My parents grew up in Adams, Massachusetts, in the northwest corner of the Berkshires. Adams is noteworthy for its textile mills (now mostly dormant); as the birthplace of suffragist Susan B. Anthony; and for Mount Greylock, which is the tallest mountain in the state. As a child, I enjoyed visiting its summit with my extended family, both by car and on foot.
That was back in the days when my grandparents were alive. During our visits, it seemed I was always discovering new relatives — a seemingly endless parade of aunts and uncles and third cousins, twice removed. Our visits to Adams have tapered off dramatically now that only a handful of family members still live there.
Abel, my son, has heard about Adams for as long as he can remember – mostly through stories told by his grandparents. But other than a funeral he attended when he was 18 months old, until this summer he had never experienced it. He is now eight, and he was enthusiastic about a Family History tour, so we planned an excursion for a few days in July – my son, my parents, and me.
The idea was to tour the town and point out all the landmarks, to visit Abel’s Great-Great Aunt Florence (aka Cioci Flo), and if the weather permitted, to climb Mount Greylock. We lucked into a warm sunny day that was only moderately muggy. Not bad for mid-July.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has done a great job making Greylock accessible. I found, online, a set of recommended hikes, and was able to compare distance, duration, and level of difficulty to find a trail suitable for an 8-year old, his mother, and his grandparents. (Trail maps are also available at Visitor Centers in Lanesborough and North Adams.) We chose the Cheshire Harbor Trail, which begins in the foothills, and winds its way up the mountain for about three miles before connecting with the Appalachian Trail for the final mile to the summit.
I won’t say it was easy. It was a steady uphill climb over uneven terrain. Since it had poured buckets the night before, there were a lot of wet patches that we had to tiptoe over, or around, to avoid slipping.
But it wasn’t super-difficult either. My son, who wasn’t quite sure he would like this thing called hiking, rose to the challenge. There were moments of boredom for sure (a four-hour uphill hike is asking a lot of a child), but there were rewards. We had been telling Abel about the Appalachian Trail (AT), which runs from Georgia to Maine, and its thru-hikers – the men and women who traverse the entire thing. Halfway up the Greylock section of the AT, we were fortunate to meet a couple of them. “Cocoa,” a Minnesota-based student at Williams College nearby, had been hiking since April with his brother, “Banyan.” After sharing with us some of the highlights (care packages) and low points (norovirus) of their journey, they bestowed upon Abel his own trail name: Dragonslayer. It was inspiring to meet these young men who had been hiking — day-in, day-out — for months, and still had quite a journey ahead of them.
We had set out on the trail at 10am, and by 1 o’clock we were eager to get to the top, to have lunch. As tired as we were, we knew we were close when all we could see above us was sky. Before heading into Bascom Lodge, we went up to the Veterans War Memorial Tower, and then over to an observation area, to peer down over Adams from 3,491 feet. We could see Cioci Flo’s house, as well as the homes of several other family members past and present. Then it was time to eat. Food always seems to taste better when you’ve worked hard.
After lunch, and a quick exploration of the lodge, we were ready to head back down. We were hoping it would be a quicker descent – and it was, but only by an hour or so. Those wet spots proved to be even more challenging on the down slope. When we reached the car just before 5 o’clock, seven hours and who knows how many steps after we’d started, we all felt a sense of accomplishment. Abel said he would like to do it again, and also climb other mountains, but “not this summer, okay?”
That evening, after picking up take-out dinner, we lounged in our hiking clothes on the porch of our hotel – boots off, feet bare – relishing our experiences. It had been a very pleasant day, filled with conversation, challenge, new terrain and beautiful scenery – a great way to spend time together.
The mountains here in Massachusetts are not all that tall. But especially for families with beginning hikers, they may pose a suitable challenge. Friends have recommended Sugarloaf (South Deerfield), Norwottuck (South Hadley), Wachusett (Princeton), and Mt. Tom (Easthampton), so perhaps one of those will be next on our itinerary.
by Kezia Bacon
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com