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Friday, October 19, 2012

Berkshire Backpack - Mount Greylock Loop

We finally got back out on the backpack trail again - after a hiatus of nearly three-and-a-half months.  This trip was an 18 mile loop including the Appalachian Trail, Mount Greylock, and some aggressive trails in the Mount Greylock State Preserve.

We were out from Wednesday, October 17 to today, Friday, October 18.  We drove our truck to North Adams, Massachusetts, a pretty little town tucked into the northern Berkshires, and parked it at a nearby AT trailhead spot.

Wednesday was sunny and bright.  We only had 5.6 miles to make that day, so we planned to get up at our leisure and start by noon.  However, the best laid plans go awry: we awoke and found that we were out of propane to heat the RV while we were gone, so we had to wait until the campground could provide us a refill.  By the time that was done and we completed the 1.5 hour drive, we hit the trail at 1:15 pm.  This left barely 5 hours of daylight to do a strenuous (the park trail guide calls it "aggressive") 5.6 miles, and we felt we were racing the clock toward the end of the day.

That didn't prevent us from enjoying the views.  Here is a view to the West from a viewpoint on the Appalachian Trail about 2 miles into our hike, after a rigorous, vertical uphill climb.

At that viewpoint, we met an older fellow who was section hiking this section of the AT.  The more we talked with him, the more desperate his story seemed.  He had to take time off for "doggy hospice," which could only have meant that his dog started the trip but didn't make it.  Then he mentioned that he had had hip replacements, so he was doing this strenuous hike with that impediment, a chipmunk chewed his trekking pole, and he had run out of time before he could finish his planned hike.  We decided he must have just had a black cloud following him.

We, however, had sunlight.  We continued along the AT, over Mount Williams, Mount Fitch and south along the ridge toward the top of Mount Greylock.  We arrived just before sunset and were just able to get into the lodge to take some spectacular sunset photos.  Here's one:

Bascom Lodge at the summit of Mount Greylock will take overnight guests.  They provide rooms (private or bunkhouse) and meals, and also offer Happy Hour from 5-7 pm each night to watch the sunset.  The "happy hour" wasn't so happy, because they were understaffed, and the poor woman who was doing everything (receptionist, cook, bartender, greeter) was just too overwhelmed.  We didn't get our wine for sunset.  However, also on tap for Wednesday evening was a performance of African music and dancing, which was free, and which we enjoyed while chatting with Dawn, a young hiker, and Paul, a fellow on a backpack bicycle trip:

We eventually retired to our overnight accomodations - the Thunderbolt Shelter, near the lodge on the summit.  Built primarily to support winter back county ski activities on Greylock, the shelter, like the lodge , was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  It is all stone, with wooden window frames and roof.  Every wall has windows from one end to the other, and we got some great views of sunset in all directions, as well as sunrise the next morning with all four points of the compass aglow:

At the very summit of Greylock is a huge War Veterans Memorial which is striking in its unique design.  We caught a dramatic photo of it in the dawn light.  Others drive up the summit road to watch sunset or sunrise, and we had the privilege of viewing both under the power of our own feet!

Thursday morning, we got on the trail early because we didn't have to break camp, having slept overnight in the Thunderbolt Shelter.  We're not sure if this was permitted, because we encountered an inscrutable sign near it stating:  "No Camping - Overnight Shelter Only."  Well, I guess we weren't camping if we didn't set a fire or pitch a tent, but we certainly did need overnight shelter for sleeping, since we were at the summit without any other place to stay for the night.  Kathy couldn't fall asleep for a while, fearing some park ranger would barge in and evict us summarily.  David, however, cared not, and dozed right off.  He felt justified because he had, as the park website requested, called the park office to try to register us for the backpack and check our itinerary.  IF the shelter was off-limits, the park administration might have been able to say so, PROVIDED they answered David's phone calls or returned his phone messages.  However, they did neither of those, so David had his excuse ready for that intruding ranger.  However, no ranger showed, and we slept the night in the shelter.

Just down the Appalachian Trail from the summit of Greylock, we encountered a picturesque little pond with a cabin on its shore.  The cabin appears to be, or to have been, used as a shelter, although there were wood-carved testaments to passionate trysts, so it doubtless is used for other purposes as well.

We continued down the AT on Thursday, catching a great view of the Catskill Mountains in the distance to the west as we peered out from near Jones Nose:

From there, we caught the CCC (for "Civilian Conservation Corp") Dynamite Trail, turning north to start to complete our loop..  This was an easy but beautiful trail (birches with glowing golden leaves) along what appeared to be an old road that we imagined, from the name, to have been built by the CCC to haul dynamite to blast the rock needed for Bascom Lodge on the summit, or to carve the park roads and trails.

We continued up past the Sperry Road campground, onto the Hopper Trail, so called because it circumnavigates a huge bowl known as "The Hopper," ringed by Mount Prospect, Mount Williams, Mount Fitch, and Greylock.  We had beautiful views into the bowl.  Eventually, we intersected the Money Brook Trail, so called because it follows Money Brook up from the depths of The Hopper toward Mount Williams.  We imagined that Money Brook got its name because it looks too natural as a sluice for sending logs down from the heights of those mountains, and, of course, that makes money for loggers.  We followed Money Brook up the length of that trail.

The climb up Money Brook Trail was very steep and tiring.  We logged 9 or 10 miles this second day, and by the time we made it to Wilbur's Clearing, our camp, we were pretty tired.  Wilbur's Clearing has a lean-to and other camp facilities such as outhouse, bear box and tent platforms.  We pitched our tent on a platform, with Kathy finding an ingenious method for anchoring our tentpoles to the platform in anticipation of a stormy night.  We ate our dinner down at the lean-to before retiring.  In the middle of the night (8:30 p.m.), two backpackers arrived, walked with their headlamps around our tent platform (waking us and putting us on alert), finally settling to unroll their sleeping bags in the lean-to.  Because they were sleeping there, we lost our anticipated breakfast spot.  We had hoped to eat in the lean-to as shelter from this morning's wind and rain.  Due to the sleeping beauties, we had to quick pitch a tarp and cook our hot breakfast under that.  But it was no big problem and we feasted as desired.

The hike back down to the truck from Wilbur's clearing was one of the most technically difficult backpack hikes we've attempted.  The trail itself is described as "aggressive" - steep with many rocks and roots.  We had to climb down it with 35 pound packs, in driving rain with the trail completely covered in slippery leaves, such that all of the dangers on the trail were completely obscured.  It was like walking blindfolded downhill on ice.  We made it with only a few slips and no injuries, and that in itself was reason enough to celebrate!  

On our way home, we stopped for lunch at a rustic little Berkshire mountains restaurant, got back to the RV, and attempted to unload all our equipment and garb in the driving wind and rain without getting the whole inside of the RV sopping wet.  We actually succeeded, cracked open a beer each, and proceeded to blog away. 

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