Only 50 more miles to go along the Appalachian Trail.
And that's just the 51.6-mile Connecticut section. Overall, I have 2,178 miles to cover from Katahdin, Maine to Georgia's Springer Mountain. But everyone has to start somewhere. And my somewhere was Kent along a 1.5-mile section that climbed to the top of St. Johns Ledges and the 1,160-foot-high Caleb's Peak.
Not sure if this is the touristy-you-can-brag-that-you-hiked-the-Appalachian-Trail section. But if this is what the rest of the trail is like, I'm fine with just a taste of it because this was one of the toughest starts to a path I've come across in the state.
On a scale of 1-10 – with 1 being flat and smooth and 10 being using hands to climb - the Connecticut section trail rankings range from 4-5. There are short, strenuous and steep climbs mixed in with lengthy graded climbs. And the ascent up St. Johns Ledges is definitely strenuous as in it feels like your heart is pounding out of your shirt – and that's someone who is in shape. And little known fact – according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, total elevation gain along the A.T. is like climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
There is a short, easy path that leads to the base of the ledges. But once you reach the ledges, the climbs are marked by stairs made of huge rocks as well as natural formations that tend to be obstacles just when you need a rest. Plan on a lot of scrambling, but there are plenty of spots to stop and rest on the way up and with a views of the surrounding area peeking through the tree canopy, you are going to want to take a break.
Once you reach the top, the trail levels off and hikers travel to an overlook. A few pitch pines dangle from the edge of the ledges and provide a wonderful pine scent as you look out across the Housatonic River valley with its pastoral views of farms. But don't get too close to the edge, since there is a deep dropoff.
From the ledges, much of the trail west is level and flat passing through deep forests and across spring-fed streams with numerous frogs startled by your approaching footsteps and jumping with a plop into the clear pools. Another series of rock stairs mark the ascent to Caleb's Peak.
Compared to the climb to St. Johns Ledges, ascending up to the peak is relatively easy. With the bright green moss along the trail mixing in with the changing colors of wild blueberry bushes and maples, the beauty makes you forget about the climb. The peak is beautiful with views south and west into the hills of New York. A boulder sitting on top of the peak makes a great spot to rest before a downhill return to the parking area.
As I stood on top of Caleb's Peak, I looked north in the direction of Katahdin and then south to Springer and figured I better head home. I figure after this short journey, I can still tell my children and future grandchildren about my time along the Appalachian Trail. I can just leave out the part about how far I went.
Take Route 341 to Skiff Mountain Road just north of the Housatonic River. Take a right on River Road and look for the parking area on the left in 1.5 miles. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.