Sunday, January 12, 2014

1-12-14 On Local Trails

Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts and located in the northwest corner of the state, is served by several trails and a road that winds its way to the popular summit. Hiking with my friend Bill McDonald in early December we followed this trail, an old farm road, that slabbed up onto the north ridge where it connects with the Appalachian Trail just below Mt. Williams.

p/s: I've been pried away from the White Mountains temporarily by the vast and current changes occurring in the human services (HR) stemming the insurance upheaval and my work hoursare spilling over into my weekends. It's draining and hard to find the energy to make the 7 hour-long drive to the Whites let alone climb. I'm limiting myself to hikes within an hour's drive of Northampton (MA) including Mts. Greylock, Monadnock, Ascutney, Stafford; all great hikes, but not the Whites by a long shot. At least I can get up and down Mt. Skinner in less than an hour which helps me stay in shape. So, enjoy these vignettes and hopefully I'll be getting back to the Whites soon. Alex.

 Low on Greylock the woods and old trails indicate this was all agricultural land until fairly recently.

A burl. Some people collect these. They're also used to make gorgeous wooden salad bowls.

Wreckage from a single engine plane that looks like it crashed 15-20 years ago.

The AT marker.

Most of the vegetation on the ridge looks post-agricultural meaning the trees, particularly, grew in here when it was open and possibly old pasture for merino sheep at one time. Greylock was logged intermittently over centuries, but it also may have been cleared in the 1700s, like Mt. Monadnock was, when much of New England was cleared to accommodate the Merino wool craze.

An interesting rock "step" is the only variation in an otherwise gently sloping trail along the ridge.

A really old,  huge birch defies the elements on the ridge just below Greylock's summit. It documents the fact that there are other large trees like this in the Berkshire Mountains that a long time ago grew in open fields.

Sections of the ridge looked like stretches of familiar White Mountains trails.

Wind damage.
Bill waits patiently while I run around taking photos. I'm not the easiest person to hike with.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) in early 1930s this tower looks like a giant chess piece.

Mt. Monadnock, 60 miles away, is in the center of the photo on the horizon.

Another throwback to the CCC is this stone refuge hut built at the time of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail was cut on the Greylock's steep eastern flank. The refuge is located at the mountain's summit and has a working wood stove. Pretty cozy. We ate lunch here but without lighting a fire.

We descended the upper half of the famous Thunderbolt Ski Trail before veering off towards the north to get back to the car. This lean-to shelter at the trail junction on the east side of Greylock looks like it gets heavy traffic.

Graffiti on the ceiling of the shelter.

Bill likes maps (and who doesn't?) plus he's a veteran backpacker who has hiked and camped throughout New England for many decades, long enough to be considered an expert. The trail we were planning to take back to our car was a long traverse of the eastern flank of Greylock which took an hour. We'd hiked a huge oval. Nice hike, though. Something worth mentioning because I talk a lot about trees in this blog is that the Mt . Greylock Reservation was never completely logged over so there are some amazing forests to check out. In an area we traversed there were large groves of splendid white ash specimen at a time when that specie is struggling elsewhere.

II. Mt. Skinner

Kristen, a friend from grad school days and, like Bill, a veteran backpacker most notably on and around Mt. Katahdin.
Mt. Skinner, as I have said many times, offers instant gratification as it's just a few minutes from my home to the trail head and, and not much for elevation but offers a quick workout and usually a chance to get enjoy the woods and the quiet.

For the past 4 years Skinner has been getting a larger number of "users" and its pretty much the rule, as it is in the Whites, too, that on any given day you will see lots of people on the trail; school groups occasionally, but mostly families and individuals.

The Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation has responded in small ways to make the Skinner State Park more user friendly, but it doesn't put needed atttention on trail upkeep with costly results as erosion increases exponentially on the more popular trails.

The corridor in the leaves is an indication of how water runofffollows the groove of the trail and not being directed away from the trail with the use of water bars so that the trail "tread" is gradually wearing away particularly on steep sections. I've explored organizing a volunteer trail crew to help with trail upkeep by installing new water bars, build steps, etc., but have not had a response from the state to date.

A cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica) on the Taylor Notch Trail in early Christmas morning sunlight.

Red oaks (Quercus rubra) on the ridge below the summit on Christmas morning.

Skinner gets a lot of use by dog owners and is an ideal place for the dog and the owner to get an equal amount of exercise.

The summit looking north towards Mt. Monadnock.

Looking west towards the Berkshires from Skinner. You can see Mt. Greylock as a tiny, tiny little bump on the horizon a little to the right of center.

This reflects the stillness of Christmas morning.

A few days after the holiday, on a Saturday, the trail was host to dozens of trampers including these nattily dressed women,

this mother and daughter,

these two guys,

and on the way down I passed this very large AMC group, members of the Worcester, MA, AMC Chapter, who looked like they were well outfitted.

It was quite a crew.

No matter how many hikers there are on the trail there are plenty of reminders on Mt. Skinner, also called Mt. Holyoke, that there have many, many visitors to the mountain over the years. Also called Mt. Holyoke, the mountain has a colorful past that includes a bawdy hotel-casino that existed on the summit back in the early 1930s complete with a tramway that carried the gamblers in both directions: up and down as their luck changed.

III Mt. Toby on New Years day.

Bill setting out on Mt. Toby, a little north of and higher in altitude than the Holyoke Range and tops out at 1269' above sea level (asl). Like the Holyoke Range, Mt. Toby hosts an historical trail race that's also 14 miles long.  The Mt. Toby race is run in October and the Holyoke Ridge or Seven Sisters Trail Race (it's official name) is run in the spring and will be held next on May 4, 2014.

Mt. Toby is located in the towns of Sunderland and Montague. Like Mt. Greylock, it has played a significant role in local agricultural and is still surrounded by large, working vegetable and dairy farms. The Connecticut River valley here was once the number one producer of asparagus. A decaying sugar house where maple syrup was produced sits near the foot of Mt. Toby. North of Mt. Toby, towards the Vermont state line and along the Mohawk Trail, there's a vibrant maple syrup "industry" that flourishes every spring.

Most of these woods road are and were used off and on for logging but they're now used for biking, hiking and running on and they all connect at various intersections making it possible to create hikes of varied distances and altitude gains.

A white pine with a large lightening scar.

Looking towards Mt. Toby from the northwest.

A real swamp.

It's easy to imagine this, and the area in the next photo, as prime pasture just a few decades ago.

Mt. Toby sits on a large area of limestone that tilts from north to south. At the southern end of the mountain there are caves and cliffs and on the northwest side there's series of lovely waterfalls. Mt. Toby, due in part to the limestone, is noted for it's unique diversity of plants, particularly ferns that approve of the circumneutral soil in several locations on the mountain. It's been reported that Mt. Toby is home to 43 of the native ferns of the Northeast as well as a few very rare orchids. Fifty years ago I was introduced to the orchids by members of the University of Massachusetts Botany Department and can attest that they're difficult to locate. The ferns, on the other hand, are everywhere including some lovely Maidenhair ferns along the road on the northeast side of the mountain.

An old, much eroded farm lane

An old Philco TV sitting out in the woods riddled with bullet holes that evidently supplied someone with a little entertainment.

 The summit of Mt. Toby has a fire tower that offers wonderful views of surrounding mountains including those in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts. I don't personally like the summit as it's cluttered with telephone and microwave repeater equipment and there is a continuous, hideous "hum" emanating from a small building that was dragged up there, but I recommend a climb up to the top of the fire tower.

 University of Massachusett students. Mt. Toby is close to campus.

IV Mt. Skinner

Unmistakable and stunning January light.

Windsculpted into whalebacks on the upper ridge,

American cherry early morning light.

American cherry 30 minutes later.

Did you all figure this out? Kinda cute.