I don't usually suffer from acrophobia – otherwise known as a fear of heights.
That was until I ventured along the Metacomet Ridge, which extends 100 miles through central Connecticut from Long Island Sound into Massachusetts before stopping a few miles short of Vermont and New Hampshire. The bout of acrophobia came while I was exploring Middletown and Middlefield's Higby Mountain in search of one of the "Old Leather Man's" caves and the site of a 1954 plane crash.
New York during the mid-to-late 1800s – including several years of a clockwise circuit of 365 miles every 34 days, according to LeShane.
In addition to reaching the summit and taking in one of the best views along the ridge, our other goal was to find the site of an October 1954 crash of a twin-engine Beechcraft that claimed the lives of three people. Because of its remote location, much of the plane was left to rust on the mountain top – a sort of memorial to the lives lost on a cold and rainy autumn night.
Our 1-mile journey began along a pine needle-covered trail with a picturesque pasture on one side and a noisy I-91 on the other. But as the trail wound through the woods and under some transmission lines, the highway began to fade as we made our short, but difficult ascent up Higby Mountain.
At a dried-up creek and waterfall, we turned north along the Mattabesett Trail with tremendous views of Meriden and the surrounding hillsides, even on a hazy July day. Along the way, LeShane pointed out a ledge and patch of forest that acts like a natural amphitheater, a huge rock bridge and some small cedar trees – that he estimated are probably a half-century old – barely hanging on to the edge.
After reaching the mountain's 892-foot peak, we took a side trip to one of the nearly 50 places the mysterious Leather Man once stayed while making his travels through the area between 1858 and 1889. During that period, he would continually walk the area between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers, staying in caves, rock shelters, huts and lean-to shelters. Although the traprock formation has suffered from erosion over the years, it's easy to imagine a weary traveler finding shelter here.
A little farther along a logging trail, we found the remains of the plane that crashed into Higby Mountain while traveling from LaGuardia to Bradley Field. Even after nearly 56 years, there are rusted pieces of the plane and even some chunks of melted aluminum mixed in with the ferns and fallen trees. The plane had missed the peak by only 100 feet.
Climb to the top of this mountain and enjoy the view and a bit of history. Just don't look down.
Take I-91 south to Exit 19. Take a left at the end of the off-ramp and first left on Preston Avenue after going under I-91. Parking and trailhead is at the end of Preston Avenue. From Route 66 take East Main Street exit and turn right on Preston Avenue and follow to the end when the Preston Avenue forks to the right.
Questions or column suggestions are welcome. Peter Marteka may be reached by phone at 860-647-5365, by mail at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax at 860-643-8548. Visit http://www.courant.com/cthiking for more adventures in Connecticut's natural world.