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