Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: If Hopkins Forest and The Snow Hole could talk
Some are carved in stone: "J.F. 1835," "Ladd 1838," "ETW Aug. 29, 1878," and, on a nearby beech tree: "The snow hole is empty."
But is wasn't on a lovely July 27, 2019, when a delegation from the Green Mountain Club, with an interloper, assembled at Petersburg Pass, hiked north on the Taconic Crest Trail, found snow at the bottom of the Snow Hole and hiked back down the Birch Brook Trail in Hopkins Forest. Perfect.
The rocks around the mouth of the Snow Hole are carved with initials and dates going back nearly 200 years. Apparently, the Troy Motor Club visited the site in 1930. C.E. and S.L. Hyde (brothers, perhaps) were there in 1894. Dot and Jack in August of 1937. Many sites in the Berkshires have drawn visitors over a long period, but in few cases has the sign-in log been so public and long lasting.
The recent group of hikers actually met up at the Hopkins Forest parking area, selecting cars to drive up Route 2 to Petersburg Pass Recreation Area, a joint Massachusetts-New York State park. For the Troy Motor Club, getting their vehicles up to the pass must have been part of the adventure; for us, not so much. For all hikers, most of the elevation gain is by automobile. The hike extended about 7 1/2 miles, including the circular trail to the Snow Hole itself.
It's a three-state outing. We began in New York, briefly strode Vermont and back into New York; the trip down was mostly in Massachusetts. It was within Williams College's 2,600-acre Hopkins Forest, except for the very beginning and the side-trail to the Snow Hole.
Hopkins Forest is a research laboratory for Williams' faculty and students, including 400 plots, many going back to when U.S. Forest Service conducted research there, 1935-1968. Periodically all plants and other activities in each plot are monitored, so hikers are asked to stay on the trails. Dogs are allowed on a leash. No wheeled vehicles are allowed.
Climbing from Route 2 to the ridge, past the kiosk, is the steepest part of the trip. Maps are available there and at Hopkins Forest. In New York, north/south trails are blazed blue, but in Massachusetts long-distance trails are blazed white. What to do with a trail that winds between the states? Leslie Reed Evans, then of the Williamstown Rural Land Foundation, solved the dilemma: blue markers with a white diamond lead the way on the Taconic Crest.
From then on the terrain rolls. A trail right at six-tenths of a mile leads past a high-altitude well, once used by farmer Shepherd, and down into Taconic Trail State Forest. Farther on, informal trails lead up right to cleared Jim Smith Hill and a view. Otherwise we're pretty much in a green tunnel.
We pass the Birch Brook Trail, on which we will later descend. Three overlooks into New York are about a half-mile later. To the left on one of them is a Vermont/New York corner bound. It is possible to locate the three-state bound by taking a trail, right, but it is a long slog on a route that becomes increasingly more obscure.
A bit less than a mile beyond that side trail, two trails form a loop to the Snow Hole, a deep crevice formed as the side of the hill slipped. Although not so open, other depressions and cracks continue the line of the slippage south. The rocks by the entrance are carved.
As we descend, cold air rises to greet us. After the first lower level, we go down even farther, where scant light filters from above. The snow lies under leaves at the lowest point. Time for a sandwich.
We backtrack 1 1/2 miles to the Birch Brook Trail, left. We lose elevation quickly for another 1 1/2 miles, until joining the Upper Loop Trail. Here we can choose to turn either way. To the right takes us up and is a bit longer. We choose left, a more relaxed downhill.
According to the wonderful Forest map, it's 1.7 miles back to where we stashed a few cars. We pass the equestrian trail leading from Northwest Hill Road, and another intersection where, again, we bear left on the old Carriage Road left over from when gentleman farmer, Col. Amos Lawrence Hopkins, owned the land.
Barely visible on the left is the Canopy Walk; on the right the weather station; and then the sugar shack; and on the left a Williams Outing Club cabin. We arrive at the Rosenberg Center, named for a wonderful couple who worked for the Colonel, and serving as a laboratory to support forest research.
With memories of the Snow Hole, we ponder, 'were P.W. Nugent, 1886, and A.I Nugent, 1923, by chance father and son or even mother and daughter? Of the many individuals over many generations who have visited the Snow Hole, did any have a nicer trip?'
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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