Before getting to the meat and potatoes of the story, some background is in order. In my pre-teen years, home life was troubled at times. To escape this, around 1978, my mom brought us to my Grandmothers house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We also visited my grandparents summer cottage in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. It was during this time that I got my first taste of being away from the suburbs and being in the woods. It was fun swimming, fishing, exploring, visiting strange new places and helping my grandfather fill up jugs of water from a spring coming out of the side of a mountain. Our reward was ice cold Hawaiian Punch made from that very spring water.
I met my friend Jon about 11 years ago through Geocaching, which led to hiking and adventuring together. Despite me moving from New York to Indiana, any time I visit, I reach out to Jon to see if he wants to adventure. So when I thought about doing this adventure, I don’t think I would have done it without him, so I’m glad he was just as excited about the trip. My cousin, who lives in Pittsfield, heard about the trip and offered her house. Everything was falling into place and her son Michael, who is an avid hiker and camper, he was going to join us. How great was it to have someone familiar with the area to join us and help us out. (((But WAIT… that’s not all!))). Chatting with one of my two best friends since childhood, Mike, who I have not seen in atleast 10 years. Well Mike said he wanted to hike with me one day. I mentioned the AT hike that was planned but figured he meant a standard hike… but no, he decided to join us on this trip. Does a trip like this ever fall into place so perfectly?
I want to get into the meat and potatoes so I will discuss equipment at another time.
I arrived in Pittsfield around noon on Sunday. My first visit was to Pittsfield Cemetery to visit the inspiration for my trip. My Nana and her (third) husband “Boots”. It took me about 30 minutes to find their plot and I was just about to give up and then I spotted their stone. I have a bittersweet memory. Since I only get out to New York once a year, I went to visit her in the nursing home, she was 100 or 101 at the time and I figured this might be the last time I would see her. I remember visiting the area again but I did not visit her, I was on my way to my wife’s uncles house to visit, who lives upstate New York. The day we left his house and had just crossed into Pennsylvania on our way home, I received a call from my Sister, Nana had passed away. I should have visited her. Ugh! Guilt! I left a rock on top of the grave stone, apologized and thanked them for the memories and for bringing me here for this adventure.
From the cemetery, I visited Balanced Rock State Park, where a huge boulder sits precariously on top of a smaller rock.
Then I drove to Wahconah Falls, which is another beautiful scene I remembered from my pre-teen days.I drove around the area which has vastly changed since I was younger. After spending the lifeless looking outdoors while training for this hike during the winter, the return of spring and the leaves of green splashed across the mountains was like eye candy. I suppose the only time it gets better is the splash of yellows, orange, reds and browns of the fall foliage.
Monday morning we parked cars at the proposed end of our hike at Gulf Road in Dalton. I was surprised to see all but two spots on both sides of the street taken. Looks like there is room for about 12 vehicles. We drove about 45 minutes north to Pattison Road. Again, we got lucky that there was a spot available for our car!
The first day we planned a hike of less than 2 miles to the Wilbur Clearing shelter but would face 1700 feet of elevation. Jon and I are hikers but had little experience carrying our lives on our back for several days. Mike was a camper who hasn’t camped in a few years but was not necessarily a hiker. Michael was the most experienced (and youngest at age 20, we are middle aged guys!) and we also had a gentleman “Paul” who also joined us. He seemed like he knew what he was going as well. We figured we would keep it short and simple the first day so we could make camp and work out all the kinks. That being said, the start was really easy but then less than a 1/4 mile in, we found out what this hike was really going to be like, Rocks, Boulders, Wood planks and Roots! Sometimes the stones seemed like a natural staircase but in the larger picture below, it shows a 10 foot climb on wet rocks, we needed to place our feet carefully on the way up. We had a few of these going up and down along various spots on the trail.
It is not terribly difficult but it is a workout. I trained by going up sand dunes and using a stair-master but it simply is not the same. We took several breaks along the way. I have a fear of certain heights but there was nothing to be scared about throughout this trip. I would estimate we were able to cover a mile per hour during our hike up the mountain. We arrived at an overlook where the Appalachian trail meets up with the Mt Prospect trail, it was our first photo opportunity, the view was breath taking! From that point it was a short 3/10ths of a mile hike (Downhill!!!) to our first shelter and camping area, Wilbur Clearing.
A few of us had some strained muscles! We cleaned the shelter out before hanging out in it. We had lunch and went down to a stream to purify some water to top off our containers. The Shelter looks like it has room for about 6 and there are about 4 tent platforms. Tent platforms are wooden decks where you can setup your tent. Even with a self standing tent, I had to tie it down to either the wood deck or to the ground below, especially with the windy conditions we had. The platform had room for two single person tents. There also appears to be clearings where you can tent on the ground, Jon used his hammock between two trees closer to the shelter. Each shelter we planned to stop at had a bear box (to store your food or other items that the scent may attract bears), a water source, a privy (outhouse/place to go to the bathroom) and a shelter. That night dinner for me was Ramen noodles and mash potatoes. We went to sleep right after sundown and with the wind howling, I hardly got any sleep at all! It got down in the 30’s but I stayed pretty warm.
Day two started with a breakfast of instant oatmeal for me, Paul made pancakes, which was really cool to see (and smell). We planned to hike the approximately 3 miles up to Mount Greylock, an additional 1200 feet in elevation. About a mile in, we reached the top of Mt Williams (Elevation 2951 feet) Mt Williams offered more breathtaking views! Over the next 2.3 miles we gained 1,040 feet to the top of Mt Greylock. Most of the hike was climbing up roots and stones but wasn’t terrible difficult. Right before the top of Greylock, we had another breathtaking view on the Thunderbolt trail. People hike up the Thunderbolt trail to ski down it during the winter. I looked and it appears to be a steep downhill course that is lined with trees 100′ or so apart. It seems to be that one false move skiing down this hill would surely result in death by trees… but I’m not much of a skier. The next 3/10ths (guestimate) of a mile is to the top of Mt Greylock. While you could follow a rocky trail, since it is a ski slope, it offered a relatively nicer grass path. This 3/10ths of a mile though was about a 40 degree angle! What kept us going was the top of the Mt Greylock War Memorial tower! (first two pictures, MT Williams. third picture a view from the Thunderbolt Trail. 4th is the war memorial, 5th is the view from greylock. Sixth thru Eight is a bronze casting of the mountain range and trails)
We enjoyed lunch at the top of Greylock. I had tuna from a vacuum pack, Michael had Peanut Butter and Jelly on tortilla, I think Jon had smokes Salmon but we really hoped that Bascom lodge was open so we could get our first real meal! Unfortunately Bascom Lodge was closed. I hoped to get a pin or souvenir to take home with me but I will likely do that online so I have something to remember the trip with. We also hoped to fill up with water but the water was shutoff due to the ice/snow they received on Monday morning. My cousin sent word of 2 inches of snow, luckily it was melted by the time we arrived. A worker had stopped while we were standing at the back of the building and asked if the water was off, he went back inside to turn it back on so we could top off with water! THANK YOU! As we prepared to head off of Greylock, we noticed a glider flying over head, I didn’t get a picture but I could imagine the feeling of being free! And the views the pilot was seeing!
Heading southbound from Mount Greylock wasn’t really difficult but the trail looked like a creek bed, it was a little wet and we had to watch our feet as we descended over some slippery rocks. There was another group hiking in our direction and one young guy took a spill on the rocks. He refused our assistance so I hope he was okay. After that initial descend, it turned out the trail was rolling – the ups and downs zapped a great deal of energy from me. It could have also been lack of sleep the night before. On the way down there is a house of sorts on a pond. I took pictures from inside and outside, it looks like it could have been a shelter at some point. From Greylock, we would hike about 3.5 miles to our next shelter (Mark Noepell Shelter) but it felt like we hiked way more than that.
The Mark Noepell shelter was really nice, it states it has room for 16, it has a loft inside it and 4 raised sleeping beds. Instead of popping tents, we decided to stay in the shelter. The water was about 100 yards from the shelter and was a spectacular place to hang out looking for a little relaxation or Zen. My friend Jon went down there and after about a half hour we had to check to make sure he was okay, he was just Chillaxing! Again, it has a privy, a bear box and a fire ring. Dinner that night for me was Mountain House Rice and Chicken. It really hit the spot! It was slated to go down to about 37 degrees that night so I added some layers. I slept a great 3 hours before I woke up and again, had a tough time getting back to sleep.
I think most of us at this point had some ailments of sorts. Mike was second guessing if he could make it 9 miles the next day but wanted to hold off on any decision making until we made it into the town of Cheshire. I used my KT Tape to hold gauze onto two blisters I had on my feet. They were re-occurring from my training and I thought they had healed enough. The muscles in my upper thighs were aching, my shoulders and lower back ached from carrying my backpack but I was feeling pretty good emotionally.
It was 4.7 miles into Cheshire and luckily, on the most part, it was downhill! Of course with downhill hiking, it makes an impact on the knees and even toes as they smash against the front of your boots. In fact, I think my big toe still has some numbness in it! The temperature that day rose to the mid 60’s and we had clear sky’s. I knew Mike was hurting the most and I asked him how he felt about going on, he seemed intent on waiting until we get a meal to make his decision. What weighed heavily,After our descent into the town of Cheshire, we would have a challenging ascent of 1000 feet in 2 miles and 4 miles of total ascent to Crystal Mountain campsite…
pic1: Fearless young leader, Michael.
pic2: a look back at one mountain we came down from.
pic3: a look ahead to the mountain we would face if we went forward (Cheshire Cobbler)
pic4: no rocks, no roots, a walk through a field heading to Cheshire.
pic5: another look at the Cheshire Cobbler.
pic6: the gang heading through a field.
pic 7: Now that’s Erratic!!! On the way down the mountain we found very large glacial erratics.
pic 8: Survey marker found on the trail in Cheshire
pic 9: and a sign a few feet away from the marker… didn’t know they hunt Thru Hikers! good thing we are just section hikers!
SOoooo… We arrived in Cheshire looking for a cheesy burger or any sort of food but it is a small town with not too many places. We came across a place that was closed, a pizza place that was also a bar. As we talked up what we should do, someone walked out of their house and told us of a place down the road. We ended up at the Bass Water Grill. It is more or less off of the “Ashuwillticook Rail Trail” from the AT. We got there about 10 minutes before opening but someone who works there graciously opened the doors for us, she said they would open early for us! Three of us ordered burgers, one brisket and another Clam Chowder. At that point I opened the discussion because I knew my friend Mike was hurting. Mike decided he was going to pack it in. I was hurting, wanted to go on but knew I had a bunch of reasons to get back on the road but most importantly I accomplished what I set out to. Part of it was to face fears and the trepidation I had about an adventure like this. We conquered the toughest part of the trip in the first two days! As a group, I don’t think we wanted to quit but we made the mutual decision to call it a day.
Before this trip even ended, we were already discussing possible trips in the fall. It was great to see an old friend, Mike, after many years. It was great hooking up with Jon again on another adventure, I don’t see my cousin’s family very much so it was great to get to know Michael and it was great to have someone from my area, Paul, accompany me on this trip.
The locals in Cheshire seemed nice, many greeted us or asked us about our hike. We crossed paths with a handful of hikers including a women in her 60’s (?? We didn’t ask her age) who was slack packing on that day and heading to New Hampshire. Again, my cousin offered us a place to stay or support if needed and it was needed as she picked us up in Cheshire (cheh-sheer not cheh-shire) and dropped us off in Dalton at our cars. I have so much to be grateful for and will remember this experience for years to come.
Onto the next adventure!
pic1: What I left in the log book at Wilbur Clearing
pic2: The last picture I took while we waited for my cousin to come save us 🙂
To see my post hike thoughts on the Equipment and post hike thinking, click here!