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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    From Connecticut to Rhode Island and back on the Pachaug Trail

    A narrow ravine along the Pachaug Trail in Voluntown makes for a challenging hike. (Steve Fagin)
    The Pachaug Trail contains plenty of ups and downs. (Steve Fagin)
    A section of the Pachaug Trail passes jumbled boulders and sheer walls. (Steve Fagin)
    Moss and lichen cover exposed roots of a hemlock tree along the Pachaug Trail in Voluntown. (Steve Fagin)

    You’d think that a simple mud puddle wouldn’t stymie an intrepid hiker like Phil Plouffe, who has climbed to 26,000 feet on Mount Everest, and who delivered mail in Mystic for more than 30 years without ever letting snow, rain, heat or gloom of night stay the swift completion of his appointed rounds.

    But there he was, halted on the Pachaug Trail the other day, worried about getting his feet wet.

    “Phil! It’s only a few inches deep! Look,” I said, splashing ahead. All right, the puddle was at least 50 yards long, and water did in fact rise over my boots, drenching my socks, but still …

    Marco Barres, who suggested this route along the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, and, like Phil and me, has scaled challenging peaks in extreme conditions, including winter expeditions up Maine’s Mount Katahdin and New Hampshire’s Mount Washington – also balked at the puddle.

    The two of them wound up tramping cautiously through slippery mud along the edge, all the while unsuccessfully trying to dodge a dense tangle of greenbriar.

    As I sloshed briskly forward, wet but scratch-free, I heard splashes and shouted curses behind me. Sure enough, both Phil and Marco slid off the bank into the puddle, soaking their boots – but not before the briar’s needle-like barbs bloodied their hands and faces.

    “You guys look like a couple of Flagellanti,” I said, referring to members of a 13th-century religious cult who whipped themselves to atone for their sins.

    Happily, their grumbling didn’t last long. The sun shone brightly, while hemlock and white pine boughs swayed in a gentle breeze. Following a blue-blazed trail, we clambered up steep ridges and into rocky ravines, embracing the splendor of 27,000-acre Pachaug State Forest.

    “This is one of my favorite trails,” Marco said – which is saying a lot. He has hiked most of the footpaths in eastern Connecticut, and as a member of the Friends of Pachaug State Forest, regularly joins crews that clear overhanging brush and fallen trees.

    We set out at a trailhead near a public boat ramp on the north shore of Beach Pond – the same location where Marco and I launched a two-part outing a few months ago (“Double the fun: Hiking and kayaking in two states,” published Dec. 7).

    Instead of heading east, as we did back then, we ventured north on the 28-mile-long Pachaug Trail, toward the steep slope of Breakneck Hill. Here, we were surrounded by sheer cliffs, overhanging ledges, glacial boulders and probably enough rocks to build a few dozen Stonehenges. Frogspawn – jelly-like masses of frog eggs – floated in vernal pools, soon to hatch into spring peepers.

    Had we continued in this direction, we eventually would have wound up at Green Fall Pond, but in a little more than a mile, we turned east on white-blazed Canonicus Trail. This wide path is named for a former chief of the Narragansett Tribe – a reminder that indigenous people inhabited the land long before Pilgrims landed in 1620. The abundance of cairns, so-called serpent walls and other pre-colonial, ceremonial stone structures, reinforced that awareness.

    In another mile, we continued east on Tippecansett Trail – more of a wide, forest road on this section – and crossed from Connecticut to Rhode Island near the south shore of secluded Tippecansett Pond.

    We also crossed a section of the Pachaug Enduro Trail, a 58-mile forest route made available to motorcycles. We heard the distant whine of a dirt bike, but fortunately, it was heading in the opposite direction.

    Marco’s route eventually crossed back into Connecticut and reconnected to Pachaug Trail, which led us along the north shore of 841-acre Pachaug Pond, serenely silent on this March morning. If we were hiking in July, it would have been bustling with jet skis and power boats.

    After stopping at a clearing to gaze at the sparkling pond, we continued marching back to our starting point.

    “A good hike,” Phil remarked – especially the first and last few miles, where the trail was free of mud puddles and briar patches.

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