Hiking the New England Trail
It was 6:45 on a foggy, mid-December morning when Deb, Kathy, and I started the 7th leg of the Connecticut section of the New England Trail. We still had a little over 40 miles to go before reaching the terminus in Guilford, and our goal was to finish it before the end of the year. Today, we were going to attack a 13 mile chunk that included the locally popular Mt. Higby summit. As we parked the car, we could barely make out the trail as it disappeared into a murky abyss. Kathy vocalized what we were all thinking when she cried out, “I am NOT walking into those dark woods!” Much to her displeasure (and ours!) we strapped on our packs and walked into what looked like a scene out of “Blair Witch”. The first mile was surprisingly pleasant as we meandered through Middlesex Land Trust property that skirted along the mist blanketed Highland Pond and zig-zagged through a quiet neighborhood. We eventually popped out onto Country Club Road, which we followed for approximately one mile before we followed the blazes off the roadway and headed south toward Mt. Higby.
It was about a 2 mile hike to the northern peak of Mt. Higby, but the grade was gentle and it took us a little under an hour. We found ourselves gazing down at the I-91 corridor listening to the ambient hum of the buzzing traffic. Beyond the highway, however, the views of Hubbard Park were fabulous. The Higby ridge is about two miles long, mostly exposed, and affords expansive views to the south and west. The northern and southern peaks are separated by a forested depression known as Preston’s Notch. I was somewhat surprised to see warning signs as we were approaching the summits, but when we reached the top it was clear that the cautionary signage was not excessive or exaggerated. The drop-offs were steep and there was very little margin for error if you were to misstep. The precipitous landscape, combined with a pummeling wind, gave us all a serious case of “knocking” knees. Not wanting to miss a photo op, I battled my vertigo and belly crawled out to a ledge while Deb snapped my picture.
The approximate mile descent from the southern peak was relatively gentle and deposited us in the parking lot of Guida’s Dairy Bar. We didn’t have to dodge the 4 lane traffic at the junction of Routes 66 and 691 as a crossing light enabled us to halt the stream of cars and cross “Red Sea-like” across the thoroughfare. As we headed south, the trail gradually climbed along the traprock ridge, and at about a half mile we were treated to the first shrouded glimpse of Black Pond below. This was the scenery for a good mile and a half until the trail, once again, ducked into the woods. Half a mile later we emerged into an opening and found ourselves at the top of Powder Ridge ski area. The chairlifts were barely discernible as a dense mist blanketed the area. We followed the blazes back into the woods and strolled easily on an old gravel path that led us up to the summit of Beseck (Besek) Mountain. The fog had cleared, but the views were still not as impressive as the hazy glimpses we had gotten of Black Pond to the north. The remaining three miles of the hike were a moderate downhill that brought us to Deb’s truck parked on Route 68 in Durham. Twenty-eight miles to go!
Nora Hulton is a Connecticut Certified Master Conservationist and avid hiker. Check back in upcoming issues for the next part of her adventures.
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