Chilly Day Hike on the Mohawk Trail

trail crossing on lake road

trail crossing on lake road

Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.

Red Mountain Overlook

Red Mountain Overlook

So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.

Red Mtn shelter

Red Mtn shelter

At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.

We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.

Cool glacial rock feature

Cool glacial rock feature

At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.

Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night.  Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T.  There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked.  We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there.  We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.

As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.

Miles day 1: 6

— Linus

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Exploring new trails and roads in Massachusetts

Last weekend we finally made it up to our friends lake house in Otis, a town located in southwestern Massachusetts. We had meant to get up there earlier for some summer enjoyment of the lake and some hiking of course. But summer turned to fall and fall has practically turned into winter with these recent temps.

When we were up last weekend the weather was rather nice for November and we had highs in the high 50’s and lows only in the 30s, but by then we were sitting by a fire and having comfort food.

After a slight detour to the middle of Tolland State Forest thanks to a GPS mixup, we arrived for dinner Friday and began making our plans for the next few days. A hike was definitely in the agenda but as we were attending a cider festival in the north the next afternoon, we were looking at hikes in the northern Berkshires. I of course suggested one on the A.T. but the distance was too long for us to do and still get to cider days on time.

We consulted our book, “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires” and my friend found one called Spruce Hill in a state forest named Savoy, just east of North Adams. It was about an hour drive from Otis, and then another hour to Turner’s Falls where the cider festival was, but my friend new the area well so we figured we could make it work.

We drove through many of the towns we’d been hiking through all summer – Washington, Beckett, Lee, Dalton… and found the trailhead kiosk after some exploring around the state forest camping areas.

At first the Busby trail started out as a typical woods walk, occasionally joining an old woods road, and some pretty boggy portions as well from all the recent rain. We crossed a power line once or twice and then the trail started to climb. We saw some old cellar holes and reached the bottom of a ridgeline with some rock steps carved out of the rock wall. We wound along the edge of a ridge, now eager for what seemed would be a great payoff. When we came to the first overlook, looking north and east, we were thrilled. You could see at least 50 miles, and I’m quite sure I saw Monondnock in the distance towering above many of the other hills. Wind turbines dominated the immediate mountaintop landscape, and rolling hills stretched on and on.

But there was supposed to be a great view of Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and there was none here. I left my pack and continued up the ridge. A short while later I came upon the grand view. A rocky ledge provided its own 270 degree view, from the hills south in Dalton, as far as Monument Mountain and Mts Race and Everett in the far southwest of the state, and directly west sat Greylock, across the Pioneer valley with Cheshire, Adams and North Adams below. You could see the Green Mountains of Vermont beyond and Mass MOCA in the valley below. I was excited to get such a great view of this stretch because we will be doing this section next year and completing Massachusetts on the A.T. and it was all laid out before us.

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

We were all amazed at the view and took some great photos and panoramic videos before heading back and driving down to the cider festival. That drive was stunning as well, as we took Route 2 — the famous Mohawk Trail — to get there. This road meanders through valleys and over passes through Mohawk State forest and follows the Deerfield River past orchards, campgrounds, ski hills, and native American shops and waterfalls before we turned off in Turner’s Falls just east of Greenfield.

I had been through Greenfield and about 5 miles of Rt 2 for decades on our way to ski in southern Vermont, but never knew this beauty rested just minutes farther on either side of 91. The town of Turners Falls itself is a national historic landmark and is one of the few places on what was then almost the Canadian border that Native Americans and Colonists lived together peacefully. It had a dramatic waterfall with the spray reaching 50 feet high, and many quaint old buildings. The cider festival was in a large tent on the lawn by the river with a view of the top of the falls.  After a quick lunch at a local diner, we headed to the festival and tried many different kinds of cider, some I didn’t even know existed.

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

We went back satisfied and had dinner and a fire and tried to watch a movie but passed out halfway through!

In the morning Sunday we wanted to do one more short hike and we opted for Bartholomew’s Cobble. It’s one I’ve always known about but never visited because the A.T. was right next door and so I always opted for the more challenging hikes. Well I’m glad they took us.

Only about 1,000 feet high, and resting on the CT-MA border, all the trails lead to a large mowed mountaintop similar to the balds in the southern Appalachians.  (It seems the landmass’s true summit is called Mt Miles and is on the CT side.) There are some trails that weave along ledges and the Housatonic river on their way up or around the premises but for this hike we just walked the tractor path to the top. My friend told us not to turn around until we reached the top because the view would be behind us.

It was a good constant elevation gain so we definitely were getting some cardio even if the road was an easy route. When we reached the tree line which was right on the state line we turned around, and wow.

East Mountain from Bartholomew's Cobble

East Mountain from Bartholomew’s Cobble

Wide views of Mts Race and Everett and the Taconics to the west, the plains of Sheffield and Great Barrington in the middle, and East Mountain and the hills of Tyringham beyond to the east. It was breathtaking. How did I ignore this hike for so long? We took a lot of photos and I plan to bring family back here on summer or winter adventures in the area. The rangers’ station also has a small museum with local fauna including a small Ornithological exhibit highlighting the local birds. I really enjoyed that as I’m a fan of birds, have some Audubon art on my walls, and am reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt and his peers and how they created the first natural history museums in New York and Washington with their own collections.

We had a great BBQ lunch at Bash Bish brewery (the falls are another spot I’ve yet to visit can you believe it?) in Sheffield and headed back to Otis to pick up our things and head home. We had a great time and not only were the hikes amazing and the drive along Rt 2, but I got to see a lot of new towns and parts of the state as well via all the back roads we took. It really was a tour of Western Massachusetts at its peak foliage.

Both hikes were short but had a big payoff and the highest elevation gain of the two was only 680 feet so moderate at best.

The Taconics from Bartholomew's Cobble

The Taconics from Bartholomew’s Cobble

I hope to move up to these hills one day and maybe even have a lake house of our own, so this trip certainly strengthened that desire.

Hike day 1: 3 miles

Hike day 2: 1.5 miles

— Linus