At the Riga Shelter for lunch
The Taconics are a range of mountains where the borders of Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts meet. The Appalachian Trail (AT) explores some of these mountains, which offers crystal clear streams, cascades, and deep forests. While the Taconics offer only modest elevations, they make up for it with views. Several mountains have grassy balds and cliffs that offer amazing vistas that rival mountains that are much higher.
This past weekend I met up with Bryan, Ian, Matt, and Pat for a hike through the Taconics, ending near famed Bash Bish Falls. We began on the AT as it gradually climbed a ridge. The weather was overcast and humid, although we were treated to sporadic sunshine. The climb continued to Lion’s Head, an overlook of the Connecticut countryside with lakes reflecting silver in the distance. Due to crowds, we did not stay long.
The AT leveled off and we were soon at the Riga Shelter, a small shelter with a great view through the trees. We ate lunch as several monarch butterflies drifted past us, following the mountains to the south. We continued on the AT as Autumn singed the canopies with orange and yellow; ferns were golden. We reached a stream crossing with several people taking a break. We asked about the weather and a lady said there was a chance of thunderstorms, but the likelihood was decreasing with the new forecasts.
We would learn much different that evening.
Hint of Autumn on the AT
Our hike took us off the AT and we followed a side trail to a hut owned by the AMC in a hemlock grove. We filled up on water, ate, and were soon on our way, with an increasingly steep climb up Round Mtn, with some nice views. Bear Mountain rose to the east as thickening clouds gathered. The trail descended and then climbed Mt. Frissell; although the summit is in Massachusetts, the state border with Connecticut cuts across the southern slope of the mountain. As a result, the highest point in Connecticut is on the south slope of Mt. Frissell. We stopped at a cairn marking the highest point in CT; not a breathtaking spot, but there was a nice view. It was odd to be at a state high point when the mountain continued to rise higher.
Sitting in three states- NY, MA, CT
We descended down from Frissell and reached the tri-point marker of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. A climb followed up Brace Mtn, our final mountain for the day. As we reached the ridge of Brace, the clouds broke and we were treated to sunshine. A great view showed valleys and ponds far below. But the atmosphere was alive; you could feel the moisture as distant clouds slowly gathered across the sky. We climbed to the summit of Brace with an open grassy bald and amazing views. There was a cairn and a windsock. The sun continued to shine, but dark clouds loomed to the south and east. The west was mostly sunny. I thought we were safe. We weren’t.
My tent at the summit of Brace Mountain
We pitched our tents and I pitched mine with views of the Taconics and Berkshires. Mt. Greylock and the Catskills were hidden by distant clouds. This was the first time I camped on top of a mountain. My hopes for a great sunset were dashed when a stream of fast moving clouds flowed in a single line to the west. The dark clouds to the south and east expanded, covering Frissell and Bear Mountains. Soon the cloud wall reached Brace as the sun was extinguished, leaving us with an odd rose-colored glow in the clouds as the sun tried to fight through. The summit was socked in as we ate food and put on more clothes in the steady wind. The wet mist rifled over the bare summit as the wind sock flapped constantly.
There was little point in staying up. I crept into my small tent around 7:30 pm, wondering if the storms were approaching. The wind twisted and shook my tent, and I drifted into an uneasy sleep. I awoke to a strange flash. Was my headlamp on? Was that a lightning bug? Car head lights? It happened again, and again. There was no noise. Rain began to splatter my tent. I realized it was lightning, but took comfort there was no thunder. The storms must be far away, I thought. Soon the winds raked my tent as it was pounded furiously by a deluge. Lightning continued to glow through the thin nylon. The rain was so intense, it sounded as if it was boiling and hissing against my tent. My poles bent with the howling winds as the nylon flapped and then snapped tight as the wind changed direction. The only thing saving me was a thin membrane of fabric. I stayed calm, if the poles held together, I should be safe, I reasoned. The spikes seemed to be holding the tent to the ground. My tent fly was also secured. I was thankful for bringing my one-man bivy tent- the low profile was a saving grace. The noiseless lightning continued with occasional blasts. It was as if we were in the middle of the storm, where thunder could not be heard. The pounding rain continued for about an hour. The storm eventually abated and I drifted off to sleep. I looked out once after the storms subsided. The summit was covered with a veil of ghostly mist; there was just enough light to see the dwarved, twisted trees.
Sunrise from Brace Mountain- the morning after the storm
I awoke the next morning to some faint light. I zipped open my tent to see clear, cool skies and wisps of mist draped over the mountains. Fog hung in the deeper valleys and hollows. The Catskills rose in the distance, capped with clouds. The sun gradually rose, shining on the Catskills with a pink glow. The sun rose behind low, distant clouds to the east, and the edges of the clouds burned with electricty before the sun appeared. The valleys filled with sunlight as Brace Mountain cast its shadow across the lower hills. The wind was still blowing. Everyone survived the storm, and the pole holding the wind sock was pushed to the ground.
We ate, packed, and were soon on the trail, heading to Alander Mountain. The creeks were running strong with runoff from the storm, and the trail was even flooded in one section. A few hours later we climbed up Alander as the trail tunneled through scrub oak and stunted trees to several vistas. The trail went up and over several false summits before reaching the true summit from an exposed ridge. The views were spectacular. You could see Frissell, Brace, the Catskills, and the Hudson Valley. The outskirts of Albany were to the north. Clouds swept across deep blue skies, leaving shadows across the forests.
Summit of Alander Mountain
We hiked down from the summit, passing a spooky cabin that doubles as a trail shelter. A creek was running in the trail. The terrain eased as the path explored hemlock forests and reached a creek with small waterfalls. We hiked across meadows and returned to the car. A short drive took us to Bash Bish Falls, the highest in Massachusetts. The rugged gorge is impressive as the bedrock has been sculpted by the power of the clear water. The falls leaps from behind a spire of rock into a deep pool. Rapids and cascades roar both above and below the main falls. A view from the top offered a final view of the Catskills as the walls of the gorge opened up to farmlands below.
Our journey through the Taconics was complete.