Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Autumn draws us to Stony Ledge
WILLIAMSTOWN — The coming of autumn draws us to Stony Ledge, the lookout over the Hopper on Mount Greylock. Of the several ways to get there, we choose the Stony Ledge Trail to the ledge, then along Sperry Road to the campground, from there descending via the Roaring Brook Trail to the starting point, a bit over five miles, with a vertical gain of 1,460 feet.
Mount Greylock is visible from nearly everywhere in Berkshire County — at least from a bit of elevation. It is the geographic feature that unites the county. The Hopper is visible from many locations west of the Greylock massif, notably from Route 7 in front of Mount Greylock Regional High School. It is defined by Mount Prospect to the north and Stony Ledge to the south. The steep sides drop over 1,000 feet in a 'V' shape, caused by erosion and similar to a grain hopper. From Stony Ledge, the view across the chasm includes the summit, slightly south of east, Mounts Williams and Fitch and, farther north, the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Across from the ledge are three dark patches of nearly 200-year-old spruce, designated a National Natural Landmark, and one of the finest stands of old growth spruce in New England. The entire Hopper area is populated with old growth, including some large hemlock, twice that old. The area is open only to hiking and study; no camping, fires or vehicles. So that's what we look at; plus the play of light and shadows, a couple of mountain brooks that fall in cascades and, in the autumn, the color. Mount Greylock is often described as the jewel of the Commonwealth's Forests and Parks; the Hopper is diamond.
Roaring Brook Road lies just north of the Mass DOT garage on Route 7 in Williamstown. About a mile up the gravel road, just before the driveway to the Mount Greylock Ski Club veers to the right, is parking for five or six cars. We dismount from our vehicles and follow up the brook on a well-established old woods road, blazed blue, crossing on a pedestrian bridge. Heavy foliage shades the trail and brook.
In some places the trail has been rerouted to higher ground to avoid eroded portions. We leave left a trail that rises to fields, then drop down again to a second bridge. Here, as the sign instructs us, we DO NOT cross, as the third bridge is out. Instead, we climb up the bank on what is likely a permanent detour. We cross a feeder stream on steppingstones and then bear left on Stony Ledge Trail — going straight would put us on Roaring Brook Trail, by which we will return.
The Civilian Conservation Corps cut three downhill ski trails on Greylock in the 1930s — the Thunderbolt, the Bellows Pipe and Stony Ledge — so we can assume the going will steepen. Although the original generous width is still visible, the trail has been maintained for hiking only. Most of the trees are young, with a few older deciduous sentries. The Hopper lies north of us.
Soon the trail bears left and begins to climb steeply. A branch of the Haley Farm Trail enters, right. After considerably more elevation, we pass the other branch of Haley Farm. From that point, our destination is only a brief push. Leaving the lean-to to the left, we head for the gravel Sperry Road, picnic tables and ledge. A place to linger and absorb. This will be the destination for Williams College students on Mountain Day, a Friday in the fall when classes are cancelled and students take to the hills.
We walk down gravel Sperry road, between azaleas and berry bushes, as well a mixed young forest, for a mile, through the backcountry camping area. Cars must park on Rockwell road and campers hike in. We pass the Hopper Trail on the left and come to a kiosk where we turn right on the Roaring Brook Trail.
We cross a bridge and follow along a brook. The Circular Trail leaves left. A second bridge. Just beyond, the Deer Hill Trail leaves left. That passes through an old growth grove of hemlocks, but we stick to the Roaring Brook Trail through hobblebush, black raspberries, beech and maple. We descend steadily beneath hemlock, aware of a brook on each side. The descent steepens.
Gradually the two brook branches come closer together, until we cross the smaller and arrive at the junction with the Stony Ledge Trail. After crossing the Roaring Brook on steppingstones and attaining some elevation, we look down into the rocky gorge and the remains of a millrun. Farther downstream, amidst the daylilies, we pick out the cellar hole for the mill. We return to the parking. Autumn in Berkshire: leaves are coming, no bugs, cool days.
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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