27 January 2013

Mts. Williams, Fitch and Greylock - 19 Jan 2013

There is a wealth of information on this hike available online.  I will point out two pieces of information that I wish I had known ahead of time: 1) There is a sign marking the summit of Mt. Fitch, and the summit is indeed off of the trail.  At least according to Wikipedia, there is.  2) The hike to Mount Williams, from the col where the Bernard Farm trail climbs up to the Appalachian Trail, is all of 0.2 miles.  It looks much farther on the map.

View from Above

Ken and I had originally planned on meeting up around 9:00 AM, but I overslept and we didn’t end up meeting up until a little after 9:45 AM.  We donned our winter gear, took in the landscape around us, and headed off.  Given the paucity of snow around my house I had only a faint hope of seeing any deep snow here, and despite my ever present worries of avalanches and dangerous ridges, there was nothing to worry about.  (I suppose that’s the side-effect of listening to stories of mountaineering while taking care of the house.)  The snow conditions at no point were dangerous, not even slightly.  Despite walking along a ridge for several miles, there was literally no danger.  The snow was also at no point deep enough for snowshoes.  We set out in microspikes, instead (dull-edged, very short crampons, held to the boot by rubber).

We had originally talked about taking the farmer’s route up to the col between Williams and Fitch, and instead opted for the Notch Road approach.  I figured it would be faster, and would also give us more time on the Appalachian Trail.  I had never set foot upon it, despite having dreamed about it and read about it for decades now.  We made quick time up to the point where the AT traverses the saddle between Mt. Prospect and Mt. Williams.  At that point we stopped to have a snack and take a few pictures before heading up to Mt. Williams.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about navigating the AT in the winter is that the blazes look just like patches of fungus on a tree, and that they don’t particularly stand out against the white snow.  Despite this, there was a clearly stamped trail, made by other hikers, and though we were keeping an eye out for blazes, the trail was true.  There were several small, frozen waterfalls to climb up, and I was thankful that we had both opted to wear the microspikes.  We made it up to the summit of Mt. Williams around 12:05, about 45 minutes after setting out along the AT.  The view was decent, and there was a small register, which I signed.  When I asked Ken how he wanted me to sign his name, he replied with a nickname that I won’t repeat here.  I suppose that’s his AT name, now?

We made our way along the ridge, and I took the time to tromp around the summit plateau of Mt. Fitch, in an effort to find the true summit.  It was completely flat, which is typical of Taconic peaks.  (I found out after the fact, via Wikipedia, that there is, in fact, a marker denoting the summit.  I’ll have to go back at some point.)

We arrived on the final push up to Mt. Greylock at 13:40, and topped out around 14:05.  This was, by far, the hardest section of the trail, simply due to the terrain.  The last 400’ of elevation gain (roughly) follows an old ski trail (the Thunderbolt trail), and the footing for hikers in the winter isn’t superb.  It was also on this push that we left behind the solitude of the AT.  We had seen one other party, the entire morning, and now we saw group after group after group.  On our way down from the summit, in fact, we passed a large party hanging out by the Thunderbolt shelter, and we saw several more groups as we headed down.

The summit itself is crowned by a memorial to soldiers who have fought in the defense of Massachusetts.  It’s also a bare summit, mostly flat, thanks to the erosion of the once great Acadian mountains that are now called theTaconic mountains.  Despite having been eroded down from peaks that once stood as tall as the Rockies, the Taconics are still tall compared to the surrounding landscape, and are a beautiful range in and of themselves.  In fact, the Taconics claim two of the state high points in the Northeast: Massachussets’ and Connecticut’s high points, Mt. Greylock, and the south shoulder of Mt. Frissell, respectively.  We didn’t spend much time on Massachussets’ high point, however, since the winds were ferocious. We admired the summit for a few minutes and then sought shelter before exploring some more.  Just off of the summit proper, there were enough buildings and trees to cut the wind.  We took in the sights around us, had a quick bite, and headed back down.  I had talked Ken in to taking the road back, since despite it being a longer trip, I knew we could follow it easily if we got caught out in the dark, which seemed like a possibility given how late it was.  He reluctantly agreed, and we headed off.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We stopped for a few minutes near the point where Notch Road and Rockwell Road meet, and chatted with a local farmer who had come up to check out the view.  We then set off on our way, and made it back to the cars, as dark was falling, at 16:50.  I honestly don’t know if we would have made better time by taking a different trail back, such as the Bellows Pipe, or heading back along the AT to the old farm trail.

At any rate, it was a fun day out.  I hiked my first few miles along the Appalachian Trail, and hope to hike many more miles in the future.  There are several other state high points along it, including two that I’d like to visit in the near future: High Point, in New Jersey, and Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus, in Maine.
For whatever reason, the Taconics seem to be my go-to range for winter hiking.  It isn’t a bad choice; during the summer I’ve heard that they can be quite crowded at times, and even during the winter I’ve never truly been alone on these trails.  The woods are beautiful, and the rocks are different.  The summits are often flat, almost plateaus.  Mt. Williams’ was actually slightly knolled, which was something I don’t recall seeing anywhere else.  The trails are also generally gentle, which has helped me ease into winter hiking.  I suspect I’ll be aiming for more difficult routes in the near future, but for now, these are fine.

Strangely enough, both Ken and I experienced something akin to a runner’s high afterwards.  I’ve never experienced this after a hike, but I hope I do again!  I couldn’t stop smiling.  In fact, I’m smiling now, as I write this, a week later.

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