Friday - Saturday, November 7 - 9th, 2008
Greg Virgilio and Peter Beauregard took Jacob Virgilio, Zachary Desjardins and Mike Beauregard backpacking along the AT. They climbed Mt. Greylock
We left Friday afternoon from the Temple around 4:00PM, a little latter than scheduled. The two vehicles arrived almost simultaneously from opposite directions at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail on Outlook Ave in Cheshire MA. The time was approximately 6:00PM. We hit the trail at 6:30PM and it was already as dark as night gets.
Immediately, we saw a sign that said tenting area 3.8 miles. This was disconcerting for two reasons: First the closest camp area was 3.8 miles. Mr. Virgilio, going from memory and not the trail map had said it was “a couple of miles” to the Mark Noepal Lean to. The sign indicated twice the distance and said nothing at all about a lean-to. If the boys were distraught about this they did hide it well. Mr. Beauregard took it in stride and said nonchalantly “It is what it is and we will do our best.” The boys took that queue and did exactly that. We had not brought tents with us because we were planning on staying in the lean-to’s along the AT. Mr. Beauregard quickly put together a contingency plan because he had brought along a tarp just in case.
We used our headlamps to pick our way along the trail finding the blazes one after the other. The AT is usually very easy to follow because the blazes are well maintained by volunteers who do a good job painting and repainting as necessary to mark the trail. However, finding your way in the dark, with freshly fallen leaves obscuring the trail is challenging. We climbed steadily as the trail ascended though the woods. We could see nothing of the surrounding trees or landscape, only the tunnel vision provided by our headlamps. We followed the trail, blaze by blaze like Hansel and Gretel. We were doing well, making good time in spite of the very steep path but the cold night air brought another challenge we were to be faced with: Fog. It was difficult enough to pick our way along the path without the fog but at times the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see 15 feet in front of us. Up to this point it was possible to follow the trail and we lost it only a couple of times. When the fog rolled in we started loosing the trail more frequently. At one point we were very bewildered. Our normal procedure, when we lost the trail, was to backtrack to the last blaze. This time we had trouble locating the last blaze. We had backtracked to where we thought it might be and looked hard but could see nothing, when suddenly it appeared almost as if by magic. We found it and took a good close look and found the rest of the trail and made our way onward.
As the trail approached Mt.Greylock it became somewhat more pronounced probably because of the heavier foot traffic. It became easier to follow because of that and we began to relax a little and get into a slow steady pace. The night forest is home to many creatures. One which is especially at home in the night forest is the Hoot Owl. We had the pleasure of being scared speechless by one which heard us as we were passing and just wanted to let us know he was out there somewhere in the dark. Later, as we were walking along we heard the howl of a different sort, maybe a coy dog, possibly a fox. Far enough away not to be a threat but not so far as not to leave us a little uncomfortable.
We arrived a the Mark Neopal Lean-to at 10:30 PM. We made our bunks in the loft of the hut and quickly went to sleep, No contingency plan was necessary. We awoke the next morning and had a very leisurely breakfast. It was foggy, drizzly but not rainy and relatively warm for this time of year. We cleaned up, packed up and were on the trail by 11:00Am. Our plan was to hike the two miles to the summit and then decide which of three possible locations to spend the night. We had a choice of the Mark Neopal lean-to (again), the Pecks Brook Lean to and the other one. The hike up was slow because of the rugged terrain and steepness. We didn’t actually get to the summit until about 2:30PM which is less than ¾ of a mile per hour. Slow even by our standards. But it wasn’t a race and we had enough time. It was cold and windy at the top and very foggy so we could barely see the monument. It was closed for renovation besides, but it didn’t matter much because we found the Thunderbolt cabin open. Inside there were not one but four wood stoves and it was an excellent shelter from the wind and the rain. We took out our food bags and made a hot lunch with tuna fish soup and vegetable rice. It warmed us up. We also made our decision about where to head to spend the night. We decided that the Peck’s Brook lean to was best choice for several reasons: First, it was the closest. Time was ticking and when it gets dark at 4:30PM we really wanted to find the hut before it got dark. We were missing a good head lamp and mine was getting low on batteries. It was also only a little bit out of our way and it would allow us to take a different way back for a good part of the distance on the following day so we would not be re-tracing our steps and we could see some trails we hadn’t been on before. . We didn’t know it at the time but it was situated overlooking a beautiful brook and waterfall so it was a wonderful choice.
The trail leading to the hut was fairly easy shallow decent in most places. Our pace was good and we reached it about 4:00PM.. We were all awed by the beauty of the location of the hut and the views overlooking the water cascading down the ravine. Our quick pace and early arrival left a little bit of time for the scouts to explore and have some fun. Mike and Zack immediately climbed down the ravine and soon discovered a beautiful waterfall out of sight but just below the hut.
During the night the weather changed, the rain stopped and it got quite a bit colder. The next morning we were thinking it might have snowed but only Michael found snow, there rest of us just found water. We got breakfast and the scouts filtered water for the day and then we packed up. The sun was out and in spite of the cold air it was very nice because of the warmth from the sun. Jake discovered a Bible someone had left in the hut and we conducted a Scouts own service with each person choosing a reading and all of us thanking God for this beautiful place and this beautiful day.
Jake had wanted to start early so he could finish his homework and have enough time to study we accommodated him by being diligent in our morning tasks We set out for our destination about 9:15A, a relatively early start. The trail turned into an old road about a mile down and it made the hiking easy both because it was relatively shallow gradient and because it was well packed and not studded with roots and rock as is most of the AT. We anticipated a good pace due to the “Horses Back to the Barn Theory” but that coupled with the good hiking terrain left us with a breakneck pace of almost 3 miles per hour in some places. About two miles down we connected back up with the AT to finish our loop. As we hiked the AT now headed south we were able to see for the first time the beauty of the land we had hiked up two days previously. We had been climbing though an evergreen forest which was situated on the side of a steep mountain and as we looked off I thought it was a very good thing we had not strayed off the trail on the way up. We made it back to our cars by about 1:15 or so, which meant we had covered about 5 ½ miles in a matter of 4 hours which was a good pace. We were tired but not exhausted. Overall it was a great hike and a great adventure. I was especially grateful for the fine company and companionship, the wonderful scenery and the beautiful weather on the way back.