SGSP E-W Traverse 2+ (Orange, Tower, and a Bit of White Trails)
Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden, ~5 miles total (solo)
February 6, 2011
It’s a shame that I completely screwed up my well-laid-out plan to become a Giant Master. I had it all planned; it was going to be 5 different hikes through the park in 5 distinct conditions: Dry winter, snowy winter, spring, summer and fall. Cool, right? Elegant and simple… Just as a Giant Master should be.
But now I know that to become a Master, I must display other qualities like perseverance, creativity and flexibility. Because on my planned “snowy winter” loop, I ran into more difficulty than I bargained for and had to change up everything. All my best-laid plans went right out the door… But do not despair! I shall become a Giant Master by year’s end. Just a very confused and convoluted Master… As, I suppose, it should be.
Of course, the only reason I care is because when I break up trails and complete them at different times, it makes writing about them much more difficult. And you may be surprised to learn that I get “stickier” traffic on my hiking posts than other stuff on CTMQ. In other words, if you’re reading this, you’re reading it on purpose and chances are you’ll stick around to read the rest of this page. So to the 3 of you – please bear with me.
After spending many days and nights shoveling snow, shoveling snow from my roof, chiseling ice from my gutters, damning my ice dams and all that sort of stuff, I was eager to get out and get a hike in. I figured the trails down at Sleeping Giant would be broken in for the most part, but I didn’t think too hard about the ¾ inch of ice or so that sat atop the 3 to 4 feet of fluffy stuff. For the uninitiated, this ice sort of makes snowshoeing a huge pain in the butt; for you crunch through the ice layer and sort of get “caught” under it when bringing your foot back up to take the next step.
But I held out hope…
Aborted White Trail (1st mile or so)
Omen # 1: My road was a complete sheet of black ice when I drove out of my driveway.
Omen # 2: I backed into the hiker lot off of Chestnut Lane in Hamden, parking on the ice. As I sat in the back of my car, which has new tires, was left in reverse with the parking brake on, the car began sliding forward down the ice into the street. That was a comfortable feeling.
Those issues aside, it was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike. Azure skies, little to no wind, temps projected to hit the 40’s (which we hadn’t seen for over a month)… What could go wrong? Well, for one, I shouldn’t have been hiking in the first place. I bruised my foot (heel) pretty badly earlier in the week but since it was feeling much better by the day, I went ahead with the hike. Bottom line: Don’t hike (or even snowshoe) on a bruised heel. It HURTS. A lot. You don’t realize how much force you put on your heel going downhill until each step sends pain through your entire body. My fault.
I decided to start with the white trail, one of the 5 trails that traverses the entire park from east to west. It’s rated most difficult but whatever, this was Sleeping Giant, not K2. I should have realized a quarter mile in that no one had hiked the white trail since a few winter storms ago and that ice layer on top was just brutal. Going uphill wasn’t too bad, but going down posed a fairly large problem – which is difficult to explain if you’ve never shoed in this stuff before.
Basically: Step, crack through ice layer, sink a foot or two, momentum propels you forward, step/crack/sink but now your other sunken foot is “stuck” (if only for a split second) under the ice layer. This causes issues. I never fell, believe it or not, but it was seriously slow-going. It also hurt my heel. So after a mile or so, I hit the Orange trail junction and decided to take that much flatter trail back to my car on Chestnut Lane, assuming it hadn’t slid away.
You’ll be able to read a more descriptive report on my white trail hike when I hike the rest of it… I guess I’ll do that in the Spring. (I did! Right here!)
Tower Trail (1.6 miles one-way)
Phew. My car was in one piece and where I left it. Having just made great time on the piece of the orange trail I did, I decided to drive around to the main park entrance and knock out the popular Tower Trail. I figured that the trail would be packed down and plus, visiting the tower all alone would be a heck of a lot better than with the crowds at other times during the year.
Furthermore, assuming my heel held out, I quickly noted on my map that a short bushwha- err – icy snow-whack south would link me back up with the orange trail and then a quick easterly jaunt would get me back to where I left off earlier in the day whereupon I could continue west back to the park entrance, all before 11 AM. I had a (new) plan.
Once I parked on the skating rink lot, I strapped on my shoes with renewed vigor and trudged across the picnic area to the trailhead. Ahhh, this was nice; the snow here was soft and inviting and easy to get across. There were several other cars in the lot, so I knew I’d be running into some other people for once. The Tower Trail isn’t blazed at all. This is because it’s a wide gravel path you could drive a truck up. but throw 5 feet of snow on top of that and suddenly it’s not as easy to find as you’d think.
Okay, it was easy to find, but with a few other trails bisecting/sharing this one, it actually did screw me up a couple times. (Keep in mind wide gravel roads are reduced to singletrack trails in such extreme snow.) The path was well-worn and I made good time up the gentle grade. I was also quite warm despite really not wearing all that much. By now I’m pretty jaded by the various traprock formations around the state. But every once in a while, I’m struck by just how cool it can look sometimes.
Take for instance this picture:
I could tell you that it’s from the Grand Tetons or something and you’d probably believe me. But no, that’s Hamden, Connecticut my friends. (The starkness of the cliff may have been created by the old quarry, but I’m not sure.) The 24-mile long Quinnipiac Trail traverses the top of that cliff, and I’m looking forward to that someday. But for now, I enjoyed the solitude and the sunshine from below.
Well, my solitude didn’t last too long, as I did begin to pass other hikers on the Tower Trail. One woman was trudging up it with her son. As I continued up, a couple dog-walkers were coming down and I noticed no one was wearing snowshoes. It was okay though, since the packed path wasn’t yielding to their weight… yet. The Tower Trail is graded and has switchbacks and even nice little benches on which to rest.
Of course, those benches were not functional under the snow, but I’m sure they’re lovely come summer. I crossed a couple other trails on my way up, but stuck to the main one. Nearer the top, three hikers were coming down – all wearing trail shoes. Strangely, they gazed upon my snowshoes as though I was an alien and one guy, wearing shorts no less, proclaimed, “THAT’S the way to do it!”
Well, yeah, it is. While there were in no danger on such a popular trail with clear blue skies, they were clearly idiots. You don’t wear shorts in 39 degrees on 3 feet of snow in Connecticut. But beyond that, they were post holing the trail all the way down because they were purposely stepping on the sides of the packed down trail. So thanks to those three, the top ½ mile or so of the tower trail was reduced to maybe 18 inches wide with post holes on the sides. And yes, I did slip off the “rail” part of the trail once into one of their 2 foot holes and fell to my knee.
But even that didn’t diminish my joy upon reaching the recognizable stone summit tower. It’s certainly not Connecticut’s most attractive summit tower; a chunky squat little thing, but it’s certainly one of the most popular. On a typical weekend day, this place is crawling with visitors. Lucky for me, I had it all to myself in spite of the perfect weather and clear views past New Haven and out halfway across the Long Island Sound.
Of course, I may have had the view all to myself because getting to the top of the tower was a class 3 climb, requiring use of both hands, skill and a rope sure would have been helpful. You see, the sloped climb was sheer ice. If there wasn’t a handrail the whole way, I’m not sure I would have made it! (Although I’d just have put on my snowshoes again and ascended with no issues.) The tower is pretty unique in that it has terraces at each level with lookouts all the way. I’ve read it referred to as the “castle,” which I sort of find annoying. Though the top certainly does have a castle-like feel to it I guess.
The 360 degree views are grand, but the star of the show is New Haven and its harbor. It’s funny how small East and West Rocks look from the tower top. There isn’t to much graffiti up there and I applaud the state for keeping this thing open, because you know some idiot is going to jump off it someday.
And thus ends the Tower Trial. For more on the tower itself, go to my page about it here.
Orange Trail (2.4 Miles)
Of the 5 trails that traverse the length of the park, I’m fairly certain the orange is both the easiest and least exciting. Of course, when one takes into account the travails I’d gone through already, that’s exactly what I needed. And this isn’t to say that the orange isn’t a worthwhile pursuit; not at all, as there are still a couple nice views along the way and the woods halfway up the Giant offer a unique outlook on the park.
If you’ve been reading this whole overlong page, you know already my orange hike was a bit convoluted. After giving up on the increasingly difficult (due to conditions) white trail, I returned via the orange back to my car on Chestnut Lane. (I actually hiked west a little bit, up the hill and down to the Red Circle trail and then turned tail and headed east.
Quite frankly, I don’t really remember anything about this eastern mile. It was flat and that meant I wasn’t sinking 3 feet under the ice layer and I was just eager to get to the car. I almost felt like “running” at times, just because I sort of could. I was back at my car in short order and quickly made the drive around past Quinnipiac University and into the incredibly icy main Sleeping Giant lot.
I parked my Outback amongst the 17 other Outbacks there, strapped on the snowshoes and barreled up the Tower Trail. From there, I hiked maybe 60 yards east on the Quinnipiac Trail, checked my vitals, secured my load, and plunged off-trail down the Giant through the woods. This endeavor is often fun in a foot of snow. You can sort of step/slide/step/sliiiiiiiide to the bottom. In 3 or 4 feet of snow? Nope.
It was more like step/sink/step/siiiiiiiiiiiiiiink. I even got caught in a fairly gnarly spruce trap. What’s that? You’re unfamiliar with that term? Consider yourself lucky… Out west where the snow can reach 10 feet deep, these things have killed people. In Connecticut, even with our heavy snowfall, they are merely annoying. In the (Whites, Daks and Cats they can cause a bit more alarm though, but only for those of us who bushwhack.)
Simply put, snow covers a small tree and you step on it. The mantle of snow over the hidden tree gives way under your weight and you sink down to the ground. Spruce trees are the worst because their thick branches grow at a downward angle, hooking and tangling your snowshoe making extrication sometimes nearly impossible. Here are some tips to get out of them. (Avoiding them is pretty easy: Don’t go off trails.)
I was sunk to my groin and did have to wiggle for a little while to get out, but I was never in any danger. I quickly reached the green trail which led me down to the orange trail. I hiked east to meet up with the red circle trail, touched a tree and turned back around. This middle section of the orange wasn’t too bad to traverse (especially going back over the part I had just broken out a bit.)
However, after passing the green and then the red triangle trail, I was again the sucker breaking through the ice layer. Of course, this was the part of the orange that actually went up and down steeply over the giants right hip. My heel was absolutely killing me on the way down (and it still is, writing this now 4 days later) but this is what I like to do, so I’ll not complain anymore.
There is a nice view, I figure right above the same view 100 feet downhill on the yellow trail, of QU and New Haven beyond. I crossed the tower trail, joined forces with the nature trail – holy cow, that thing has a lot of point of interest it appears from the numbering – and wound my way under the quarry wall and into the serene picnic area of the park. Who’s up for a relaxing picnic lunch?
Through the picnic area and then a short walk over to the parking area later, I was done for the day.
It’s a shame my injury sort of diminished what should have been a great day out. I would have stuck to my plan of doing the white then orange trails I think, despite the difficulty with the layer. Regardless, I’m really enjoying becoming a Giant Master – and how Hoang likes to call me a Giant Bastard when I half-jokingly announced my return to the house. Now I’ll wait for the spring thaw to return to the park for my next hike, when I guess I’ll do the Green and finish the white.
On my way to being a GIANNNNNNNNT MASSSSSSTERRRR! (For more information on the Giant Master program, Click here.)