Monday, July 14, 2014

Halfway: A Hike and a Pit Stop

I did not know I was on a quest.  But it would seem that I am.  And it only took 18 months for me to notice.  This quest that I didn't undertake consciously is to haul myself up the tallest mountain of each of the six states of New England before the fall of 2014.

New Hampshire's Mount Washington: check.

Vermont's Mount Mansfield: check.

On a chilly spring day, Jason (remember him from this adventure?) and I piled into the car with Mwenzie and set out to conquer Connecticut and Rhode Island.  We knew there would still be snow and ice in the mountains, since winter put up a heck of a fight this year and spring's hold on April was extremely tenuous, but the peaks of Connecticut and Rhode Island aren't exactly daunting.  Frankly, even 'hill' is a generous description for Rhode Island's summit!

We decided to conquer Connecticut's Bear Mountain first, since it would be a longer and more tiring hike than Jerimoth Hill in Rhode Island.  Bear Mountain is the tallest peak wholly contained within the borders of Connecticut, but it is NOT the highest point in Connecticut.  That honor belongs to a point on a slope of a mountain just to the north whose summit is actually in Massachusetts.  But since we were after highest peaks, not highest points, Bear Mountain was our target.

There are a few routes to access Bear Mountain, and we used the one that begins at a small non-descript dirt parking area in Mount Riga State Park off of Route 41 near Salisbury.  There was only one other car when we arrived bright and early in the morning, but supposedly the lot fills up quickly in the summer months.  The route follows Undermountain Trail until it intersects with the Appalachian Trail, which takes you to the summit.  From what I read when I was planning, reaching the summit would require being in decent physical condition because it was a long and steep hike.  We knew it would not be comparable to Mount Washington, but we were prepared for a strenuous trek.

Undermountain Trail is very pretty as it weaves across the forest floor and then straight up the side of the mountain, criss-crossing streams at various points.  We did encounter some snow, but not in sufficient quantities to be a problem.  Most of the trail was just dirt/mud, and although it did get rockier with the elevation, it was NOTHING like the boulder-hopping of Mount Washington.  Quite a pleasant ramble, actually!

After we turned right onto the Appalachian Trail, the trail leveled out a fair bit except for a couple rock scrambles.  We encountered a few treacherous patches where snow melt had frozen overnight across the rocks and the morning sun had not yet reduced the ice to puddles, but nothing crazy.  Mountain goat Mwenzie had no problems.  And before long, we were at the top!  There's a giant pile of rocks, perhaps the remains of a stone structure, to mark the final summit.  From the top of that pile, which lifts you above the scruffy trees that cover the summit, the view is beautiful.  We lucked out with a gorgeous, clear day and shades of blue in every direction.  According to my Garmin, it took us just over an hour and 2.5 miles to get from the parking lot to the peak!

Although we loved the view, Jason and I were both rather amused at our overblown expectations of the hike.  We were out of breath and a bit sweaty from the uphill climbing, but there was nothing challenging or strenuous about the Undermountain route.  We even encountered a few people on our return trip who were running up the mountain!  If you're out of shape, it would take longer than an hour and you might want to take a few water breaks on the way up, but you will have no problem reaching the top!  Even families with young children can manage this.  The gorgeous view from Bear Mountain is an attainable prize for everybody!

We made it back to the car in 2 hours and 35 minutes.  It was just over five miles round trip.  Since we had anticipated a much more difficult journey, we were now WAY ahead of schedule, so we decided to take back roads to get to Rhode Island.  Why not?  We even found some Highland coos along the way.

I have to admit I was disappointed with Bear Mountain, but that's because I was expecting more.  Subtract my expectations from the equation and it was a beautiful and very enjoyable hike.  On the other hand, I'm glad I knew what to expect from Jerimoth Hill, because it allowed me to be purely entertained instead of disappointed.

Jerimoth Hill used to be famed as the most inaccessible high point in the United States.  It's a whopping 812 feet above sea level.  The inaccessibility had nothing to do with the terrain or the weather; access to Jerimoth Hill used to be through land owned by a chap named Henry Richardson, and he did not take kindly at ALL to random strangers trekking across his property.  He installed all sorts of security measures to keep intrepid hikers away.  In the late 1990s, he caved to pressure and allowed hikers access to the summit on five national holidays every year.  But that was it.  If you couldn't make those specific days, you ran the risk of getting chased down by Henry as you trespassed your way to the summit.  Things changed in the mid-2000s when Henry passed on and new owners purchased his property.  Not only do they allow access, but they even developed a trail so that hikers won't scramble every which way across their land.

If you really truly want to walk all the way up Jerimoth Hill, you should probably park on the side of the road somewhere at the bottom and then walk up to the trail entrance, which is marked by a little wooden sign.  However, the regular parking space is at the top of the hill across the street from a brown sign proclaiming Jerimoth Hill as the tallest spot in Rhode Island.  We parked, dashed across the 101, paused for a jumping photo by the brown sign, then continued to the wooden sign pointing us to the trail into the deep, dark, scary woods.  We didn't even grab our water bottles.  After a ten minute jaunt along a lovely path through tall pines, we popped out in a clearing.  To the right of the clearing, there was a large rock in a grove of trees.  Ta da!  Summit!

We found an ammo can protecting a little notepad for visitors to sign, and some prayer flags, and a few little cairns piled on the rock.  And that is all.  Jerimoth Hill would have been the most anticlimactic "hike" of my life if I hadn't been forewarned.  Since I had an idea what was coming, it was instead a hilarious and awesome 15 minute pit stop.  Sometimes ridiculous things are worth the time and effort to track them down simply because of how ridiculous they are.  Jerimoth Hill required several hours of driving for a short walk during which we gained about 10 feet of elevation, but it was absolutely worth it!

The quest is now over halfway complete.  Bear Mountain and Jerimoth Hill made for a fun day's adventure, but they're peanuts compared to the second most daunting mountain in New England that still looms in all her snow-covered glory - Katahdin.  Stay tuned.

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