Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run

Today, Debbie and completed an end-to-end run of the Quinnipiac Trail. This is Debbie’s “hometown” trail and she trained a lot on it in the late-1990’s and early 2000’s. She grew up in Prospect, a mile from the northern terminus.

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The Quinnipiac is the oldest of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. CFPA’s website describes it this way:

Length: 18.3 miles

 Hamden, Cheshire, Bethany, Prospect

Trail Overview:
 The Quinnipiac Trail is the oldest in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. Although essentially a wooded trail, it traverses a series of traprock ridges on steep, challenging terrain. The trail passes through Sleeping Giant State Park, West Rock Ridge State Park, Naugatuck State Forest, and, at its most northern end, follows the rocky ridgeline of the Prospect-Cheshire border. The trail additionally crosses forested property on this ridge that has been protected by the Cheshire Land Trust.

The trail offers a succession of commanding views of the central valley, with ascents of York Mountain in Hamden and Bethany, and Mad Mare Hill and Mount Sanford in Bethany. The trail passes the dramatic chasms of Roaring Brook Falls, which are recognized as Connecticut’s highest single drop waterfall. The Roaring Brook Falls are located 0.2 miles east of the Quinnipiac Trail, on an orange-blazed Cheshire Town Trail. The Quinnipiac Trail also connects to the north end of the blue-blazed Regicides Trail in Hamden, offering additional hiking opportunities.

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During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Debbie, the kids, and I have been spending a lot of time on BBHT’s. We’ve made several trips to the Natchaug Trail, the Nipmuck Trail, and the Shenipsit Trail. I covered a bit of CFPA and BBHT history in my FKT post from a few weeks back. In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The Quinnipiac Trail (listed at 19.2 miles in the Walk Book but our GPS’ measured a bit over 18 miles on today’s run) was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system.

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The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history. As noted, Debbie would frequently run the Quinnipiac to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back. Until today, neither of us had been on the backside of Sleeping Giant State Park. The 3+/- mile section from the summit to Old Hartford Turnpike was tough.

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Really, the whole run was tough. We spent Saturday night at the Schieffer’s (Debbie’s parents) house. The kids were thrilled to visit with their grandparents. We got up early, finished packing our gear, and drove to Hamden with our bikes. We locked them to a tree about 50 yards from the southeastern terminus of the trail, and left our helmets, shoes, and a backpack. Then we drove back to Prospect. Then, Mrs. Schieffer drove us the mile down Route 68 to where the trail starts near the Davis Auction on Chatfield Road. The auction is where Momma S (as I call her) has worked for more than a decade. Technically, the trail no longer starts on the road. The Walk Book still shows it starting there with the 0.8 mile road section, but the CFPA website now shows the official start at the end of Cornwall Avenue where there is a trailhead. Either way, this is a special section of road in a special town. I first ventured to Prospect after meeting Debbie in 1999. We were married by Bob Chatfield, whose family name, is on this road. Bob is a Justice of the Peace, but he is even more well-known for being “Mayor Bob” for the past 43 years. That’s right, he has been mayor of Prospect for 21 terms dating back to 1977. That’s quite an accomplishment and he even has a Wikipedia page!

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Ironically, he doesn’t live on Chatfield, but rather around the corner on Cornwall. I had to stop and take a photo of his mailbox. Bob married us at White Memorial in Litchfield on October 13th, 2001. I’ve only seen him a few times over the last 19 years, probably at a parade and/or at a funeral. After our run today, I told our daughter that we were on a “date,” and she asked where we went. She was serious. I cracked up and told her we were on the Quinnipiac Trail.

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The Fastest Known Time route includes the road walk (run), so we wanted to add the distance and make it official. I’m sure there were less roads, or at least less asphalt, 91 years ago when the trail officially became part of CFPA’s system. The trail is shaped like an L. It heads south from Prospect before turning east. There were two or three other segments where we were on roads and able to pick up the pace. We started right at 7:30 A.M. The first four or five miles are some of the most rugged on the trail, and it was slow going. This section takes you over Mt. Sanford in Bethany, the high point (889 feet) on the trail. There was a nice view, the first of several that we would see on this beautiful Sunday morning.

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Debbie had an early mishap. She slipped on a wet rock in a streambed and slammed her left shin into another rock, dunking both feet in the process. This is the same shin she hurt on the Nipmuck E2E run when she slipped on a wood bridge. It took a while for her to shake it off, so I led for the first half of the run where there was more uphill. We knew what pace we had to average based on our target time. As we descended into Cheshire, we were able to pick up the pace and she started feeling better. By the time we got to Hamden, I was the one dragging. Over the last month, I’ve had a sore left glute that causes tightness in my hamstring and calf. When we hit the road section on Nolan Road, Shepard Ave, and the steep Rocky Top Road, I was the one who was hurting.

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My calf was cramping and my gait was thrown off. We were moving well on the road, but I was in pain, and was much happier when we got back on the trail. Thankfully, I was able to keep it from getting worse, and managed the leg soreness for the remainder of the run. I avoided falling, which might have been a miracle given how rocky this trail is, but I did suffer a nasty stubbed right toe. I slammed my big toe twice in the last two miles, and it is now blue. I’ll likely lose it again. This is a perpetual problem for me. I pretty much lose it every year.

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Until we got to Sleeping Giant State Park, we had only seen five people. There were two hikers at the Route 42 trailhead, there was a runner in Cheshire, and there were two bird watchers near High Rock. It was glorious to have the trail to ourselves. That all changed when we got to “the Giant.” It’s worth noting that in addition to including the road section at the start, we also included the short section of trail that entered the park at the corner of Route 10 (Whitney Avenue) and Mount Carmel Avenue. It goes past the bus stop, turns into the woods, and does a little arc before coming out on Mount Carmel. It is blazed and is part of the trail, but upon further review, it looks like the official FKT route doesn’t include it. It is 0.25 mile and added about 2.5 minutes to our time, but we included it. That’s the thing with these FKT’s; the routes can change and you have to be very specific. I would rather run a little extra and get it right, than cut it short. As soon as we entered the park, we encountered the masses. I wore my Buff to cover my face and we just kept moving. That section of the trail up and over the Giant’s rock slabs is awesome, and hugely popular, even more so during a pandemic.

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The park was actually closed for more than a year between May 2018 and June 2019 after it was seriously damaged by a tornado that brought down thousands of trees. We saw evidence of this farther west on the Quinnipiac Trail as the storm had also ripped through the woods, felling many more trees. It took a ton of trail work both in the park and on the Quinnipiac, to make it right again. Today, the park proved its popularity and there were lot of hikers on the trails. In addition to the Quinnipiac Trail, there are many other color-coded routes to explore.

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Once we got to the tower on the summit of Mount Carmel (736 feet), the crowds thinned a bit. We still saw people on the 3+ mile section between there and our finish, but there weren’t as many. I was hoping that this section of trail, which neither of us had ever been on, was going to be a bit milder than what we experienced on the 2+ mile climb to the top, but alas, other than the rock slabs, it was nearly as rugged and steep. It went up and down several times, before finally plunging down along the Wallingford border and dumping out on to the Old Hartford Turnpike. When we could finally hear the traffic on Route 15, we knew we were getting close. Debbie absolutely hammered the final mile and I hung on for dear life. It was in the last section where I smashed my toe for the second time and I was doing everything in my power to remain on my feet.

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We were pleased with our time, 3:35:11. We made a few wrong turns, and stopped a few times for photos. Plus we did the marked section between the corner of Route 10 and Mount Carmel. The official route on the FKT site omits this segment but it’s on the Walk Book map and it is blazed. Our moving time was measured four minutes faster, but the total elapsed time is the official time. Our pace was 11:56/mile and there was about 4,300 feet of elevation gain. Our fastest mile was an 8:17 and our slowest (going hand over fist up the “forehead” of the Giant) was 17:12. We were happy to be done just as the morning was heating up. It was cool in the woods, but the sun was strong.

A “Double Q” has been done a few times. The best time going south to north, and then back is 9:17:19. That would be hard. We were in no mood to run back today, so we changed up, mounted our bikes, and rode back past the state park. Vehicles were parked for more than a mile on Mount Carmel Road outside the park and across from Quinnipiac University. There was an ice cream truck setting up for the day, and ready to make a killing. We rode over to the Farmington Canal State Park Trail and took it north, back into Cheshire.  The rail trail was also full with recreationalists. It’s nice to see so many people taking advantage of Connecticut’s amazing trails. Once we got off the bike path, that’s where the real climbing begins. Between North Brooksvale Road, Mountain Road, and Cheshire Road (Route 68),  we had a lot of elevation gain on our trip back to the house completed our Sunday sufferfest. When we arrived, we were very happy to see our family. Momma S. put together an amazing lunch, and we chilled out on a glorious afternoon.


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