My AT hiking partner, Gary, and I decided to kick off the backpacking season with 35 miles in two days on the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in Western Massachusetts. We were to begin near the Leverett Village Co-op and hike south to the Holyoke Range by the Connecticut River.
We got a bit of a late start on Friday night after leaving his truck at the parking area on the road up Mount Holyoke and shuttling my car to Moore’s Corner, about a half hour drive to the north. We found a place to park an hour after dark and decided to look for the trail in the morning. In the meantime, we camped just behind the car in a spot that had obviously been used as a townies’ party spot at some point. Broken glass and half-burned trash were scattered all about, but we found just enough space to pitch our tarps. Neither of us slept well that night, between the bard owls and the truck that showed up just after midnight with a keg and broken muffler. The truck took off without anyone getting out, but I’m pretty sure we messed up their plans for a late night kegger.
In the morning we realized we were right on the trail where it entered the woods. In this section of the trail, and a few others we would cross that day, the landowners had something against the M-M trail and had taken away their permission for the trail to be blazed. Access to the land was still allowed, but following the trail was a little tricky in places, since the area was riddled with unmarked snowmobile trails as well. We managed to take a wrong turn onto an ATV trail during one of these unmarked sections, but luckily it reconnected with the M-M after a mile or two.
The first half of the day had us walking by several old stone walls and foundations in the woods, then through recent logging operations and down old country roads. It wasn’t the most scenic trail I’ve been on, partially because it was still too early in the season for the leaves to bloom, and because several sections funneled us near backyards and houses. There were several beautiful areas, however, such as the Buffam and Amethyst Brooks in the town of Pelham, and the ascent of Mount Lincoln.
After Mount Lincoln, the trail hit another closed section, this time with several NO TRESPASSING signs, which necessitated several miles of roadwalking, first on Gulf Road, then on the very busy and pedestrian-unfriendly Route 9. This was the low point of the day. After regaining the trail, we hiked for another hour and made camp just into the Holyoke Range State Forest, 11 hours and 22 miles later. I slept much better Saturday night, despite a light rain.
We hit the trail early on Sunday morning, the cool temperatures giving way to beating sun and little wind over the Holyoke Range. It’s been a dry spring so far this year, so the trail was dusty and desert-like. The few points on the ridge where there was a slight breeze were a cause for rejoicing, but for the most part it was just plain hot on that ridge. For a bunch of mountains that are barely 1000 feet high, the Holyoke Range is surprisingly rugged, with over half a dozen small peaks that the trail traverses in typical New England fashion (straight up, straight down, then straight up again, etc.), and several views of the valley, including Northampton and Amherst. At the end of the road was the Holyoke Summit House, the last 19th century summit house still standing in New England, though now used as a state park facility rather than a posh hotel.
From the Summit House it was short walk down to Gary’s truck, and several exhausted hours driving back to Vermont.