Taking A Hike: There's no one way to tackle Connecticut Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a granddaddy of a path. Even in Connecticut, where we have just 51 of its 2,190 miles, the “CT AT” looms large. For Nutmegger hikers, it may not be our longest trail, but it offers by far the best backcountry experience. You can hike from Sherman to Massachusetts crossing nothing busier than a countrified Route 7, and unlike nearly every other trail in the state, you can sleep out along the way in purpose-built campsites and shelters.

Most CT AT hikers do no such thing. They day-hike it, picking the bits that take their fancy, maybe never seeing all of its 51 miles. The CT AT, after all, has its favored stretches — Bear Mountain and Lion’s Head; the Housatonic River south of Bulls Bridge and north of Saint John’s Ledges; the wheelchair-accessible section at Falls Village. A random approach to our AT has been mine too; except, that is, for three days in 2002, and the three months since February this year.

Like many hikers, my rambling seed was planted early, by adults who led me on walks when I was too young to refuse. The seed showed few signs of sprouting throughout my 20s and 30s. But by late summer 2002, four years after moving to Connecticut, hitting the trails was exerting an ever increasing pull on me. And what better way to test my metal — my progress as a hiker — than a 3-4 day backpack the length of the CT AT?              

It would not be true to say that I did everything wrong, but when I look back on that hike, it is not hard to find the comical. I think that I walked in sweatpants and tennis socks (OK, I wore boots too). I paid little attention to the weight of my pack. I carried, for example, a household flashlight, which proved not to work anyway. I way overestimated the sophistication of the meals I’d cook at the end of each day, and even packed a little bottle of olive oil! The CT AT, of course, punished my inexperience — but not immediately.          

My family dropped me off beneath Bear Mountain on a Sunday afternoon in September. I climbed the Undermountain and Paradise Lane trails that lead to Sages Ravine, the northern end of the CT AT. I scrambled up Bear, and eased down its south flank. There was no room for me at Brassie Brook campsite, so I pushed on to Ball Brook and camped alone. I slept fitfully, alert that the sounds of the woods might include a hungry bear informed of my presence by a whiff of rice cooked with olive oil. I discovered that my hefty flashlight gave off less illumination than a lightning bug. Even so, I was quite pleased with my first miles on the  CT AT — all three of them, six counting the access trails.

The weather had been kind, and remained so in the morning as I descended to Salisbury and huffed up Wetauwanchu Mountain east of town. Then, near Billy’s View, it began to rain, and for the rest of the day I hiked south in an unrelenting downpour. With no incentive to linger, my hiking became as relentless as the rain, and by the time I reached Pine Swamp Brook, I had covered over 20 miles.

I spent a comfortable night, the rain drumming pleasantly on the roof of Pine Swamp Brook shelter. But in the morning, my chickens came home to roost. Unhardened and ill-equipped, my body complained. I remember sharp pains in my shins on the steep descent to West Cornwall Road, and the burn of impending blisters where my tender feet had rubbed against wet cotton.

In the end, my will yielded, not my body. The rain had stopped at dawn, but hiking the long flat beside the Housatonic south of Cornwall Bridge, I began to rebel against the idea of another night in the woods. Would not home be so much more comfortable? The matter remained unresolved until Saint John’s Ledges. There, as I clambered, a water bottle fell from my pack and bounced down the cliff. I went to retrieve it; but instead of resuming my climb, I said “to hell with this” (or unprintable words to that effect), and walked into Kent to summon my family. Granddaddy had found me out.

Over the 15 years that followed, I went back to dipping into the CT AT, hiking and re-hiking most of its sections. Then, in February this year, I set out again to hike all 51 miles. I have less to prove to myself now, and this time set out to cover the miles in a series of day-hikes. I have the company of my eldest daughter too. My socks are wool, and we carry no olive oil. So far, snow and rain have limited us to two hikes, starting in Sherman and tramping north for 22.6 miles. We have come down Saint John’s Ledges; and with that act, I completed my last unhiked yards of the CT AT. It only took 18 years.

Rob McWilliams is a local resident. Taking a Hike appears monthly. Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.

START Route 341, Kent. (41.731046, -73.490607).
FINISH Route 4, Sharon (41.823009, -73.386634).
DISTANCE 11.1 miles.
DURATION We were out for about 7 hours.
MAP MA-CT Map 4 of official AT series.
ROUTE AT north!
WHAT TO TAKE Food and water; sturdy, non-slip footwear. Dogs permitted on a leash.