Saturday, June 21, 2008

Higby Mountain

This morning I began a "7 hills in 7 days" journey through Middletown. I decided that my first summit would be the spectacular Higby Mountain, in the Westfield section of town.  I started at about 6:15 in the morning, driving my bicycle over to Guida's Restaurant, on Rte 66, and leaving it there. I am always torn between locking my bicycle out of sight so that nobody knows it is there, and in full view so that everybody knows it is there.  I chose to lock it to a sign in front of the restaurant for all to see. 

After driving back home, I walked to the Country Club Road entrance to the Higby Mountain portion of the Mattabesett Trail. The entrance to the trail is not auspicious, but it is at least better than it was last year. Last summer a land-owner on Higby Mountain collected money from ATV users to drive all over the mountain. This illegal use turned the Country Club Road base of Higby into a parking lot, and was stopped by the city.  Now the same landowner has his logging skid and a dozen or so giant logs stored there.  Fortunately, the muddy ruts of the logging vehicles are present only in the first 100 yards or so of the trail. 
Once past these, the trail is largely a spectacularly beautiful small hiking trail. The trail traverses the east side of the mountain for about 0.5 miles, then climbs gently up to the top of the ridge.  Most of the forest is tall, beautiful oak trees.  Where a little bit of sunshine hits the forest floor, small patches of lush grass rise towards the light.  It has a magical feeling in the morning, the mist in the air was silvered by the sun's early rays.  At 7AM, the sounds of I91 were completely blocked by the Mountain, and the only sounds I could hear were those of birds and the occasional screaming chipmunk.  Images of Bambi dancing and prancing with squirrels and the flickers came to mind.  Sure enough, near the top of the ridge I did see a deer resting in the grass.  She probably was busy digesting her morning's predawn grazing, and for quite a while we stared at each other, about 30 yards apart. 
Shortly after reaching the top of the ridge, I reached the actual summit of Higby Mountain (892').
The views from all along the ridge top are spectacular.  To the north is Lamentation Mountain (also partly in Middletown), due west is Chauncey Peak (in Meriden), and to the southwest is the valley containing Meriden, Wallingford, and other towns along I91. I continued walking along the ridgeline, getting better views every time the trail came near the top of the cliff.  The terrain is surprisingly flat on top, the trees are shorter, and as a consequence there is beautiful green grass over much of the ridge, under a canopy of short trees. It reminded me of a California walnut orchard in March.  The beauty of the ridge itself and the spectacular views thwarted my original intent to do a rapid hike with no stopping. I lingered on a rock for
 half an hour. At one point a red-tailed hawk went past me at eye level,  soaring on the air currents rising up the cliff face from the valley below.  

About halfway along the ridge line, the elevation drops a little bit, this is Preston Notch, which forms the border between Middletown and Middlefield.  Off to the east of Preston Notch is a large rocky outcropping called Camels Hump.  The trail down the south side of Higby Mountain is sunnier, with more vegetation on the forest floor.  In several places, the trail took advantage of natural steps in the stone to make an easy descent down the ridge towards Guida's.  The European settlers named these ridges the 'traprock' ridge in honor of these steps (trappen means stairs in German).  The last half mile of the trail is annoyingly close to the very noisy Rte 66, but with coffee and eggs beckoning, I felt like a horse turned towards the barn after a long ride.  

Fortunately, my bicycle was still there, unmolested.  I hopped on and headed for home.  Route 66 is a bit intimidating for a bicyclist, but at least when they widened the road a couple of years ago, they created a very wide breakdown lane.  I felt safe riding back down into the Connecticut Valley, crossing over the beautiful Mount Higby Reservoir.  I turned left at the Red Dog Saloon, and took Higby Road back north towards home.  I've always thought Higby Road to be the most beautiful road in Middletown, with its views to the west over farmland, down into a valley of hay fields, and then up towards glorious Higby Mountain. This morning, knowing that I had just traversed across the top of Higby, the view was more beautiful than ever.


Anonymous said...

It was very nice of you to let the landowner, whom you seem to disdain so much, know exactly when you were TRESPASSING upon their property.

Teresa said...

Hey, Anonymouse, that's not trespassing. The Mattabesett Trail, now also known as the New England Trail (a National Scenic Trail), crosses private properties only with full permission from the property owner. As long as someone is on the blue-blazed trail, they are fine. ATV riders, on the other hand, are specifically required by the state statute to carry written permission from the property owner when they are not on their own property. This is because ATVs do so much damage, make so much noise, and generally create a nuisance for everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I know a few land owners on the blue trail, who have expressly told the state that they don't want the trail on their land. Does no good. Some unknown individuals keep remarking the trail with the blue paint.

Lyn Shaw said...

Such a lovely description of the natural beauty that surrounds us and needs our protection. Nature asks care and admiration, not ownership.