Hiking the New England Trail
Winter hit Connecticut early, and when Deb and I headed out on the fourth leg of our New England Trail (NET) traverse in late November, we were slogging through the remnants of the 12+ inches of snow that had been dumped on us the previous week. This section of the hike passed through the Ragged Mountain Preserve, and it was reported to be one of the most spectacular segments of the trail.
We met at our usual 6:45 AM starting time on Edgewood Road in Berlin, and strolled north for 1 ½ miles on a rolling suburban drive that eventually deposited us on Route 364. We crossed the highway, hopped over the guardrail on the northern side, and then followed the trail as it skirted us around the western edge of the Timberlin Golf Course. The temperature was rising as the day progressed, and the frozen snow soon turned to slush and mud, exponentially increasing the energy expended on each step. This portion of the trail afforded a few limited views, but it was otherwise unremarkable. After about 3 miles, the route took a sharp left and immediately dropped us steeply down to a narrow precipice. After navigating the tight corridor, we eventually reached a laurel glen which wound across a stream and finally deposited us onto Carey Street.
Photo: The view of “Hanging Hills” from Ragged Mountain
Photo credit: Nora Hulton
After crossing Carey, we headed up a dirt road and began an almost immediate ascent up into the Ragged Mountain Preserve. It took only about 10 minutes to scramble up the traprock cliffs before we found ourselves perched on top of Ragged Mountain. Gazing south, we took in an expansive view of the “Hanging Hills” in Meriden, which we would be traversing the following week. We had a quick snack and gingerly headed north again on the traprock, which was coated with freshly fallen oak leaves and the mid-autumn snow, effectively adding an extra layer of difficulty to the trek. The exposed traprock, we noticed, held fascinating patterns made up of sinuous cracks. I later did some research and found out that the fissures were actually silica that had settled into the basalt as it was cooling. As silica is harder than igneous rock, it doesn’t weather as quickly and therefore protrudes.
The next few miles were an easy stroll through rolling, wooded
terrain, and if not for the ubiquitous, leathery oak leaves, we probably would have made better time. Along this stretch we treated ourselves to another snack break on a rocky overlook with a spectacular view of the Wassel Reservoir. As we continued north, the trail once again dipped into the woods and eventually looped back and headed south. For a ¼ mile or so, it ran along a canal which I imagine was used to drain water off the mountain and into the local reservoir. I can’t say for certain, however, since I haven’t done my “due diligence” on researching the subject.
This part of the path was especially rewarding, as we were afforded several views of the Shuttle Mountain Reservoir as we traversed the ridge. The descent was a short, but extremely steep butt-slide through loose traprock rubble. We threw our poles ahead of us and gave each other plenty of room so that we didn’t simulate a human bowling ball and pin scenario. At the base of the rocky slide, we were greeted with a contrasting flat, wooded landscape. We followed the meandering trail, which lead us down to Long Bottom Road and our northern parked vehicle. Between the steep descents, slippery footing and distinctive views, the Ragged Mountain trek was a noteworthy section, and definitely worth the effort.
Nora Hulton is a Connecticut Certified Master Conservationist and avid hiker. Check back in upcoming issues for the next part of her adventures on the New England Trail!
Photo: Deb scrambling to the top of Ragged Mountain
Photo Credit: Nora Hulton