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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Miles day 1: 3.3
Miles Day 2: 7.6 (with loop trail section to parking lot)