by Rob McWilliams
When we in Fairfield County drive northeast into the rest of our state (toward the denser concentrations of Red Sox fans), we sooner or later cut through a low, yet precipitous ridge. On the Wilbur Cross Parkway, we tunnel beneath it near New Haven, where it is called West Rock Ridge. On I-91, we see it most plainly as Higby Mountain, rising steeply behind the Middletown highway rest area. On I-84, the ridge is crossed near busy intersections on the approach to Farmington, where it is called Bradley Mountain, Pinnacle Rock, Rattlesnake Mountain.
For most of my Connecticut years I did not know that these escarpment-crossings were of a single range called the Metacomet Ridge. Single, but fragmented here and there. Nearer the Sound, there are two lines to the Metacomet Ridge. The western embraces West Rock Ridge and the Sleeping Giant; the eastern marches north-northeast from Branford. North of Meriden, there is only one main ridge, and it runs all the way to the Massachusetts line, and beyond.
Just over a year ago, standing on top of a deep-frozen Sleeping Giant, I saw a long, icy cliff in the distance, and later identified it as the eastern line of the Metacomet Ridge. It looked like a feature on the grand scale, and I vowed to put hiking boots on it that spring. It did not happen. Spring came late, and when it did arrive I developed a painful knee. Outings curtailed! But there was a silver lining in this, unseen at the time. By the time this year’s softer winter was letting go, my eldest daughter was working in Hartford. She likes to hike, and she owns a car. Now, along the Metacomet Ridge runs the Metacomet Trail, and in February Katie and I decided to set about hiking it.
HIKE ONE – SUFFIELD AND EAST GRANBY: The Metacomet Trail – 62 miles from Massachusetts to Meriden – would be awkward to hike alone. There are no campsites for backpacking, and a series of out-and-back day-hikes would kill the long-distance flow. So Katie’s car was the key, and on the last Friday in February we left it in East Granby and drove mine north to a quiet spot in Southwick, Mass. At the edge of someone’s yard, we took a trail into the trees and soon came to a sign which said “Welcome to Connecticut.” The Metacomet Trail is now a section of the New England National Scenic Trail from New Hampshire to Long Island Sound. It is, however, still managed by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, and blazed in the CFPA’s traditional light blue. (Note that the CFPA Connecticut Walk Book is out of date for the northernmost miles of the Metacomet Trail. They are a road-walk no more.)
Soon, Katie and I were doing something we would get used to, climbing from a gap in the Metacomet Ridge to one of its summits. This first time, it was a gentle affair, 300 feet to put us on top. And on top there was something else we would get used to, but not tire of – a grand westerly view. We were just a few hundred feet above the surrounding land, but the scene stretched away over farm and forest to the sharp lines of distant hills. We dropped to another gap, and climbed again to lunch on West Suffield Mountain, our backs turned to the cold northwest wind. Later, on Peak Mountain, we saw outcrops of geometrically fractured rock and jagged cliffs, lava turned by the ages into traprock. And from the jagged cliffs we had a view of the ridge marching away south, flanked by the Farmington River. We would soon march that way ourselves. (Photos from these hikes can be found at “McWilliams Takes a Hike” on Facebook.)
HIKE TWO – EAST GRANBY TO BLOOMFIELD/SIMSBURY: Our first section had been a gentle introduction; the second would be longer, and appeared from the maps to possess sharper ups and downs. Just two weeks separated our hikes, but the air had grown warmer by 30 degrees. We walked, coatless, across Hatchett Hill and down to Tariffville. Hiking is a great way for separated family to catch up and put the world to rights, especially the world of presidential primaries. Perhaps it was this chatter that caused us to lose our way approaching Tariffville and wander about its deep gorge in search of the onward trail. Doubling back, we ate on a ledge above the village, and came down to cross a full-flowing Farmington River by highway bridge. Up again, next; then a mile or two of ridge, then another gap before Penwood State Park. The Metacomet Trail in the park is fine indeed, as are the views from The Pinnacle. But, for me, Penwood is about Lake Louise. It is perhaps an overly grand name for a small, egg-shaped pond, but I loved Lake Louise at first sight, loved most of all the stand of skew-whiff pines reflected in still water.
At the time of writing, Katie and I have completed our third hike, taking us to the edge of Farmington, 29 miles and 16 hiking hours from the Massachusetts line. On the interstates we would cover the route in 30 minutes, but remain oblivious to anything much along the way. We plan to keep hiking south, seeing Connecticut slow-paced and close-up. I’ll let you know how it goes.
|IF YOU GO …|
|HIKE ONE||HIKE TWO|
|START||Rising Corner Rd, Southwick MA.||Rte 20, East Granby CT.|
|FINISH||Rte 20, East Granby CT.||Rte 185, Bloomfield-Simsbury line.|
|DISTANCE||7.7 miles.||11 miles|
|MAP||AMC/CFPA New England Trail Map & Guide|