Saturday, November 3, 2007

Upper-Level Trough

Hurricane Noel churned out at sea, off the coast of New England. According to my friend Tom Berry, junior-meteorologist, an "Upper-Level Trough" was keeping it from coming ashore.

We decided to hike up Mt. Tom in Holyoke, and see for ourselves.

The rain had just begun to fall when we left home and headed west on the Pike.

We headed north on I-91, and got off at the Easthampton exit. Then up Rte.141 to the parking lot of the Log Cabin restaurant. Mighty Mt. Tom loomed across the road.

We were apparently just west of the hurricane's influence, as it was much drier here.
We crossed the busy road and started up the trail.

There are a couple trails that go up this side of Mt. Tom, but the most direct (and steepest) trail runs along an overhead transmission line straight to the top.

It's a moderately steep hike, but a short one. Probably less than a half hour to the top. Getting near the top, a marvelous view starts to present itself.

Mt. Tom is a 1200' mountain, and the beginning of a short range that ends at Mt. Nonotuck and the Connecticut River.

Like the Holyoke Range, Mt. Tom is basically the edge of a giant field of lava. That lava field had cooled and settled eons ago, and then was buried by sediment over millions of years more. Upheavals from underneath, and erosion of the sediment above, tilted one side of the lava plane up (or dropped the opposite corner down). The Mt. Holyoke and Mt. Tom Ranges are the north and west edges of that giant, tilted field of lava, now exposed above the surface.

Nearing the top, traprock (columnar lava) becomes more and more visible. Action shot:

In less than half an hour from start, we rounded the southern crest of the mountain to the western side. We carefully walked along the ledges of towering cliffs, and looked out over Easthampton and Westfield.

Breathtaking. Even on this cloudy autumn day.

Here's a quick panoramic video:

It looked like a fire was raging in the distance, out past Barnes Airport, in Westfield.

The cliffs on this side of the mountain are amazing, and dangerous. The ledges are wide and flat, but there's no railings or anything between you and the depths. Also the wind usually blows fierce on this side of the mountain.

Took this video with one eye on the viewfinder, one eye on my boots...

We went up a little further to the actual peak of Mt. Tom. These crumbling steps and sidewalks are all that's left of an amazingly large hotel and resort that used to sit atop this mountain in the late 19th century.

(The following graphics and more on

There were actually two summit houses built here. The second even bigger than the first. With railroad cars bringing tourists up to the top. It must have been grand.

The site is now a forest of towering antennae and satellite dishes, among the ruins of the old foundations.

A little further on there is some bare rock. The scrapes from the grinding weight of a glacier from the last ice age is still very visible on the rock.

Like Mt. Holyoke, the people from generations past liked to carve their names, some quite expertly, into the rock. The ancient glacial scars mixed with old etchings, mixed with modern graffiti. The march of time.

Unfortunately or not, there's no shortage of graffiti at the top.

Some of it is clever, though.

By now the rain appeared to be getting closer in the east-northeast.

The 'upper level trough' must have been weakening in the west.

It was time to head back.

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