Ridgerunner weekend #4

The northern view from Lions Head

The northern view from Lions Head

My latest ridgerunner weekend was over the weekend of Sept 22nd. I went back to cover a favorite section, the Riga Plateau. It was an amazing weekend but turned out a bit differently than planned.

I invited my brother along as he was free and we wanted to do another hike together. I told him all about the amazing views up here, so he was willing to do the almost two-hour drive, like mine, to Salisbury.

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

The weather couldn’t have been better for it. I originally planned to leave my car at the Undermountain trail and then drive up to the Lion’s head trail lot in his car, so I could take him up to Lion’s head and Riga shelter and back to his car easily. And then I’d also have my car setup closer to where I was camping for the night. Well actually it was about the same distance, but this would allow me to go farther north and still make it back to my car when I needed to and not cover the same ground over and over.  When we got to Salisbury things changed a bit.

Rocky scramble up to Lion's Head

Rocky scramble up to Lion’s Head

Because it was family hiking day, and this being the most popular hiking trail in the state, that lot was a madhouse and there was only road parking available. While I have the necessary signage to probably not get towed If I parked overnight there, I don’t like to take advantage and so I left my car at the main A.T. lot 3 miles south in town on Rt 41 which was also beginning to fill up quickly. No problem, done the hike this way many times.

We headed up to the Lion’s Head lot on Bunker Hill road and got the last spot there. This trail passes a few homes before a brisk climb up to where it joins the A.T. From here it gets a bit more rugged in typical A.T. fashion, and then it’s a steep scramble up a rock face to the first viewpoint.

Me and my brother on Lion's Head

Me and my brother on Lion’s Head

There is a bad weather trail, and this was much appreciated when I recommended it to a group of older ladies from our own AMC chapter who were doing a hike up there this morning. My brother and I took in the views while I also pointed out a few landmarks to a section hiker we met there.  We then took in the glorious northern view which on this day included Mt Greylock, 50-plus miles north in Massachusetts near the Vermont border!

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

We proceeded to Riga shelter and had a snack while also taking in the fabulous view there.  Luckily the shelter and campsite were clean, and the brook was raging from recent rain. This was all good because I planned to stay here for the night.  Perhaps even in a shelter for the first time! I know, I know. I’m just not a fan of bugs and mice, and my tent protects me from both. From there as promised I took him back to the junction of the A.T. and Lion’s head trail.

The bog trail

The bog trail

As I hadn’t taken the bad weather trail before we went down that way, and I knew I’d be doing the scramble on the way back anyway. We got back to the junction quickly and said goodbyes. I took a quick snack break before heading on my way back to Riga to set up camp. On the way I met a few section hikers and a flip-flop thru hiker on Lion’s head. The thru asked about the next camping or town options and then told me the caretakers tent at Sages Ravine was blown far off the platform and almost off the hill entirely. We’ve had some recent large storms in this area lately. I called my supervisors and asked if they were going to be there for the night or if I should stay there instead. As phone coverage in some trail areas is spotty I knew it could take a while so I went to Riga to wait for a response. I took out my notebook to update my notes and have another snack. When word finally came in to head to Sages, I took off in a hurry, leaving my notebook behind!

One of the bog trail signs

One of the bog trail signs

By the time I realized I was 2 miles north and had 2 to go. I opted to take the Bear Mountain road and Bog trail past the Northwest cabin so I could get there in time to assess and repair the damage if possible. The Bear mountain road was completely flooded in several areas and I had to do some tricky negotiating around long deep puddles of trail. But it was nice to finally see the bog trail with its nature-center style signage identifying trees and plants and natural features, as well as the cabin up close. That’s a reservation-only property, and I have never seen it so up close and personal. There was at least one family tenting there so I got on my way quickly past it. The northwest road was also quite flooded but I made it quickly down to the campsite, covering the 4 miles from Riga in 1.5 hours! To be fair, this was mostly level trail and I went this way for a reason.

The caretaker tent in disarray!

The caretaker tent in disarray!

When I got there, the tent condition was quite accurate. It was off on the side of the hill, scrunched up, with the contents tossed about inside. It had a few tears, and was full of water.  Unfortunately this also meant the caretaker journal and many of the books were soaked through. I managed to get the tent and its contents back on the platform and stake it down until it could be packed up by the supervisors the following week.  I set out the contents to dry, especially the books and journal, and used a tarp that was dry to set up my sleeping bag on on the drier side of the tent. I had gotten most of the water out but it was still pooling on one side due to a very slight downhill slant of the platform.

After I restored the tent

After I restored the tent

At this point many people were coming in, some that I knew would be from meeting them earlier in the day.  One scout troop was already there when I arrived. When all was said and done we had almost 30 at the campsite. It’s a very popular one due to its beauty. So it’s a good thing I ended up here as only 4 ended up spending the night at Riga (I found out the next day).

It was a beautiful night at the campsite and I had nice conversations with several of the hiking groups and helped late arrivals find their party’s campsites as dark was setting in.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing brook. It got down to the mid 40s so it was a little cool but otherwise no complaints.

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning in the ravine was a beautiful fairy tale forest as always, with the sun shining through the trees onto the shimmering brook. I packed up and after a quick meal of a protein bar (skipped the coffee) I went for the big strenuous climb up the rocky north side of Bear mtn. While I was quite cold at camp, by the time I reached the summit a mile later I was sweating and removing layers. I met several hikers at the top and took in the view from the summit tower.

The always exciting climb up Bear

The always exciting climb up Bear

I was above the clouds at this time, so the summits of Mts Race, Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts to the north, as well as Mts Prospect and Canaan Mt to the southeast in Connecticut, were all peaking above the clouds. It was magical. As I headed south, the peak of Lion’s head was doing the same. I ran into the section hikers from yesterday and said a quick hello. I pointed out to them where we met the day before on Lion’s Head and then made a dash for Riga, hoping to recover my notebook. As I passed Brassie Brook shelter, I stopped into sign the register and packed out some trash left behind by hikers. As I approached Riga I passed a group of 2 kids and 2 moms who mentioned they had stayed there when we stopped to chat.

Above the clouds on Bear summit

Above the clouds on Bear summit

I asked them about the notebook and they had found it and left it in the shelter for me! They thanked me for my work and I headed back to Riga to pick it up. They also reported that the shelter and campsite were clean and campfire-free which I appreciated and confirmed. I had one more snack with the famous view and headed back south towards Salisbury. I met a few more hikers along the way, both section and day hikers, enjoying another gorgeous day on the first weekend of fall. The leaves weren’t really changing yet but will be any day.

Looking south, Lion's Head summit above the clouds

Looking south, Lion’s Head summit above the clouds

The last few miles down to Rt 41 via the A.T. pass through some beautiful forest areas, with as many ups as downs. This bit I’ve decided is as much effort in either direction! I passed a few more backpackers struggling up the long climb from the road to Lion’s Head, and when I arrived at the parking lot I ran into one of the groups that were at Sages Ravine with me the night previous. We had a nice conversation and then I headed home, stopping at the hot dog stand in Kent for some nourishment!  It’s always a pleasure to hike the wild corner of Connecticut.

Miles day 1: 8.2

Miles day 2: 7

– 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