FNO Takes you to the state of: Massachusetts
Where are you (park, forest, etc.)- MT Greylock State reservation
Nearest town (s)- Lee MA
How long is this hike- 3 days
Miles- 36 miles
On your toughness scale (1 easiest, 10 toughest)- 5. The trail did not present a lot of challenging climbs. The real grind was hiking 16+ miles on the first two days, leaving only 3.1 miles for the last day.
Getting there: The original plan for this weekend was to hike the Presidential Traverse with my friends, Ben and Jordan.
Unfortunately, Ben’s knee injury from my previous post hasn’t improved. The poor kid is actually going in for an MRI. Jordan and I didn’t want to tackle the traverse without him, so we decided to head west to the Berkshires and knock off another section of the Appalachian Trail. We were looking for a physical challenge so we set an aggressive goal of hiking 49.5 miles from I-20 in Massachusetts to County Road in Vermont in 3 days. This would finish the state of Massachusetts for me and be Jordan’s first real experience backpacking the AT.
The forecast called for sun, although the nights were going dip into the 40’s. Did I mention we were starting on Friday the 13th?
We got off to a much later start then I had anticipated. Between the 3 hour drive and time spent fumbling with gear, we didn’t reach the I-20 parking lot until after 9. The Appalachian Trail parking lot on I-20 is one of the nicer AT parking lots. It’s big and easy to find with actual pavement…. These are luxuries AT section hikers are not accustomed to.
As we pulled in the once clear sky was swallowed by storm clouds and rain looked imminent. Another section hiker was getting out of his car and heading north. The competitive juices in my brain started flowing and I turned to Jordan and said “we’ll catch him by 11!”
North of I-20, the trails elevation goes from 1400’ to 2050’ at the summit of Beckett Mountain in less than a mile. This moderate climb would actually be the most challenging of the day. It was Jordan’s first time hiking with a fully loaded pack but he seemed to handle the added weight well.
We moved quickly through these early miles making small talk along the way. No matter how fast we hiked, we could not out run the ominous clouds above us. After 3.1 miles we reached Finity pond. If there is one thing I’ve come to enjoy about my section hike through MA, it’s the lakes and ponds in the middle of the woods without a road or house for miles. The North East is so over populated, and I live in the regions second most populated area (the greater Boston area). It blows my mind that there are still lakes and ponds in MA that no one has thought to bulldoze a road too. It’s really a refreshing sight.
Jordan is younger than me. At the ripe old age of 22, he missed many Movies that were staples of my youth. Movies that I obsessed over as a kid like “Back to the Future” and “Terminator” are of little significance to him. His staggering lack of cinematic culture was never more apparent then between the hours of 4PM and 6PM on Friday afternoon… Friday the 13th, that is!
Throughout the course of the day I had made dozens of references to the classic 80’s film “Friday the 13th.” What I didn’t realize was all of those references flew right over Jordan’s head and he was just politely nodding for my benefit.
Around 4PM, we had started to really pick up the pace. Aside from the fact that the threat of rain had only intensified, we still had 6 miles to go and only two hours till sunset. As we came around a corner on the trail something unnatural caught my eye in the distance. We hiked on and came to a camp in the middle of the woods. There were four or five make-shift shelters and tarps scattered in an unorganized manner. It looked as though someone had spent an awful lot of time setting it up, however the torrential down pours that came through the area the night before had really pounded the little village.
The trees around the camp were covered w/ machete slashes and just away from the camp was a women’s dress wrapped around a tree w/ machete marks cut into it. (Ok, so it only looked like a women’s dress from a distance. When we got closer we saw it was a tarp that had blown down and gotten wrapped around the tree... but a dress would have been so much creepier!)
In all honesty, being alone in the woods on Friday the 13th and finding a make-shift camp wasn’t that creepy. It had clearly been abandoned for some time and it looked like something my brother and I would have built as kids. The creepy part was Jordan’s lack of knowledge about “Friday the 13th” movies! I went into a series of jokes about Jason, machetes, and how all we need to do to ensure our death now is smoke pot, drink, and have sex. (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the film, any time a character has sex, drinks or smokes pot, they die soon after!).
All of my jokes were met with the same wry smile until Jordan finally perked up and said, “I guess I didn’t know Freddy Krueger killed campers” The next two hours consisted of me explaining the plot and nuances to each of the 12 “Friday the 13th” movies. (Including the widely underappreciated Friday the 13th 8 “Jason takes Manhattan.”… I just feel like people didn’t understand what the director was going for here! Did he kill because he loved? Or did he love because he killed??)
The last 6 miles of our hike we’re both cold and wet. The rain was in and out, the trail was covered in mud from the previous night, the temperature dropped and the wind was ripping. We stopped briefly at Warren Hill and took some pictures.
Warren Hill was the first nice view we had all day. We couldn’t stay long because the ripping wind was making us very cold very fast. Still, it gave us a glimpse of what was ahead. First a couple of trail towns and then the climb over Mount Greylock in Northern MA!
We were now in an all out sprint to make the lean to by night fall. From Warren Hill it was 3.7 miles to the Kay Wood Shelter. It was already 5:00, which meant we had to do the 3.7 miles in an hour and half to beat the sunset. At times the sun would sink behind mountains and with the dark clouds overhead, it mine as well have been midnight. My focus shifted to finding a place to stealth camp along the trail, but that proved to be useless as everything was soaking wet.
I calmed myself and said the words I would repeat throughout the course of the hike… What would Jason Voorhees do? 10 minutes later, we found the side trail and made our way to the Kay Wood Shelter.
The shelter was nice, but I had made a fatal error. This year, I have taken 4 different backpacking trips on the AT. In each trip, I had stayed in the shelters and didn’t try out my new Hammock. This time, I wanted to force myself to Hammock camp so I didn’t pack a sleeping pad. By the time we got to a point where I could hang the hammock, it was dark and raining. I decided I would rough it on the shelter bunk and give Hammock camping a go the next night.
Sleeping in the loft above us was the section hiker we saw on I-20. So much for catching him by 11! He told us he had been there since 3:30 (at 3:30 we were still 7 miles away). He also told us he had found a brand new machete w/ a “bone cutting” saw back on the trail and he stashed it to take it home when he hiked out the next day. I’m really not making this up! Look, trail runners and volunteers will often carry machetes and axes on the trail to do maintenance and it’s entirely possible one of them lost it on the trail… on Friday the 13th …. In the rain…. But did he have to describe the back of the machete as a “bone cutting” saw?? That’s just the image you want in your head as you share a shelter with a stranger in the middle of the woods… Goodnight!
Day 2: Kay Wood Shelter to Mount Noepel Shelter
We woke up with the sunrise the next morning. After a quick check to make sure none of my major organs had been harvested, we had breakfast and got back on the trail. It had rained all night and the trail looked closer to a river at times.
Today’s plan was to be filled with luxuries I had never experienced on the trail. We were going to walk through 2 trail towns. After 3.4 miles we’d reach Dalton, which passes several shops and restaurants before going back in the woods for 7.3 miles and reaching the town of Cheshire. We had hoped to find a quick place to eat in both towns.
The trail would gradually descend from our campsite nearly all the way to Dalton. As we went through the early descent Jordan started to have some problems with his knee. From what he described it sounded very much like an injury I had hiking out of the Grand Canyon the previous year. In my case I tore the IT band in my knee and I feared Jordan was experiencing the same thing.
We reached Dalton by 9AM, which greatly disappointed Jordan because the bars wouldn’t be open for hours! We were greeted at the edge of town by an enormous freight train that past over the trail. It was the closest I had ever been to a train I wasn’t riding in, and the train seemed to go on forever. Dalton was settled in 1755 and is a typical New England industrial town. Mills were built on the Housatonic River in the 19th century and are still standing to this day. It’s a very pretty town, but it still felt weird to be walking down roads instead of in the woods.
We stopped at a place called “Juice and Java” for breakfast. It was nice to sit down, eat and use flushing toilets! We filed up on egg sandwiches and bananas, and then continued our walk across town to the edge of the woods. Jordan grunted and shook his head with every closed bar we passed. After hiking about two miles into the woods I realized something was missing. I had left my hiking poles at the restaurant. As frustrating as it was, at least it was at a restaurant and not some random spot in the woods. When we got cell phone service again I called and had them put the poles aside for me. In the mean time, I made due with a sturdy tree branch.
As we hiked between towns we passed several south bound through hikers. I was pretty surprised to see them so late in the year, but the timing made sense I suppose. The big mountains of the North East were behind them and they would be hitting the hotter states during cooler months. We asked one South Bounder what the town of Cheshire had in store for us. He told us about a little restaurant right on the trail called “shakes” that served all sorts of fried food. He said just ahead of that, there was a gas station where we could get snacks.
The rain continued to come and go, our feet were wet and muddy from the water soaked trail, but we would not be deterred from greasy fried food! We kept moving and by 3PM we reached the town of Cheshire.
Early on, we passed a little ice cream shack, but it was not called “Shakes” so we kept moving hoping for grander opportunities. There wouldn’t be any. The hiking in Cheshire was mostly through residential areas. The trail took us across a field where we expected to at least see the gas station the South Bounder promised, but that didn’t exist either. Disappointed, we got back in the woods and stopped quickly for lunch. Our expectations for lunch shifted from French fries, burgers and chicken fingers to peanut butter and trail mix packed into wheat wraps… Ok, that might sound gross, but don’t knock it until you try it! Really... it’s not bad.
After our brief lunch we started up what would be the most difficult climb on the entire hike. We had planned to camp on the side of Mount Greylock. That way, we would gain the majority of the elevation on day 2, then summit the mountain early the next morning.
We would gain 2,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.4 miles. There is a half mile section shortly after crossing Outlook Ave at the edge of Cheshire where the ascent really picks up. It is complete with rock scrambles and very steep ledges. I expected this type of climb for the remainder of our hike to the Mount Noepel Shelter, but after that half mile, the trail flattened out again.
Jordan’s knee continued to hurt. He said going uphill was much easier than going down, so we decided to call our ride (my father) and have him pick us up on the Auto Road at the summit of Mount Greylock early the next morning. This would cut about 13 miles off our trip, but more importantly, it would mean Jordan wouldn’t have to make the 2700’ descent down the north side of Greylock.
We reached the Mount Noepel Shelter shortly after 6PM. There were two tent campers and one South Bound through hiker who shared the Shelter with us. Jordan and I decided we would rise before 5 and night hike the remaining 3.1 miles up Mount Greylock to try to catch the sunrise.
Day 3: A Miserable Old Bastard
The South Bounder we shared the shelter with was a retired Canadian in his 60’s. Before I could even set my bag down he yelled at me to not be so damn clumsy around the shelter. He then went on a rant about how the Appalachian Trail, which he had been hiking for 500+ miles, was completely stupid and a complete waste of time! He called it the Green Tunnel, because even when you get nice views you have to keep your head down so you don’t trip on roots and rocks.
He complained about the wet weather and about sharing shelters. We told him we were going to get up around 4:30AM to night hike to the top of Greylock and asked him if it would bother him, to which he replied “I don’t give a sh#t what you do, but I think it’s f###### stupid”
After he explained that trail names were stupid, he told us his trail name is “Miserable Old Bastard” and the three of us shared a laugh. It felt like an apt description. The more we talked, the more we really started to like him. He was a cancer survivor who decided he wasn’t going to leave this world without experiencing everything. The first year after beating cancer, he jumped on a bike and rode from Amsterdam to Moscow. He then returned to Canada for a doctor’s appointments before jumping on his bike once again, and riding from Canada to Brazil… Yes, he rode his bike across America, through Mexico, through Central America, through Columbia and into Brazil, where he got on a plane and went home for more doctors’ appointments.
Now he decided to walk from Maine to Georgia. He went South Bound, because it fit his time table, and he didn’t want to share the trail with thousands of “Grateful Dead loving hippies.” He had decided to only hike past CT, then he was going to start skipping around to sections he had heard about from other hikers. When he was satisfied with hiking he planned to buy a used bike, and bike to Mexico before he returned home in June for another doctor’s appointment.
At 4:30 the next morning Jordan and I were both up, but not wanting to move out of our warm sleeping bags. We lingered around till 5 then finally packed up. The Miserable Old Bastard was wide awake too. He continued to call us stupid for night hiking, and then mocked us about how warm his sleeping bag was and how cold we were. I offered him my phone # in case he needed a ride somewhere when he decided to get off the trail and he responded “Sure, let me pull a pen out of my a$$ to write it down… then I’ll pull a phone out of my a$$ to call you!” I want to make it clear; he said this all tongue and cheek. He was honestly very nice and very funny. I really enjoyed the time we spent talking and he’s certainly one of the more memorable people I’ve met on the trail.
Jordan and I continued our hike in the dark morning w/ head lamps on. Looking up, we could see stars which meant the clouds and rain that had disrupted our trip were finally gone. We soon realized we had little chance of catching the sun rise, but we pressed on as quickly as we could.
By 7AM, the sun was out and we came to a road crossing that indicated we were 1 mile from the summit. This is where the real climb for the day began. Over the next mile, we would cross over the Mount Greylock auto road at least 3 more times. The climb was tough, but not nearly as difficult as we encountered the day before. We reached the summit and the views were magnificent. We didn’t make the sunrise, but the clouds still hadn’t risen over the mountains which made for a unique photo opportunity.
We took pictures and got coffee from the Mount Greylock Hostel as we waited for my father and looked back on our trip. Even though we didn’t do the full 49.5 miles we had set out for, Mount Greylock seemed like a fitting place to end this section. It’s the highest point in MA and gave us the first clear skies of the entire hike. It was one of those moments that remind us why we fight through rain, mud, wind, section hikers with machetes and injuries just to get on the trail.