Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 2, State Completion!

Off we go!

Off we go!

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

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

Starting the tough climb

Starting the tough climb

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

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

Purple mushrooms

Purple mushrooms

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

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

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Bench on the steep climb helped!

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

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

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

Muddy trail already

Muddy trail to campsite

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

Our tarp saves the day again

Our tarp saves the day again

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

More muddy trail after the storm

More muddy trail after the storm

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

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

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

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

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

Viewless Mt Williams today

Viewless Mt Williams today

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

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

Bascom Ranger Burger!

Bascom Ranger Burger!

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

Linus outside the lodge

Linus outside the lodge

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

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

This sign explains it all to the tourists

This sign explains it all to the tourists

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

The memorial tower

The memorial tower

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

The pond on the summit

The pond on the summit

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

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

My new windscreen

My new windscreen

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

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

Shelter rock

Shelter rock

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

View from Saddle Ball

View from Saddle Ball

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

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

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

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

Trail magic!

Trail magic!

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 7.4

Miles day 3: 5.5

Frogs encountered – about 100!

– Linus

 

Weekend Family Backpacking Adventure

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Last weekend over Labor Day weekend we finally got the whole family out for a backpacking overnight. We’d taken my son “Jiffy Pop” out for an overnight last year in New York, and it was time for my daughter “Ratchet” to do her first! She’s done some day section hikes with us before, and lots of car camping but she was excited to try backpacking and you know I was excited for her to as well. We got her fitted for her first pack earlier in the summer, and it was just a matter of picking the right weekend.

We had planned on doing it earlier in the summer before school started again, but with the heatwave we’ve been having the last few months, and some of the unbearably hot conditions we had to hike in to get in some therapeutic miles, we put it off until now.

Packs on, lets do this!

Packs on, lets do this!

It turns out we picked about the best weather weekend in a long time, and I am thankful for that. Mid-70’s and no rain, with a nice breeze. We worried about the hurricane down south affecting the weather up here but it moved out to sea and never happened.

We had also originally picked a section in Massachusetts which traverses a favorite ski resort in Great Barrington, but it’s known for some steep scrambles and ledge walks and after some really unexpected terrain on our last New York hike, we thought it best to not take chances like that with the kids. We plan to complete that section later, and take the kids there next year once we’ve checked it out.

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Still, the alternate section I picked provided enough challenge to keep it interesting for sure, and prepare them for that trip next year. Fielden Stream and I did this Connecticut section about 2 years ago, and it has some of the best views on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail — Rand’s View and the Great Falls.

I knew there would be some moaning and groaning on the uphill, and in fact it was a long uphill for us as well.  I didn’t recall it being such a long uphill to the summit of Mount Prospect. Selective memory, I guess. Just like the previous weekend going up Fuller Mountain. I did however remember the precarious ascent and descent into the Limestone Spring Campsite, and surely that at least would mitigate any potential for the hike being perceived as boring or too easy by the kids!

The Great Falls

The Great Falls

While most would go out on a multi-day over the three-day weekend, this was still a first time experience for my daughter and I just wanted it to be a short, fun one this time.

We got up to the parking area by the Iron Bridge around lunchtime and got our packs on. One of our trail chiefs was up there removing some graffiti from a kiosk there and he helped my son adjust his pack, as he had grown quite a bit since the previous year. We ended up having to do another adjustment half way up the mountain, which ultimately got it riding comfortably for him.

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

The Iron bridge was closed to cars last time we were here, and this year they had finally finished it. There used to be a concrete barrier at either end with a famous quote from Lord of the Rings — “You Shall Not Pass” — spray painted on it. While this was amusing, the beautiful new bridge, painted in red, was wonderful to see. As we crossed the bridge, we had a nice view up and down the Housatonic River.

The trail travels on and off between Housatonic River Road and the woods between the falls and the road until reaching a viewing platform and several entrances to the rocky flats along the falls. We walked along the rocks and took in the views. The falls were raging and dramatic as I’d hoped. The kids enjoyed the falls as it provided a scenic, early break, and cool breezes. Unfortunately parts of the rocks were marred by more recent graffiti.

A nice moment of flat trail

A nice moment of flat trail

We headed across the road and back into the woods for the long, steady climb up. We passed some amazingly large glacial erratics left here thousands of years ago as the glaciers receeded, and the trail then passed through a few meadows as it continued climbing. It was hotter here in the sun, but pretty and luckily it was not too long before the trail was sending us back into the shady woods for the remainder of the climb. We took another break just past a piped spring at a broken glacial erratic with lots of crevices that made fun spots to lean our bodies and our packs against.

The trail climbed for another mile, sometimes steeply, sometimes gently. Jiffy Pop took a spill after tripping on an almost invisible root and this is when we realized we needed to adjust that pack again. His ego was a little bruised but luckily not his body. We had some snacks and after the adjustment he was feeling much better carrying the weight and we made quicker time.

Cracked boulder

Cracked boulder

The school backpacks are heavy these days as the kids have to carry multiple heavy binders and textbooks, so at the end of the day they were at least somewhat accustomed to the load. Of course carrying loads like that is different when you’re climbing 1,000 vertical feet, and for many miles. So it’s important to have all the straps adjusted to properly place the weight on your hips. Despite lots of necessary breaks, everyone managed beyond expectations.

There was a nice western view through a little clearing about three quarters of the way up. We came up with stories to pass the time, and one of them my daughter came up with inspired me to put my art school background and passion for writing to use to start a children’s book based on it. Stay tuned on that front!

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

We finally reached the summit of Mount Prospect, at 1,450 feet. We started at about 400 feet by the bridge, so it was a good ascent for sure. There are nice views of Canaan Mountain and the eastern Litchfield Hills and beyond. We met a hiker up there and let him know about the even more spectacular view ahead, and we later met him there where he thanked me for telling him about it, and when we got there he also listened as I pointed out each peak from west to east, and a few in southern Massachusetts that I love that are not along the A.T. like Monument Mountain.

There was a short detour just before the campsite side trail junction due to a nest of hornets over the trail. When we got to Rand’s view we took in the spectacular scenery and I was elated when my daughter said it reminded her of the French Alps, which she saw when she went to visit her great-grandmother there. We sang the song from the “Sound of Music” as she rolled down the field.

Hornet detour!

Hornet detour!

We also saw a group of college-aged kids farther down the meadow who we would see later at the campsite.

We left our packs up at the trail junction since we had to go a bit farther down the A.T. to get to the view and didn’t feel like hauling them back up again. We got back up to our packs and made our way down the side trail to the campsite. The kids were I think a bit shocked about how steep the descent was here. It all came back to us quickly. Luckily, it wasn’t raining. There was some talk in our trail crew about re-routing the trail but that takes many years of surveying the land for ecological and historical impacts of a re-route, so it could be a while if it ever happens.

A break atop Mount Prospect

A break atop Mount Prospect

We finally got into the campsite which was empty at this point. We set up our tents, I went to get water from the piped spring, and use the bathroom. Then the group of college kids began coming into camp.

There were about 14 of them — a co-ed freshmen orientation weekend for Williams College students. I greeted them, let them know I was in charge for the night and to please not make any fires which they acknowledged and happily went on their way to set up camp. I chatted with some of them at the spring and they nicely let me fill up in between as they had a lot of water to fill. They asked me if they should filter and I said absolutely yes.

Linus at Rand's View

Linus at Rand’s View

I suddenly heard my favorite sound – Barred Owls! This is one of only two places I’ve heard them on the trail, and last time one of them swooped down over Fielden Stream in the morning as she got packed up in the rain in the cover of the shelter.

When I heard it, I did the famous “who cooks for you” call that they make and one responded to me! The college kids thought that was pretty cool and we did too of course! I was super happy.

The kids taking in Rand's View

The kids taking in Rand’s View

We had dinner and Ratchet had her first Mountain House meal, which she loved. We enjoyed the rest of the evening and I pointed some of the students to the bear box as night had fallen. Turns out they were cowboy camping so they laid out large tarps to lineup on and under, in a row like sardines!  They were up a bit past hiker midnight though and we didn’t get to sleep until almost ten because of the conversations and headlamps. I don’t be-grudge them that. They’re kids out on a special weekend and on their third and final night of their trip. And they weren’t partying by any means.

The campsite piped spring

The campsite piped spring- a luxury

I heard a few more owls in the middle of the night and got faint recordings of them on my phone. I have to see if I can use an app to boost the sounds so I can listen to them more. I also heard a few privy door slams and the college kids stumbling around camp in the middle of the night trying to find the privy. One of them did manage to break the latch though trying to open it in the middle of the night so we will replace that.

My real only grudge is that they woke up at 5am and started loudly conversing and shaking out their tarps. This could have been done more quietly for sure. I did ask them if they could try and be a little quieter as they packed up and then I wished them well on the rest of their hike. I was not able to get back to sleep so I went and got our food out of the bear box and checked in on the real world for a bit until everyone else in the family was awake.

Home for the night

Home for the night

Still, it was a beautiful night and I was glad I was able to be helpful and everyone was having a nice time.  We had breakfast and prepared ourselves for the climb up the ledge. It was tough going back up and I was nervous about someone falling, but everyone did great and we were all proud as we made our way back up to the summit. We took in the views one more time, made some silly videos, and then made quick time of the descent as we skipped a real breakfast save for the coffee so we could eat well in town. We were headed for the amazing Toymaker’s Cafe.

Stove S'mores!

Stove S’mores!

Two years ago when Fielden Stream and I did the 9 miles in the rain to here from Pine Swamp Brook shelter, we’d had enough for the day. They allow, or at least used to, hikers to tent on their lawn. Before that all day downpour we were considering that and hiking on the next day, but our spirits were low at that point and the Falls Village Inn told us they had no room to stay for a pampered night either.

To this day we still don’t believe that was true. No one was there that we could tell.  We couldn’t get hold of Salisbury taxi, but the owner of Toymakers was just closing up for the day and gave us a ride back to our car at the starting point. We gave him a nice tip and we’ve loved them ever since.

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

They were crowded when we arrived with the kids as there was a car show at Lime Rock and there was a 45 minute wait for hot food. So we opted for their muffins and cookies and loaded up on these before heading home. I was so happy that everyone had such a great time, and Jiffy Pop was even saying to me that now he wanted to do it more and asked when we could go again.

We stopped at a farm stand on the way home to get veggies for our Labor Day BBQ, which was also my mom’s 74th birthday party. I’m already planning and dreaming up the next time I can bring the kids along.

Update: the video of this trip is here!

Miles day 1: 4.2

Miles day 2: 3.9

— Linus