I went on a surprisingly difficult 9 mile ridge walk (cumulative elevation of about 3,500 ft) on the section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail yesterday that traverses The Seven Sisters and most of the Holyoke Range in Western Massachusetts. The Metacommet-Monadnock Trail is a 114 mile long distance hiking trail maintained by the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. It passes through some of the prettiest landscape in Western Massachusetts from the Connecticut Border to the New Hampshire Border.
I have always wanted to hike this section and decided to go with my hiking partner Chris and a group of 12 other hikers from a local meetup she belongs to. I hate hiking in groups this large, but the leader knew Chris well and designated her sweep, so we got to hike behind the pack which was fine with me. It was also necessary in this case, because Chris and I had to help some people who were falling behind and shouldn't have been left to struggle alone. This became even more important because the weather degraded very severely during the hike.
I have a personal hiker code that I try to follow when hiking in groups and I guess I'm always amazed when other group members don't. It's especially important when hiking conditions go to sh*t, someone gets injured, is just having a bad day, or bonks. In a nutshell, you need to stick together and maintain group situational awareness. This is the responsibility of every member of the group and not just the group leader.
If you feel like someone is ruining your hike because they're going to slow, suck it up. It's your job to help them get through it safely. My view is that helping someone under these conditions adds to your karma bank. Someday you are going to need help too and the more good karma you have saved, the better the chances are that someone will help you when you need it.
This section of the trail was particularly difficult for me because we did it twice, out and back. Plus, since I viewed it as a chance to train with my winter pack and I was carrying a lot more weight than I normally do, aggravating my ITB.
Still this is a good hike and a great workout. We started at The Notch Visitors Center on Rt 47 just north of Mt. Holyoke College. After crossing the road, there is a 500 ft climb in less than a quarter mile up to the ridge over Bare Mountain (1,000 ft). I'd hiked up this over 25 years ago when I lived down the road in Amherst, MA. I remembered it being broken shale all the way to the summit, but it was a lot easier this time and there was a good trail to the top.
From there, the trail follows the ridge, undulating up and down between 50 feet and 300 feet across 10 distinct summits including the Seven Sisters. The trail is well marked with a white blaze but there are no water sources along the way, so you need to carry all of your water with you. There was no snow on the ground when we started, but the trail was still quite slippery with dried leaves and very steep in places, which were particularly tricky on the descents.
We hiked along the ridge until we came to the The Summit House on Mt Holyoke (935 ft), which is one of the original New England hotels perched on summits, with a panoramic view of the Connecticut River and the Pioneer Valley. Originally built in 1820s, the house once had a tram that ran up the mountain for guests, but today a road runs up it for the tourists and bus drivers.
We stopped for a brief lunch break, out of the wind on the balcony at the back of the house. From there, I could see a front coming in from the southwest over neighboring Mt. Tom that was bringing heavy white fog with it and which I presumed would envelope us shortly. It did.
We packed up and headed back around noon to Bare Mountain and the final descent to The Notch where our cars were parked. The storm blew in and intensified slowly, starting out as freezing rain. Then the wind picked up and smothered the tops in cloud. Our group got a bit spread out, but the trip leader did a good job in getting people to wait up along the way. Most people anyway.
Chris and I got isolated from the rest of the group at the end, but I had a good map and was able to navigate us along the trail to where our group was waiting for us. Smothered in cloud and in horizontally blowing, freezing rain, the trail looked nothing like it did when we started. I guess pilots feel disoriented like this when flying in clouds. I insisted "we follow our instruments", and we came out at a recognizable spot, relaxing when we saw the silhouettes of our friends backlit by white fog. We descended safely and drove home with the heat in the car turned way up, the way I like it in winter.