Hiking The Seven Sisters

20171021_110850On Saturday, as part of my dad’s 67th (!) birthday celebration, we headed to Skinner State Park a little after 10am. We parked his car there and continued onto Notch Visitor Center of Mount Holyoke Range State Park. It was a little after 11am when we started on the trail. I looked around and saw lots of girls in yoga pants and sneakers, dogs on leashes, and folks who just did not look like they were going hiking. I immediately felt self-conscious about my hiking boots, comfy shorts and backpack full of water and snacks.

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Part of the initial ascent.

The trail was no joke from the get-go, but within 15 minutes we were rewarded with the first of the Seven Sisters – Bare Mountain. After taking in the view, we continued east and realized all of the dogs and yoga pants were gone. Only hikers with legitimate gear continued on. It seems that lots of people hike up to the first peak, take in the view, and then head back to their cars. I stopped feeling self-conscious immediately.

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View from Bare Mountain.

After 1.5 miles, we came upon Mount Hitchcock, the second peak. The sign let us know that the Summit House was only 3 miles away. We thought our hike was going to be 6+ miles, so we were surprised to realize that it would only be 4.5 miles. We took our first break for some trail mix (and an RX BAR for me), and continued on our way. We made good time for the first 3 miles. After we stopped for “lunch” – a pb&j for me and a granola bar for my dad – we slowed down significantly. I was getting tired. My feet were burning (despite splurging on a nice pair of Vasque boots + Superfeet hiking insoles). I just wasn’t used to them or hiking in general. My legs were getting a workout.

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The steepest climb on the trail.

Opposite of running, where downhills hurt your quads and uphills strain your hamstrings, hiking uphill usually means a lot of climbing, so my quads were on fire. The downhills hurt my knees and feet, as I was doing a lot of sideways downhilling/sliding on leaves and loose rocks. And I was just pooped (remember, this was supposed to be another rest day for me). I had cramps to boot, so was taking a lot of ibuprofen to keep those at bay. But I was having a great time and the weather could not have been more perfect. I was warm by the end but comfortable in my long-sleeved flannel shirt, and wanted to keep that on instead of stripping down to a tank top when I felt so disgustingly bloated.

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3 miles to go? Nope, 4.8 miles to go!

My dad was perfectly consistent with his pace, but I found it easier to scurry up the hills and rest/wait for him at the top. I don’t know what kind of strategy hikers employ but mine worked for me and my dad’s worked for him, so we were both content.

For almost a mile, we walked behind, then ahead of, then behind again a guy and his dog named Rudy. Rudy was the same size as Chip and reminded me a lot of Rags. He was a shaggy little guy and it turns out he is 11 years old, but you would never know it by his energy level and ability to scale mountains. He was a very good boy.

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View from the Summit House.

When we finally reached the Summit House, or rather the clearing next to it, I heard a dad say to his son, “See, here comes a hiker now.” We were back in Yoga Pants Land. Except now there were children and elderly and a lot more dogs. You see, you can drive all the way up to the Summit House to take in the view. You can also park where we left my dad’s car and walk up the paved road. Either way, no one coming from the opposite direction of us was a hiker.

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Selfie at the Summit House.

We went up to the deck of the Summit House to take in the view for several minutes. There were probably 10,000 ladybugs attached to the walls and, if you stopped moving long enough, all over you. The views were spectacular. It was too hazy in the distance to see very far, but I convinced myself I could see Mt. Snow in Vermont.

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The stairs are actually here to protect the deteriorated trail beneath them, not to make climbing easier.

We headed out for the final descent and I felt recharged. I knew we’d be back at the car soon and while it had been a great day and a fun hike, I was ready to sit and eventually take a shower. Except that final descent took WAY longer than I anticipated. It was just about 1.8 miles, and it was tough terrain. We did pass more yoga pants who clearly did not realize that this trail wasn’t quite the same as walking up the paved road, and at least one couple was arguing as they went by us (“I really do not appreciate your sarcasm right now, Joe.”).

At one point, we looked down. I saw these big round drums that looked like were part of a farm and said, “Do you think we parked near there?” My dad said he thought so. Turns out, we were parked RIGHT next to those, but about 1,000 feet down below. There was still a long way to go.

Finally, finally, finally, we got to the end of the trail which dumped us onto a gravel road. We walked along that road for another half-mile before we finally got to the car. I was so happy I could cry. Instead, I guzzled the last of my water and ripped off my boots and socks, fully expecting to see at least the start of some blisters. Nope! I did have a distinct line of dirt that began where my sock ended, but otherwise my feet looked no worse for the wear. We high-fived and congratulated each other on surviving our 10K hike on a pretty warm day. It was awesome!

5 minutes later, my dad dropped me off at my car. I guess some people Uber from the finish back to their car, but I think we made the right call in leaving one at each trailhead.

All-in-all, it was an excellent hike. After a hot shower, a cold beer, a mediocre dinner (note to self: never go back to Commonwealth Kitchen in Enfield), and ice cream from DQ, we were wiped out. I was asleep before 9pm and slept until 7:30 the next morning.

I’m already eager to go hiking again. Some friends here are hiking Kilimanjaro in December and are breaking in their gear between now and then, and my friend Jess and I want to tag along with them on some local hikes. And my dad agreed we want to do the other half of the Mount Holyoke Range – so heading east from where we parked my car instead of west. It’s shorter and lower elevation, but I’m OK with slightly easier for my next hike.

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My shadow from one of the two downed trees I insisted on balance-beaming across instead of walking under or alongside.
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