Vision Quest

E arly spring, with its often cold mornings and damp afternoons, isn’t the most popular time of year for a hike. But to catch one vista in particular, the time is now, before buds burst and leaves unfurl to obscure the 360-degree view from Beacon Cap.

The first weeks of spring mean mud, and the trail up to the Cap had its fair share when I set out one recent gray morning with a friend. It was wettest at the bottom, off Bethany’s Route 42 about a mile west of 63, where a small stream catapults down the hillside and pools before sneaking into a nearly hidden culvert. There’s parking at this spot, but we opted to drive to a second parking area not far up the road, where there’s more space away from traffic. Both spots are marked with blue Naugatuck Trail signs.

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We hiked back the short distance on the road from the second parking spot to the first, dropped into the wet hollow and were soon climbing the first six-tenths of a mile of the blue-blazed trail. It begins as a jeep road littered with river rocks, but as it turns away from the stream, it narrows and climbs through a stand of mountain laurel that will surely be beautiful come the June bloom. Our first far view of the ridge to the east revealed a fringe of bare reddish-purple branches under a sky layered with clouds like folded cream interspersed with swipes of pale blue, giving the otherwise monochromatic landscape a shy hint of color. The white branches of birch trees broke the monotony of the flat-faced hillside like cracks across a mirror. A heron soared overhead, and we turned from the view to climb over craggy knobs of schist and the occasional outcrop of milk-colored quartz.

The route to the summit, blazed blue and yellow, turns to the right off the Naugatuck. It’s easy to find in this direction, but you can also approach it via another segment of the trail, which meanders up from the west. This part rises from a low woodland spot up to a small cliff that was covered with spongy, wet moss, where the temperature dropped to cool us after our climb. Just past this cliff, the summit trail is on the left.

From here, it’s just three-tenths of a mile to the top. Along the way, a rocky ledge provides another vista to the east, then the trail drops steeply—a spot not recommended for little kids or bad knees—before the final climb to Beacon Cap.

At the rocky summit, one towering boulder begs to be climbed. This is no easy feat, despite the fact that prior visitors have stacked smaller boulders at its base and propped two tall and weathered branches against it like a rungless ladder. With an assist from the gripping soles of my hiking boots, I found a toehold and used the makeshift ladder to pull myself up the last few feet.

From this perch, you can turn full-circle to see Mount Sanford, the west block of Naugatuck State Forest and the rolling hills of Beacon Falls, Naugatuck, Prospect, Cheshire, Hamden, Bethany and Seymour as well as the New Naugatuck Reservoir. Focusing in close, I noted the surface of the boulder itself, sea green with lichen, and several oak saplings to which a few tenacious leaves still clung, despite the fact that the wind must sometimes be fierce up here.

It was a calm morning, still painted in winter’s quiet grays and browns, the sense of space contained by the hood of altostratus clouds (and by the fact that we were still only 725 feet above sea level). But you could smell spring in the loamy soil. You could feel it in the damp, cool air. You could see it here and there in fingers of green poking up through the soil.

On our way down, a light rain began to sizzle on last fall’s decomposing leaves. There was no protection from a canopy above, but we’d brought our hats. In a matter of weeks, there’ll be a leafy shelter to protect hikers from the rain and sun. But, as in every change of season, we’ll lose something in the balance: visions of the earth, even if muddy, and the sky, even if gray.

Naugatuck Trail
Off Beacon Rd/Rt 42 in Bethany, a mile west of Amity Rd/Rt 63 (map)

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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