GREAT BARRINGTON >> I wasn't lost. But there were no familiar landmarks. I clomped up the hill in search of an old road. I followed a small stream. I encountered mountain laurel and thorn bushes. I detest mountain laurel. I despise thorns.
This relatively snowless winter has allowed several unexpected explorations of mountains bordering Great Barrington. The week before, I ascended the Appalachian Trail from Home Road in Sheffield. As I climbed steep and rocky Pool Mountain, I saw an obvious charcoal hearth right beside the trail. Small black bits were visible on the surface. If there's a hearth, I told myself, there's a road. And when I reached a crest, I was on a charcoal road that came from the direction of the Soda Springs. The Appalachian Trail actually followed that road for a little way, and went directly through the middle of another hearth.
On the day I started to describe, I was on Three Mile Hill in Great Barrington, traveling uphill east. Back in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, having completed ski trails at G-Bar-S Ranch (Ski Butternut) linked several old woods roads to create a cross-country ski trail that went from the entrance to Ski Butternut up and over Three Mile Hill, across Monument Valley, down Alcott Road, up to Beartown State Forest and on to the other CCC-made ski area near Hurlbut Paper in South Lee. Did anyone every ski that trail — and made it back in daylight?
Old woods roads don't go away. Soil compaction from horses and carts and wagons and tractors etc. discourages regrowth. I expected to find the Old Three Mile Hill Trail. I call it that to distinguish it from New Threemile Hill Trail (slightly different spelling) that follows a lower terrain, going from Berkshire South Regional Community Center north to Fountain Pond State Park. Or vice versa. At the north end of the newer trail, I've found hearths and another charcoal road.
To reach the higher part of the mountain, I had to skirt seeps. At least that's I call them. Springs. The mountains absorb rainwater and it bubbles to the surface in a seep and starts a small stream that joins other streams before reaching the Housatonic River. I didn't want to walk into the middle of a seep, so I made my way around them. Sometimes I had to backtrack.
Temperatures were in the mid-30s and I wore a couple of layers of clothing to keep warm. But the outdoors was bracing that day.
Between seeps and laurel, progress was slow. And I had to climb further than I expected. I tell Donna before I leave the house what trail I plan to hike, and that I'll (probably remember to) put up an orange flag (I order mine from the outfitter Ben Meadows) when I leave the trail. That's so someone can find me if I don't turn up for dinner.
I'd take a Trac-fone with me, but there's no reception deep in the woods. So to save weight, I leave it behind. I often hike alone on these quests because I may not find what I want to find, and it's awkward to dance around seeps and ledges and bushes when someone is with you.
This day I flagged my bushwhack path so I could go back the same way. I put up an orange ribbon every couple of hundred feet. I later counted ribbons. Twenty-three. Half mile?
I reached the anticipated woods road. It was a remarkably good road. Better than some I've driven in Mount Washington or East Windsor. I followed it south to discover old metal objects, a "Beware the Dog" sign, a Sears, Roebuck band saw and a Hertner electric motor. Too new.
I reversed direction. The road split. I took the better traveled lane and met a ledge face. The road continued north and I followed it for a time. I found no sign of a charcoal hearth. This was originally a road for loggers and fire wood cutters, then.
I backtracked and followed the lesser branch, and it quickly shrank to the width of a deer. According to my topographic map, this is the roadway that goes all the way to Lover's Lane. No hearths in evidence here, either.
I went back the way I'd come, glad to have the orange flags to untie as they kept me out of the seeps.
Others have been here before me. Beneath a hemlock tree I saw a bright red plastic milk crate. In an intermittent streambed not far away was a black plastic 5-gallon bucket. I didn't need either object, so didn't heft them out.
I've found several aluminum deer stands in my back woods travels, and they impress me in their remoteness. Should the bow hunter bag a deer, how does he or she expect to get it down off the mountain?
I'm vague about where I hiked, as I don't know that I could repace it another day. Too, I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting lost.
Find yourself a mountain and explore.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.