A week ago we made it back to Massachusetts to finish the Great Barrington section of the trail. I got some unexpected time off, and was considering an overnight solo adventure in the area. It wasn’t until I found out Fielden Stream could come along that I deviated from that plan and took advantage of this good fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I love a solo overnight adventure. But I do them a lot in my role with the AMC. The decision to make it a day hike was based on a few things…
This time of year, especially before daylight savings time kicks in, the sun sets by 6 and doesn’t rise again until 7. That is a LOT of time alone in a tent. I love having time to think, and I do a lot of it while I walk the long miles.
But I often look forward to company at a campsite. It’s just in my nature and one reason I like it when I’m assigned to look after a campsite for the night. I love interacting with other hikers, or family and friends and sharing stories of our adventures or just riffing on the topics of the moment until bedtime. I admit I get a little lonely when I have 20+ hours to myself. I don’t need THAT much time to think things through. The places I had planned to hike and overnight were particularly remote and it was unlikely I’d have anyone to talk to. I’m a social person at heart.
Also while it was unseasonably warm for November, this can be a cold and wet time of year to hit the trail. That just comes with the territory but when you have the choice, why subject yourself to discomfort if you don’t have to? At the higher elevations I was considering there was a good chance of nighttime temps being far colder than those forecast at ground level. I’ve been out in my tent when temperatures dropped into the low 20’s and it was not comfortable. Though it was certainly an adventure I came out of feeling stronger and more skilled in the backcountry. There was a forecast for rain and that could mean snow on a mountaintop. I don’t really do winter overnights yet. That could change I suppose. I guess I’m best suited for the section hiker title.
I have my dreams of doing a thru hike, but that’s something I can’t even consider at this stage in my life with work and family demands and schedules. So I ( & we) enjoy day or multi-day outings to cover the trail bit by bit. I would like to try to spend a whole week or two on the trail at one point, as I know it will provide a lot of time to process things in my life and really connect with nature. I certainly feel shortchanged on day hikes sometimes, as I was just getting into it when I had to leave the trail. But I think a week would be a good experience and also mean I can cover longer sections of trail. A few years from now, I should be able to make that kind of time available. But for this instance, I was happy with a day hike and and then some creature comforts with my partner and best friend.
We drove up both of our cars and spotted the first at the end of the section, and then drove to the start where we last left off on Homes Rd. We still had a climb ahead of us but the last one left us atop June mountain, which accounts for half the climb from the valley below.
The trail climbed quickly up the western slopes of East Mountain. We crossed a bridge over a little channel in the rocks which I imagine is sometimes filled with water. Not today; it’s been a very dry season until recently, and that’s not been enough to get everything flowing again. We scrambled up a rock face that reminded me of Harriman in New York. We then began getting views of the Taconic range through the trees as we reached the ridgeline we’d be traveling for the next few miles.
About 2 miles in we reached a large rock outcropping with full views of Mt Everett north to Jug End as well as Alander to Catamount on the ridges to the west. This outcropping, while you can climb up on it, is a big smooth slide that you wouldn’t want to roll off as it will send you right off the cliff. So use caution when having a seat up there.
We took a break here to shed some layers as the sun was up now and the day was heating up to the mid-60s forecast. Onward we went along the ridgeline, with occasional views now south and easterly. We arrived at another opening in the treecover where a rock outcropping provides a great view of the pond in the valley below and the Litchfield Hills just over the Connecticut border beyond.
You could see the eastern shoulder of the mountain we had climbed and it was painted a bright orange in full fall glory. We met a local hiker and his dog, Everett, who was named after the mountain! We had a snack and he snapped a great photo of us. Turns out he grew up in our town — small world! A few other day hikers with their dogs came up as we were heading out and we made our way back along the ridge in search of the Tom Leonard shelter. We crested the summit and headed back down into the saddle between East and Warner Mountains, which we would not officially summit as its peak is to the north of the trail. You know I wanted to peakbag another summit, but it was not in the cards today!
On the north side of this landmass is a favorite ski resort where I and my kids learned to ski – Butternut. It was originally named Butternut Basin in the 60s when it opened, and that’s named after the large basin between the summits that we were about to pass by. Also for the Butternut trees. We passed the time talking through important issues in our present lives, as well as trying to identify any Butternut trees in the area of the basin. It wasn’t until we finished our hike that we saw a photo online of the leaves.
We had not found any. But the basin itself was an interesting change in ecology that was noticeable as we passed by it. We crossed another trail which looked like an old fire road or narrow mountain road. It likely goes down to the wildlife management area to the south, and may also be an access for hunters. Not sure. There is a tower of some sort atop the mountain so my first guess is its a fire access or mechanical access road.
We finally reached the shelter. We had thought it would be much closer to the middle of the hike but its actually about 2/3 of the way in, just before the ice gulch. We saw the sign as we crested a large rock outcropping and wall. The shelter could be seen below and I of course wanted to go check it out. Fielden took a break at the top of the rock ledge while I walked down to the shelter, which was nestled between another ledge on a plateau, with the mountain’s edge falling away a few hundred yards south. It was a glorious shelter, with bunks for four and then room for another 6 on the overhang. There’s a plaque on the back about its construction. There was a picnic table and a fire ring, and the privy and tent platform were indicated by a sign to be to the south, just towards the mountain’s edge. I didn’t go to check those out but I’ve seen photos of the platform which is right near the edge and has a fantastic view if you get there first. Just don’t be too groggy or clumsy when tenting there.
There looked to be what was a stream behind the shelter but there was nothing in it and in fact the water source was .25 miles down the hill from the platform area. I have read its not a whole lot of fun to get down there for water and then back up, but its better than no water. I forgot to mention there is also a bear box.
I signed the register and took some photos and then we headed out of the gorge the shelter sat in. In the register book is a poem about Tom Leonard “Longways,” who thru hiked the trail in 1985. This shelter was built in 1988 in dedication to him. I’m going to assume he passed away, I’ll have to look it up. There’s a few ways in and out of the shelter on blue access trails and I’d read it could be confusing but really it wasn’t. Regardless, I just went back up the way I came.
We met a day section hiker and followed him along the rock walls to the ice gulch ahead. This is an impressive feature. A large gulch is carved, obviously from water, into a notch between this mountain and a smaller knob on the other side. The trail follows along the dry gulch for a few tenths of a mile but its truly a sight to behold. While there is no water, you could feel the cooler temperatures and it got its name from the fact that its so cool down there you can even see ice in the summer time.
The trail then descends along the eastern slope of Warner mountain, whose edifice rises up to the west over Hemlock forests. It then gently descends through these forests and crosses Lake Buel road, a small inlet from the lake covered in towering cattails, and eventually reaches route 23. We were hoping to see the lake, and on a thru hiker video he was at the lake, but you need to walk down that road a quarter mile to reach it.
If it was summer that probably would have been on the agenda. We did however hear drums and smell incense as we approached that road. We knew there was a spiritual retreat in the area on rt 23, but it was in fact coming from the lake. We were still a mile from 23. On the walk from Lake Buel Road to 23 we saw something in the woods that for a good 5 minutes we thought was a bear staring at us from the distance. We stopped and looked and made noise. It didn’t move, not one bit. We ultimately deduced that if it was a bear it would have scurried off or at least moved. That was one bearly tree stump! We laughed and got some pictures, no longer concerned.
The inlet was a good sized water source, and the only one we saw since I didn’t make th trek down to the shelter source. So if you’re heading south through here, you can rely on that one.
We reached the lot at 23, at the gateway to Great Barrington and the Beartown state forest. We hadn’t planned on being back up this way until spring, so even though we were just hiking for the day, I felt content to have covered another section of Massachusetts I was really looking forward to, and finishing off another section. Just under 1/3 of the state is now complete!
Next spring we will do our first overnight on the next section on Mt Wilcox in Beartown state forest. There are two shelters here, and a campsite. We should be able to cover the whole 12-mile section with a shelter right at the halfway mark. From there its just 6 miles north to Upper Goose Pond cabin and its famous breakfast for hikers. So we will probably push that out a bit to early summer so we can enjoy it properly. Maybe we will do the next section and come back. I’d like to canoe on the lake as well, so I want it to be fairly warm.
This was also the section we were going to take the kids on in September. But I think we made the right choice to do a section with them we already knew. They love Great Barrington as much as we do, so now that we know they will have no problem with this section that’s probably their next one with us.
Watch the video here! You can hear me play 30 seconds of Pink Moon by Nick Drake on my guitar…
Oh my how the time has gotten away from me, I have to get ready for work! But I will be out on the Connecticut trail tomorrow doing my trail patrol and mostly cleanup. Maybe I’ll see you!