Hiking the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail
I went for a very pleasant 5 mile ridge walk last Sunday at the Mt. Tom State Reservation in Western Massachusetts, overlooking the town of Northampton and the Connecticut River Valley. I used to live in this area about 20 years ago when I attended graduate school and this trip brought back memories of previous hikes that I've done in the area.
Mt. Tom (1,202 ft) is located about 20 miles from the southern end of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, a 114 mile long distance trail that runs from the Connecticut/Massachusetts state line to Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. I've hiked many disparate sections of this trail over the years, but after today, I'm thinking it would make a mellow, end-to-end, winter backpacking project next year.
Mt. Tom and the surrounding area is covered with a forest of mature oak and hemlock that is quite beautiful in winter. Steep basalt cliffs overlook Northampton to the north and there are good views of the Seven Sisters to the east. These are a series of basalt knobs between Mount Holyoke and Mount Hitchcock that offer clifftop views of the Pioneer Valley. The highest sister has an elevation of 945 feet and rises 800 feet above the valley below. The terrain is very rugged; a continuous 9 mile walk along the ridge line includes an overall elevation change of 3,700 feet.
I did today's hike in crampons and plastic boots – the trail was quite steep in spots and icy, so this turned out to be a good choice. I was testing some gear, as usual, including a new ultralight mountaineering pack from Cold Cold World backpacks that I'll review later in the week. The temperature was surprisingly warm, about 40 degrees, but we experienced extremely high winds, gusting to 50 miles an hour, which cooled things down in a hurry. The wind really sounded like a freight train up on the ridge and my fleece hat felt like it was going to be blown off my head.
I went on this trip with the Berkshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club but members from all of the Massachusetts' chapters attended, which is a bit unusual. This turned out to be a good group with a mix of experts and beginners, and I met some fun hikers who I expect to see later in the season on some other upcoming winter trips I've got planned before spring.
If you are interested in visiting Mt Tom or the surrounding area, it's located about 115 miles west of Boston, just south of Northampton MA off Interstate 91 and Rt. 5. The best way to get there from the east is to drive west on the Mass Pike. For more information and a map of local trails, visit the official Mt. Tom Reservation web page.
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