PITTSFIELD -- It was a lovely summer's morning when I met a group of fellow hikers and our trip leader, Amanda L'Etoile. We were at the base of one of the ski slopes at the 200-acre Bousquet Ski Area on Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield, at an elevation of 1131 feet.
Looking up a very steep grassy hillside, known as the Beeline in winter, we learned the highest point along our outing would be 1879 feet, and the walk would head just about all uphill for the next 739 feet. I took the first of many deep breaths.
At first I suspected I had walked in on a ladies club outing, until I saw one gentleman, Aron Urklinski of Pittsfield. The ladies, all veteran hikers, out-walked me; of course I was weighed down with camera and note pad.
None were in a hurry, so we could enjoy the chipping sparrows, towhees and a bluebird that were singing; in the distance a broad-winged hawk whistled. We welcomed the modest breeze and were anxious to gain a view of Pittsfield and the closer Berkshire Hills to our east, with promised vistas to the west.
Soon we could turn our heads to see the city below.
There were nine of us on the free hike sponsored by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. All of their hikes are free.
L'Etoile, who is in her second year as Trails and Outreach Coordinator for the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, explained, "Bousquet allows hikers to cross through the ski slope except during ski season.
Her favorite part of the hike over the Mahanna Cobble Trail is, she said, "the vista where you can take in a view south of Yokun Ridge and beyond at the George Wislocki bench, or wander around the rocky outcrop looking at the unique lichen and wild flowers taking hold to the bedrock."
I was happy to explore the area, finally, and see first-hand the flat stone bench inscribed: "George Wislocki served the Berkshire Natural Resources as its first director from 1967 to 2001. On October 18, 2010 his friends gathered here to thank him for his vision and determination to protect this ridgeline and many others throughout the Berkshires."
The current President of BCNR, Tad Ames, told me, "Mahanna is the name of the family that owned the brickworks at the bottom of the hill."
The upward climb to the north end of Lenox Mountain headed through mowed grass and assorted weeds. But once near the summit, upon entering the open woods, it was a refreshing experience with cool woodland ferns, and wildflowers mushrooms and lichens.
Even the birdsong changed, with small flycatchers named wood pewees after their vocalization that is easily translated into "pee-a-weee.
It's about a 2.8-mile distance from Bousquet at the bottom to the ridge, around the outer trail and back to the base of Bousquet along the Vista Trail. Fortunately, the climb is shorter than the descent along the Vista Trail, but parts of the trail down are steep and often slippery following wet weather.
"The Secret Trail would have been a shorter, more direct option," L'Etoile said.
Our downward adventure traversed a lovely little brook with cascades and a wide variety of mosses, ferns and even a rare plant or two -- including the most odd looking flower I have encountered here, the American cancer-root,0 or squaw root (Conopholis Americana).
If you go...
What: Berkshire Natural Resources Council events, including at Bosquet Mountain
Where: County-wide. Bosquet is at 101 Dan Fox Drive, Pittsfield
When: Various dates. Future BNRC hikes include a hike up Mt. Greylock on Saturday and a hike at Perry's Peak Road Reserve on Aug. 28.
Admission: BNRC events are free.