|I was heading back from an event in NY state, and decided to take the more scenic route home, with a diversion to hike up Mt. Greylock. Hitherto I had only driven up its auto-road, but this day looked like a promising one to get up there under my own power and on my own flesh.|
[Small images are linked to larger copies.]
A little online research at the DCR site found me not only trail maps, but descriptions of most routes. This was really handy since I had no idea what the best starting point might be. The trails up the eastern side looked a little shorter in general, implying that they might be a little steeper and thus more interesting. By complete guesswork I decided to head for a small trailhead parking area off West Mountain Road [indistinct pink circle at lower right, use the big pic], a little confusingly named since it's on the eastern side of the hill, and cross over to another main trail up so I could make a loop out of the whole thing.
The resulting track is shown here, in a projection looking north. Note the two little diversions marked by pink arrows -- to be explained later.
|The trail toward Gould Road headed out of the parking area through an open space with lots of tall grass. Total tick-pickup territory, as most of this was just about at their preferred "questing" height above ground! It was impossible to avoid brushing against. Once I got more into the woods, I stopped to bend around and examine my legs for any new passengers, but my standard defenses seem to have remained effective.|
Said defenses are really pretty simple.
Forget that typical "long pants, tucked tightly into socks" advice or
special leggings, especially on a warm day.
My legs are bare from mid-thigh down, so they get DEETed with the good
100% stuff rubbed on by hand, which seems to work quite well.
DEET is intended for skin application, so it totally makes sense there.
My shorts are treated inside and out with permethrin, because that's what
adheres to textiles.
Any tick determined enough to brave the DEET and grab onto a foot or leg
[likely more difficult than fabric, as my legs aren't particularly hairy]
and crawl upward will soon find itself inside a permethrin cave and die
Legs are easier to examine than pants, and I always pay particular attention
to the backs of my knees which ticks seem especially attracted to.
The map shows one trail between the relevant parking areas, skirting the darker rectangle which is some sort of farm, but once I got into the woods there were three or four extra ones branching off in oddball directions and no signs at all. I took what seemed most likely, which started heading more downhill than I'd expect, and I began having some doubts about this. I then met a lady whacking away at the root system of a small tree with a pickaxe just off the trail, and inquired as to my whereabouts since she seemed to know the terrain and what she was doing. She was working on clearing a *new* trail that one of the DCR affiliate organizations is putting in through this area, part of what's termed the "Greylock Glen" on the eastern flank of the mountain. We had a nice chat and I told her what I was trying to find, and she freely acknowledged that the DCR map did not reflect the present reality. Just then two other hikers came down the same way, similarly confused, so she pointed all three of us back up toward where we'd find the real trail. That was the first minor diversion, a little spike on my GPS track.
|Once we got straightened out I and the two other guys had another pleasant chat as we ambled along; they were naturally curious about my feet and how I wasn't particularly worried about "punctures" and such. They were just finishing up a loop they'd started that morning, so when we emerged onto Gould Road they got into the white car on the right to leave. The summit with the tower, my goal for the day, was clearly visible along this piece of road, and the Bellows trailhead was right there for me to continue into. Now I could start ascending for real.|
|At the next split I opted to continue on Bellows instead of the Thunderbolt "ski trail". I had read in the trail guide that some part of Thunderbolt was recently closed off to mitigate erosion, and the map showed promise of a waterfall along Bellows anyway. There was indeed a stream alongside as I headed up, but it fell away so deep into a ravine that there didn't seem an easy way to descend into it, so I guess I missed wherever said falls were supposed to be. My second diversion was investigating another little trail that I thought to be a midway connection to Thunderbolt, where I found something else interesting: old ski lift towers from bygone days, still here quietly rusting away in the woods but still plenty strong enough for me to climb up the little ladder.|
The bullwheel head looks like some kind of weird creature.
Apparently the wheel and its supporting hardware was never installed, as this lift line and the entire intended resort around it was a failed construction effort from the seventies that was never finished. This website has more of that story and why these silent structures are here. There is a rich history of the Thunderbolt race trail itself, whose users over the years evidently never had the luxury of a chairlift at all.
|Farther up is the Bellows Pipe shelter; I guess the idea is to pitch your tent completely inside it under cover. Nice big fire pit.|
Bellows Pipe continued in a somewhat wandering manner up the hill, fairly
steep in spots.
This section is listed as "aggressive" in the trail guide, but seems
well-traveled, including some spots where people clearly shortcut straight
up and down instead of following the intended switchback.
It is precisely this that leads to more erosion problems, when people
hike the natural water gullies thinking that's the trail, and it all
just gets worse over time.
There's only so much ditch-digging and drainage diversion that DCR trail
maintainers can get to.
After a while I emerged onto the Appalachian Trail, still a ways from the summit.
|As I passed by the upper end of Thunderbolt, it was clear that it's *not* really closed, but is still a fairly popular "straight-up" route regardless of what the DCR map shows.|
|The AT eventually turned more uphill to a stairway and a crossing of the auto-road, so I was almost at the top. It wasn't until here that I came out of the trees and got anything like a real view. I had stayed well ahead of the group coming up behind me for a while, maintaining a pretty brisk pace despite the fairly long climb.|
|Having summited Greylock, I then did so again on the bronze model.|
|And as a bonus, the tower was open again after being closed for a longish period of construction. An odd silver-painted tunnel leads up to a large hollow interior, with a tight spiral stairway up the middle to the observation deck. 3577 feet ASL up here, according to the GPS log.|
|View northeastward from the tower, over North Adams. One of the larger bumps way out there is Mt. Snow; I was vaguely trying to find Monadnock but was looking too far north.|
|Near the tower, though, is a nice panoramic-photo sign with all the notable peaks pointed out, so here's Monadnock visible twice. Just trying to see out to where I'd been on Mem Day weekend...|
|The obligatory survey marker, this one of the magnetic class. The six-pointed star has nothing to do with Judaism, I learned from a history document that explains all the different USGS marker types.|
|I hung out on the summit for a short time, resting and refilling my water bottle in the Bascom lodge. They were having some sort of jazz concert on the lawn out back, and there were people wandering around clearly *not* dressed for hiking. One woman in heels expressed interest in going up the tower and wondered aloud if she should just do it barefoot; I offered that the staircase inside feels really nice and that it would probably be the best way. More than one group of guys on those massive "retirement present" road-sofa motorcycles arrived and departed, taking obligatory selfies in between. Well, I suppose we've all got our different standards of accomplishment.|
|My route down began with another short stretch of AT, down to the intersection of Notch, Rockwell, and the summit roads. This is very well-worn and full of rocks; a lady coming up the other way started with the "you're so brave!" adulation as we passed. Anyone would need to use a little general caution in where to step along here, but my feet weren't having any notable difficulty with it.|
|There's a tiny gravel lot at the 3-way intersection where people sometimes park and walk up the AT segment to avoid the $5 fee at the top [*guilty*, I've done that too]. The trailhead to Gould is a tiny, mysterious-looking hole diving into the woods from there. It has a good density of blue blazes, as do apparently most of the other official Greylock trails that aren't the AT itself. This park doesn't have all the fancy color-coding of, say, Middlesex Fells, but there are lots of DCR's new style of wayfinding signs at key intersections, with lettering cut deeply into non-rotting synthetic materials so they should last better than wood.|
|Gould is winding, medium-steep, and rocky and rooty through the upper section. I met a team of three DCR guys coming the other way, from a work shift of doing repairs on the Peck's Brook shelter farther down. One commented "wow, you came along so quietly!" ... well, I guess I do that, padding along swift and solo, but I wasn't exactly carrying shovels and chainsaws like they were. I gotta hand it to these guys -- all the tools and materials for jobs like that have to be carried in by human power, there aren't any feasible vehicular routes to those places. I'm still glad to see that in these times of cutbacks on natural and environmental efforts, the DCR is still getting funded even if it's a bit understaffed nowadays.|
|They can't get to everything, of course, so fixing this sad little bridge would probably have to wait a while. Not that this particular one is really needed, at least until high water.|
Despite having pre-stretched out my IT bands with some strange but effective
lean-sideways movements earlier, all this downhill was starting to get to
them a little.
I decided to try an experiment: I found a convenient stick by the trailside
and broke it to a good length, and started using it as a little extra push
against the gravity.
It actually helped unload my knees a little, so there's merit to this.
Interestingly, though, with an arm now taking part of the balance and
braking job I found myself being a little sloppier about foot placement.
I don't think I'm ready to run off to REI for a pair of trekking poles, but
perhaps having some tool to relieve the downhill absorption stress might
be useful on occasion.
With the thumping of the stick end into the ground ahead of me, I was making a lot more noise than my feet alone would have. Nobody doing the same with shoes on would likely notice any difference.
|Then I came across a series of spots where new water-control projects were in progress, constructing easily-crossable narrow trenches lined with rocks to mitigate flow and get it off the trail. Near these was an explanation of the projects nailed to a tree -- not DCR, but another one of the affiliate groups who put work into the local park resources that they love preserving. Talk about playing in the dirt -- it must be quite the effort finding and digging up and carrying all these rocks around. Well, that's sort of a New England tradition, isn't it..|
|Farther down, this Hobbit found a big old Ent to befriend.|
|This is really an incredible tree; still alive, and hollow all the way up and out to daylight in spots. The inside is like a cave ceiling, with weird forms and colors, even down to the occasional falling drops of water.|
|Shortly thereafter, I crossed a stream and emerged back out where I'd parked, on the trail I *hadn't* taken out of the lot. I left the stick for some other person who might find it useful; for a random grab along the trailside, it was reasonably robust.|
|A pretty satisfying loop, considering that I'd done it almost on impulse on the way home from a party the night before, with minimal pre-study, and no map except the PDF I had downloaded to the tablet. It probably would have been longer but a little flatter if I'd come in via the western-side trails -- maybe next time? Even with the pitch and the random dawdling at features and points of interest I made a pretty good pace, especially considering a 2000-foot elevation change up and back. But I was deservedly tired, and stopped in Adams for some food and coffee before hitting the road to home.|
|And if it's any reassurance, my feet *were* feeling significantly more tender by then -- that big angular gravel in the parking lot was notably harder to navigate than when I'd arrived. But it's all good -- that which doesn not kill me and all...|