Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: Geared up for return trip to Hoosac Range Trail

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Just about a year ago I set out on the Hoosac Range Trail with my micro-spikes, in snow conditions similar to recent low levels. I knew that the farther up the trail I ventured, the deeper the snow would get, but I reasoned that smallish snow falls, rain and sun would limit depths or at least leave a surface firm enough to sustain my weight.

I made it a bit beyond the half-way bridge before the increasing depth and especially the drifts, together with the fact that the crust wouldn't hold me, forced me to turn around. I will return, like Gen. MacArthur, as I promised readers of the Hikes & Walks column that I wrote about that adventure.

And so, recently I set out again, with low-snow conditions in the valley, with spikes. As on the previous outing, the temperature was below freezing but not frigid; the sun shone as it hadn't a year before. In fact, I heard on the radio while driving up the Mohawk Trail from North Adams that the atmosphere was so clear the view from Mount Washington in New Hampshire that morning extended 130 miles.

The trail head, around the corner from the Wigwam Western Summit gift shop, is well marked and plowed in the winter. The large and attractive kiosk includes a map and information about the trail, as well as information about the Mohican Indians, on whose land we are privileged to walk.

So, the peak experience on this hike, Spruce Hill, is not exactly akin to driving to the top of Greylock but driving up from North Adams is by far the greatest part of the elevation gain. The gain on the Hoosac Range Trail itself is only 700 feet.

Berkshire Natural Resources Council began acquiring its 944 acres along the range in 2007, acting on a tip that Adelphia Cable was selling land it had used for its tower. The land abuts 11,118 acres of Savoy Mountain State Forest, providing a large tract of unbroken habitat for numerous creatures — including hikers. So BNRC built a trail.

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Views from the Western Summit, where gifts and snacks are available, from Sunset Rock, 1 1.2 miles up the trail, and the magnificent panorama from Spruce Hill provide motivation. Of course, that is if any is needed beyond getting out on the wall that separates Berkshire from the rest of the state and under which bores the Hoosac Tunnel.

The trail is blazed white, with red strips to aid winter visitors. It rises gently from the kiosk through northern hardwood forest. Route 2 traffic sounds fade. On my micro-spikes, I turn left at the first intersection, to climb more steeply to Sunset Rock. So far foot gear is appropriate to conditions. Nice view from the Rock of the Hoosac Valley heading to Williamstown.

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At the next junction I turn left, climbing more steeply at first, past schist outcrops. Ups and downs by rock faces are features. It's subtle but the trail doesn't climb up and over ridges, it nestles beside them; nor does it follow a straight line, but wiggles to accommodate the topography. Snow is deepening, especially in drifts. A sign at the bridge tells me I've traveled 1.4 miles, with 1.4 to go.

This time I brought my snowshoes and poles. Smart, huh? As the snow begins to envelope my ankles, it's time to remove the micro-spikes and strap on the shoes. A few minutes later a side trail to the left leads to a fine vista of the truncated summit of the Hoosacs.

The next man-made landmark is a cut for the wires that pass overhead. Immediately on the left an unmarked trail leads to a beaver-made landmark. The flat, treeless area is a pond, possibly the highest natural water body in the state.

A sign that reports "Spruce Hill 0.2 miles" signals that I'm entering the Busby Trail, blazed blue, for the finale. Several open, rocky bluffs beckon, but I push through to the summit, at 2,566 feet, the highest point on the Hoosac plateau with the exception of the tower on Borden Mountain.

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The clarity of the view down the valley and up the Greylock massif, small details visible, rewards the effort. The entire 180-degree view is exceptional for summits in Berkshire and Bennington counties, which are more often treed.

Looking northerly on a day the air was super clear, I count some 32 tree replacements, i.e. wind turbines, on closer and more distant ridges. We should be proud of the effort to combat climate change. To stand on the bare rock is exhilarating, unless the wind is strong — good for the turbines but stirring anxiety in someone on bald stone.

I return the way I came except taking a left at the upper intersection. The distance is the same. Oh, yes, I pause at the bridge to remove the snowshoes and strap on the spikes.

Happy trails to you.

Lauren R. Stevens is author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press/W.W. Norton, 2016.


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