Taking a hike: In search of Bald Peak
Bald Peak is located in Connecticut’s Wild Corner, that high and rugged part of Salisbury bordering Massachusetts and New York. For hikers, the Wild Corner is beloved for our state’s highest point on a flank of Mount Frissell and for the Appalachian Trail running between Bear Mountain and Lion’s Head. Bald Peak, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a hiker hotspot. At 2,010 feet, it is Connecticut’s fifth highest top. But maps often do not show it; and if they do, they don’t show a trail leading to it.
One map that I own, however, does show a trail. The Bald Peak Trail, it says, runs between the Appalachian Trail and Mount Washington Road, crossing Bald Peak on the way. The map indicates that the trail is marked and blue-blazed. I know this to be true at its Mount Washington Road end. One July 4th, driving south toward Salisbury on the dirt of Mount Washington Road after a Taconic Mountains hike over the line in Massachusetts, I stopped and climbed the short distance to Bald Peak. I recall open ledges and a novel perspective on the grand contours of the Wild Corner. One day, I thought, I’ll hike to this place from the other, Appalachian Trail side.
The day arrived in late March, the last full day of winter. I drove early up Route 7. North of Kent, the rising sun lit up the hills, and my spirits surged on the cloudless sky and the warm glow of bare-timbered slopes. The hours to come seemed simple and assured — scale Lion’s Head, find the Bald Peak Trail just to the north, hike to Bald Peak.
I parked at the hiker lot on Bunker Hill Road and, about 8:20, started up Lions Head Trail. This was a first for me; before, I had always reached the Head via the Appalachian Trail from Route 41. This new route was easier, starting 500 feet farther up the hill. The trail — hard-frozen mud — wound without climbing for a while, then ascended in earnest. An easier route, yes, but workout enough.
Lion’s Head offers distinct and magnificent views. South, far below, lie the more settled parts of Salisbury — field, wood, and smaller hills. But it is the views from the Head’s north-facing ledges that I like most. The humps of Bear Mountain and, farther off, Race and Everett stretch north, their east sides falling away sheer. Turn your head a little west and you look over closer, more unassuming slopes. Bald Peak is out that way somewhere.
I lingered at the ledges a while, hearing the roar of Wachocastinook Creek, below and out of sight, and the periodic grinding of the wind against the landscape. Then I fitted spikes to my boots and set off down the still-icy north slope of Lion’s Head, along the Appalachian Trail.
Now, I wasn’t expecting to find the Bald Peak Trail effortlessly. I had walked this way many times before and had not noticed it. Clearly, there was no big sign. But if I kept my eyes peeled, maybe I’d see blue blazes and a break in the vegetation leading west into the woods. My boots crunched in the icy snow and there was birdsong in the forest, and it was not long before I felt that I had passed the place where my map showed the trail to be. I pushed on anyway. It was a fine morning to lose your way.
I came to Ball Brook and stopped to drink (from bottle, not brook). I was now, for sure, well beyond any Bald Peak trailhead. But on my way here I had noticed a definite trail slanting off southwest and had followed it a way, only to find signs suggesting that to proceed would be to trespass. Now, on my map, I saw this trail labeled as the Charcoal Road Trail, and if I followed it, it would join the Bald Peak Trail just east of the peak itself. How could a mapped trail be trespass?
At first, the Charcoal Road Trail presented a straight and clear line through the trees. Blurred tracks in the snow suggested someone else had been through here not so long ago — in snowshoes. But the trail-line soon narrowed and became unclear. I was emerging too onto higher ground where the sun had reached and melted much of the snow and so also my guiding snowshoe tracks. The trail fizzled out. I must have been less than a half-mile from Bald Peak, but I had no desire to bushwhack.
I made two more attempts on Bald Peak that morning. Hiking back to Lion’s Head, I double-peeled my eyes for the Bald Peak Trail and did indeed find blazes painted on trunks. I followed them a while but they too fizzled out. There was no discernable trail either, and I concluded that the Bald Peak Trail had been reclaimed by the forest. Later, I drove toward Mount Washington Road, thinking I might approach Bald Peak from Wachocastinook Creek. But the road, of course, was still closed for winter and parking at the barrier left me too long and uncertain a trek.
I am not done with Bald Peak. When spring reopens Mount Washington Road, I’ll climb it again from the west and see what light that may shed.
Rob McWilliams, a local resident, is the author of “The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain: A Walk from Cape Wrath to the Solway Firth.” Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike” blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.