There was plenty to like about this hike, but Hatch Brook Falls was not one of those things. To make matters worse, I was struggling. The day before, I had driven almost five hours, hiked seven miles, and racked up a respectable amount of elevation (read here). I had enjoyed a relaxing morning before heading southeast into Connecticut for hike number two. I parked just off of Connecticut Route 7 near Cornwall Bridge before enthusiastically donning my daypack and starting up the Mohawk Trail toward Bread Loaf Mountain. Almost immediately I was tired. I was tired and Hatch Brook falls was going to suck. But I wouldn’t know that for a couple of hours.
The hike up Bread Loaf Mountain was quite lovely. The woods were quiet and serene. I was meeting no other hikers. I was passing – and I know this is going to come as a great surprise seeing as I was in Connecticut – many picturesque stone walls. The sun was out and a few late-blooming wildflowers contrasted sharply with the forest floor. Everything around me was pleasant – I was just tired. I chalked it up to First Hill Syndrome, my name for the physiological response my body has to the first hill of the day. “It’s too steep,” my brain cries. “You’ll never make it! You’ll be happier if you turn back and go have lunch somewhere.” I don’t know about you, but my brain does this on almost every first hill, regardless of how in shape I am, or how rested, or even how enthusiastic I am about a particular hike. I ignored my stupid brain and pressed on.
Usually, after the first incline is under my belt the FHS goes away and I feel strong. When I reached the Bread Loaf summit I felt immediately better. There was a pleasing vista at the top and I plopped down on a rock to enjoy the view. Through a break in the trees I could see south down the Housatonic River Valley. I couldn’t see the river but I could trace its path through the valley beyond. An armada of clouds steamed across the sky casting their shadows on the forested hills below. When I had caught my breath I continued on the Mowhawk Trail.
Just a few yards beyond the summit the Mohawk Trail tee’d off at the Appalachian Trail and I turned north. I was feeling better, but to be fair I was going downhill. For the next mile I ambled northward along a ridge through dense Connecticut forest, past stony outcroppings and many of the familiar white blazes of the 2,200 mile AT. The hiking was mostly downhill and fairly easy until I arrived at Hatch Brook. There the trail turned up the draw. Hatch Brook was a delightful creek that gurgled southeast through a jumble of moss-covered rocks on its way to meet the Housatonic River.
I crossed and began to climb. Immediately, waves of exhaustion crashed over me. Okay, I was not suffering from First Hill Syndrome – I was over two miles into this hike and had climbed around six-hundred feet by that point. I wasn’t dehydrated – I had had plenty of liquids that morning and was carrying more than enough in my pack. I struggled upward for another half-mile before coming to the second viewpoint on my route. I rested again, enjoying the view – this time eastward toward Hartford, thirty eight miles away.
When I resumed, it was to struggle for a half-mile to the junction with the Pine Knob Loop Trail where I would take my leave of the famed AT. The Pine Knob Loop turned south where I pushed up another hundred feet to the Housatonic Viewpoint. This was what I had come for – well, this and Hatch Brook Falls – and it was worth my beleaguered efforts. A gently sloping outcropping of rock opened onto a stunning view over the Housatonic Valley. This view was essentially the same as at the previous viewpoint, only better. I was at roughly the same elevation, and looking in the same general direction, there was just … more view somehow. Another couple of hikers were sitting on the outcrop enjoying the sun and the scene, so I dropped my pack and found a comfortable seat on which to have lunch. Sliced sopressata, and cheddar were plucked from Ziploc baggies, assembled into stacks on (Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil) Triscuits, and stuffed into my mouth in alarmingly rapid succession. Maybe that’s why I had been flagging – I was hungry! No, wait, I had eaten two Pop-Tarts and two slices of leftover pizza for breakfast. That’s about a thousand calories. I was not suffering from malnutrition.
When the other two hikers departed the crag, I took their spot, stretching out on the warm flat rock and gazing out over “the river beyond the mountain place”. That’s what Housatonic means in Mohican. No other hikers came by to take a turn on this delightful spot and I stayed for some time, even laying back with my hands clasped behind my head to soak up the New England sun and watch the clouds float past. When I felt I had used up more than my allotted time at the Housatonic Viewpoint I grunted myself up and re-shouldered my pack. It was time to descend.
Descend I did. A half-mile, and two aching knees later, I was practically at river level. The trail wove its way south among tall hardwoods and low stone walls. It was a pleasant half-mile that came to a screeching halt when I reached Hatch Brook again. To my right was the waterfall, to my left was short spur to Route 7. If I wanted to see the falls I would have to climb another damn hill. I was still suffering from whatever plague of exhaustion had me in its vise-like grip. It was here that I made a decision. My plan had been to hike to Hatch Brook Falls, then continue on up the brook back to the AT, then retrace my steps back over Bread Loaf Mountain and down to the trailhead. This meant that I would climb 750 more feet of elevation before I was done. I couldn’t face it. Resolving to hike only up to the falls, I turned north and started to climb.
It was a paltry quarter-mile and 150 feet up to the falls. I wasn’t into it. You may, then, imagine my disappointment when I arrived at Hatch Brook Falls to find a big rocky ditch with a barely-visible rivulet of water trickling downhill like rain run-off in a gutter. “This isn’t any good” I thought, “I’ve seen more impressive waterfalls coming out of my hose bib at home!” I threw up my hands and turned around in disgust.
Now, if you are a member of the Western Connecticut Waterfall Defense League, don’t get out the torches and pitchforks just yet. Let me explain. In early fall of 2020, Connecticut was experiencing some pretty severe drought conditions. In fact, On October 26, just three weeks after my visit, the USDA designated northwest Connecticut a “Primary Natural Disaster Area”. So, it wasn’t Hatch Brook’s fault – there just wasn’t enough water to go around. I had come on a bad waterfall day. Here’s a picture of how the falls should have looked:
I retraced my steps to the spur and traipsed down to the road. To avoid that extra 750 feet of elevation I was going to road hike back to my car on Route 7. If you read this blog you know I hate road hiking, but on that day it ranked higher than climbing Bread Loaf Mountain for a second time. As it turned out, the asphalt trail wasn’t so bad. Traffic was light and Route 7 afforded me many resplendent views of the Housatonic River – views which I could see from no trail in the area. Even from the overlooks, I only caught glimpses of the river itself. The afternoon sun was setting the east bank ablaze and the just-starting-to-change leaves reflected blurrily in the rippled water, an impressionist painting in the river’s countenance. In no time at all I was back at my car.
This was a solid hike. The views from Bread Loaf Mountain and the two viewpoints were worth the price of admission; Hatch Brook Falls would have iced the cake nicely. I’m a little sad I didn’t get to see the falls in all it’s glory but I still wouldn’t have traded this hike in on another. There was a good reason why Hatch Brook Falls was depleted; I never determined why I was. My torpor had not stopped me from reaching the major features of this loop, but I drove away feeling anxious about the next day’s hike. That anxiety would be my constant companion for the next twenty-four hours. As I headed back to my motel in Hillsdale, New York, I tried to shake it off and focus on the moment. In the moment I was … hungry! I had passed a place on the drive down called When Pigs Fly South, advertising southern style barbecue. What?! In Connecticut? I was intrigued. The real question at hand was whether or not I was likely to pass up post-hike barbecue … uh, yeah – when pigs fly! ♦
Date: October 3, 2020
Location: Cornwall Bridge, CT
Trailhead: 41.821431, -73.375884
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,115 feet
BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Mohican.