Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Scramble up Pine Cobble to see the views of Williamstown

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Many Berkshire villages have a nearby eminence that you can climb to get a three-dimensional lay of the land. Pine Cobble, whether defined as a separate mountain or a lookout on East Mountain, is such a destination for Williamstown. Now that schools are back in session, it's time to emulate the students in an ascent.

Beginning at the Pine Cobble Trail parking on Pine Cobble Road (off North Hoosac Road in Williamstown), the climb to the outlook is 1.6 miles, or about an hour. Steep in a couple spots, you gain about 1,000 feet in elevation to 1,894 feet. "Pine" for the trees that once clung to the south-facing slopes, now more oak. "Cobble" for the quartzite rocky outcrop.

The panoramic view includes the Hoosic River Valley, the Williams College campus, "downtown" Williamstown, the airport and North Adams, with the Greylock massif and the Taconics as background. Or you can stroll to the other side of the Cobble to gaze upon the Sherman Brook valley, which the Appalachian Trail follows, and the southernmost Green Mountains. No wonder it is one of the most popular hikes around, including for members of the Williams College Outing Club, who visit it on weekly "sunrise" hikes, and for through-hikers, who use it to access the Long Trail.

Cross the road and follow the blue blazes, bearing away from the road. The lower section of the trail has been rerouted several times to move it farther from the subdivision homes. This past summer some heavy-duty stone stairs were added. A water dish provides "For the thirsty dogs of Pine Cobble." After a half-hour-plus, a side trail leads to Bear Spring, about the only water on the dry south side of Pine Cobble.

Students of the Williams Class of 1998 cut the trail that departs left, a way to get to the AT without summiting Pine Cobble. The Pine Cobble trail shows some gravel and white sand, evidence that the waters of glacial Lake Bascom lapped there some 10,000 years ago. Pass a sign indicating you're on Williamstown Rural Lands property, implicitly honoring the role the land trust played in preserving the trail when the housing development was put in.

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After a brief respite the trail begins to climb steadily up. Note the mitten shaped leaves of the sassafras, a southern tree moved this far north — harbinger of plants to come. With some chestnut oaks — the oak-like leaves are rounded rather than pointed — azalea is the primary undergrowth, blossoming pink with a sweet odor in the spring. You pass some large stones, good sitting for those who wish to take a break, and three-trunk-tree, either a wishing well or a witch's caldron depending on your disposition.

The last rise takes you to the crest, where you turn right to scramble over some rocks to multiple viewing points. Please stay on the trail in deference to fragile habitat. There it all is, all you wanted to see.

You can of course return the way you came, for a 3.2-mile outing. A favored alternative is to continue straight rather than turning down from the ridge, climbing one-half mile to the summit of East Mountain and the Appalachian Trail (blazed white). Then left on the '98 Trail which, after 1.5 miles will return you to the Pine Cobble Trail, with something over a half-mile back to the parking, four-plus miles all told.

Or, of course, you can continue north on the Long Trail to Canada. Or take a right on the AT near Rutland for Katahdin. Once you get hiking, sometimes it's easier not to stop.

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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