"Oh yeah, I've hiked that one half a dozen times. It'll take, like an hour at most." is what Rich said the on the phone Friday night. He was describing the hike he, I and Dave were going to take the next morning. It's also the statement I was thinking of Saturday morning, as I put down my GPS, deciding not to take it along as I packed up for the hike. I would rue the decision. The clouds were moving in as we met up in Holyoke, and combined into one car.
We headed for Crag Mountain. It's on the southernmost edge of Brush mountain, which is just south of Northfield. The M&M trail cuts right through it.
We passed the Linden Hill School on South Mountain road, and parked near the trail head that leads directly to the summit. The plan was to loop around the side of the mountain, climb up from the northwest side, reach the summit, and then have a very short walk back to the car. That's how Rich & Dave usually did it. Half a dozen times.
Setting out, we stopped to discuss the hike with a couple from Connecticut who had also just arrived. They had tried to reach the summit by going the same round-about way we were about to go, but they couldn't find the crucial turn off that goes up the side. They came back to try again today, but through the more direct summit route.
We walked for a ways down the road, past some nice hillside properties with great views, and horses roaming about.
Then a small dog came out of nowhere and greeted us. We paused to greet her back, and continued on. The dog decided to follow. Or maybe lead....
The paved part of the road, (I believe it was Old Wendell Road) then ended, and we plunged into the woods, downhill, along fire roads. The woods were soaking wet, as was the fire road. In places there were sections of deep mud, with slick rock jutting up from it. The trail goes downhill for quite a ways, until you find the trail entrance to the right, that goes up the west side of the mountain.
Saturday was humid with passing showers, and the wet woods were swarming with mosquitoes.
Through the mosquitoes mud and sweat the conversation, as always, was lively. Dave is very well read (Keynesian what?), and a self-professed political/economic junkie. Rich is also very well read, and though not focused purely on politics or economics, he is a general wonder boy, with a steel-trap brain. We covered all the angles of current affairs, and I chimed in with my broad generalizations and out-of-left-field commentary and predictions, where necessary.
Rich is also a Gazelle. He has something in the order of .01% body fat. Ever seen a greyhound? That's Rich. He's a coiled spring. Keeping up with him in the woods is like keeping up with a frightened White Tail. And today, he was kind of in a hurry, as he was planning to meet up with his wife and father-in-law after the "like an hour" hike.
So he bounded, or maybe flitted is a better word, down this slick, muddy fire road, and was soon out of sight. Dave did his best and stayed reasonably close behind; while I huffed and puffed, and carefully scrambled over the loose wet stones, trying not to sprain anything. Unfortunately in his haste, Rich blew right by the turn-off, and kept going.
When I finally caught up with them, wheezing, dizzy, and sweat pouring from my face, it was at the very bottom of the hill, a good 300 feet and well over a quarter mile below the beginning of the hill. There they cheerily informed me that we had missed the turn-off, and would have to truck back up the muddy slide. Aaargh.
The problem was, the trail looks very different from the last time they hiked it. There are many lots being cleared and up for sale on this hill that weren't there before.
We (I) trudged back up the hill, while Rich and Dave scouted ahead, probing every side path that we missed on the way down. We were just about to give up, thinking the path had been destroyed by developers, when Rich found it.
We continued on. Thankfully the humidity seemed to abate a little as we gained elevation, and the woods became drier. After a good uphill march we were at the first look out of the trail. There was a little bench to collapse on, and a nice view of Northfield's Mt. Hermon School down below.
Nearby was the remains of a camp. Interestingly, some shell casings and beverage packagings were left behind...
With cold German efficiency, Rich had us up and marching again, at a relentless pace. I was a little more warmed up by this time, and now managed to stay within earshot. The trail now looped around, and recrossed some power lines that ran up it's side. Here, we ran into the Connecticut couple again, coming the other way, and looking much fresher than us.
Crossing the lines, the trail now became very dry, and broad quartzite rock began to emerge.
The dog had happily kept pace with us the whole time, providing encouragement by displaying her inexhaustible energy. She'd veer off here and there on some scent quest, and then come bounding back to join us.
At this point is was only about 10 more minutes to the top, Dave assured me.
About 35 minutes later, and almost three hours from start, the trees fell away. We finally emerged out onto the rocky summit of Crag mountain.
The views were mighty good. Just to the south can be seen Northfield Mountain, with it's power generating reservoir on top.
The summit also affords plenty of space to kick back and enjoy the summer breezes blowing over the top.
The rock is inlaid here and there with these reference markers, part of a national coordinate survey; this point marked in the 1930's. We found three of them, with arrows pointing north, south and west. Couldn't find the eastern one though.
Nearby are some sub-summits, with good views to the east and south.
On this side, was another of the markers, but this one mysteriously had a Star Of David on it.
It was time to head back. I enjoyed the thought that the car was very close by, as I don't thing the ol' legs could have stood another trek back through the jungle. The trail from here fairly plunged down the side to the mountain for a short bit.
And, as advertised, the car was only a few minutes away.
We bid adieu and thanks to the dog-with-no-name, and headed back. On the way back, having exercised our bodies, Rich and Dave wanted to stop and pick up something to exercises their brains. We swung into Troubadour Books in Whately...
It was a well balanced diet for Saturday, body and mind. Par for the course for these two...