|©1997 George Steffanos|
MONDAY, 8/15/83 (CONTINUED) --- From Sages Ravine, the Appalachian Trail climbed steeply to another wooded plateau. In the middle of a cool dark hemlock forest, it crossed Bear Rock Stream near the eastern rim of the plateau. I took a short side trip to one of my favorite places on earth, following the stream east off the trail for about fifty yards, where the flat ground ends with an abrupt stroke of a giant axe and a high cliff towers above the broad, bucolic upper Housatonic Valley. The southern tip of the Berkshires seemed to spring just as suddenly from the flattish valley floor a few miles away on the eastern edge. A few feet behind me the stream plunged over the edge of the plateau, the beginning of a tall series of cascades. I took another fifteen minute break there. Were I to pick a stretch of trail to be hiking over while shaking off the effects of a bad hangover, the Taconic section of the Appalachian Trail would be one of my top choices. There was plenty of water, despite the long, dry summer, and plenty of nice places at which to take my frequent rest stops. Tastes of northern New England abound: the broad swathe of subalpine scrub running from the summit down the southwestern slopes of Bear Mountain in Connecticut; the cold rushing waters and hushed evergreen forest of Sages Ravine; this spot; more to come.
From Bear Rock Stream, the next mile-and-a-half of the Appalachian Trail ascended Race Mountain, picking its way up a boulder-strewn slope softened by a carpet of fallen needles from the hemlock. The last half-mile threaded a narrow perch atop massive naked rock cliffs and crossed another rocky, scrubby summit area. Hawks drifted lazily on the smooth thermals of a mid-August afternoon, soaring high above the valley below.
A long, steep descent into a sag was followed by a longer, steeper climb up Mount Everett, the highest peak in the Taconics at 2602 feet. The firetower, which is closed to the public (wink, wink), gave sprawling 360-degree views over miles of mountains, hills, lakes, and valleys. Although it was warmer and more humid than recent days, the visibility was fairly unobstructed.
The Appalachian Trail descended from the summit to a state picnic area near Guilder Pond. The wind-rippled surface of the second-highest pond in Massachusetts lies 2042 feet above sea level -- a greater altitude than on any mountaintop the AT had climbed since Virginia. Pete and I obtained water at a stream crossing just past the picnic area and walked on a little further to a flat piece of ground on the southern slopes of Mount Undine, where we set up camp for the night. I could have gone on a bit further, but that climb up Mount Everett had done me in, and twelve-and-a-half miles over terrain like this was enough of an accomplishment for a day during which I was nursing the Godzilla of hangovers.
The heat and humidity made a partial comeback today. Nevertheless, it was still a wonderful day -- easily the best day scenically since the long ago July day when I traversed the northern portion of Shenandoah.
TUESDAY, 8/16/83, MILE 1501.0 --- As you can see, I passed the 1500-mile point today. Is it just my imagination, or is that a lot of freaking miles to walk carrying a backpack? I often dream of tossing this damned thing off of a high cliff when this journey is over, particularly on those recent 100-degree days when it was plastered to my back by a raging Niagara of sweat.
Today began with the final three-and-a-half miles of the Taconic Range: Mount Bushnell with its excellent views, Jug End with more extensive views, and a series of nice lookouts in between. Jug End in particular was outstanding. Just as Lions Head stands sentinel over the southern flank of the ridge, Jug End is its northern outpost. Near its summit, the ridgecrest abruptly ends, the ground plunging steeply towards the valley on both the north and east flanks, providing northward vistas unsurpassed on the range. I could see for miles up the Housatonic valley to the north, the line of the Berkshires to the northeast, and the western fork of the Taconics to the northwest.
The trail down Jug End had just been relocated. Gone was the killer descent I remembered from my previous trips. The new trail seemed almost an order of magnitude better than the old. In no time, I was on the dirt-surfaced Jug End Road, beginning the five-and-a-half mile Housatonic Valley roadwalk, crossing over from the Taconics to the Berkshires.
An excellent little piped spring was located just a quarter-mile into the roadwalk, an opportunity to chug water and fill my canteen. Today was considerably hotter and more humid than yesterday. This return to the dog days of August was almost inevitable. Sticky and sweltering is the official weather of a George Steffanos roadwalk. I had lucked out on that last big New York roadwalk, but conditions were back to normal for this one.
The Appalachian Trail followed dirt roads for most of the ensuing five miles to US 7, but the final mile or so was on a paved road. I passed through an attractive mixture of farms and woods: green,and gold fields of ripening corn, cool, dark forest groves, green pastures dappled with yellow dandelions, some amazing views back towards the Taconics, and one feature I could have done without. I am beginning to grow tired of the aroma of frying cow pies. I encountered nothing today comparable to that three-mile-long trail of steaming manure on the long roadwalk in New Jersey, but the occasional dairy farms I passed made their presence known.
At Route 7, I made a side trip off of the AT to check out another fruit stand, which my Philosopher's Guide informed me was about a mile up the road. The stand was actually less than a half-mile from the trail. Like the "fruit stand" I visited in New Jersey, the place was a lot more than I expected. They had a grill sizzling with hamburgers and hot dogs, and they also carried cold soda, ice cream, and even home-baked bread and pies. As usual, I was nearly out of crackers, bread, Pop-Tarts, and just about anything else I could chew. Thus, the home-baked bread was the nicest surprise. I had thought that I would have to suffer bravely like a little soldier for a while (sob, sniff...).
I enjoyed a dainty little snack of two cheeseburgers smothered in grilled onions, two cokes, and a pint of chocolate ice cream. If I am not mistaken, I think that is the meal which doctors prescribe for heart patients. I also bought a loaf of fresh-baked wheat bread for the trail (I am watching my cholesterol). I could hardly wait to tear into it. I wish that I had tried a bite then; I would have bought two.
Back on the Appalachian Trail, I crossed the Housatonic River about halfway through the final half-mile of the roadwalk. The most unique feature of the Housatonic valley roadwalk had been the flatness of the terrain. The entire five-and-a-half miles were virtually all on level ground. I can think of no other stretch of the Appalachian Trail which comes close to this. Most valley crossings are mainly descent and ascent with a small strip of level ground in the middle.
A recent relocation had cut off a quarter-mile from the end of the roadwalk, while eliminating an infamous patch of poison ivy. The relocation was not a very good trail. It was steep and rocky, but it was not terrible, so I guess it was an improvement. I cannot say for sure, never having seen the old trail. When I came down off of Jug End, I had completed the second of the three sections of the Appalachian Trail which I had hiked prior to this trip. I am in virgin territory once again until the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
The AT climbed over June Mountain, crossed a paved road on the other side, and reentered the forest. I took a break in a cool grove of pines just beyond the road crossing. It was a sweltering day (after all, it is still August), and conditions were taking their toll. Another new trail relocation climbed East, Mountain. You must always be ready for the unexpected on the AT. I had the brand-new 1983 Massachusetts/Connecticut guide book, and it did not even hint that relocations were being considered for the trail on June and East Mountains.
Judging by the description of the old trail in the guidebook, the second relocation was a big improvement over the old trail. When the relo ended and I rejoined the old trail, an exhausting climb led straight up some smooth rock faces. From the ledges at the top, there were nice views westward across the Housatonic valley to the Taconics. This helped make up for the fact that I was as drenched (from my own sweat) as I would have been had I walked into a shower fully clothed.
The trail descended off of the ridge. I passed two springs, but both were dry. I needed water badly. The Appalachian Trail followed a narrow, rocky spur that gradually split off from the main crest, becoming separated from it by a steep, narrow ravine. When the spur eventually petered out, the trail plunged into the ravine and scrambled steeply back up to the main ridge. I did not see the point of this exercise -- there were no views along that rocky spur, and that ravine was difficult to negotiate with a heavy backpack, but, God knows, I never question the way the trail is laid out.
The trail again gradually descended off of the ridge, then climbed back up. That set the pattern for the next few miles: up, down, up, down . . . I crossed several brooks -- all dry. After five miles, I came to the next roadwalk. This one was little more than a mile in length, and I was able to get my water bottle filled by some nice kids playing in a schoolyard. It appeared to be a school for special children, and the adults glared protectively at me as if I were Aqualung or something, but the water was cold and good. I drank half of it on the spot before I began the ensuing climb.
There were many short, steep pitches, but this section of trail was not as bad as the previous one had been. I was soon at Benedict Pond, a pleasant body of water high up in the Berkshires. It was the second high mountain lake I had passed in Massachusetts in as many days. The guidebook shows several more on the trail up ahead, so I guess that these tarns are a signature feature of the Appalachian Trail in this state.
After the pond was a steep, but very short climb up to "The Ledges," which I did not find all that exciting or ledge-like. I found the more-storied Berkshires a slight disappointment at first after the spectacle of the Taconics, and I suspect the return of the dog days had a great deal to do with this. Next came an extremely sharp descent into a narrow valley, crossing two more dry brooks. I am going to remember the drought of '83 for a long time. After one final short, steep climb, I came to the spring which is the water supply for the Mount Wilcox South Shelter. It was running -- barely. It took a long time to fill my water bag, catching the trickle of water in my cup. When this was accomplished, I finished climbing the last steep slope to the shelter's side trail.
Two couples from England were standing at the trail junction, staring at a sign which read "Shelter," above an arrow pointing down the side trail. The structure was out of sight from the junction, around the side of the mountain. I knew from my guidebook that the shelter capacity was six and that Pete was already there. I was a little depressed about the prospect of being crammed inside a full shelter on what was shaping up to be a very warm night. The British couples, unfamiliar with the Appalachian Trail shelter system, thought the sign was pointing to an enormous rock just up the side trail. I may have forgotten to correct that misconception. I told them about a flat, grassy abandoned woods road which I had crossed just before reaching the spring. It was an excellent campsite, and short-term campers actually prefer the tenting experience, anyway. Well, they do!
I arrived at the shelter a few minutes later. I had been planning to stay at Mount Wilcox North Shelter, a couple of miles further up the AT, but I had been told that the structure was falling apart and that its brook was dry. This shelter was in fairly nice condition for this part of the AT, so I laid out my gear and made dinner.
The shelter register warned about a porcupine who has adopted the place, so I hung up my boots as well as my food. Porkies are reported to love the taste of leather. I really do not need a porcupine to show up here tonight and keep me awake. Twenty miles was no picnic in today's heat.
WEDNESDAY, 8/17/83, MILE 1517.3 --- That porcupine did show up, waking me about twenty times by gnawing on the outside of the shelter. Obviously, the wood was tastier than it looked, and no doubt was packed with fiber. I tried to frighten him off a few times by shining my flashlight in his face, but he just turned his back on me and raised his quills as if to say, "Make me leave." I had my worst night of sleep on the entire trail.
It was past 8:00 when I set my bleary eyes on the trail this morning, beginning the remainder of the climb up Mount Wilcox. There were no views from the ground around the summit, and the firetower possessed an imposing fence topped with barbed wire. I passed on it. I saw some attractive forests on the slopes of the mountain, particularly as I descended the north side. Forests of lofty hardwoods predominated, carpeted by lush fern growth. Along the way, I passed the Mount Wilcox North Shelter. It was a pit, as advertised, and the brook was dry, so I guess that my night with Porkie had been the best of two bad alternatives.
Just past the shelter was a long, pleasant stroll through a plantation of tall spruce trees. The more restrained charms of the Berkshires were beginning to win me over as well. Shortly after the spruce, the seven-mile Tyringham valley roadwalk began. The first couple of miles were on a rough dirt road, mostly through woods. Then, the Appalachian Trail followed paved roads past large estates posted with a profusion of "No Trespassing" signs reminiscent of northern Virginia.
This roadwalk was nothing like the flat Housatonic valley. The roads descended steadily, and often steeply, into the village of Tyringham. When I reached the downtown area, it turned out to be a post office, a pay phone, and a few houses. I called home from the pay phone to set up my supply drop for Friday and headed right out.
From Tyringham, the Appalachian Trail climbed out of the valley, still following roads. There was one particularly steep stretch along a badly gullied jeep road. I skirted Lower Goose Pond, just visible through a screen of trees and "No Trespassing" signs, and continued uphill. The AT finally turned off the roads and passed through forests of pine, hemlock, and hardwoods on its way to Upper Goose Pond. Once again, the forest floor was a mass of brilliant green ferns. That is becoming one of my favorite features of the Berkshires.
The National Park Service recently bought up a great deal of land around Upper Goose Pond for the permanent Appalachian Trail corridor, and a relocation had been made which lengthened the hike down to the pond, but seemed to be much safer than the old trail described in the guidebook. The spring at the state-run campsite near the east shore of the pond was barely running, but at least it was running. I had run out of water again. Another relocation just past the campsite added an additional mile to the AT, but it was another good relo. The old trail had quickly departed from the pond, while this one followed its shoreline for a half-mile. The climb away from the pond also seemed like a big improvement over the description of the old trail.
Soon after Upper Goose Pond, I crossed the concrete Appalachian Trail foot bridges over the Massachusetts Turnpike. I had driven beneath them many times, always swearing that one day I would walk across them on an AT thru-hike. This would have probably been a very exciting and emotional moment for me, except that, for some reason, it wasn't. I arrived at the AT crossing of US 20 shortly thereafter and turned left down that road to walk the half-mile to a tavern which my guidebook told me served meals.
As I strode down that road beneath the broiling sun, I was daydreaming about large, cold cokes and larger meals. I was psyched. When I got there, the place was closed. That was an emotional moment. Muttering a few colorful phrases, I turned around to complete a useless one-mile round trip off of the AT. Having passed a motor lodge directly adjacent to the Appalachian Trail crossing, I consoled myself that I could at least pick up a cold coke or two at its soda machine. Every motel has a soda machine, right? I returned to the trail crossing and walked into the parking lot. No soda machine. I rejoined the AT, my lower lip quivering like the San Andreas fault.
Three miles later, I was at Finerty Pond. The next good water on the trail was more than eight miles ahead, so I settled for bad water and pitched my tent for the night. I was not about to drink pond water without boiling it for several minutes. I was forced to drink hot chocolate with my meal, although it was another very warm night. Mmmm, mmmm. There is nothing like a cup of hot chocolate at the end of a long, steamy day.
The pond next to which I am camped is beautiful, which makes up for a number of small disappointments. Tomorrow night, I will be in Dalton, Massachusetts, which makes up for a great deal more. The town has a community center, at which they allow backpackers to stay free of charge. It has a number of luxuries which seem absolutely decadent to me right about now, and the town has restaurants. It is all about fifteen miles away. I need something like that to look forward to, because I hear that it will rain tonight and all day tomorrow. Luck has not been a lady to me today.
THURSDAY, 8/18/83, MILE 1532.6 --- It has just occurred to me that I have not spent many nights in shelters recently. Since resuming my trip in New York following my brief hiatus, I have slept in one monastery, one refurbished old farm house, one motel, two shelters, and pitched my tent on seven nights. It has been interesting, but I would like to cut down some on the tenting. Doing it so often is starting to become a drag. Tonight, I am staying in the Dalton Community Center. They have a color television, hot showers, a sauna, a pool, and some padded wrestling mats on which we can sleep. It is a wonderful stop for a backpacker, and it is nice to be clean again.
Today, the forecast called for scattered morning showers. The forecast was wrong. It rained. Sometimes it drizzled, the rest of the time it came down steady. It rained all day; it never stopped. I waited until 8:00 this morning for the "scattered shower" to let up. Finally, I gave up and packed everything I could pack inside my tent. When everything else was loaded, I set my backpack outside and managed to squeeze my tent into its stuff sack and strap it onto my pack before the rest of my gear became too wet. Nevertheless, I felt fortunate to be hitting a town today, where I could dry out.
I set out at 8:40 -- yet another early-bird start on the trail in Massachusetts. I atoned for this somewhat by hiking the four-and-a-half miles to October Mountain Shelter by 10:15. The water supply was reported to be unfit to drink, and the shelter itself was quite run-down. It was forty-six years old and located a mere tenth-mile from a road. Naturally, it had been heavily used and abused. On the other hand, it was a place to get out of the rain for a while. I took my only break of the day there, sitting down for forty-five minutes, eating the last of my munchies, and drinking two cups of Tang. All of the water I drank today was flavored with Tang. The water in my canteen was Finerty Pond water which I had boiled last night. Boiled pond-water is never going to replace Perrier on the tables of the rich and snobbish.
It was eleven miles from the shelter to Dalton, and I covered it in four hours, arriving at 3:00. If I had to encounter rain on the trail, today was as good a day as any. The AT passed through handsome forests of pine, spruce, and hemlock, but there were no views to speak of. There were no long climbs, either, and very few short, steep stretches. I only came close to falling down and breaking my neck twice, and each time I barely managed to keep my feet.
The highlight of my day occurred when I brilliantly attempted to cross a bog bridge at full speed in the rain. Bog bridges are wooden walkways built across muddy areas to prevent heavy hiker traffic from tearing up fragile wetlands. Soggy, smooth wood is only slightly less slippery than ice, but I was cruising along in high gear on autopilot and did not even consider what I was attempting. Bad move. My feet shot out from beneath me, but I somehow caught myself. I could not regain complete control, however, and slipped again, caught myself, slipped again, caught myself. . . It was like trying to pull out of a violent skid on an icy road.
Miraculously, I managed to keep my feet for about a hundred feet, but the bog bridge was somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifty feet in length. Eventually, my luck ran out. As I tried to catch myself one last time, my left foot landed between two of the crosspieces. I fell straddling the split tree trunk which formed the bridge, most of my weight coming firmly down on my crotch. My upper body was jackknifed forward with my backpack crushing down upon my head and shoulders. I paused a moment to compliment my judgment in a somewhat squeaky voice before struggling to my feet.
After extricating myself from that mess with all of my body parts reasonably intact, I arrived at the road into Dalton just before 3:00 and followed it off of the AT for one mile into town. I found the community center, took a shower, put on the clean, dry clothes which were in my backpack, and headed out on the town. I picked up a quick snack and some solid food for the trail at a nearby grocery store and returned to the community center.
Several other thru-hikers are staying here tonight. I met one of them farther down the trail. He was one of the two backpackers I met in Delaware Water Gap -- the guys who had skipped up from Atkins, Virginia. The other one had left the trail. Pete also showed up.
It is turning into an interesting evening. Almost every night, the Dalton Community Center closes its doors at 8:00. After that, it becomes a quiet and peaceful place for tired backpackers to sleep. Every so often, during the summer, the kids of the town bring their little Smurf and Snoopy sleeping bags to the center for a sleep-over. Guess which night I picked to stay here? Right. My timing was perfect, as usual.
They began arriving around 8:00, as I was returning from a prime rib dinner at the restaurant across the street. The entire building echoed with nonstop screaming from the moment they arrived. I had to laugh when I saw the lengths to which some of their mothers had gone to prepare them for this long excursion deep into the remote wilderness. One poor little guy was lugging around a large paper bag full of essentials and a huge garbage bag which dwarfed him in size. He could barely walk. I could sympathize. When my mother sends me food in those supply packages, I wind up mailing half of it back rather than face carrying a hundred-pound backpack out of each trail town -- and that is after I dip liberally into the munchies for one massive midnight snack in the motel room that night. If our mothers loaded our backpacks, none of us thru-hikers would ever be able to complete the Appalachian Trail. One of the teenagers who were supervising this little shindig ran over and assisted the little fellow before he fell down and hurt himself.
Yes, the Dalton Community Center was really jumping tonight. The local square dance club was throwing a hoe-down of their own. Around 9:00, an interesting gentleman stopped by our little sleeping area to converse with me and the other five backpackers who are staying here tonight. He seemed like a nice guy, but I don't think that his mommy dressed him this morning. He was wearing a loud (deafeningly garish) suit, one of those string neckties with an immense, grotesque ornament in the center, and a pair of blinding, electric blue leather shoes. I was forced to constantly hurt myself in order to prevent myself from cracking up as we chatted.
At 10:00, I gave up on trying to sleep and went down to the weight room in the basement, where they had a large color television, and watched "Hill Street Blues" with several of my fellow backpackers. We sat around, laughing about the uproar and joking about how good the teen-age girls were beginning to look to us after months in the woods (I think they were joking. I know I was. . . I think ).
At midnight, the little savages were still going strong, but I had to try to go to bed, anyway. I must hike seventeen miles tomorrow by 5:00 P.M. in order to meet my mother on the summit of Mount Greylock. Before going upstairs, I washed my hiking shorts in a sink in the bathroom. They are the only item of clothing I will be wearing tomorrow for which I do not have a clean change. I know that they will not be dry by morning, but they were soaking wet from the rain today, anyway. I got most of the mud out of them, and at least they no longer smell quite so ripe.
I am going to try to sleep now. Despite all of the excitement, this has been a great stop, on a day when I really needed an emotional lift. I am indebted to the citizens of Dalton for their generosity. They have some really cute kids, with impressive lung power.
FRIDAY, 8/19/83, MILE 1549.9 --- The one damper on my enjoyment of the Community Center last night was meeting a couple of backpackers who had given up on thru-hiking and had spent the past several nights at the center, just leaching off of the generosity of the people of Dalton. The one thing they ask of us is that we limit our stays to a single night. Jerks like these guys risk screwing up the deal for all future real thru-hikers, and I hated to see that. [Note: Several years later, I heard a rumor that the Dalton Community Center no longer welcomes backpackers, for the reason that I mentioned in 1983. It is a shame, but I cannot say that I blame them.]
I fell asleep fairly quickly last night, in spite of all of the noise (Did you ever notice that when ten or more young children get together they can create one long, continuous scream? How do they do that?). I awoke this morning before 7:00, threw my clothes on, and headed across the street to the restaurant for breakfast (well, breakfasts, really). When I returned to the center, it finally occurred to me that I could dry my shorts with the electric hand dryers in the bathroom. I angled the blasts from two together and my shorts went from dripping-wet to a bit damp in five minutes. I could head out on the trail without the worry of chafing my tender, pink butt.
Pete was hurting pretty badly this morning from several nagging injuries, and his spirits were in the basement. He was talking about quitting the trail. I told him about the time in central Virginia when I was in a similar state, and how that one eight-mile day recharged my batteries, so he decided to try to hike a half-day to the town of Cheshire this afternoon. I said good-bye to him at 8:00 and hit the road. I was back on the Appalachian Trail, headed north, by 8:20.
In order to reach the summit of Mount Greylock by 5:00, I would now need to average two miles per hour, rest breaks included. A ton of climbing loomed ahead of me, and I had hoped for an earlier start, but I am growing accustomed to beginning a day like this with my back up against the wall. Same old story: I had done it to me again.
The initial mile-and-a-half was a piece of cake; I knocked it off in less than a half-hour. The AT followed broad, grassy woods roads with but a few short climbs. After that, the going became more difficult, but it was still no major ordeal. The terrain I traversed between Dalton and Cheshire was typical of the Berkshires: long, relatively flat ridgecrests covered with boggy areas. Vast expanses of luxuriant fern growth in great variety carpeted the forest floor. The ridges were densely wooded, frequently featuring cool, dark coniferous forests. The Appalachian Trail often followed old woods roads, and there was a scarcity of extensive views. I passed two mote of the signature mountain tarns of this range: Anthony Pond and Gore Pond. The Berkshires were an area of quiet beauty on the AT, connecting the more rugged and spectacular sections traversing the Taconics and the Green Mountains.
Thick fog and patches of mist lingered in the woods throughout the morning, complimenting the lush forests through which I walked. Bogs and ponds took on a distinctly primeval appearance beneath low-hanging shrouds of translucent vapor. In spite of the fog, it was a warm morning, with the promise of a hot, hazy, and humid afternoon.
I hiked the first nine miles with one fifteen-minute stop at Anthony Pond. The only views of the morning came from a series of partially-wooded cliffs known as the Cobbles, about two miles before Cheshire. The fog had only just begun to burn off when I passed over them, and thus the views were extremely limited.
The final mile into downtown Cheshire was on paved roads, crossing the Hoosic River and passing a monument to Cheshire Cheese, an early industry of the town. Funny, but until I saw that, it had not occurred to me exactly how few really good cheese monuments that there were on the Appalachian Trail.
I stopped at a grocery store near the center of town for lunch. I had a liter of coke, a pint of strawberry ice cream, and six large cinnamon buns. It was my third consecutive restaurant or store-bought meal. Life is good. I took a long break at the store in preparation for the final eight miles of the day, virtually all uphill. I was back on the Appalachian Trail by 1:00, leaving myself about four hours to cover that stretch and still be on time for my scheduled meeting.
The first mile out of Cheshire climbed along paved roads, until the AT crossed a field and entered the forest. The long ascent of the Greylock Range was steady and fairly gradual, with one lone steep scramble that lasted less than a mile. As I climbed, the character of the forest changed. Greylock is of the Berkshires, and yet, in a way, a part of the Green Mountains into which the Berkshires merge a few miles north. The summit is 3491 feet above sea level -- the highest point in the Berkshires, and the rest of the state as well. The mountain has at least as much in common with the peaks of Vermont's Green Mountains as it does with the remainder of the Berkshires.
Initially, I trod hemlock groves and forests of hardwoods that were signature of the Berkshires. Gradually, as the elevation increased, these began to give way to a zone dominated by red spruce and balsam fir -- trees indigenous to the woodlands of Canada and the mountains of northern New England. I had not seen balsam fir since the higher elevations of Shenandoah National Park, and before that in the Mount Rogers area of southwestern Virginia. This was a major indication that the lowland portion of the Appalachian Trail was now behind me. The high country awaits once more.
As I approached Greylock's summit, I passed through an alpine forest -- stunted, twisted shrubs of dwarf fir and spruce. I had been making such good time I was able to dawdle along and enjoy the New England experience as well as the extensive views at the end. I reached Greylock's summit at a few minutes before 5:00. A combination of high altitude and northern New England weather patterns combine to provide that location with a climate similar to northern Canada. Even on a sultry August afternoon such as this one, the summit was cool and breezy.
A paved automobile road winds it way up to the summit, where a monument to war heroes and a rustic establishment known as Bascom Lodge stand. The latter offers rooms and meals. I ran into my old buddy Crazy Charlie up there. He had spent the past few days at the lodge, working for room and board. He was as full of s___ as ever -- talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail north to the junction where Vermont's Long Trail splits off, following that trail to its northern terminus at the Canadian border and back, and then finishing the AT by October 10. I guess all things are possible so long as he avoids crippling injuries to his hitching thumb.
My mother showed up at 7:00 (punctuality is not a dominant trait in my family). We drove into North Adams, Massachusetts, got a motel room, and grabbed dinner at McDonalds. She is taking a vacation, so I will be staying in motels with her for a while and day hiking the Appalachian Trail. Tomorrow, I plan to cover the six miles from Greylock's summit to Massachusetts Highway 2. After that, I will hike the fifteen- to twenty-mile sections of trail between road crossings until she goes home and I resume backpacking. It should make for an interesting change of pace and provide me with new and different adventures.
SATURDAY, 8/20/83, MILE 1556.3 --- I hung around until 3:40 this afternoon before hitting the trail. Needing only to cover little more than six miles, I was hoping that the thick haze of the past couple of days would clear away enough for me to truly enjoy the views from the top of Greylock. As luck would have it, the haze slowly dissipated throughout the morning and the early afternoon, and it was beautifully clear when I returned to the summit to pick up my hike. The mountain panorama included the Berkshires in the south, the Taconics in the west, and the Greens to the north. It was chill and blustery, a powerful breeze attempting to blow me off of the mountain -- a true northern New England day.
I met Pete on the summit as I was shooting a few photographs. His short day yesterday had worked the same magic upon him as mine had done for me in Virginia. He was flying high and determined once again to reach Katahdin. Due to his injuries, he was hiking another short day today (planning to stop for the night at Wilbur Clearing Shelter a few miles ahead on the north flank of Greylock), but, with an attitude like that, I cannot see him failing in his ultimate mission. We talked for about fifteen minutes before I set out on my own short hike.
I carried my backpack today, but it weighed in at a mere ten pounds. I had my chamois shirt, a canteen containing about a cup of water, my camera, guidebook, and trail map. That light weight was a big plus, particularly since the trail down the north side of Greylock was much more rugged than yesterday's ascent, with many steep and eroded sections.
There were a couple of great views along the descent, from the tops of two knobs. They overlooked the college-town city of Williamstown to the north, with the Green Mountains of Vermont in the background. Otherwise, the hike was an agreeable, uneventful trip through forests of spruce, ferns, and northern hardwoods -- a fitting conclusion to the Berkshires. I made it down to the road by 6:30. I had not expected to require that much time to descend six miles with little weight in my backpack, but the combination of difficult footway and those wonderful viewpoints combined to slow me considerably.
I have just realized something. As I hike along, I often meet other hikers who ask me where I began my hike and where I am ending it. I used to tell them, "I'm trying to hike to Katahdin." Somewhere around Pennsylvania, that answer changed to, "I am hiking to Katahdin" -- a subtle difference, but extremely significant. The doubts are gone. Tomorrow is supposed to be a gorgeous day, and I will spend a good part of it in Vermont. I fought my way through the long, hot summer to the doorstep of northern New England. Maine awaits me. So does a mountain that the Indians named Katahdin.
582.2 miles to go.
|©1997 George Steffanos
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