me just enough time to make it back to the Wooster Mtn shooting range parking lot before dark.

I travelled back to the northern point of Bennett’s Pond and stopped for a brief check of the topographical map.

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Where I’m pointing was my location. I could take the steep path of Bennett’s Pond Trail System back up the slope of Pine Mtn, the same way I came down, or I could take some more time going the long way through Hemlock Hills Open Space and then up the northern foot of Pine Mtn. I chose the latter. I didn’t want to chance slipping in the mud on the steep path; plus, it would be more scenic to go through Hemlock Hills :).

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No, I’m not being followed by a paranormal orb, that’s just my breath ;). Hemlock Hills Open Space was indeed clustered with Canada Hemlocks.

Just before the climb back up Pine Mtn, I passed by this formation.

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I’m not sure what this was – maybe a root cellar?…

I made the ascent without slipping in mud, though there were a few steep sections with plenty of large rocks despite the overall gentler slope compared to the path I had taken down the height. I think I took the easier course for the ascent.

When I reached the wind-swept bluff, the fog was getting rather thick, and visibility was reduced significantly from when I was last there. Thankfully, it wasn’t cause for much concern as I could still see the trail in front of me and the yellow and red markers. Just as I passed by the summit, I heard a very loud roar behind me as a strong gust pummeled through.

The way back to Spruce Mtn was met without difficulty. The visibility increased, and so I crossed the brooks, hiked past the summit, and made my way down through the misty cathedral of Canada Hemlock spires. The familiar sound of gun shots in the distance told me that I was approaching the shooting range and nearing the parking lot. I followed the meandering trail back down to Route 7, and walked back through the edge of the forest to the parking lot. I checked the watch and read 16:30.

My legs were rather tired…I had trekked a total of 11.5 miles/18.5 km. But my feet were nicely dry, save for the sweat worked up from movement, despite several brook crossings and the rain showering on and off (mostly on).

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These are 10 inch un-insulated LL Bean ‘Original Bean boots’, that I was gifted earlier in November, and I was eager to try them out on a hike. To maximise their waterproof capabilities and soften the leather, I treated it with some Bootguard conditioner (also by LL Bean), a natural rejuvinator made from lanolin oil and beeswax. The boots performed superbly overall, though I wish they had a more aggressive tread. Still, the outer sole is remarkably flexible and much less rigid than my worn Timberland Mt. Maddsens. These are heavier in overall weight, but because the sole is more flexible, it tends to grip better on rocks and doesn’t make as much noise through the woodland floor. The design of these boots is called “Shoepac”, something Leonard Leonwood Bean pioneered himself after being disgusted from having cold, wet feet during a hunting trip. It is the same design on my vintage Sorel Champions, though they are insulated with an inner bootie of 70% wool and 30% synthetic. Overall, I am very happy with these Bean boots.

Now that I completed the majority of the Ives’ Trail, all that’s left is a section that traverses through Danbury, Bethel, and into Redding. I hope I’ll have the time to complete that before I leave Connecticut for the SCA. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 2016

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Sooooooo….where have I been for the past 2 months and half? Not to worry, I’m not dead or severely injured; I’ve just been plagued with computer hardware problems that have limited my access and communication with the internet. Things appear to be much better now, and I have a lot to catch up on and discuss with you all.

But the main reason for this particular post is to inform all of my readers that I am going to live my dream and start a career working for the federal government in the Department of the Interior. Right now I have my heart set on the National Park Service. As you may already know, I am currently a volunteer at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, CT. Since I started my work there, in the summer of 2014, I have logged well over 100 hours, most of the time spent managing the trail system.

There is a wonderful program called the Student Conservation Association, or SCA, which works with the federal government (in particular the Dept. of the Interior) as a way of giving young adults such as myself to opportunity to work as interns for the National Park Service, US Forest Service, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Wildlife Management, the Nature Conservancy, as well as each state’s Department of Fish and Game (or equivalent thereof). The internships are expense-paid and open to citizens 16-25 years of age. There are also positions for international students. You do not need to be in college or have a degree to apply (I, myself, have not gone to university).

“The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is America’s conservation corps. Our members protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks, and community green spaces in all 50 states.”

The benefit of these internships is immense. For folks like me looking to start a career, this is an excellent place to start since these positions offer quality training and various certifications, such as Wilderness first Responder and Chainsaw/Crosscut saw training, to help you achieve your goal. In a way, the internships give you a “taste” of what working for these departments is like. Most of the NPS employees I know started out in the SCA, as the experience facilitated their progress within the Service. See ‘Top 10 Reasons to Work at SCA‘. Once you complete your application (and r`esum`e for adult applicants), you can apply to up to 20 positions and pick the internship you want. There is a $25 application fee, but it is one-time only. If you wish to do another internship, you do not need to pay the fee again.

The reason I am bringing this to your attention is that I feel more young people should be made aware of this opportunity. When I was in high school, every one of our guidance counselors stressed that the only way to success was through college, not careers and certainly not through *gasp* the military. My high school did have a “career center”, but it was very underwhelming and offered very limited choices to senior students. At the time, I had convinced myself that I needed to major in Psychology, a study I enjoyed, but Fate had other plans… I never did get into college due to the ridiculous financial expense it would create, and I wanted to be careful with such an investment of time, money, and effort. A failed attempt to join the military left me out of all the options I could think of at the time, and for awhile I struggled to find employment, especially since I was without a drivers’ license (again, for financial reasons). During that time, I found that many college students were no better off then I. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and even after getting a master’s or doctorate degree, some grads struggle to pay the costs and end up running about trying to find full time work. The least fortunate had to drop out of college and fall back on their families for support, again, desperately looking for employment. Now, don’t get me wrong here: there’s nothing wrong with going to college, but it is not for everyone, and it certainly deserves more consideration than ever before. I really wish my guidance counselors had offered more meaningful advice instead of trying to boost the school’s “graduate success rates” in order to convince the masses of potential new students to enroll there. Of course, I cannot change the past, but I do know that I live the present and can change my future.

As of now, I have applied to 10 natural resource management and backcountry trail-work internships around the country. I will let you all know when I am selected, and where I will go. SCA internships usually last 6 months to a year, though during the summer there are intern programs offered especially to college students, lasting 16 weeks or less.

Wherever I go and whatever I end up doing, it is going to be one heck of an adventure – I’m looking forward to it. 🙂