Hiking has quietly become a hobby of mine over the last year or so. I wouldn’t have considered myself a “hiker” before my trip to Zion and the Grand Canyon last year, and truthfully I still don’t. But my recent itinerary is beginning to look pretty hiker-ish. First there was the aforementioned trip. Then there was a moment when I decided I needed something to do that wasn’t sit in a chair. Given that I hate running, lifting weights, and other people, I picked walking. This led directly to my decision to try the entire Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, emboldened by having completed the half challenge a few years ago.
I don’t have any pictures that do the terrain justice (side note: the number of people on the Rachel Carson trail with their faces stuck in their phones was alarmingly/refreshingly low), but let’s just say that this turned out to be an overly ambitious goal. To complete the challenge you must hike all 34.7 miles of the trail in 15 hours 4 minutes, the time between sunup to sundown on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. We reached the final checkpoint (at mile marker 27.7) 20 minutes too late, which meant that we wouldn’t have been able to cover the last 7 miles within the time limit. It was a bittersweet moment, not making it to the finish, but also being done walking after struggling over 27-plus miles of steep terrain. On the plus side, making it as far as I did that day makes a whole lot of other stuff seem easy, whether it’s scrambling over rocks on a Maine beach:
… or a 3-mile hike up to the top of Monument Mountain in Massachusetts [click for larger image]:
The mountain I want to talk about today, though, is one that I didn’t hike, it’s one that I drove to the top of and walked the last 10 feet.
Look, we had like 48 hours in the Berkshires, we couldn’t walk everywhere. Sacrifices had to be made. Anyway.
Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts, standing at 3,491 ft above sea level. This is despite the best attempts of enormous glaciers that have been attempting to grind down this and adjacent mountains over the centuries. The mountain is made of a very hard kind of rock called schist and has been able to withstand the periodic glacial assaults and the constant battery of rain and snow carried by strong winds. This rock is exposed in streaks and patches where the ground cover can’t stay rooted.
In fact, the weather on the top of Mount Greylock is so unique that it is able to support the only sub-alpine boreal forest in Massachusetts. There are several species of plant and bird that can’t be found for miles and miles except for on top of this mountain. Now excuse me while I find my Sarah McLachlan record …
… there, go ahead and let that play under the next few paragraphs …
Micro-climates like these are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. As the world heats even by a few degrees, the already-small area that supports forests like these grows even smaller. And it’s not just sub-alpine boreal forests in Massachusetts that are in danger of shrinking into oblivion; some rain forest animals can only live in the precise climate conditions found at specific elevations within the forest. So please, if you want sub-alpine boreal forests and tree frogs to be more than just a ‘memory’, then kill yourself.
Its is the only way.
Mount Greylock has a history of inspiring people to evangelize on behalf of nature, although most of them didn’t get so dark there at the end. Henry David Thoreau, student of transcendentalism and author of Walden, describes a formative moment upon waking up after a night spent on the mountaintop, a description which is inscribed in stone along the path to the summit.
Even as Mount Greylock was inspiring the likes of Emerson and Thoreau it was being ravaged by industry. It was these grotesque patches of deforestation expanding over this majestic mountain that rallied early preservationists, who eventually succeeded in creating the Mount Greylock State Reservation in 1898, Massachusetts’ first public land in support of forest preservation.
Today, two structures cling to the top of the mountain. The first is a memorial to honor the fallen soldiers of Massachusetts and it rises above the summit in the shape of a lighthouse. The globe at the top, when lit, is visible for 70 miles.
The second building is the Bascom Lodge, which has refreshments available for day hikers and complimentary lodging for those passing through on their trek to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. If you were to start at the Georgia end of the Appalachian Trail and work your way north, you’d be almost three-fourths of the way to the trail’s end in Maine by the time you reached the lodge at Mount Greylock.
So if you’re on the Appalachian Trail you don’t really have a choice, you gotta go through Greylock. But it’s also nice to visit if you find yourself in the area and are looking for a scenic detour. On a clear day you can see for 90 miles, so there’s plenty to be seen [click for larger image].