Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Heading up to the Dome
What draws you to the Dome? Although Green Mountain National Forest has cleaned up the area since acquiring the land a few years ago, ATVs still continue to erode the trail. And while the Williams Outing Club trail crew has ingeniously solved some water problems, others exist at high elevations. The summit is bald rock, hence the name, but trees have grown up around it, impeding the view. It is basically an out-and-back — no real loop. Getting to the trailhead out White Oaks Road from Williamstown into Pownal, Vermont, on gravel, is out of the way. Vermont deer season, which might make a hiker uncomfortable, extends to Dec. 1.
Then again, after Dec. 1 it is deer season in Massachusetts but not in Vermont. Climbing the Dome — at 2,748 feet in elevation, with a vertical gain of 1,750 and a hiking distance of 5.2 miles — is a favorite of the few who know it. Its rounded quartzite peak is distinctive in the northern Berkshire skyline, say from Stone Hill in Williamstown. The climb takes you through second growth, mixed hardwood forest, into the spruce-fir bogs found on northern Canada's Laurentian Plateau — the only other similar experience locally being the summit of Greylock. Another world.
Furthermore, North Adams City Council recently sold 218 adjacent acres to the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust, which will turn over some of the property to become part of The Trustees of Reservations' Mountain Meadow Preserve, and the rest to another conservation group, working with Green Mountain Natural Forest and the Hoosic River Watershed Association. That land includes the beginning of the Broad Brook Trail. Although you won't be walking there on a Dome trip, the purchase completes protection of a large swath of land that has been precarious, land in the wildest part of Vermont and including a fine cold-water trout stream.
From Route 7 north of Williamstown center, cross the Hoosic River and turn right on North Hoosac Road, then left on White Oaks Road. It becomes gravel at the Vermont line, where there is parking for the Broad Brook trailhead. A quarter-mile farther on the Dome Trail is now marked with a kiosk. Efforts to block the trail to ATVs have proved ineffective.
Starting at about 1,000 feet in elevation, the trail climbs moderately through open fields and into the woods. Follow the red blazes along the skidder road. Efforts made to create dirt water bars have been eroded. Several detours take the trail around the worst stretches. Swing left where a logging road, closed by a boulder, goes straight. The pitch becomes steeper approaching the Agawon Trail, blazed yellow, that descends into the Broad Brook valley to meet the Broad Brook Trail, thus creating a short loop. Meetinghouse Rock, just beyond, is about halfway.
The trail ascent eases, passing through an azalea grove to keep in mind for a spring visit. The ledges show white sand, a reminder that the sides of the Dome, like those of most northern Berkshire ridges, were once the shoreline to glacial Lake Bascom. At an hour or so in, you turn right on a logging road arising from the left (only fragments remain of a Chevy truck that used to mark this turn); then bear left where the logging road continues straight. Look for blazes and a sign.
Now begins a series of emerging on successively wetter terraces and bearing right up slope after attaining each one. How many? Well, you try to count them. (I count eight). The trail has been rerouted where it becomes a stream. In one stretch, stone dust has been added for drier footing. You attain the spruce/fir forest, climbing to a rocky ridge that is the false summit. Plunge on down to a boggy area, then scramble up the quartzite ledges to the ridge that leads to the real summit.
That peak reflects the sun on a warm winter day. It is a place apart, even if the views have been obscured by tree growth. You can make out the tops of the Taconics to the west and the Hairpin Turn and Western Summit to the southeast. You can pick out Greylock, even if the view isn't clear. There's an informal camping area in the woods just west. Settle in for a bit. Absorb the Laurentian atmosphere.
Be sure to follow the blazes while retreating from the summit. And remember the left turn off the logging road — although if you go straight you will descend to the Old Military Road. Take a left and you will come out on White Oaks Road just a bit above Dome parking.
The Trustees plan to build some trails between Mountain Meadow and their new holdings. All sorts of intriguing recreational possibilities arise for this area.
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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