Super Bowl: Deer, Bobcat, Coyotes, Mountain Lions...

Training Hike #5: Appalachian Trail – St. John’s Ledges to Caleb’s Peak to 341 road loop back; 4.82 miles; 5 February 2017 (Super Bowl Sunday); sky threatening snow.

The ledges are steep, steep as the top of 14,000-foot Mt Bierstadt in Colorado, but the distance is shorter and the elevation gain is minimal, maybe 600 feet. Because of increasing snow and ice cover on the granite the going becomes tenuous. About halfway up I collapse my hiking poles and stow them on my pack so I can use my fingers to hook ridges in the rocks and pull myself up. This is not a technical climb. This is an old guy not wishing to slip, drop six or eight feet and clunk his noggin or scrap off his beard. Or nose. I’m slow and deliberate. This really isn’t very safe, and as usual, I’m the sole hiker on trail.

  To the right a relatively flat trail section between the lowest ledge and a middle ledge; to the left a portion of the lower face. Only spotty snow here, but by several hundred feet up it increased to 50% coverage.

To the right a relatively flat trail section between the lowest ledge and a middle ledge; to the left a portion of the lower face. Only spotty snow here, but by several hundred feet up it increased to 50% coverage.

The upper ledge leads to a false crest. The weather is worsening. This has happened in a short time and over a short space. The wind picks up, snow squalls dither, the sky descends into a darker shade of winter gray. Decision time. I’ve really just started, but if I go on then return and snow has made the ledges really slick… hmmm. I can either abort now, descend before the weather hits, or go on but return by a different route. I head southwest toward Caleb’s Peak.

The hike to the second peak is steep but not bouldering steep. Again no one is in sight. There is one human track iced into the trail, I think about 24 to 48 hours old, heading north. There are literally hundreds of deer tracks on and crisscrossing the trail, and amid these are feline and canine prints—bobcat and coyote.

As a solo hiker this makes me uncomfortable. I unhook my small cylinder of pepper spray and clip it to my jacket pocket for ease of access. Truth is, I’m kinda nervous. Although pack coyotes have taken down lone hikers, I’m more concerned about a mountain lion. They’re rare in Connecticut but about a year back one was spotted down by my home trotting through a neighbor’s yard with a fawn in its maw. They stalk silently, attack viciously from behind. Plentiful deer might attract them.

The thought makes me uncomfortable and I miss the next flash and lose the trail. Damn! This is an easy hike. I’m only two miles from the heart of Kent. I chastise myself, retrace my steps… had missed the turn where the trail had bent back upon itself before again going up.

The AT actually passes below Caleb’s Peak so of course I leave it and climb. Now the sky lightens. Looking east I feel as if I can see all the way to Waterbury. A`, so it’s only Waterbury! Hey, it’s an early training hike. And I feel like I’m on top of the world looking down on creation… oops! Song lyrics I sing to my grandson when I babysit… poor kid subjected to grandpa’s monotone… but it puts him to sleep better than Rock-a-bye Baby or Soft Kitty.

Decision time again. I think the threat of snow has passed. I could go back but the distance is less than I’d planned, so I continue on until I hit Rte. 341. Now it’s a road hike back. To keep it interesting I pick up the pace, get a cadence going in my head.

Decisions and balance: for me, scrambling up the ledges, crossing icy rocks, is a test of balance, and approaching 70 my balance certainly isn’t what it once was. Can it improve? If I push the envelope a bit more with each training hike will it return? Seems to me I should ask this question of the country. We’ve lost our balance. What needs to be done to regain it?

Total distance: 4.82 miles. Time—do I subtract out the time talking to road walkers? If so, about 2 hours and 15 minutes: 2.15 miles per hour. The section at the ledges was slow going, but dang! at that rate it’ll take me days to get up Shasta. Ugh!

Ah well. Time to go watch the game.