Monday, June 22, 2015

Laurel on Mount Plantain Trail, Mount Washington

Although the spring was dry, recent rain has left puddles and muddy patches on the Mountain Plantain Trail in Mount Washington. After carefully stepping around the water for most of the hike, I gave in and embraced the cool wetness on my toes!

It was definitely worth it. The laurel was magnificent! This trail, a side trail to the AT just north of Sages Ravine, has the most amazing laurel display in the Berkshires, in my opinion. Some years the flowers are more abundant and this is a banner year.

We accessed the AT from East Street in Mount Washington at the Connecticut line. We walked past the Northwest Cabin to the trail, continued left down through Sages Ravine past the camping area and on to the stream crossing.

There we met a thru-hiker, who was contemplating how to get across the high waters. Her trail name was Shadow and she was from Tennessee. She said she was inspired by Grandma Gatewood who, in 1955 at the age of 67, was perhaps the first woman to thru-hike the AT; that's over 2,000 miles. Her fascinating story is the subject of Ben Montgomery's best selling book, Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appapachian Trail. Shadow, who was also 67, said that if Grandma Gatewood could do it, then she thought she could also.

Shadow decided to remove her hiking boots and socks and walk across the swiftly-moving, swollen river in her Crocs. We applauded her success and waved good-bye. Then we walked back a mile to the bridge across the river at the campsite, not willing to get wet up to our knees or walk through the river barefoot. I guess I need to toughen up!

The high water was augmented by several robust feeder streams that are
usually dry this time of year .
Shadow, the 67-year-old Tennesseean thru-hiker,
preparing to cross the river.
She steps off with coaching from her friend already on the other side.
She encounters knee-deep water but had no problem crossing.
The bright green of this field of hay-scented ferns under the sparse trees was dazzling. 
Most of the laurel blooms were white.
A few were pink!
Many areas on Mount Plantain were overrun with mountain laurel in full bloom!
We stopped to admire the view eastward from a small rock opening on Nature Conservancy property.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sunset at Hurlburt's Hill, Sheffield

I visited Bartholomew's Cobble with my friend Michael Wednesday evening to watch the sun go down. We were hoping for a colorful sunset but were not optimistic because of the cloud cover. We climbed up the wagon road to the 20-acre field at the top of the hill. Along the way we saw many tree swallows who were nesting in the bird boxes and several bobolinks who were nesting in the grasses.

We got up to the two benches and sat down to wait for the show which we were still doubtful would happen. The sky was cloudy and we could only guess where the sun actually was. But we knew it set at 8:32, so we waited. The view from this spot of the Housatonic Valley north, west and east is magnificent. Mount Everett is to the west. You can see the ridge from Bear Mountain to Jug End.

At about 8:15 we thought parts of the sky were growing brighter. Then we were sure they were growing brighter and, suddenly, the sky had gone from neutral gray to amazing color!

We can't even tell where the sun is.
Maybe it's getting a little lighter?
Yep, it's getting better.
Bam! An amazing sunset! 
And enough light left for us to walk back down to the car
while continuing to watch the end of the show.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fire on the Appalachian Trail Near Vermont Border

The end of April a fire, most likely started by a hiker, burned over 200 acres of the forest floor in the Clarksburg State Forest in North Adams. The AT crosses some of the damaged area. I had planned a hike along this section of the trail for that weekend. I wanted to see if the hike was possible so I went to North Adams to investigate.

There was a line of smoke on the mountain.
 It looked bad to me and I didn't want to hike in smoke, so we changed the hike location to Mount Greylock. The fire fighters told me that the terrain made it very difficult for them to contain the fire. It took a couple of days to get it under control.

Three weeks later, some friends and I hiked from Rte. 2 up to the Vermont border on the Appalachia Trail and returned via the Pine Cobble Trail. We found fire damage was limited to the leaves and downed trees and limbs. Although the top leaves on the forest floor were dry, the rest of the forest material was damp and did not burn. Most trees were unharmed and spring plants and flowers were coming up through the black ashes. My guess is that in a few months you would never know there had been a fire unless you were specifically looking for the evidence.

We headed north on the AT along Sherman Brook.
When we got near the campground, we started seeing charred leaves.
New green leaves were appearing right through the ashes.
This birch tree is the only tree that we saw that was significantly damaged.
Soon the fire damaged ended and we walked over white bedrock.
At our lunch spot, we met two brothers from Baltimore section hiking the AT.
Janice used their camera to take their photo. 
Our turn-around point was the Vermont border.
Here the Long Trail begins. It runs along with the AT
 until the AT veers east into New Hampshire
and the Long Trail continues to Canada.
The azalea blossoms were a beautiful deep pink
and had a strong spicy-sweet smell.
Pine Cobble had several viewpoints south toward Williamstown.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cleanup at Housatonic Flats—Our Second

Last year the Tuesday Berkshire Hikers pulled barbed wire from the old fence line next to the river. This year in early May, we continued pulling more barbed wire, gathered trash from the roadside, debarked logs for signposts and did various other tasks to help prepare the property for spring and summer use. It's amazing what a group of almost twenty people can do!

Housatonic Flats is a Berkshire Natural Resources Council property on Rte. 7 in Great Barrington near the junction of Rte. 183. Formerly it was a grazing field for horses and cattle, and also a dumping ground for unusable equipment, old tires and assorted junk. The junk has been removed and much of the fencing is now gone.

There is a mowed path through the 27 acres of wetlands which is bordered by a half mile curve of the Housatonic River. It's a great 30-minute walk with amazing wildflowers, large cottonwoods and silver maples, and views of the river. And, depending on the time of year, you will hear many song birds and you might see some ducks or water birds.

Mike Leavett and Doug Bruce from Berkshire Natural Resources Council
pack some of the barbed wire we pulled into a large dumpster.
By the end of the day, it was filled with wire and trash!
We found a sun-bleached beaver skull.
The incisor teeth are orange and very strong
to chew through tree trunks and branches.
It will be used by BNRC in their school classes.
It was apple blossom time!
The bark of branches that had been cut last year
were enjoyed by small animals, maybe rabbits or mice or voles.
The property has several large vernal pools.
A rustic bench was added at a spot near the river beside a small beaver dam.