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

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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

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 6 (and end of 7)

The Tyringham valley

The Tyringham valley

Just got home from another great weekend on the trail in Massachusetts. Luckily the rain came at all the right moments for us. We had specifically planned to do the section southbound so we could spend Saturday afternoon at Upper Goose Pond and cabin and wake up to the hiker pancakes and coffee. So that would not have been as much fun in the rain. We set up a shuttle with one of the local A.T. community shuttle drivers to pick us up where we left off at the Tyringham Cobble lot and drive us up to Rt 20 in Lee around 2 so we could hike into the cabin at primetime — around 4pm. We planned to hike from here back to the Cobble lot, with 2.1 miles on day 1 and about 9.3 on day 2.  We would be up early on day 2 and could crush those miles and get back to the car by 230 we figured, finishing off section 7 as well as doing all of 6.

More wild Iris

More wild Iris

As we drove up I realized we would get there more like 115 pm. I knew us and I knew that last 1.7 miles from the bottom of Baldy Mountain would be likely be just enough to be too much. So I got an idea. We would park at the main road and do the 1.7 miles from there to the Cobble lot by our 2pm pickup time and finish section 7 before we got the ride up to Lee.

The hike planned for day 1 was only 2.1 miles and only the first 1/3 of it was uphill. We found a spot at the lot and hit the trail as fast as we could.  I almost rolled an ankle on the first .1 on a root because I was rushing and not paying attention. Classic. This section went through some bogs and meadows on many planks with very high grasses on either side and lots of mud between the planks. Though thankfully it was very flat.

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

The A.T. logo carved in to a tree

We then went into the woods a bit and started climbing the eastern shoulder of the mountain. We climbed over two stiles around a farm, complete with barbed wire. A mis-judgement or a slip here could mean a trip to the hospital. But the cows couldn’t be bothered and as we made it over the second stile we noticed a farmstand down the road. Or rather Fielden did. More on that farm stand later. We cranked up the speed to reach the cobble loop trail and raced down to make it to the lot by 2:05. A young family on the trail in front of us said another hiker they met just saw a bear and its cub on the way up the other side of the cobble.

Trail sign!

Trail sign!

We received word at the cabin that there were bear sightings at Shaker campsite just west of where the hiker saw the bears. And something about how they should have put their pizza boxes in the bear box? Hmmm….

We had a quick pleasant ride up to Rt 20, passing all the big outlet stores in Lee and the Massachusetts turnpike, arriving at the trailhead by 230. The first part of the trail was easy and went through some swampy bits over boards as well, then climbing up to two bridges that crossed the busy turnpike. Fielden did the arm honk and got a passing truck beneath to honk Always fun!

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Fielden on the Mass Pike Overpass

Then it was right up. It was fairly steep but not too challenging or long. And as we reached the top, passed two naked hikers. That’s right. But naked hiking day was 3 days before! I grinned and kept moving and the man made pleasant small talk as they passed Fielden stream to remove any akwardness. We had a good laugh and signed the register atop the ridge.

Trail Register

Trail Register

The trail followed the ridge down through laurels and we passed several more day hikers. This is also a popular day hike. As we reached the half-mile side trail to the cabin, we met the first of many thru hikers of the trip.

We headed down the side trail passing a few thru hikers who had clearly waited out the morning rain and enjoyed most of the day at the cabin and pond. They were likely heading only the 2.1 miles to catch a ride into Lee to zero and resupply.

At the cabin side trail

At the cabin side trail

We arrived at the cabin and scoped out the tenting sites before introducing ourselves to the caretaker and taking a tour of the rest of the grounds as she spoke to some day hikers at the cabin. The heavy rain was originally forecast to last until 4 or 5 and I was very happy to see it was ending before we even got to the first trailhead. And while it was in the high 70’s the humidity was low and it was very pleasant out. So while we set up our tent in our chosen site, we pondered a swim and a canoe ride. We were going to leave the rainfly off as it was a beautiful clear day now, but that just doesn’t ever seem like a good idea to me so we put it on and opened all the doors and vents.  Then we checked out the docks.

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

Love the A.T. logo carved into the privy

I was about to put my foot in the cold water at one dock to soothe my sore ankle when some of the other visitors on the dock pointed out the largest spider I’ve ever seen in the wild. A gigantic fishing spider. I mean 3 inches in diameter easy. While it was minding its own business, I didn’t want to get it wet by wobbling the dock and upset it. We took a quick look at the canoes and went to the other dock.

HUGE fishing spider

HUGE fishing spider

While there were one or two more spiders on this dock they were not radioactive sized so I moved to nearby rock to cool my ankle. There were lots of fish in the water and they didn’t seem to like my stinky foot in their water too much. At that point I wanted to just go back and eat some dinner as we were getting hungry. So we enjoyed our meal at the picnic table in our campsite and headed to the cabin to meet the many more thru hikers passing our tent site as they headed in to the cabin.

The canoes!

The canoes!

Overall there were about 10 that came in before nightfall. We spoke with them a bit to hear some of their stories until we got tired, and then retreated back to our campsite for bed. About an hour or so after we fell asleep, the rain started!

Fielden Stream at camp

Fielden Stream at camp

I remembered our packs and shoes were on the platform outside the tent so I quickly pulled them in and zipped up the vestibule doors. The group in the next site had not put on their fly and were scrambling to get the fly on and keep as much rain out as possible. It picked up quite a bit before finally tapering off an hour or so later. I love when I’m in the tent in the rain at night, it lulls me right to sleep.

The Cabin from the back

The Cabin from the back

The next morning we woke with the birds and the sunrise and headed to the cabin for the 7am pancake call. A few more thru hikers had come in overnight, including two dads and their teenage sons. We enjoyed sharing more hiking stories over breakfast. One thru named Monkey (he’s a tree surgeon) had bought some eggs at that farmstand in Tyringham and the caretaker also cooked those for him. It was nice having this special breakfast with all the other hikers and the caretaker was great.

Calm Upper Goose Pond

Calm Upper Goose Pond

We hit the trail around 8:20 after packing up our tent. The trail skirted the pond for about a mile, passing an old cabin chimney from an outdoors club once on the location who later donated the land to the National Park Service. Soon the trail headed back up into the woods through a series of hemlock groves, bog bridges, and beautiful brook crossings. Not to mention a few boulder piles to scramble over. We started passing the stream of thru hikers headed north from their last campsites about two hours into our 7.5 mile hike.  We took several breaks along the stretch and met other thru hikers at our stopping spots and chatted with them briefly. We also hiked with one of the guys who stayed a the cabin. He was also doing a southbound section hike, albeit his was 4 weeks not 2 days.

Pancake breakfast

Pancake breakfast

We were disappointed to find the view listed on the map atop Baldy mountain was now grown in. We had a tough but quick little climb up it from Webster road, but glad as we began our 2 mile descent down to Tyringham that we didn’t choose to come up this way. The knees groaned on the long downhill, some parts quite steep though never dangerous.

Old chimney

Old chimney

As we reached the bottom we remarked to our section hiker friend that it felt like rain might be coming and let him know about the farmstand about a mile ahead where Monkey got the eggs.

Club site plaque

Club site plaque

As we got to the car to head to lunch at an old 1700’s inn and restaurant, the clouds turned black and opened up a torrential downpour of rain lasting a good 30 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel for our new friend as he was clearly getting hammered with rain and we made it out just in time.

Some laurels were blooming

Some laurels were blooming

But at the same time, I was envious he got to continue on for weeks while I had to go home and back to day jobs, bills, and stress. Hiking in a downpour suddenly sounded great. I am sure though that I will get my fair share of that in the future!

Miles day 1: 3.8

Miles day 2: 7.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 7

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Fielden Stream hitting the trail

Last weekend we finally got back and did the rest of section 7. Well except the last mile because of where we parked and we will tack that on to our section 6 hike next weekend. We meant to do this section in early May but the rains were epic, so we opted for some R&R at an inn and sampled a small scenic portion of this section on a day hike over Tyringham Cobble via that park’s loop trail with the A.T. We will pick up there next weekend and hike north in to the one and only Upper Goose Pond Cabin for the night – with its hiker breakfast, lake views and canoes. Here’s hoping for nice weather! It’s about 8.5 miles from the Cobble lot though only one really big climb at the start up Baldy Mountain. There’s supposed to be a nice view up there at least. The next morning is only 2.2 miles out from the cabin to the endpoint.

Ready for climb #2

Ready for climb #2

Just before the hike I had a ridge runner meet and greet in Egremont and rather than sit around waiting, Fielden decided to get a head start so I dropped her at the trail head on the way. I hit the trail in Great Barrington almost three hours later, armed with lots of good information from her on the climbs, the water sources, and knowing camp would be set up and waiting for me. (We shuffled our pack contents around when dropping her off so she had the whole tent and the food kit.)  My friend and former thru hiker and CT AMC Patroller coordinator (Patrollers are our local chapter version of a ridge runner and what I do the rest of the year) followed me over from the BBQ to drop off my car at the endpoint in the Cobble lot and drove me back to the start at Rt 23.  Someone had stolen the map on the kiosk and had literally cut it off the rest of the information placard. Really, folks, this is NOT how you acquire a map!

The climbs began immediately.  So did the bugs!

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

Benedict Pond from the A.T.

There would be 4 climbs before reaching the shelter. Just before the third climb you reach the beautiful Benedict Pond, which sits at about 1600ft in Beartown State Forest. It has a beach and a campground and a loop around it that connects with the A.T.  though the A.T. is at the opposite end and its a half mile walk to the beach area. Still the A.T. has a nice little rock area along the lake where you can sit and drop your feet in to cool them off or sooth some sore spots. A small brook flows into the pond here so I stopped to fill up my water. Incidentally I heard something crashing down from a tree just before reaching the pond, and being in a place called Beartown State Forest you can imagine where my imagination took me.

Approaching climb #3

Approaching climb #3

Next came the third climb up “The Ledges”. You don’t really climb any ledges you just skirt the rock wall to get around to the top where you then follow the edge of the giant rock walls on the edge of the mountain. There are many spots that seem very bear friendly in the massive jumble of rocks.  As I approached the ledges a small raccoon was in the path walking the trail and I followed it while keeping a safe distance in case it was sick. I spoke to it a bit in a soothing voice to not startle it or make it feel threatened. When I was a kid, raccoons were my favorite animal, and Ranger Rick my favorite magazine. Still, I’m aware of the risk of rabies, so I was cautious.

And now climb #4

And now climb #4

Then I took in the sweeping early sunset views from the ledges across East Mountain, Mts Race and Everett in the Taconics, and could see the distant peaks of the Catskills though I don’t think the photo captured it. The raccoon was still foraging just ahead and found an acorn in the middle of the ledges and was content on staying there so I negotiated around it carefully and carried on ahead. One thing I would NOT do is feed it as that would destroy its natural foraging instincts and likely cause it to follow me the entire last half mile to camp!

Rocky Raccoon?

Rocky Raccoon?

It was getting closer to dark and I wanted to see Fielden Stream and check out the campsite shelters and do the last climb before dark so I kept moving. I stopped at a brook to fill up as she said the water source at the campsite was a bit of a hassle as its in a small hole in a jumble of rocks.

View west from the Ledges

View west from the Ledges

I made the final short steep climb up to the Wilcox South shelters which sit on the edge of the ridge. Fielden Stream had a cup of wine waiting for me and the tent all set up so I threw my sleeping gear in the tent and toured the old CCC (Civil Conservation Core)-era shelter and the new 2007 shelter with her, also making note of the privy and bear box locations. There was one other person there, a thru hiker who was already asleep in the new shelter by the time I got there around 8.

Be bear aware

Be bear aware

We went to sleep later than usual as we usually get into camp by 4 having started much earlier. Being June however meant the sun didn’t set until 9pm or later so I was able to hike the 3.3 miles up from the trailhead before dark and still have time to enjoy some time in camp before dark. I didn’t really eat anything though because my Burger King lunch and BBQ dinner just before 4 climbs in under 2 hours left my stomach not feeling its best. Some Vitamin I and wine helped relieve any remaining pain.

Potty humor

Potty humor

It turns out it was a full moon so it was pretty bright the whole night and I couldn’t sleep much until my body just decided it was time. I listened to my favorite Barred Owls hooting in the valley below and the various chipmunks scurrying about. There was a slight chance of rainstorms but they never came and we had a very nice night in the tent with the vestibules open.

In the morning we opted to just stick to snack bars and coffee and hit the trail early rather than make a hot breakfast. The digestion doesn’t seem to like a steep climb right after loading up on food.

Beaver work along a swamp

Beaver work along a swamp

I had been wondering if we would run into a thru hiker couple I had been following on Facebook as I saw they’d be in the same area at the same time and had commented on their page that we’d be at South Wilcox for the night. They didn’t turn up here for the night but I DID see another that I was following had been in the shelter just two nights before – Reddmage! So that was cool. It seemed like that was a busy night at the campsite, and one I would have liked to have been there for.

I filled up the water from the spiderweb-coated rock hole which while it wasn’t convenient and involved some crouching, was clear and cold. I signed the register and we headed up the hill, after the campsite side trail of course took us downhill a bit. As we reached the top of the hill, a couple was walking up behind us. And it was the couple I had been following – Poncho and Idgie!

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

Photo by Poncho and Idgie

I was thrilled and we made the connection right away and ended up hiking with them on and off for the next 5 miles, which helped all of us! We also ran into one of our DCR ridge runner counterparts on the trail who I had met at the BBQ the night before so we stopped and talked to him a bit and I reported the stolen map. We ran into Poncho and Idgie a few more times before we decided on a longer snack break before the last big climb. They were pushing for Goose Pond cabin so they had many miles more to go but from what I’ve read on their page, it was worth it. We were happy to have made these new friends.

Beartown bear condos?

Beartown bear condos?

Right before the last big climb was a steep descent down Wilcox Mtn through Fern gullies and what were without a doubt many bear caves on the steep side of the mountain. The last climb wasn’t much and we descended again into the valley past Shaker campsite, named after the former community here of Shakers (Google it!) and then through Hemlock stands and sunny open meadows with views to the North and West and their old barns.

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

Wild Iris in the Tyringham Valley

The trail took us a bit farther up the side of the Cobble than we expected before the intersection of the loop trail which dropped us back into the open fields once more to the parking lot.

In hindsight it would have been almost the same effort and distance to just go over the summit of the Cobble once more and finish the section but it won’t be much to do next weekend. You can watch our video of the hike here.

Shaker barns

Shaker barns

Miles day 1: 3.3

Miles Day 2: 7.6 (with loop trail section to parking lot)

— Linus

Tyringham Cobble Appalachian Trail Loop

 

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Well, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! That’s what we did last weekend. We had our first backpacking trip of the year together planned for Friday the 5th. Leading up to that day It was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot, a light breeze to keep the bugs away, sunshine…  And then, you know how it goes. You find out days before there will be some rain. Ok, no problem, we’ve hiked and camped in rain many times. Its part of the fun. But then you hear the system is a really big one, having left tornadoes and major flooding in its wake as it blasted northeastward to us. Inches of rain predicted, for a full day of relentless downpour.

Signs signs everywhere signs

Signs signs everywhere signs

Now we’ve been caught in that many times. Just the week before I was caught in a thunderstorm on Sharon Mountain in Connecticut while doing some trail work with a friend from the club.  Once you’re out there, there ain’t much you can do but soldier on through it. Or get off the trail for a day and wait out the misery if its really necessary. But when you haven’t left yet, there’s room for modifications. Why be miserable if you don’t have to be.  I honestly don’t mind a lot of rain if its the middle of summer. But when temperatures are in the 40’s and 50’s, that’s when hypothermia can really be a risk.

We were planning to do the first section of New Jersey southbound.  I have a friend that lives near Vernon and was going to shuttle us and we picked the direction so that we were going to go down the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” on Wawayanda mountain. While that didn’t sound really fun to go up in the pouring rain, coming down was probably even more dangerous.  Time for a new plan. Even many of the thrus we were following on YouTube were opting for a zero mile day In town or at camp.

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

We re-focused our attention on Massachusetts where we left off there last year, and I looked into some nice day hike options in the area where we could do some of the A.T. and get some views but also could do some other relaxing things like stay in a favorite inn and luxuriate a little. We love the Red Lion in Stockbridge, so we got a great off-season rate room there and spent the drive up stopping into shops and taking our time. We arrived at the Inn for a great lunch in their tavern. The Inn goes back hundreds of years and was a carriage stop where the likes of George Washington stayed. I’m assuming this was on the route from Boston to Albany, now the nearby Massachusetts turnpike. This town also is the location of the Alice’s Restaurant song, and where Norman Rockwell began a long illustrious career.

Views from the Western shoulder

Views from the Western shoulder

I picked the loop of the Cobble and Appalachian trails in nearby Tyringham. While not a very high peak, Tyringham Cobble’s rocky top (where the word Cobble comes from in mountain lingo) provides a wide scenic view of the valley below, once farmed by the Shakers when Tyringham was called Jerusalem. Its about a 2.1 mile loop over the cobble in this state reservation and really not challenging at all. But it was perfect for the occasion and we had planned to hike it that day still should the rain let up a bit. It didn’t do that until dark. So as the rain kept pouring down, we headed to the Norman Rockwell museum to see his artwork as well as an exhibit on the cartoons of our childhood by Hannah-Barbera. It was a treat, and the Rockwell pieces were moving as well. They had brought his final studio from its former location onto this location a few miles away, and overlooking another scenic vista. Everything in the studio had been left exactly as he did.

I'm a ham

I’m a ham

We headed back to our Inn for some lazy time and then visited a local sushi restaurant and then saw some local talent in the pub in the basement.

The rain stopped around dinner time and I lamented a bit that we could have hit the trail late and hiked in to camp. But we were having a nice time. And even though the rain stopped, everything would be soaked when we went to set up camp in puddles. And, the hike out would be about 9 miles if we wanted to finish the section still, and we would not have had time for as we had to head home by 2.  Still, my heart is on the trail so In the future, I am just going to have the gear in the trunk in case things change on a dime again.  We’ve shot ourselves in the foot before doing the same thing only to have the rain stop well before predicted.

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

We had a nice breakfast at the local cafe after checking out and headed for the park. Some new storm clouds were moving through and the skies over Beartown forest were dark for a bit. But as we arrived, the clouds began to move. We hiked up the loop trail as the sun began to show. On this side of the loop there is a great view of the valley from a rock affectionately known as ‘bunny rock’. It is a a glacial erratic between the trail and the farmland beyond. Everywhere along this trail were special gates that livestock could not open. It began to then climb through Hemlock stands until reaching the grassy spine of the mountain’s eastern shoulder. We ran into three different thru hikers coming down the hill on the A.T. almost immediately. They did look a little damp and grumpy so to made me feel a bit better about not doing the overnight! The third one I stopped to ask if he knew one of the thru hikers I was watching, who had gone through the area just a day before and who I was sad we would be missing running into today. He didn’t know him but we had a nice brief exchange of words before heading to the summit.

I love this sloping hill

I love this sloping hill

We passed a family with their kids and dogs who went the other way around the loop and made it to the summit just in time for our own private visit there. We had a snack, took in the gorgeous views, and then followed the trail down into another hemlock stand on the west side of the mountain. When it was time to branch off the A.T. back on to the loop Traill my heart and legs tugged at me a bit, wanting to keep following the white blazes. But I knew we’d regroup shortly and I was already planning another first backpacking trip together for June.

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

I am going to be up here again in early June in a more official capacity so Fielden Stream is going to come with, and after the necessary meetings are done I am going to have a friend in the club help us drop our car and shuttle us back to Tyringham so we can cover the Beartown state forest section we had just skipped for this short day hike excursion.  I am hoping it won’t rain cats and dogs again for 12 hours straight, but this time we should have warmer temps, longer days, and a bit more resolve. I’d like to try and finish Massachusetts this season but with all my official trail commitments we may not until next summer.  That’s ok, with another 2,000 miles to go, what’s the hurry?

This hike is great for families with little kids or big kids alike. Its not difficult, its very scenic, and its close to many picturesque New England towns and other great hikes like nearby Monument Mountain and Laura’s tower.

Miles: 2.1

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 8 (part 2)

The game plan

The game plan

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.

Rock scramble up East Mountain

Rock scramble up East Mountain

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.

Fielden crossing the bridge

Fielden crossing the bridge

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.

First real view of the Taconics

First real view of the Taconics

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.

Happy blazes!

Happy blazes!

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.

Full color on the trail

Full color on the trail

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.

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

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!

Tom Leonard Plaque

Tom Leonard Plaque

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.

Tom Leonard Shelter

Tom Leonard Shelter

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.

Tom Leonard poem

Tom Leonard poem

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.

Ice Gulch

Ice Gulch

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.

Late day Hemlock forest

Late day Hemlock forest

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.

Tell me that doesn't look like a bear!

Tell me that doesn’t look like a bear!

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.

Trail crossing on 23

Trail crossing on 23

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.

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

GB is an Appalachian Trail Community, and a great town!

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!

Miles: 5.5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail – Massachusetts Sections 8&9 (partial)

New Vario Speedcross 3's

New Vario Speedcross 3’s

Well, you’ve probably figured out by now that we didn’t go backpacking in New York this weekend. The heat indexes were over 100 degrees for both days, and heavy rain and thunderstorms were predicted. And even if only a 40% chance, if we were having our usual luck, we’d be right under it.

And based on the storm we experienced the previous weekend on our way out of the area, and what we were treated to in Massachusetts Friday night and here in Connecticut last night, any storm that did roll through would have been epic. Hiking out safely would have also meant bypassing Eastern Pinnacles and Cat Rocks, which were both highlights we wanted to experience.

Heading nobo where we left off

Heading nobo where we left off

Sure we coulda taken the chance and toughed it out but being section hikers we have the luxury of picking when and where we go and adapting as necessary. We don’t mind the rain, we’ve toughed it out many times through the storms. But really the heat was the concern. We had 3 mountains to climb, 7 miles of trail, and full packs to carry through all of that.  That might not seem like much distance but the climbs added up to several thousand feet elevation and a lot of exertion. We were seriously concerned about heat exhaustion or worse. I am sure even thru-hikers were zeroing on one of these days or doing a nero (near-zero).

But I still had the day off, and we still wanted to hike, so we modified it a bit. While trying to finish New York, we’ve also started Massachusetts. We did the first 14 miles and change with our friends from Miami in June.

At Shay's Rebellion

At Shay’s Rebellion

That was a great and challenging trip for all of us, and in the process I thought the following section might be a good one to do with the kids later this summer or early fall. Based on the ongoing heatwave, we’re pushing that back to a fall weekend. But I also thought maybe a shorter mileage trip would be a better experience for all. Jiffy pop has done one overnight trip, which was about 7 miles, and Ratchet hasn’t backpacked yet. So I decided we’d do a couple miles in between these sections as a day hike so that the distance is right for the trip with the kids.

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

So we did a 5-mile section continuing northbound from the Shay’s Rebellion site to Homes road, atop June mountain. The first 4 miles were mostly flat through the valley with the exception of climbing the shoulder of Vossberg Hill. Only at the end was a real climb, a steep 600 foot climb in little less than a mile.

I got to test some new gear, which always makes me happy, and honestly its better doing that on a day hike because if you find out something’s not working out, you’re a lot better off.

Muddy turtle

Muddy turtle

I got my new Solomon trail runners (last season’s Vario Speedcross 3 on closeout for half price!) delivered the day before, and also picked up a merino SmartWool short sleeve shirt and some low socks recommended for trail runners at a stop into REI the night before. The trail runners and socks felt great in my house, and I know the merino works great in weather like this to wick sweat and maintain comfort. But the trail is always the real test. I was excited to get up to the top of the mountain to drop off the first car and head down to South Egremont road where the monument is. Even though it was over 90 degrees already, that forecast was about ten degrees less than New York. That’s the other reason we chose Massachusetts.

Wild Onion flower?

Wild Onion flower?

We got photos and videos this time of Shay’s Rebellion monument, which has now been righted from its tilting pose. We were so tired at the end of the last section hike here we just threw our packs in the car and raced to the comfort of our hotel! But I was glad to have brought my friends on that hike, and for my family to see the monument last fall. We headed through the first of many meadows, scorching in the heat, the sweat already dripping profusely. We love finding and identifying wildflowers and there was no shortage here. Not to mention cornfields — lots and lots of cornfields.

We had sweeping views of the Taconic plateau behind — from Bear Mtn in Connecticut all the way north to Jug End and Mt Darcy and Catamount ski resort behind them. I joked to Fielden about how Jug End was our new favorite mountain… er…

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

We passed one southbound backpacker in the meadow but didn’t really stop to chat – too hot in this spot! We saw lots of Chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, Morning Glory, and a few others — I believe Wild Onion flower and Butter and Eggs (that one was confirmed). Vossberg hill treated us to a short respite in the woods though a decent little ascent, then it was back into fields and one hemlock stand where we crossed a bridge over a swamp, and found a turtle along the trail. We were certain he was burned, but realized later that he just had mud on his shell, probably to keep cool, or that he just crawled out of the swamp.

We then crossed over train tracks, and through one more meadow alongside a pond, and ran across the busy route 7. This was fun because every time we drive by here I point out the trail crossing (natch!) and now I’ve finally hiked it.

R.R. Trail crossing!

R.R. Trail crossing!

We ran into several more backpackers just after route 7 and chatted with them briefly in the shade. Some were Nobo thrus and the others were Sobos. They too had been chatting and the Nobos had just done a resupply in town and were fully loaded heading out up into the mountains. I felt kinda bad they were carrying that weight in this heat, but reminded myself that they were much more accustomed to this 1,600 miles in.

We went through a few more meadows of cornfields and wildflowers parallel to the Housatonic River. The river looked so refreshing, we wanted to jump in. We crossed it on a road bridge and then walked through a few more meadows and cornfields before heading into the woods for the final climb.

Its an uphill climb

Its an uphill climb

A nice man in an old antique truck with his dog waved to us as we crossed the final road before the ascent, and suddenly we were in the forest again for the rest of the hike.

The mountain climbs about 700 feet up its side very quickly. We had to stop several times to catch our breath. But it was a great test of my new trail runners and shirt, which all performed perfectly. And even though it was stupid hot out and we were climbing a mountain, it was still cooler in the trees. We finally reached the summit of June mountain, which did not have a view. Those are on the ledges just north of here on East Mountain, which we may do with the kids in a month or so. I gotta do some research and make sure it’s not too hairy.

Cool rock formation

Cool rock formation

We beat the eruption of rain by about an hour and watched it roll in from our motel in Great Barrington. A favorite town of ours, we enjoyed some local art shops, had a beer and apps from Barrington brewery, and dinner at a great Greek restaurant.

The next morning we headed home and picked up a few items for the new house. It was even hotter that day, and we were glad to have creature comforts, even though I already missed the trail.

Watch the video of this hike here, and the first part of Massachusetts here.

Miles: 5

— Linus