Nature's Path & Way To Go
January 10, 2010
Rope? Check. Carabiners? Check. Sherpa? Check.
OK, so Granby's Western Barndoor Hill is not the 29,028-foot-high Mount Everest. And it's not even the 20,320-foot-high Mount McKinley — the highest mountain in North America. Connecticut? That honor goes to Mount Frissell at 2,380 feet above sea level.
At 671 feet in elevation, Western Barndoor Hill is a mere baby when compared to the world's giant mountains. But after a visit to its peak through the deep snow and howling winds, one can get a pretty good idea of what it would be like to climb something three, 30 or 40 times its height.
There are actually two trap rock knobs that pop up along the western fringes of the Metacomet Ridge - a swath of volcanic basalt and sedimentary rock that runs from Long Island Sound to the New Hampshire and Vermont borders. The Western Barndoor Hill is joined by its neighbor the aptly named Eastern Bardoor Hill - to the northeast within the 4,800-acre McLean Game Refuge.
Although the knobs can be visited any time of year, I find winter to be the most breathtaking. The knobs are home to some of the most incredible views I've seen in my journeys across the state. The hike to the top of Western Barndoor Hill is a one-way trip of nearly a mile with a vertical gain of 343 feet. Although it can be a bit strenuous with the snow pack, the view makes the effort worthwhile.
Once visitors reach a stone wall, the evergreen-covered summit as well as northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts awaits them. Looking through the breaks in the cedar trees and hemlocks, visitors can view the hills of northern Connecticut to the Southwick Jog (that's the state's notch) and Massachusetts. With the snow cover and deep blue sky, the mountains take on a purplish hue. Eastern Barndoor Hill can be seen directly to the northeast.
But don't get carried away with the view. Visitors should be wary of a sheer drop along the northern and eastern slopes of the knob. Even standing a few feet away, the stomach churns and those hairs on the back of your neck stand up, especially when a wind gust blows through.
After climbing back down, take a trail from the parking area into the refuge the former natural world home of George McLean, a U.S. senator and state governor. The refuge spans parts of Simsbury, Granby and Canton and was once visited by President Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.
Visitors should follow the path to a large field and turn left connecting with a purple-blazed trail that travels through a deep pine forest. After passing a kettle pond, take another left at a fork in the trail and connect with a blue-blazed trail that leads to the summit of Eastern Barndoor Hill.
On top of the hill, visitors can see the Western Barndoor Hill as well as the surrounding area. Although not as high as its twin, Eastern Barndoor Hill still has some spectacular views, especially when you can see where you were just minutes ago and see just how dramatic that sheer drop is. There are also wonderful views south to the hills of Simsbury.
In his will, McLean wanted the land to remain as a "place where some of the things God made may be seen by those who love them, as I loved them, and who may find in them the peace of mind and body that I have found." And anyone who has visited these two knobs of trap rock will find that peace.
To reach the Barndoors, take Route 75 toward Bradley International Airport and follow Route 20 west through Granby Center.
Take a left on Barndoor Hills Road and look for the parking area across from Kettle Pond Lane. Visit www.granbylandtrust.org/wbhp_map_web.pdf for a map of the preserve.
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