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

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