Through Hiking in Mount Holyoke Range State Park • Saturday, July 15, 2017
For our 3rd weekend in Connecticut, we had a complicated situation we had to work around. I’ll share those details in a later post — today, I want to write about the fun part: through-hiking the Mount Holyoke Range in Massachusetts! We woke up at dawn on Saturday, July 15, and began driving North. We made one stop on the way to visit another Sky’s the Limit Challenge site: Bolton Notch along the Hop River Trail, another of the many rail trails that cross the state. It’s not the easiest spot to reach by car — the turn is right off of a divided highway just East of Hartford, with no signs and very easy to miss. We missed it the first time, but were successful in pulling off at the right time the second. It was a very cool area though and worth the quick stop. The trail cuts right through a natural notch in the rock. We took our pictures and grabbed the letterbox before moving on to the main hike for the day.
In order to do this through-hike, we obviously needed to have another car at the other side of the range. Luckily Curtis had friends willing to do this hike with us. We parked our cars on either side and carpooled to begin the hike together, hiking the Metacomet-Monadnock trail from East to West. The Metacomet-Monadnock trail is a 114 mile trail that follows the Metacomet ridge from the CT-MA border South of Springfield to Mount Monadnock in Southwest New Hampshire and is part of the larger New England Trail. Today we were hiking just over 5 miles on this trail.
Over the course of this 5.3 mile hike, we hit many peaks and were constantly either going uphill or downhill as we followed the ridge. The first and highest peak we climbed was Bare Mountain. We reached the top after a half mile of steep, rocky uphill hiking. I wouldn’t say it was difficult even though it was the steepest part of the trail and gained 500 feet of elevation. Unfortunately, we were completely in a cloud at this first peak and had hardly any view of the surrounding area — but as the day went by, the clouds would pass and by the end of the hike, we would find a perfectly clear view on a bright, sunny afternoon.
After dipping down and following the ridge, we summited our second peak just less than a mile later — Mount Hitchcock, right around 1000 feet above sea level. Next came the Seven Sisters: a series of 7 peaks in a row along the ridge. There weren’t signs at any of them, nor were there any great views along this section, so this was mostly a lot of ascending and descending. There was one downhill section that seemed a lot steeper than the rest of the trail, as it went straight down a dirt path, but aside from that it was enjoyable. The constant alternating between up and down ensures that all those different muscles in your legs get a good workout!
The hardest parts of the hike today were the humidity and the mosquitoes. The mosquitos were the worst we’d seen since last summer in Charleston, and were not deterred by our different kinds of repellant. I kept thinking that if it weren’t for these two factors, this hike would be perfect…but then I thought to myself, this could be what hiking in Hawaii is like year-round, so I should try to adapt to it!
With one last steep climb, we made it to the last peak for the day, and the one with the best view: Mount Holyoke. It was also the most crowded, with there being a road to the top and picnic areas all around. From the summit house we were able to see the Metacomet ridge heading South into CT, Mount Greylock and the Berkshires to the NE, Mount Toby and other lesser MA hills to the North, and just the faint outline of the Greens in Vermont and Monadnock in New Hampshire. We stopped to enjoy our last peak for the day before finishing the 1.3 miles to our car on the West side. There were also quite a few people hiking up this side. I think we were happy with the way we chose to hike through this range, as the best views came last and the trail seemed generally easier going East-West, but perhaps there was an even better view hiding behind those clouds on Mount Bare. Maybe someday we’ll return to figure that out.
The worst part of the trail though was when we were on the last leg, and an unleashed dog came bounding up the trail ahead of his owner and attacked Charlotte. I yelled and Curtis pushed him off her. Charlotte was fine albeit shaken up, and the owner came and grabbed his dog while we hurried away. We were so upset that we could barely mutter a “leash your dog!” toward him, but seriously… Listen, your dog may be the most friendly dog ever, and everyone says Charlotte is the sweetest thing, but you can’t predict how your dog will react to other dogs, or how other dogs will react to yours, so why take a chance? Not to mention this is a state park with signs stating that dogs must be leashed. Not only are there many other dogs, but also young children all around. It’s certainly not always fun for us to leash Charlotte, especially when she’s super pokey and wants to stop and smell everything, or when we’re going downhill and she wants to hurry down much faster than what we’re comfortable with, but we do it for the safety of everyone. Anyway, I digress.
After our hike, we stopped at a local dairy farm for some ice cream, then returned to the first trailhead with our friend’s car. It was now time for Curtis and I to part ways…but that’s another story for another post! We were glad we were able to do this hike today — a “real hike” in New England!