Cross-Country Skiing in Connecticut: Carpe Diem

Most denizens in our neck of the woods whined about last week's early-in-the-season storms that coated the ground with several inches of crusty snow topped by fluffy powder, but as soon as the flakes stopped flying my wife, Lisa, and I grabbed our cross-country skis and drove to a favorite destination, Voluntown's Pachaug State Forest.

"Who knows? This could be one of our only chances," I said.

Last winter may have been relentless (or epic, as far as schussers are concerned) but usually ski conditions don't last more than a few days before rain washes the snow away, or the snow melts into mud, or hikers, dogs and assorted other non-skiers trample tracked trails.

I've always been a seize-the-day kind of guy, and that dictum especially applies to cross-country skiing in Connecticut. Though the shoreline boasts some magnificent trails – Bluff Point and Haley Farm in Groton, and Rocky Neck in East Lyme – they tend to get beaten down compared to more reliably snowy paths just a few miles farther north, which is why we steered toward Mount Misery.

Encompassing more than 27,000 acres, Pachaug is Connecticut's largest state forest, and it contains miles and miles of trails and dirt roads that meander through groves of dense evergreens and lush rhododendrons, alongside secluded ponds and streams, and over rocky ledges, including the section's 441-foot namesake summit.

Incidentally, Mount Misery is a popular peak name – there's one in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Nova Scotia, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ireland and St. Kitts.

Voluntown's version offers fine views of woodlands and meadows but is not that easy to scale on skis, so Lisa and I slipped past the trailhead on our afternoon outing.

We began off Route 138 just west of the Voluntown Library on a gravel road called DEP Trail. In less than a quarter mile we veered left on a well-traveled path near a metal gate apparently intended to block off-road vehicles – though there were ATV tire tracks in the snow. Oh well, at least we only encountered the tracks.

After mile and a half we passed a path leading to the Mount Misery Summit, continued on a section of the Pachaug Trail and eventually joined the unpaved and unplowed Fire Tower Road.

In a short distance we turned right on Cutoff Road, where packed snow topped by fresh powder made for fast, slippery conditions nearly as good as any groomed trail at commercial cross-country ski areas in Vermont or New Hampshire.

Not only did we avoid having to pay for trail passes at Pachaug, which is free of charge, we didn't have to drive three or four hours each way.

Side trails from Cutoff Road pass through the majestic Rhododendron Sanctuary, but since the sun began to dip we bypassed this worthy detour, continued east past the Mount Misery Campground and an expansive field at the Herman Haupt Chapman Management Area, and turned right at the DEP Trail to ski another mile and a half back to the car.

"Well, at least we can say we got out on our skis this season," I said.

"It's not even winter yet," Lisa reminded me.

The solstice is today, Saturday, and sure enough, rising temperatures since our short outing have melted much of the snow and made conditions too rocky for skiing – which is why I plan instead to celebrate the first day of winter by kayaking in Fishers Island Sound with friends.

After all, carpe diem applies to just about every outdoor adventure.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

A Chilly Paddle Among The Seals Off Fishers Island

"What did you say the water temperature is?" my buddy Steve Kurczy called out. "Thirty-eight degrees!" "And how long …" He didn’t have to finish the question.

Death In The Antarctic: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Death In Antarctica: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Finally, Some Cross-Country Skiing

After emerging on cross-country skis from protective evergreens into an open field the other day, I pulled on a fleece balaclava as an icy gust whipped across frozen ground and a giant, dark shadow advanced with the lowering sun.

Touching The Top Of The Bottom Of The Planet: Mystic Climber Scales Antarctica’s Tallest Mountain

Experienced mountaineers realize that reaching the peak isn’t the most important goal of any climb. The fact is, it doesn’t count unless you get back down.

Nuts About Acorns

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have on my regular rambles through the woods, that we’re up to our — er, elbows — in acorns.

A Year Of Fun: It All Begins With The New Year’s Day Run-Swim

First of all, it doesn’t hurt that much. Really.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ... (And Don’t Stick Your Foot Into A Bear Cave)

I know that a month from now, when I could very well be digging out of my driveway just as I was in the accompanying photo taken last winter, I may have to eat these words, but ... Come on! Where’s all the snow?!

An Impromptu Kayak Circumnavigation of Fishers Island in December: Glad I Missed the ‘Fun’ Part

You know those adventures you could have experienced but had to pass up for one reason or another, and then when you later ask how it went your friends gush, "Oh, man, it was awesome! Best time of our life! You shoulda been...

Celebrating Second-place Slackers: A Quiz

Back when my son Tom and I were tagging all 67 of the 4,000-plus-foot mountains in New England, a perverse idea crossed my mind: What if we stopped inches short of each peak and then climbed back down?

With The Fagin Fitness Ankle Bracelet or Fagin Fitness Implant, You WILL Get In Shape!

The problem with Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Withings Pulse, Microsoft Band and other electronic fitness trackers is that, like so many old-school aids designed to get people off their butts and into shape (workout charts, personal trainers,...

Beware The Deadly Deer

Every season presents the potential for paradise or peril.

Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.

The Rites – And Wrongs – Of Autumn

It’s finally happened: I’ve grown so accustomed to the roar of the leaf blower that I now longer recoil and curse at the first sonic blast of fall, but simply shake my head and sigh.