Hello again, dear readers (or, perhaps, hello for the first time?).
I’d like to start our journey together with a little adventure I took last weekend: out into the woods, and up a mountain. Its name is Bare Mountain, and it’s a little peak, along with its neighbor, Mount Hitchcock, but the climb up was still quite a workout.
So, Saturday morning, I joined four of my friends at the PVTA bus stop on the Amherst Town Common, and we got on the R29 southbound at 9:05, which took us south past Amherst College, past Hampshire College, and finally dropped us at the Mount Holyoke Range State Park, at the entrance to the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. We’d be walking a small portion of it (just a mile and a half) to reach these peaks, but the entire trail stretches 110 miles and up into New Hampshire, for those aspiring long-distance hikers.
The trail immediately rises quite steeply from the road, forcing us to often climb up and over sections of rock that look like stairs for a giant. One of my friends, Rilla McKeagan, who just graduated Amherst with a major in Geology, tells us about how the entire mountain is mostly made of Basalt, a volcanic rock, and shaped by the glaciers that would have covered the Pioneer Valley in the last Ice Age. Rilla also picks up a few rocks as we go past and lines their pockets with them.
Despite the difficulty of the climb, the landscape here is beautiful. Trees shade over everything, dappling the sunlight across the piled and occasionally mossy rocks. Undergrowth, including some occasionally striking flowers, blankets the space not cut through by the trail. It’s quiet, but for the persistent birdsong and our own chatter, and every so often we pass by another hiker or small party, enjoying the morning, making their way up or back down the mountain.
Once we reach the peak, there’s a long few minutes of rest, and we all look out at the view. It’s spectacular. Being from the Midwest, and not having traveled much that I can remember well, it’s the first time I can remember looking out from a mountain view. The whole countryside is laid out before us in a green patchwork, dotted here and there by signs of civilization — small housing developments or roads — which Ella Rose explains can actually break up the ranges of various plants and animals and cause ecological problems.
I can’t capture it on camera well, but with eyes I can see all the way back to Amherst College, which I suppose means that the peak I’m standing on now is one of the ones visible from Memorial Hill. It’s hard to capture the simultaneous feeling of smallness and largeness that view inspires in me.
The next leg of the journey, over to Mount Hitchcock, is rather less eventful. More of the same scenery, but far from unwelcome. The downhill and gentler climb here actually allows me to appreciate it more. The view from there isn’t quite as good — the summit is more overgrown on Hitchcock — but still great, and as the five of us make our way back, we talk about our summers, and the year we’ve had through Covid, and Rilla half-convinces me to sign up for Geology 111 right then and there. The climb down the mountain is surprisingly difficult, as it’s a matter of keeping balance against the pull of gravity, and in some cases, sliding down on your butt, but we make it down with no accidents, and another friend graciously comes to pick us up, as during summer weekends, the bus schedule is pretty light.
What an adventure!