#2  Mount Frissell, Connecticut (2,380 ft.)

Mount Frissell was the first mountain I climbed deliberately in order to reach its summit. How hard could it be, I thought. And while Frissell really is not that "hard," the trail is rugged and requires scrambling up a few pitches of steep rock.

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The worst part, however, is the drive to the trailhead from the south. The dirt rut dubbed Mount Washington Road is in terrible shape: dusty when dry, muddy when wet, and rocky all year round. I gouged my front right tire on the initial trip, leaving me poorer by about $300. But the peak is worth it, I suppose, at least for those (like me) who relish eccentricities of geography or the surprising wildness of a state more often and unjustly known as little more than an exurb of New York and Boston.

Climbing Frissell in late June you are treated to a florescence of mountain laurel, the state flower. In August the highbush blueberries are ripe. Be careful in any warm season because the talus slopes of northwest Connecticut are home to one of the state's few populations of timber rattlesnakes. People claim the snakes are rare, but as you'll see in the slideshow I got "lucky." Several online sources claim that most of the rattlesnakes in Connecticut are relatively docile because the aggressive ones had been killled off long ago, and thus the gene pool adjusted accordingly. Call me crazy, but that's one hypothesis I don't feel like testing. I gave the little bugger wide berth, which wasn't easy considering that one side of the trail led too hastily down  the valley below and the other, hidden within the upslope underbrush, could have easily concealed either its jealous mate or hungry brood lurking in the leaf litter.

Connecticut, by the way, is unique in that the state's highest point is neither a summit nor the top of some other prominence, mound, or gentle swelling. No, the summit of Frissell lies just over the border with Massachussetts. Rather, the highest point of Connecticut is the spot on Frissell's southern slope where the mountain crosses the state line at an elevation just a few dozen feet higher than the highest summit in the state, which belongs to nearby Bear Mountain. Photographs in the slideshow show the plaque on Bear Mountain proclaiming that it marks the "highest ground" in the state.

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This postcard (right) shows the large cairn on Bear in a somewhat idealized form; the real pyramid is a little more bedraggled. But it's still a good place to rest and have lunch, and the hike up Bear is admittedly nicer than Frissell. Just watch out for scaly critters nesting in the crannies.

The Frissell highpoint is marked by nothing so grand: just an oxidized brass rod and a modest cairn. If you continue down the Mount Frissell Trail you reach the Tristate Marker, a stone pillar denoting the intersection of New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The Connecticut side is uncarved because of a border dispute at the time the marker was erected in the nineteenth century. Even back then we were a bunch of litigious bastards.


Dolley Shot: Birdsong on Frissell


Farther down the trail brings you to Brace Mountain, in the Taconics of New York, whose summit is a grassy knoll from which paragliders leap during the summer months. Okay, so technically we're not in Connecticut anymore, but I will forever associate the video of those paragliders (see the links above) with my second hike up Frissell, when I was accompanied by my brother-in-law, Thomas, and when we witnessed the fledging of a novice.

 

Dolley Shot: Paragliders on Mount Brace

I'll admit that the first time I climbed Frissell I missed the summit (but not the highpoint) because it was hidden through thick leaves. It sits about 10 feet off the main trail, slightly uphill (obviously) and kind of on your right if you're hiking from Mount Washington Road. (Hint: You reach the little spur before you get to the highpoint marker.) The register, which you can see me signing, is housed in an Army surplus metal box.

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One other item of trivia: In my research on Frissell I have yet to discover the origins of its name. Do you know? Drop me a note if you do. I did discover that the area surrounding the mountain and nearby Lake Riga was once dotted with iron foundries. The cannon used on the U.S.S. Constitution, or "Old Ironsides," was said to have been made in these parts. This postcard shows the ruins of one of those foundries.


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