Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Pine Cobble still hides surprises
Depending on how you want to look at it, Pine Cobble is either a separate peak or an overlook on East Mountain. Both are snuggled against the Vermont border, possibly defining the southernmost extent of the Green Mountains. A four-plus-mile combination of trails there is my go-to route, which increased my surprise when recently I came across something I didn't know about in the remains of a glider.
After a brief walk from my house I'm on the Williamstown Rural Land Foundation's (WRLF) Chestnut Trail, which rises from Chestnut Street in Williamstown — good to walk to it, because car parking in limited. Still, the trail — an old logging road — gets a good bit of use from dog walkers and neighbors. It is blazed blue. It climbs at a moderate pitch through an oak and chestnut oak forest. Most of the segments of this trip are about a half-mile long.
The trail arrives at a four-way intersection, with two ways closed by branches, where it turns right, followed by a short climb to the `98 Trail, another logging road. Maybe more than logging. The sedimentary rock that has tumbled down from East Mountain, scree, has flat sides and, even, corners. I suspect that in early days residents drove carts up there to haul stone for chimneys and foundations.
I will return on the section of the '98, blazed blue, that extends up East Mountain, later. Now I turn right for a relatively level walk. Williams students laid it out in 1998 to provide a route to the Appalachian Trail without climbing Pine Cobble. On the way the trail passes through a pile of those stones, which can be tricky footing, although mostly it stays below them. Near the end it bears left up the hill, where an informal trail enters right.
A sign at the Pine Cobble Trail junction reads 0.8 miles to the overlook. It heads up fairly steeply on a section the Williams Outing Club (WOC) re-routed a number of years ago to avoid a badly eroded stretch. A sign indicates I'm entering WRLF land. The trail reaches a flat area, crosses some stone and turns left for a moderate ascent. Boulders that invite a sit-down and the three-trunk tree are landmarks. The latter was formed when the original stem died, leaving three offshoots. The trail grows steeper the last few hundred yards. I turn right to select one of several Pine Cobble viewing points. The clear views take in the Hoosac Valley to North Adams, Williamstown, Greylock, and the Taconics. From another location the view is down the Sherman Brook valley, where the AT climbs.
I backtrack past the trail junction, heading more or less north, blazed blue. A ring in a rock is a reminder that utility wires passed this way once. The trail climbs through one open boulder field to another, guided by cairns. The openings are the result of a forest fire, which also accounts for the short-needled pitch pines, found here and on Mount Everett in Berkshire County. The views are good to the south and west, although beginning to be obscured by spruce.
Just beyond the cairn that marks the high point, the AT enters right, blazed white as always. I follow to the left, north, over a lower and then higher ledge that may in fact be higher than the supposed summit. The '98 Trail departs to the left, with a sign. It descends through hardwood forest. Part way down someone flagged a side trail last summer. That leads to the downed glider.
WOC Director Scott Lewis tipped me off. Williams Center for Environmental Studies Director Henry Art had a newspaper clipping from 1975 that told the story. The glider took off from (then) Harriman Airport in North Adams, on Oct. 4, with a 34-year-old pilot from Mechanicville, New York. The clipping says he came down on Pine Cobble, but clearly it was East Mountain — actually in Clarksburg State Forest. Two hikers found it. They weren't on the '98 Trail, which hadn't been built. Maybe they could see the glider from the AT. More likely they were on an old trail from the East Mountain Sportsmen's Club to the AT that has since grown over.
I follow '98 past a downed utility pole on the same former line as the ring on the rock above. The trail, still blazed blue, makes twists and turns, descending gradually. I exit it on an unmarked skidder trail, avoiding a steep scramble that includes stone steps likely to be slippery. I come out at the four-way intersection on the Chestnut Trail. Then back to Chestnut Street.
Like all Berkshire trails, those on this route contain history and surprises.
Happy trails to you.
Lauren R. Stevens is author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press, W.W. Norton, 2016.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.