Submitted 28 April 2004, Submitted by Steve Keri
Having been cooped up for a couple of weekends due to other responsibilities, I started to feel the effects of hiking withdrawal. I was looking forward to leading a challenging hike on the M/M trail that traverses the Holyoke Range in Skinner State Park (wedged between the towns of Amhurst and Holyoke, Mass).
The 390 acre park is named after Joeseph Allen Skinner, a wealthy industrialist who donated the land to the state in 1940. The 1100 foot mountain range formed about 200 million years ago when lava flowed from the valley floor, cooled and was upended. Glacial formation also left their marks in a combination of jaggedness and smoothness, with exposure of bedrock, clay and sand.
Upon my arrival at the Mt. Holyoke visitor's lot, I took the opportunity to absorb the quiet stillness before the others arrived. The seven of us departed in two cars and drove to the other end of the mountain range and began our hike from Harris-Mountain Road at 9am, just as the sun burst open with its warm rays of heat dividing the chill in half, as birds sang and bucktails danced across the path in jubilation of the forth-coming spring season.....Ah, wait a minute, that's not how the hike began. I was hoping it would, but it didn't.
Actually, we hit the trail head first into a cold windy tunnel of hardwoods enclaved in morning greyness under cloudy skies for a short but tame walk to the base of Long Mountain, the first of 14 peaks that we would climb throughout the day.
Ascending Long Mountain, the muscles in my legs started to wake up. As my breathing increased, I was wishing for a switchback instead of a straight-up climb on a muddy trail. For the next half mile the trail increased in steepness until, what seemed like an eternity, we bagged Long Mountain and stopped for a water break. I commmented that there was nothing like a lung buster first thing in the morning to wake one up and the response I received was heavy breathing while everybody broke out the water bottles. We sat there observing the breath-taking view north to Amhurst and west to our next peak.
Descending the leave-covered trail, brought the group down a muddy and rocky cliff side and through the first of only two areas of flat terrain zig-zagging between bike trails. Being content for a while strolling through beech trees, I mentally started to prepare myself for the next climb. According to the map, it was going to be a steep. Ascent of the next peak broke the groups' pace up and personal adjustments were made for climbing to the top of Rattlesnake Knob where we all rested for a while. A relaxing feeling came over me as I took in the view to Long Mountain and the farmlands off in the distance.
We descended off the knob and spent the next half mile hiking hard and breathing heavy as we navigated the rocky ups and downs. The muddy trail took us to the base of Mt. Norwottuck which holds the historically known Horse Caves, which traces its name to Revoltionary times when Daniel Shays sheltered the horses for Shay's Rebellion. After exploring the caves, we started our lung busting ascent to the top of the 1100 foot Mt. Norwottuck, the highest peak on the Holyoke Range. It presented us with a 360 degree view of a pleasantly serene, pine-tree dusted valley of forest, farmland and Mt. Tom to the west; the perfect setting for our lunch break.
The steep descent off of our third peak challenged our knees as we negotiated our way over the some-what muddy trail into a slight ditch prior to paralleling the side of the mountain and down into Vistitors Center Notch. Arriving at the notch, we could hear guns going off at the shooting range not far from us. We were now at our half-way point.
We took a short break, crossed rte 116 and continued on the M/M trail ascending another lung busting, straight-up climb to the top of Bare Mt., once again taking in a spectacular view east and north, while noticing the dirt roads we had crossed and the peaks we had climbed. Heading west, the trail paralleled the spine of the ridge for a half mile making for some easier hiking, before we came up and around the northside of Mt. Hitchcock. It was during this time that I had pulled briefly ahead of the group and came upon a few rare red-tail squirrels playing tag. I stood there just observing. As the others caught up, we ascended and bagged Mt. Hitchcock and once again rewarded with spectacular views. Though with a full sun shining, the cold wind quickly cooled us down. Our descent off of Mt. Hitchcock took us through a number of ups and downs as we made our way through a grey and bare forest of hardwoods, reminding us that winter wasn't over just yet.
As we continued, we crossed the Low Place trail and started to ascend the first "bump" of the Seven Sisters mountain range, so named because it consists of seven small bumps that make up this one mountain. And so it went, ascending sharply then descending, ascending again and descending..... between 800 and 900 feet to the last "bump" and so came our last view of the countryside and rte 47 below.
We rested here for a while savoring the picturesque image, knowing it would be the last one for the day, and then descended over loose Basaltic rock into Taylor's Notch and back to our cars. All in all, we had bagged 14 peaks with at least 5000 feet of elevation change in ten miles.....something of an accomplishment!
Until next peak, Happy Trails!
Hikers: Dave & Regina Chatel, Ken Williamson, Sarah O'Hara, Mandi Brink, Janene Batten, Steve Keri