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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 4

Heading Nobo again

Heading Nobo again

Today we finished the rest of section 4 and started the first mile of section 3 in Massachusetts. This was mostly for logistical reasons in both cases. Distances to and from overnight campsites or long term parking lots usually dictate where we start and end. Sometimes those are a little different than where the sections actually begin and end. We did the last few sections southbound for logistical reasons but finally are heading north again.

We did this one as a day hike so we could have a luxury day in nearby Lenox for Fielden’s birthday Saturday. We enjoyed visiting the local outfitter so she could try on some new packs, and they were great and also referred us to their friends’ tapas place in town for dinner. Which was also amazing. A great town.

Heading up Warner Hill

Heading up Warner Hill

I tried to get us a nice B&B for the night but as it was a holiday weekend, in the Berkshires, during prime leaf season (normally), all we could manage was a motor lodge. It was nice and clean though and it just allowed us more money to spend on dinner.

It was unseasonably warm and in hindsight we could have tented and done an overnight. Though it was pouring when we woke up and we had a really great day previous so we were not complaining!

Marilyn ‘the cookie lady’ shuttled us again from the lot just west of Dalton up to where we left off on Blotz road, just north of October Mountain State Forest.

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

The rain continued for about the first hour and a half of our hike, and sadly the view of Greylock from Warner Hill was fogged out. But it did keep things cooler and when we reached the powerline halfway through our hike, we had a good view of Pittsfield to the west as the skies cleared. We met lots of day hikers, and one hiker in Dalton as we neared the end who had only 10 miles to go until he finished his entire Appalachian Trail hike through many years of sectioning. We seem to have met a lot of those this season.

Pittsfield to the west

Pittsfield to the west

We passed Tom Levardi the trail angel’s house as we entered town from the woods but didn’t stop to see if he was home as menacing storm clouds loomed ahead. We had also planned to stop at Sweet Pea’s for ice cream but they were closed.

All in all it was a great, mostly easy section and good for us because it had been a few weeks since we hiked last and we could knock out more miles with the easier terrain.

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Unless it’s unseasonably warm in mid-November, we won’t be back up here until spring 2018. We have 26 miles left of Massachusetts, and in order to complete it, really a 30 mile trek as the first road crossing in Vermont is 3.5 miles in. We will likely do Dalton to Cheshire as a short overnight warmup in the spring and then come back to tackle Greylock and walk into Vermont sometime during the summer when the days are long.

This weekend is out CT AMC chapter’s Appalachian Trail day and BBQ, so I will be doing that and bringing a friend along for her first hike on the trail.

Trail angel Tom Levardi's house

Trail angel Tom Levardi’s house

This hike I did last year is led by our trails chair and follows the old route from Macedonia Brook State Park to Caleb’s Peak where the current trail goes through. Then my friend Brian and I are planning to do an overnight on the Mohawk Trail (also the old A.T.) and I’ll knock out another 8 or so miles of that trail so I can finish it too soon.

The leaves are just starting to really change in the Berkshires as weather has been odd, but I’m hoping it will be more dramatic this weekend in Connecticut now that it’s cooling off and raining a lot again.

Miles: 7.9

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: MA Sections 4 & 5

Last weekend Fielden Stream and I did another overnighter in Massachusetts. We did all of section 5 and about 1/3 of section 4, as we traversed the eastern flank of October Mountain State forest. Once again the cookie lady shuttled us, up from Lee to near the Dalton line on Blotz rd. The first day we did 5.4 to October Mountain shelter. We stayed with a great group of thru and section hikers and the rain held off until bed time. There was lots of mud so I dubbed the area “Mud-se-chusetts”. The next day we did 7.2 back to our car in Lee. There weren’t many views but it was nice and cooler in the morning and in the shade of the dense forest here. Red efts (salamanders) were out in force as were the indian pipe plants.

We did pass one pond which was tempting to dip in but a big lunch and a beer in town was more tempting, so we pushed on. We summitted 3 peaks on day 2: Bald Top, Walling Mountain and Beckett Mountain. With the exception of Walling Mountain, both were much easier summits from the north. Bald top was the only one with a semi-view but it was no longer bald and mostly grown in. As we reached the end in Lee, we ran into two hikers I met when ridgerunning in Connecticut last weekend which was cool! This is the last section we will do southbound in Massachusetts.

I have one more ridgerunner weekend in Connecticut over Labor day, then we start New Jersey with friends the following weekend. Then Fielden and I will do a day hike in Massachusetts with some other friends who have a house up there, and complete section 4 into Dalton with them. (We saved the section 4 view for that hike).

In October we will do the next section north in Cheshire to the bottom of Mt. Greylock. After that, it’s back to Jersey unless we have a very unseasonably warm weekend in early November. But even if so we will probably save the last 17 miles of Massachusetts for a 2 nighter in late spring early summer 2018 and do more of Jersey as it will be about 10-15 degrees warmer.

Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.4

Miles day 2: 7.2

– Linus

Waiting for our ride

Waiting for our ride

Fielden Stream coming through a mini ravine

Fielden Stream coming through a mini ravine

Hobble bush

Hobble bush

Trail sign at Washington Rd

Trail sign at Washington Rd

Some hikers had made a nice fire

Some hikers had made a nice fire

Post rain AM tent dry out

Post rain AM tent dry out

October Mtn Shelter

October Mtn Shelter

The Red Efts were everywhere!

The Red Efts were everywhere!

Looking up the not-so-bald Bald Top mtn

Looking up the not-so-bald Bald Top mtn

The more rare PINK Indian Pipe

The more rare PINK Indian Pipe

Linus on Becket Mtn 2200'

Linus on Becket Mtn 2200′

Don't see that everyday

Don’t see that everyday

Trail sign just north of Rt 20

Trail sign just north of Rt 20