Taking a Hike: Raw day on Ragged Mountain

When I started to write this column, it was the first day of spring. By the time you read it, I hope the world outdoors has grown spring-like, even if just a little — shoots of skunk cabbage, a touch of warmth in the air perhaps. Looking through my window now, snow remains in patches, but there is more branch-snapping stuff on the way and the mercury is not much above freezing. Last month, when spring was hoped for but not expected, it was the first in our series of March storms that sent me to Ragged Mountain.

I had decided ahead of time that I’d go hiking, probably somewhere north or west of home. But the nor’easter came through, and though it brought just wind and icy rain to most of Connecticut, I heard that Litchfield County and New York were buried. That would be especially true of higher elevations. So I looked eastward for a hike, where the hills are modest.

In 2016, my eldest daughter and I hiked the Connecticut sections of the New England Trail, down the middle of our state, in a series of day hikes between February and December. In May, we passed over Ragged Mountain and judged it the most scenic section so far. I decided, now, to return, fully expecting March to put that judgment to the test.

I headed up Ragged Mountain from its Southington side, intent on the most circuitous route possible to the summit. The trail — called both Metacomet and New England here — climbed immediately, soon reaching the base of a gloomy 100-foot cliff. The cliff — part of the traprock Metacomet Ridge — was a scramble, but well rewarded. From the cliff’s top, the trail paralleled Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, and height, water, and a northeast breeze made for airy walking.  

I could have stayed on the Metacomet Trail and reached Ragged in 3.5 miles. Instead, I cut left to loop behind the summit and approach from the southeast instead of the north. This loop (blue-red trail blazes) was worth the extra mile or so it involved. First, a brook tinkled down traprock steps. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect this dainty cascade is only seen in the wake of storms. Then, following the clifftop above Hart Ponds, I met vultures — and close up, too.

I had been admiring the view over the ponds to Meriden’s dark, lumpy Hanging Hills away to the south. Resuming my walk, I spied two large birds perched on a bare pine branch at the cliff’s edge — black vultures. I approached cautiously, expecting them to flap off at any moment. But they didn’t. They allowed me to get close enough to see their feathers ruffle in the wind and their beaks silhouetted against the gray sky. Then, they did take off, revealing the white feathers at the tip of their long wings.

Ragged Mountain is true to its name. Its rock is broken and rutted, hard underfoot and more unforgiving still when you want to sit. And on the summit — all of 761 feet up — I did want to rest. I found a place out of the stiff breeze, but the raggedy rocks offered only modest comfort. Back on my feet and feeling the raw March wind, I hastily enjoyed the views to three points of the compass — the Hanging Hills, Wassel Reservoir right below me, and Hartford’s high-rise downtown a dozen miles northeast. I still thought Ragged Mountain scenic; you just have to appreciate it faster in March than in May.        

Coming off the summit warmed me quickly, but I felt tired. It can’t have been just the hike; six miles, even of blowdowns and jagged basalt, would not normally tire me. I blamed the working week and a bad night’s sleep, and began to look forward to lunch and another rest. After a couple of miles of woods and brooks and one swamp, I was back at Shuttle Meadow Reservoir  — on a ledge overlooking its steel-gray water and tumbledown enveloping cliffs. But here I found a rock seat as comfortable as a La-Z-Boy and stretched out for lunch and a spot of daydreaming.

The last patches of snow are all but gone (at least, I hope they are the last patches). On local walks, I have seen skunk cabbage and heard, I think, optimistic frogs croaking in a pool. Crocuses have flowered. The afternoon air is losing its chill. Spring has not exactly exploded, but it’s coming, it’s coming.

PARKING Andrews St., Southington (a little south of GPS 41.630112, -72.833566).
DISTANCE 8½ miles.
DURATION I was out for 5½ hours.
MAP Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail System from ctwoodlands.org.
ROUTE Metacomet Trail to blue/red Preserve Trail. Blue/red clockwise to rejoin Metacomet near Ragged Mountain summit. Metacomet back to finish.
WHAT TO TAKE Sturdy footwear; layers of clothing; food & water; trekking poles.

Taking a Hike appears eight times a year. Contact Rob at McWilliams Takes a Hike blog and Facebook.