Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 2, State Completion!

Off we go!

Off we go!

This past weekend we finally finished section hiking all of Massachusetts! We had skipped this section in May because it was supposed to be days of rain, but also much cooler, where being wet for days could make one sick or worse. That weekend we did spend one night out on the trail to do section 1 to the Vermont border.

While its funny that it was also raining for a large part of this trip when we came back on this rescheduled date, at least it was warm – so being wet was just a discomfort, not a danger.

Starting the tough climb

Starting the tough climb

The storm was supposed to happen earlier so while I’m glad we didn’t get poured on the whole climb up Mt Prospect, I wish it had cleared out by the time we got to the summits of Mt Williams and Mt Greylock. The view off Prospect to Williamstown and west to Berlin Mountain in New York and the Taconics was gorgeous though, and a great reward for the long climb up from North Adams. There were definitely some new switchbacks added here, which were appreciated. Its a straight shot up the side of the mountain otherwise

I arrived at the view point before Fielden Stream and spoke with a thru hiker for a bit till she arrived and he was kind enough to take our photo before we all headed onward. Here the A.T. drops off the side of this mountain before reaching the actual peak. The actual peak is only a tad higher though and is reached by this junction via the Mt. Prospect trail, which then drops steeply off the mountain’s south side to Money Brook far below.

Purple mushrooms

Purple mushrooms

Once we came off the ridge it was only .3 to the shelter side trail and .2 down the trail to the campsite. I was worried about water because none of the thrus could tell me for sure if water was running well at the campsite (though one lunched there!)  but as we took the side trail to the campsite, we saw Money Brook was running quite well as we crossed it on a log bridge.

The campsite was great and has had a lot of improvements recently including some new tent pads and platforms. We chose a platform as we knew rain was coming and it would drain through the wood slats better than the ground.

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Also since the whole campsite was on a hill, we were worried water would pool in the dirt tent pads. We checked out the shelter quickly but felt the rain moving in finally so we headed up to our platform and set up our tent and our tarp over a nearby log where we could sit and eat dinner and enjoy the rain. Another family came in and got set up just in time before the downpour.  We had talked to them a bit before it really let loose. They had a new dog who was out with them on its first backpacking trip. What a sweet dog.

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

The kids were scouts – one was with his parents and grandfather and the other two boys were friends of his and fellow scouts. They had forgotten one of their hammocks and had asked us if we had a spare though we did not. Luckily they had a large tent so they squeezed all the boys in the tent for the night. There was also room in the shelter if it was an emergency as there were only 3 thru hikers at the shelter.

Muddy trail already

Muddy trail to campsite

We got in our tent after dinner and then the real storm hit. Torrential rain and thunder and lightning for a solid 12 hrs. It reminded us of the night on Pochuck mountain in New Jersey recently. Luckily we didn’t need to make a bathroom visit in the middle of the night, that would not have been fun. At least the worst of the rain and hopefully the whole storm will be gone by morning – we thought! The rain stopped around 8.

Our tarp saves the day again

Our tarp saves the day again

I was up at 7 because my back had had enough of sleeping on a hard platform (even with a sleeping pad you can notice the difference) so I had coffee on the ready for Fielden Stream. I enjoyed the sounds of the Money Brook falls in the distance as I sat on the log waiting for her. We took our time packing up and got on the trail around 9. We had to pack up everything wet as the storm didn’t end till just before we left. We hoped we could lay the tent parts out to dry on the lawn on top Greylock if the sun came up soon. That never happened.

More muddy trail after the storm

More muddy trail after the storm

The climb up to Williams was quick and rocky and nothin but mud. However we were happy that the water source was plentiful when we filled up before heading out and that it was cool and shady because of the storm so the temperature was more like fall which we liked.

I was hoping for a good view from Mt Williams as supposedly you could see Mount Snow, VT, where my family and I have skied since I was a child. Also I knew there was no view on the next peak, Mt. Fitch. So it wouldn’t be until Greylock that we had another chance to see anything. The view was pea soup. Well it could be worse… As we followed the ridge line along and over Fitch, the rain started again.

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

The forecast was maybe for 40% chance. This was building into a downpour. The trail became steep here as we climbed past the Thunderbolt trail and the last half mile to the Bascom Lodge. We did embrace the suck though. It was warm so while we did use our pack covers, we skipped the raincoats. We knew that soon we’d be in the lodge drying off and having a luxurious lunch. Rumors of a wedding at the lodge and an early closing from a thru hiker we passed made us push hard for the summit and luckily when we arrived everything was still open and we had burgers and chips and dried off a bit in the lodge.The wedding party and guests were milling about as it was nasty out and the lodge is quite small so we were all sharing the space … stinky wet filthy hikers with the bride and bridesmaids and some guests as well as the wedding planner and some also soaking wet day hikers.

We had caught up with the scouts and their family as we started the last climb up Greylock. We all spoke of burgers on the last climb and they enjoyed them as we did at the lodge, and then they had plans to meet a friend who was driving up their missing hammock. That was the last we’d see of them as they were staying at Sperry Road campground.

Viewless Mt Williams today

Viewless Mt Williams today

None of the wedding guests were dressed yet for the occasion yet, so I suspect it was in the evening or they were waiting out the weather which was supposed to stop soon. Some of the guests seemed truly confused and intrigued by the Appalachian Trail signs and all these wet dirty people smiling. We got some sandwiches and cookies to go for dinner and headed out into the mist to the next campsite, 3.4 miles ahead.

We crossed several more road crossings near the summit, as well as the beautiful pond on top which was clouded in mist. We then started the more gentle climb up to the ridge line of Saddle ball mountain. The Greylock range was once known as Saddleback Mountain, so this summit at the southern edge of the ridge was the saddle ball.

Bascom Ranger Burger!

Bascom Ranger Burger!

The trail was more mud and streams but here the moss, ferns, wide variety of colorful mushrooms and circles of Indian Pipe took on a mythical fairy-like forest right out of a C.S. Lewis or Tolkien book. The trail continued to climb gently to the summit where the Jones nose trail intersects. That trail is also a quick steep drop off the ridgeline to the trails below, and I’ve heard has some great views of its own, on a clear day. We were only half mile from the shelter site at this point and continued down the A.T. as the sun started to break through more and more. We saw one overlook of Adams, MA from a side trail near the summit and reached the shelter trail soon after a quick steepish descent. The shelter lies on the side of this descent about .3 to the north of the A.T.

Linus outside the lodge

Linus outside the lodge

We arrived at the shelter right around 4 and hung up our tent to dry. We also washed our socks and shoes off in the rushing stream and my pack towel which was not smelling good at all and I use that to wipe my face!  A few thrus had waited out the storm all day and were just packing up now to night hike the 10 miles into North Adams.

Another thru hiker, a SOBO named Hot Sauce, rolled in soon after. We had seen her on the trail with her hiking buddy who had just gotten off trail.

This sign explains it all to the tourists

This sign explains it all to the tourists

We had a nice chat with her and 3 other thrus who showed up later. We all tried to get a fire going but everything was still wet. We had dinner together and shared some stories and treats with each other before hitting the tent for bed. It remained dry, cool and breezy so we successfully dried out our tent like any experienced hardened long distance hikers and felt pretty cool about it. It was much cooler at night, also because our campsite was at about 2,700 ft up this time and on a steeper portion of terrain so the wind moved through freely.  We were glad to have our down bags this night as opposed to the night before where we pretty much slept on top of them! We were able to dry out our feet which was good too because another day of mud bogs and we’d have near trench-foot.

The memorial tower

The memorial tower

We had a better night sleep in those conditions and were up at the picnic table having coffee with Hot Sauce in short order. The other thru hikers had all left by then. I used a new windscreen I found online made by Optimus and fits all standard fuel canisters. I didn’t have as much luck with it on my last hike but this time I managed to figure out it was best to clip it on after you had the stove lit and the fuel output set to your liking. You just pull it apart and then clamp it around the canister mouth. Instantly the fuel efficiency was boosted and the flame protected from the wind. At only 3 oz and around $13 it was well worth it. I’ve also been using some new support legs for the canister that weigh about 2 oz and have really been pleased with the stability and reassurance they add when cooking on an uneven surface.

The pond on the summit

The pond on the summit

We then had the ‘real hiker’ task of putting on our wet shoes and socks again. I actually chose a dry pair since this was our last day but once they were in the shoes, they filled with water. And then of course there were more mud bogs and streams to traverse so the dry socks were futile.

We caught a nice view southwest from a lookout and then the trail here continued down steeply before leveling out.

My new windscreen

My new windscreen

We spotted here a giant glacial erratic that had a shape of a shelter complete with overhang and as we approached we thought there was another shelter that was out of use or something but it was just a rock! We pictured both modern hikers and past native Americans taking shelter under it in bad weather. After a while the trail dropped even more steeply along a significant drop off to the valley below. We had a snack just before so we’d be ready for that. We had chosen to go south because we felt getting the biggest climb overwith in less miles would be worth the effort,  as this direction was longer and had steep parts too. Though this direction also had a lot of level areas in between the climbs. At the end of the day, neither are easy.

Again it leveled out shortly before crossing Outlook avenue and dropping again through some meadows to Rt. 8.  Some thrus coming north had told us of trail magic at the community center, right where we were parked! What a great way to end the hike, and the state!

Shelter rock

Shelter rock

We traversed some corn fields in town and then stopped at the car and the trail magic. I went over to the rail trail .3 down the trail so I could pass every blaze. Some of us are silly like that. Town is town, I don’t blame FIelden Stream for not caring about a .3 road walk through the center of town. I re-joined her at the trail magic and enjoyed talking to the hosts and another thru hiker while we had hot dogs and drinks before throwing everything in the car and getting my flip flops on. Was that bliss!

View from Saddle Ball

View from Saddle Ball

We drove down route 7 to get home and as we stopped into our favorite antique shop in Great Barrington noticed some thrus having lunch out front. I offered them a ride to town but they were just about to get back on the trail.

Aside from the ‘true hiker experiences’ already mentioned, there were a few more I was excited we were being initiated in:

  • Dirt that didn’t wash off our feet the first or even the second time we tried.
  • Finally embracing walking right through the streams and mud piles on the trail.
  • Slogging it in the rain for miles without even putting on a raincoat, just to get to the lodge and get real food and out of the weather for an hour.
  • Thru hikers looking at how dirty we were and thinking we were thru hikers too, telling us about trail magic ahead, complaining about rude non-hikers at the lodge, and talking about our smells with them at the shelter!

I will be adding the link to the full Massachusetts video we made once I’m done editing it this week so check back!

Trail magic!

Trail magic!

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 7.4

Miles day 3: 5.5

Frogs encountered – about 100!

– Linus

 

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Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 3

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Last weekend Fielden Stream and I finally got out for our first overnight backpacking trip of the year. What a long winter that was – the wait was tough. The few winter day hikes did not stoke my need for time in the woods enough, and I got quite out of shape. Well, we both did.

We picked up where we left off in Massachusetts, and did the section over North mountain from Dalton to Cheshire. We had already done 1 mile of it, and had to stop ½ mile short of the end due to parking areas. So overall it was about 8 miles. We stopped at the Shamrock Village Inn on the way to the trailhead so I could get a stamp in my A.T. passport. The lady who ran it, Laura, was very nice and let us also use the bathroom. She had cute dogs there that we enjoyed meeting. They get a lot of hikers there. I’ll get another stamp at St Mary’s church In Cheshire as we head out of town in 2 weeks.

Fielden Stream making a campfire

Fielden Stream making a campfire

We had a beautiful day on Saturday – perfect conditions to hike. Mid-60s during the day was mild enough to make the first climb of the year more manageable. It was about 1000’ up to the campsite but mercifully gradual. The woods were full of Trout Lilly and Trillium and there was a pleasant breeze as we reached elevation and walked along the ridge. Because the trees were just starting to leaf out there were nice westerly views of Savage Mtn and the range that extends north to Greylock. My new poles worked great on their maiden voyage. Though I did manage to lose one basket before I even used them so Fielden bought me a replacement set when getting her new trail runners – more on that later.

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Of course when we reached the campsite trail it was UP .2 but it was a nice campsite, with a clean privy, a nice fire ring and a bear box. I had watered up before the campsite so didn’t need to do the hike downhill to the stream there. Fielden loved my Klymit X pillow so I let her use it and went back to my special clothing bag with the soft pillow side which works great for me. I tried using my neo air pump sack to inflate my sleeping pad but it wasn’t really working. Maybe I’m doing it wrong or maybe it was a great idea that needs more work.

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

After we were setup, we made a nice fire and chatted with some section hikers who arrived a bit later after a much longer day.  They retired to their tents early and we made dinner and enjoyed the fire before doing the same. We were treated to a nice sunset to the west and calls from a barred owl and another owl which I didn’t recognize. The day was complete.  We knew rain would come soon but were ok with it. This is part of the experience. And it wasn’t too cold.

The rain came later than expected – around 7 am. We were so happy to be out there we embraced the suck and did our first packing of our packs in our tent and my first cooking of the water for coffee at my vestibule.  We got packed up while remaining mostly dry and hit the trail by 815. I filled up at the first stream, to be safe.

Linus at Gore Pond

Linus at Gore Pond

Turns out there were about 5 more rushing streams between here and the Cheshire cobbles, not to mention the lovely Gore pond. Though with all its beaver activity I tend to avoid those sources. The extra weight was good training. The rain stopped for a while until we got to the Cobbles 3 miles north. We negotiated several blowdowns which I know the Mass crews will be up here in 2 weeks to address.

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

A slight mist of rain started as we reached the cobbles, a beautiful series of rock ledges on the northern end of the mountain, with commanding views west and south over Cheshire and Greylock and its sister mountains on the other side of the valley. The peaks were shrouded in mist, but it made the views all the more dramatic. We had a snack as we were getting hangry and then took a few photos and video for our Massachusetts video, which will be complete soon as we reach the end of the state. 19 miles to go!

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

It was a quick descent to Cheshire but with way more switchbacks than it appeared on the profile. So it was pleasant and easy. The cobbles hung over us for a bit of the descent and it really reminded me of Minnewaska State park and Sam’s point there. Once in Cheshire we got grand views of Greylock towering in the distance.  We were two and a half hours early for our shuttle. Our trail legs were alteady improving. We called her but could not reach her so we asked a friend who’s from the town where to eat and she recommended a spot half a mile down the rail trail. What’s another half mile on a flat surface?

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

The rain was starting again as was our hunger so we made for the restaurant and left a message for the shuttle to pick us up there at the original time. I completely demolished my plate and felt like a thru hiker! A beer or two made the meal complete (Fielden was driving!) and we got back to our car in a few minutes. We made plans for the shuttle for the next hike over the white whale, Greylock, and her sister mountains in a few weeks.

Greylock from Cheshire

Greylock from Cheshire

Fielden’s new trail runners were a tad too small so she got her first blisters in years. She will exchange them or return them and go back to her old shoes. I think she just needs to go up half a size and that should solve the issue.

I did not want to leave. I almost sulked as we drove home and I pretend-threatened-joked to Fielden Stream that I wanted her to turn around and go back with me and keep hiking after a nice stay in a hotel! Real life issues were suddenly coming back to me in force as they always do on the drive home and as I waited so long for this hike, I wasn’t letting go of it easily.

A great first adventure for the season. Luckily there’s much more ahead, and the next hike will push us to the highest peak and elevation gain we’ve done together, as well as the limits of our stamina. Can’t wait! It’s the best kind of hurt.

Hiker Hunger

Hiker Hunger is real

Miles day 1: 3.2

Miles Day 2: 4.6

Owls: 2

Cobwebs broken on trail: 6

-Linus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monument Mountain, Squaw Peak and the White Whale

Optoutside

Optoutside

Last Friday while in the Berkshires for Thanksgiving, I went back to Monument Mountain to settle some unfinished business.

A few years ago, when we were there to get our season passes at Ski Butternut and ride the chairlift for some fall leaf-peeping, we also did a hike up Monument Mountain and its second summit called Squaw Peak.

The mountain is located right on Route 7 between the towns of Great Barrington and Stockbridge, in Massachusetts. I found the hike in a book about great hikes for kids, which makes my freakout story all the more amusing, and we will get to that.

I was not quite as A.T.-obsessed at the time, believe it or not. So I didn’t realize that my now-favorite trail traverses the ridges just a few miles to the East and West of this mountain. And that sweeping views of the many summits on the A.T. and far beyond are laid out in all directions from its rocky peak. So this time around, I really appreciated the those views. We will be traversing those very ridges next summer as we head northbound into Massachusetts from where we left off last summer at Sages Ravine.

Now before I get to my story, here’s a little bit of the fascinating stories the mountain has to tell.

Granite walls

Granite walls on the Squaw Peak trail

Legend has it that Squaw Peak was named so because a Squaw was flung from it for falling in love with a brave from another tribe. Whether this is true or not, and there are lots of similarly-themed stories involving other local peaks, its a captivating one for sure. And while standing at its ledges, one is sure that the significant drop from these precipices including those across the chasm from the ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ are surely dramatic and life-ending. I will leave her story there for you to research further at your convenience.  And since I’m sure you’re probably curious about the ominously named structure called the Devil’s Pulpit, it’s a tall rock pillar that hangs off the sheer wall of granite on the southern end of Squaw Peak. You can see it in the shot behind me below, just to my left.

Then there’s the other legendary story on Monument Mountain, and this one is known to be confirmed. In 1850, local author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his friend Herman Melville (maybe you’ve heard of them?) were hiking the mountain when they were caught in a nasty lightning storm, forcing them to seek shelter overnight in a cave. It was at this time that perhaps a combination of the two authors sharing seafaring stories that they enjoyed like any literary 1800’s New England-er would, as well as the humped shape of Mount Greylock which is visible in the distance, that the idea for Melville’s famous novel, Moby Dick was conceived.  Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this. I prefer to believe these legends and the romanticized notions they hold.

Though all the way at the other end of the state near the Vermont border, Greylock is Massachusetts’ highest peak at 3,491 feet and this is why it is visible nearly 50 miles away from the 1,642 foot summit of Squaw Peak.

Mt Everett and the Taconic Plateau

Mt Everett and the Taconic Plateau

Heading up the Hickey trail on that first hike, the beautiful yet typical wooded path led us to the base of the peak. From there at “Inscription rock,” it climbs up a steep root and rock-strewn line a hundred or so vertical feet to the summit. At that point, all you see are a few boulders and the straight drop offs on either side of them. I have a bit of a fear of heights that I’ve worked hard on since this original hike to conquer, by traversing many miles of local trails with similar topography. 100 more miles of the A.T since has also helped with this, and obviously as someone who wants to complete the whole trail before I die, I have to get over these things. I was very pleased with the improved results this time around. Under different circumstances I might have just braved it then and there and been done with it.

Me at the Devil's Pulpit overlook

Me at the Devil’s Pulpit overlook

But on that beautiful day as on this one, the mountain was crowded with adults as well as many a fearless child, including my own. Ah to be young again… I learned to ski as a toddler so I will ski just about anything no matter how hairy. Its a funny mental phenomenon. I am also a snowboarder, but since that sport was not introduced until my late high school years, I never learned or dared learn to do things like jumps or half pipes on my board. This of course is because gravity, and my rational near-adult fear just wouldn’t allow such bold actions that I would surely have done, and would have been much easier as a younger child. Any time I’ve tried them since have resulted in pain.

Greylock to the north

Greylock to the north

Anyway, I digress. Back to the humor. The adults and kids were lining up behind me and scrambling around me from both directions. My own kids moved on ahead and posed for photos together upon the highest boulder I could see on the summit. At this point I froze. I shrieked for them to stop, not knowing that they had already tackled the most dangerous part at that point (which really wasn’t that dangerous if taking a little time) and there was no threat whatsoever at this point that they could fall off this boulder thousands of feet to their deaths. As I now know, beyond that was plenty of wide berth and plenty of other rocks that would prevent any danger. All I could see from my particular vantage point was my kids perched upon a cliff.

So at that point I begged them to turn around to prevent any further harm to them or my pride, and we headed back down taking another flatter trail to the lot. I felt defeated, but also that my protective impulses were warranted as a parent and I could live with that. But it didn’t sit well for long, because I felt silly, humbled and beaten by something everyone else had no problem at all achieving. I guess we all have to learn somehow. I still saw the same perspective on this hike as I descended from the other direction and felt a little better that it still did look a little sketchy. But I let my fear of the unknown win that day. And I was back today to finish this and enjoy it in full.

Atthe summit of Squaw, Everett beyond

Atthe summit of Squaw, Everett beyond

This time we came up the other direction, starting on the flat trail but ascending the peak in a much steeper, faster route on the Squaw Peak trail.  I enjoyed the challenge, bolstered by the experience I had built since our first time here. I ventured out many times along the trail to other steep ledges to take in the Western and Eastern views as we ascended.

At the Devil’s Pulpit path I scrambled down to the very edge of that perch, alone at first to prove to myself I could, then with Fielden so she could take in the view and get great photos, of course! At the main summit we climbed onto the same boulder my kids did and got a nice shot that some other hikers took, and some panoramic video. I was so excited I forgot to have a snack and couldn’t wait to get back down to meet our families for lunch and let them know I had conquered what was my own white whale. Melville would have been proud. I feel ready for anything the trail throws at me, Well, almost anything.

Inscription Rock

Inscription Rock

It was also great that despite hearing they were now charging parking in the lot, REI’s #optoutside campaign to encourage people to enjoy Thanksgiving and Black Friday in the outdoors instead of having to work, had inspired those that manage this reservation to give free parking as a reward for doing so. I’m proud to be a member. Many other retailers also followed suit and closed their businesses at least for Thanksgiving day.

Before we left the Berkshires, I took the whole family to the Shay’s Rebellion monument (Google it, people, this thing is getting long!) on the A.T crossing nearby for some history, white blazes, and more views of what we had in store next summer.  I highly recommend this hike.

There ARE several dangerous drop offs as a matter of fact so keep any very small children close by, but you are all guaranteed to have a great hike and even greater views as a reward!

— Linus