True Happiness Atop Mount Misery

True Happiness Atop Mount Misery

The alarm shatters the early morning silence. Resisting the urge to hit the snooze button and drift back into a much-needed sleep, I will my tired body out of its warm bed. Fighting the physical and mental exhaustion from my less-than-stellar week, I lace up my hiking boots and throw my snowshoeing gear into the car. A quick glance at the dashboard tells me that it is a brutal eight degrees outside. Despite the frigid cold weather and the oh-so-early 4:30am departure, I turn up the heat and take to the roads, knowing I am in desperate need of some of nature’s good healing.

This past week has admittedly been rough, leaving me feeling overworked and emotionally drained. Whenever I find myself in this melancholy state, I have always looked to the forest and the mountains to be my sanctuary. So this morning I am venturing to Voluntown, CT to explore the Pachaug State Forest. My destination is Mount Misery – not the most appealing name for a place, but a seemingly fitting title to match my current condition. But I figure a sunrise snowshoe hike will be just the cure. So in an effort to rid my mind of its worries, I pop in my favorite CD and continue driving, letting the soothing sounds of Bob Marley carry me away.

An hour and a half later, I pull into the icy parking area of the Pachaug State Forest. It is only a few minutes before 6am and the darkness is just beginning to lift. I hop out of the car as the bitter cold air fills my lungs. A chilly morning indeed, I think to myself, becoming incredibly grateful for packing those extra hand warmers at the last minute – good call, Leigh Anne. I quickly gather up the rest of my gear, strap on my snowshoes, and with one last look at the map, I start off down the trail.

Sunrise through treesPachaug is the largest state forest in Connecticut, covering 24,000 acres of land, and I am excited to be exploring this area for the first time. Even in the dim morning light I can see the impressive scenery around me. The snow-covered trees tower over every inch of trail, creating a picturesque winter landscape. I hike further into the forest as the path narrows and begins its ascent. The gradual climb is relatively easy, though traveling through the fresh 18-inches of snow from a recent storm adds a little more work – looks like these snowshoes were a great investment.

Crunching my way through the thick blanket the snow, I reach the first clearing just before daybreak. I put down my trail pack, have a few sips of water and take a seat. My sole reason for waking up so early was so I could enjoy watching the sunrise. For me, dawn has always brought comfort and hope. It signals a new day and a fresh start, which we all undoubtedly need once in a while. Through the trees I see the first bit of light poking up over the horizon. Slowly, the sun slides into its place in the sky, illuminating the entire forest. It is a beautiful morning in Connecticut, and I am so happy that I am able to enjoy every bit of it. I hop back on the trail feeling restored, and I excitedly make my way towards the summit.

woodpeckerThe sun having risen, the forest is now awake with sounds. A nearby woodpecker keeps rhythm with each step I take, pecking on the white pine and oak, which are glowing beautifully in the sunlight. Through the trees I catch glimpses of the views that await me from the top. Passing a small grove of pitch pines, I know that I must be getting closer. The grade slightly steepens with the final approach to the summit. I take my last few steps up the trail and walk out onto Mount Misery’s rocky peak.

Even at the relatively low elevation of 441ft, the panoramic vistas provided from the mountain’s summit are incredible, offering beautiful views of both Connecticut and Rhode Island. The summit is just shy of a mile from the trail head, making Mount Misery’s overlook a fairly accessible climb for hikers of all abilities. As I look around, I appreciate the fact that I made the climb during the dead of winter. The snowy atmosphere and the quiet nature of the forest have made this trip special.

Standing atop the summit of Mount Misery, a huge smile comes to my face. I have climbed a mountain this morning in more ways than one and I now feel strong and confident, finally ready to take on another week. This hike has served as a reminder as to what nature can do for us. There is a certain peace the forest brings, a connection that has hikers heading for the hills whenever we need healing. For those who have asked why we do this: the answer can be found amongst the trees, on top of the mountains, and in every footprint we have left behind.

View from Mount Misery