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Mt. Greylock December 30, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking.
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Monument at the summit of Mt. Greylock.

Monument at the summit of Mt. Greylock.

I spent five days recently in central Massachusetts, the city of Northampton, visiting my sister over the holidays. Incidentally, I’ve noticed that the Boston Globe calls this western Massachusetts. That is the perspective of city-dwellers in the east. It is not western Mass. If you look at the map, the Connecticut River valley goes right through the middle of the state. That’s where Northampton is located.

I was very fortunate to cross between Northampton and North Adams the other day. THAT is western Mass. I drove west on Rt. 9 a short distance, turned north on State 112, then west on State 116. This took me across the endless forests of the Windsor Plateau. I might not have recognized this so readily if it were not for my companion Bob Parlee, who explored all of the streams and forests of that area. I thought of him constantly as I drove through that area.

One thing that’s great about the Windsor Plateau is that it hasn’t changed at all from the way it was a hundred years ago. There are no shopping malls, no franchise businesses. It is all local. The buildings—houses and small stores—are all made of wood. No big signs. I hope to God it stays this way.

I passed a huge pond (would be called a lake in the South, where there are no natural lakes, only fake lakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the South. But not its fake lakes (a.k.a. reservoirs).) There were all kinds of folks out there doing ice fishing. Great!

I drove up, up, up to the high elevations of the plateau, then down, down, down into the Housatonic River valley and the town of Adams, a place of factory workers. You still see the millworkers’ homes as you drive north on Route 8. Thank goodness this is north of the gentrified, touristy areas around Stockbridge and Lenox.

You get up to North Adams and more gritty industrial stuff. Great!

Then you turn west and go to Williamstown, a college town. A lot more wealth. A pretty little town.

I was headed for the trailhead of the Hopper trail on the west side of Greylock. I’ve been there many times. Once Bob and I bushwhacked up the Hopper. It is a huge, rounded stream basin with steep sides, an utterly beautiful place.

It was surprisingly difficult to reach that Hopper trailhead. You have to go on a dirt road about half a mile. Well, with the heavy rains recently, it had turned into slippery clay, and all uphill to get to the trailhead. I got a running start in my rented Nissan Versa and made it up, slithering a bit on the uphill section, negotiating steep ruts.

The Hopper trailhead has the distinction that it is right in the middle of a working farm.

They closely observe the hikers.

They monitor the hikers.

I headed up the Hopper trail, a climb of 4 miles one way and 2500′ vertical. I noticed many signs of recent heavy snow, but the weather had been warm and the snow had all melted at the lower elevations.

 

I don't know if you can see this very well, but all these Christmas ferns were still squashed flat to the ground with the recent heavy snow.

I don’t know if you can see this very well, but all these Christmas ferns were still squashed flat to the ground with the recent heavy snow.

I passed healthy looking hemlocks, a novelty for someone who lives in the South.

So refreshing to see healthy-looking hemlock needles.

So refreshing to see healthy-looking hemlock needles.

As I climbed,  I got into icy packed-down sections of trail, the kind of place where the ice is actually created by hikers. The surrounding woods have no ice.

Icy trail surrounded by non-icy woods.

Icy trail surrounded by non-icy woods.

It got snowier as I got above 3000′ or so.

Section of Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Greylock.

Section of Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Greylock.

Eventually I reached the summit of Greylock, the state high point of Massachusetts, 3,491′. Don’t underestimate it. You generally start below 1000′. I have climbed it many times. I won’t bore you with the times I’ve climbed it with Bob, from all directions, off-trail and on-trail.

I liked this plaque, commemorating Mass. veterans of WWI.

I liked this plaque, commemorating Mass. veterans of WWI.

This was strangely comforting to me. I have been writing about WWI in my history blog.

It was pretty severe up there, with the strong winds. Experience is a great thing—I knew to layer up before I ventured onto the upper summit. I had the usual great view into the valley of the city of Adams.

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View east from the summit.

So I climbed back down the mountain. I passed a frozen pond.

Typical New England pond in winter.

Typical New England pond in winter.

I passed many gurgling streams that were running high from the recent warm temperatures.

The streams were all running high.

The streams were all running high.

I  reached the farm at the Hopper trailhead. This time I heard loud, angry “moos” from the cows on the right side of the barn. On the left side I heard an answering “moo” from this incredibly large bull. Quite a conversation! And so my hike ended.

This bull was conversing with a cow on the other side of the barn.

This bull was conversing with a cow on the other side of the barn.

 

 

 

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The spirit of the season December 22, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Life experience.
10 comments
Freshly fallen snow on Dry Brook, White Mts., New Hampshire

Freshly fallen snow on Dry Brook, White Mountains, New Hampshire.

I want to wish you, my readers, all happiness for the season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or anything else.

In my more Grinch-like moments, I pay too much attention to the negatives of the season, especially the commercialism that threatens to dwarf all other aspects. It occurs to me today that I can choose what I want to think about. Here are some things I would like to meditate upon.

—The woman at the convenience store yesterday who struck up a conversation with me, learned I had just gone on a hike, and said, “What a great way to spend the day!” It was a wonderful moment of random friendliness.

—The neighbor who told me he’d spotted a pair of bald eagles close to my house, and that “perhaps we will have a nesting pair.” I hope so!

—All the people who have climbed the Panther Stairs, which my friend Clayton and I did yesterday. In particular I think of Charlie Klabunde, who taught me so much about off-trail exploration. All of us share an enduring fellowship.

—I think of the beautiful things I saw yesterday, especially the line of shimmering clouds pouring over the stateline ridge. Clayton described it as “a cloud tsunami.”

—More beautiful things: leaves of galax that looked polished to a sparkling sheen; a pine clinging to a huge boulder, its branches shaped like Japanese brushstrokes; soft, spongy cushions of reindeer moss.

—My sister, who after a difficult stretch in our relationship chooses to welcome me to her house for a Christmas visit.

I thank you for visiting this site.

—Jenny

 

 

Panther Stairs via Toms Creek December 21, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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8 comments
Jenny climbing up Panther Stairs. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Jenny climbing up Panther Stairs. Photo by Clayton Carver.

My hiking friend Clayton and I had been talking about a few options lately, ranging from Big (involving Lester Prong) to Small (off-trail to Chimneys). For various reasons over the past few weeks things haven’t worked out. But we decided December 21 would be a good day, despite football conflicts (more about that later).

We were still thinking about the Lester option, but the weather didn’t look great. It wasn’t even that the weather would be bad, it was that the forecasts were full of annoying uncertainty. The whole thing about doing anything in the central Smokies in winter is,will the Park Service shut down Hwy. 441 (Newfound Gap Road) because of snow at the higher elevations? I kept monitoring my usual weather websites (more than one, which clearly marks me as a weather geek), and I finally threw up my hands after the latest shift in prediction. I emailed Clayton and said, “Let’s go up the Panther Stairs.” That is in the Cosby area of the Park, away from this zone of uncertainty.

He agreed, and we started off on an absolutely beautiful winter day, not too cold and brimming with sunshine. We took the Lower Cammerer trail for a short distance and then went up the left branch of Toms Creek, following an old settlers’ road that you can barely make out.

You can see the path of the road, but there is quite a bit of rhodo along it. We left the road at around 2900′ to angle up to a ridge that connects with the main ridge of Rich Butt (that is the wonderful name you see on the map), where the Panther Stairs are found.

Clayton bounded along, and at this particular place I definitely had a tough time keeping up with him. He is always faster than me, but here I thought, “Geez, I am really going to slow him down.” Well, I maintained the role of the older slower person (I am 32 years older than him), but as things went on we kept a closer distance.

Once we got on the ridgecrest, we ran into a lot of briers. They kind of came and went, as if some mischievous god of mountains was saying, “Now you see it, now you don’t.”

I don't know how well you can see that there is a solid wall of briers just ahead of us.

I don’t know how well you can see that there is a solid wall of briers just ahead.

We found bear paths (with occasional large deposits of bear poop) and every now and then we found what seemed more like human paths (fortunately without large deposits of poop). After a long flat stretch on the ridge, we started tackling the Stairs. Here is the base of one of the lower Stairs.

At base of a Stair.

At base of a Stair.

We had the kind of view that makes you want to yodel (fortunately neither one of us did that), or at least shout, “Yo-Ho!”

Looking down from the top of the biggest Stair.

Looking down from the top of the biggest Stair.

Clouds were streaming over the stateline ridge.

Clouds were streaming over the stateline ridge.

We worked around some of the obstacles and tackled others directly. Below I work along what has become a very clear human herd path.

I climb around some of the smaller rock formations. Photo by Clayton Carver.

I climb around some of the smaller rock formations. Photo by Clayton Carver.

Finally we popped out on the side-trail to Cammerer, thinking someone might be walking by. Nope. In fact, we did not see a single other person at the Cammerer tower or all the way down the A.T. and Low Gap Trails. The Sunday before Christmas is an excellent time to go hiking!

Any time you get close to civilized areas the weekend before Christmas, you are dealing with stressed-out, aggravated individuals who are rushing about buying presents, making cookies, coming back from ritual holiday visits, trying to squeeze everything in. Then, all of a sudden, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we are supposed to be suddenly harmonious and go into a “spiritual” mode. This will probably annoy some people, but I don’t care: I am so happy that I participate in very little of this stuff.

Clayton and I reached the side-trail to Cammerer and made the short trip over to the lookout tower. We walked around the tower and looked at the different views.

View to the northeast from the tower.

View to the northeast from the tower.

It is a beautiful construction.

It is a beautiful construction.

We headed on down without much delay. Clayton is a fan of the Cowboys, and there was an important game at 4:25. I am a fan of the Patriots, but I knew I could see their game on my “NFL Rewind” streaming app. I will say to you who think professional sports is insignificant: I truly believe sports has more reality to it. It is a contest between real human beings which, in the end, just can’t be faked. You either have it or you don’t, and the game will ultimately reveal that. That’s more than you can say about anything in the commercial, political, or academic worlds.

Falls on Cosby Creek.

Falls on Cosby Creek.