Bra Burning & 90s Gear: Backpacking Mt. Greylock, MA

21 Oct

HT and I agree hands-down, fall is the #1 season of the year. So, we took a little trip up to the Berkshires two weekends back to fit in a backpacking trip before the weather gets colder and our weekends get busier. Leaves, chilly nights and new toasty gear, fires, what’s not to love?

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We’d just picked up the AMC’s Best Backpacking New England book so we started there in deciding on a hike and we landed on the “Have a Grey Day” Mt. Greylock loop. I love how this book titles its hikes like the Abs Diet titles their recipes.

We also just got our hands on a new digital luggage scale (cool!) so we packed up our packs and weighed them for the first time. Yikes. Can you guess how much we carry for ONE NIGHT in the woods? Well first, I was super impressed with my base weight of 14.7lbs. But then, I added water and a few more toiletries. And I’m a BIG hydrator so I don’t skimp. Hello 24 lbs. Sheesh.  HT’s pack was heavier still…I’ll have to ask him to reweigh so I know for sure. To be fair, he carried the tent and a bit of my food…thus the uneven loads. And he’s a gentleman, of course.

So we headed into the woods with our usual gear and some grub left over from the Long Trail stock up (Mary Jane’s Farm Organics, Umpqua oats- now at Costco!) plus a box of those delicious Anna’s super-thin ginger snaps. We started up the mountain mid-day (later than we ‘d hoped) amidst beautiful changing leaves and rolling farm country hills. The trail from the bottom is the Hopper Trail, which meandered for a bit before it started to climb and climb. I was happy to hear HT huffing and puffing as much as I was on some stretches. I stopped him at one point to remind him that I’d been not only out of the hiking groove a little lately but also hadn’t carried a pack since early July. I just wanted to be clear that this hike was not a race. To me, at least.

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The trail was gorgeous. In that area, the leaves had clearly already peaked but enough remained on the trees to make for some spectacular forest views as the sun descended in the sky. There’s also just something so striking about orange and red leaves rimming a flowing creek. I love that kind of imagery.

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We loved the signage and general maintenance of this trail. There were a few times where we both suggested the Green Mountain Club should take a page out of the Massachusetts AMC Chapter’s book when it comes to how to keep a trail dry and easy to navigate. Paired with the seasonal colors, it made for a superb hike in to our tent spot.
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We hit Mt. Williams on the way, elevation 2,951.
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We made our way to the top of a ridge line that we knew was not far from the peak elevation of Mt. Greylock, but we also knew we’d be headed down into a gully to camp, losing much of the elevation we’d gained on day 1. This turned out to be an OK thing—as cold, misty, gray weather rolled in as we were about a mile from making camp. HT started talking about how he could see hypothermia becoming a risk for those who are trapped in these woods unprepared and I knew he was going to kick it into high gear to make camp before dark.

We flew that last mile downhill to the tent site, at the Bellows Pipe Shelter site, trying not to sprain our ankles on the leaf-covered creekbed trail. Man, we both hate trails like that. One loose rock and your goose can be cooked. I’m paranoid ever since my bad fall in the Green Mountains and HT just hates downhills in general, so we were happy to arrive with daylight to spare.

We’d chosen this site because A) it was an appropriate distance from the car for us to split the hike into two challenging but rewarding days (just under 8 miles) and B) we thought its remoteness would make it less populated by other backpackers. So much for that idea. The shelter was already full and there were two to three other tents already set up on the best tent sites when we arrived. We found what looked like an acceptable tent site with its own fire ring (important, as we preferred not to spend the night with the rowdy boy scouts next door) and set up.

I set up the tent and bedding like a good housewife and HT went out in search of wood. Treehugger that I (mostly) am, I followed after him seeking downed and dead standing trees and we soon gathered enough wood to get use through a couple hours of dinner and lounge time. At one point I turned around, having faced the fire and the uphill trail we’d come from all night, and saw the lights of Adams, MA in the valley below us. It was odd to realize that though I’d felt the peace of the remote woods all day and night, we were not far from civilization.

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As we were having dinner I decided to change out of my slightly sweaty gear and in doing so, set my SmartWool sports bra on a rock near the fire to dry out. Imagine my horror when an hour and a half later I looked over to realize I’d not only dried my bra, but thoroughly barbecued it. I never considered myself a bra burning feminist so this camper was not so happy to see her cool gear go down in flames. Honestly, I’ll probably still wear it, if the burnt hair smell washes out.

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Near the fire we were pretty much toasty and warm-enough, both in new SmartWool hats and PrimaLoft jackets and vests. I love a chill in the air when you’re adequately dressed.

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But I changed my tune when we left the lovely fire circle and the overwhelming theme (for me) on this fall night out became..

“Top 3 Reasons I Need a New Sleeping Bag”

3. Feathers, everywhere. I did a repair the night before we came out but now, it seems, every seam is leaking.

2. It’s just too long. My toesies are cold no matter how many pairs of socks I put on. This was a down bag my dad has had since 1998, so to be fair, it never was right for me.

1. A 25 degree bag from 1998 is no longer a 25 degree bag in 2013. I can say this from direct, freezing, uncomfortable experience. I ended up in the bag with a hat, gloves, North Face Thermoball jacket (thank god I had this with me) and the bag pulled over my face for most of the night. I loved the 90s but I guess it’s time for a gear upgrade.

What made it worse…HT was cuddled in his bag, snug as a bug and undisturbed all night. I literally tried to break into his bag to share his heat at about 2 am and he just groaned and turned over.

**I’ve since ordered and just received the 2013 Outside Mag Award-Winning Kelty Ignite 20 (DriDown!!) bag and cannot wait to put that baby to the test!**

Next morning, we awoke and shared a leisurely oatmeal before breaking down camp and hitting the trail. We realized very quickly that this was not an “ease our way into it” kind of hiking day. We climbed steep and fast in the first hour of our hike. My body was still struggling to wake up as I dragged it up this GORGEOUS hill. This section of the trail had signage posted pretty frequently with the names of each section of the trail. As I recall, “The Steps” and “The Big Bend” were tough stretches, but THIS was our reward at the top. Great views do so much for the body and soul.

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No, I didn’t schlep decorative gourds to the top of this mountain, but I’m so glad someone else did! I love a seasonal photo op (slash, excuse to take a breather). We did notice the impact of the windmills on the views in this area. They’re less offensive than smokestacks, for sure, but still not the same as an untouched wilderness.

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We continued on up and up from here to the summit of Mt. Greylock. As we climbed we saw more and more signs of civilization until suddenly we crossed a road and encountered parking lots full of families and tourists drinking coffee. It’s always a little bit of a shock to emerge from the woods like that, suddenly aware of all the amenities we take for granted in daily life.

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There was a large group of daredevils getting ready to hang glide off the mountain. They were saying they don’t often get to launch from this point because you need to be able to take off directly into the wind and they rarely get the necessary winds from the East in this area of the Northeast. It seemed like it was going to be a spectacular day for their adventures. HT (not a fan of heights) was not interested in sticking around to watch them willing jump off the side of a mountain.

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Another couple of backpackers too this pic for us (Elevation 3,480, highest in MA) and we chatted with them for a moment about how annoying it can be to watch women pushing strollers in high heels at a summit like this one, obviously having driven to the top and missed out on the spectacular experience of hauling your own sorry ass up the hill. I like to think of the best views as the best rewards, but do you deserve a reward if all you did was sit in Columbus Day traffic while eating an Egg McMuffin in the Hummer on the way up the hill?

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That being said, I like the juxtaposition of Massachusetts War Memorial with me in my outdoor gear. Not everyone hiked their way up there, but we did. And we’d do it again. Oh, I didn’t mention there was an Inn at the top with spiced cider, grilled cheese and homemade baked goods. That’s why we’ll be back (we’re only human!).

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We hit the trail again to begin the long, long descent that was the second half of day 2.

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HT enjoyed the bridges and boards that kept us out of muddy terrain, his Long Trail PTSD creeping up on him any time we saw a puddle.

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And at the bottom, we returned to these views of farmland and fall sunshine. IMG_0610

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I think I could do this every weekend. WIth my new sleeping bag.

Love, pumpkin spice and apple crisp,

Blue Bin Signature

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