Hiking the Eastern Half of Mt. Holyoke Range

As I mentioned in a previous post, my dad and I planned to hike the eastern half of the Mt. Holyoke Range. After a terrible 2-mile run on Friday afternoon in blazing sun and nearly 90% humidity, I was looking forward to really slowing it down and soaking up Mother Nature with this hike.

I woke up at 6:30am on Saturday raring to go. I barely slept Wednesday or Thursday nights, so I guess heading to bed early on Friday was all I needed to get back to my usual wake-up time. The weather was already perfect and I had slept with both windows and shades wide open. After I had the pre-hike breakfast of champions – a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and their power breakfast sandwich (turkey sausage, cheese, and an egg white “omelette” with some chopped up veggies), we hit the road in two separate cars so we could leave one at the end of the 4.2-mile trail.

After taking the – ahem – “scenic route” to the finish point, we finally got to Notch Visitor Center a little after 9am. After a quick visit to the portapotties (the building with plumbing didn’t open for another 10 minutes and the portapotties were actually quite clean) and the trailhead map, we headed on our way. We immediately made a wrong turn and realized at the bottom of a massive rock slide that we had gone the wrong way, following a trail that would take us around instead of up the first summit. So we hiked back up the rock slide and got back on the correct trail – the M&M, following the white blazes.

A few minutes into the first climb, three college-aged girls in yoga pants, sneakers (one in actual white sneakers, and not even the kind you wear to work out), with no water or supplies whatsoever, passed us at an impressive speed. They were obviously in great shape but it’s basically rained for a month straight, and I couldn’t help but laugh when we came upon several huge and unavoidable mud pits that they obviously had to navigate through. So being in great shape doesn’t mean you should climb a mountain in white sneakers with no water. They passed us on their way back down and were complaining about the bugs. Hello, it’s the woods in New England – you need bug spray!

The climb up Mt. Norwattuck was definitely a challenge. It’s been 18 months since I really hiked last, and I’m not in best shape whatsoever given my less-than-ideal marathon training cycle riddled with injury, last summer’s stress fracture and weight gain, and having major surgery just 3.5 weeks ago. My rib still hurt but it was important that I stop taking so much ibuprofen (it started wreaking havoc on my stomach this past week), so I was officially in “tough-it-out” pain management mode. Fortunately it didn’t bother me on the hike, and my legs actually felt very strong. It was my lungs and the soles of my feet that struggled the most.

The peak offered amazing views, but we didn’t stay too long, knowing we were only 1.2 miles into a 4.2-mile hike. The downhill was ROUGH. So rough that I actually decided to use trekking poles for the first time in my life. My backpack is not really a hiking pack, so I had nowhere to keep the poles but sticking out the zipper on the top, which was pretty annoying, but I was glad to have them to bear some of the weight on the steep decline.

But not long after we started the descent from Mt. Norwattuck, we reached the famed Horse Caves. According to legend, some of the men fighting with Daniel Shays in Shays’ Rebellion hid out in the Horse Caves after their defeat at the hands of the Massachusetts militia. They were beyond impressive. I carefully scooted myself down a couple of big rock slabs so I could really explore the caves. It’s just truly amazing what millions of years have created for us to explore!

After the Horse Caves, we came to an intersection of a few trails and made another wrong turn. We realized it a few minutes later when we started seeing yellow blazes, so we backtracked and got back on the M&M trail, which was also the Robert Frost Trail from here until the finish point.

On our way up to Long Mountain, I started fading. I’d had a protein bar in the car, but that was several hours ago at this point. It was getting warm and I was being overly conservative with my water, so I was probably a bit dehydrated. I found a big rock right off the trail, where we could sit high enough up to let our legs dangle and take a load of our feet while we had lunch – half a peanut butter sandwich and a turkey jerky stick for me and just a beef jerky stick for my dad. Afterward, we kept plugging along the ascent, and intentionally veered off the trail at one point so that we could check out Rattlesnake Knob. The view to the south was amazing – no houses or highways visible anywhere. The north view gave us a clear line of sight to the UMass campus and the rest of Amherst, as well as the peaks of the mountains to the north and northwest of us, namely Mt. Greylock (someday!). We also got an impressive show from a giant hawk that kept flying right in front of us and directly overhead.

We headed back to the trail, and very slowly made our way to the summit of Long Mountain. Well, to the highest point that is trail-accessible. According to my Garmin, the highest point we reached here was 894 feet, but the map shows the peak at 920 feet. At this stage, I was totally pooped so if you had pointed a way for me to scramble to the summit, I would’ve said “no thanks.”

“It’s all downhill from here,” my dad reminded me as we left the lookout point on Long Mountain. Except it wasn’t. There were some rolling hills (that’s what we call them in running – not sure what you call them in hiking), but it was obviously mostly downhill. And very steep in some points, so I used my poles again. Even once we reached the bottom and still had about 3/10 of a mile till we got to my car, I kept using the poles lest I fall on my face from sheer exhaustion. As we approached the clearing, I could see the sun reflecting off several cars. When we finally got there, we saw every car except mine. This isn’t where we parked it. I almost cried, but looked 90 degrees to my left and realized we had parked it about 50 yards away from the official parking lot in what is probably supposed to be just a turnaround. Oops.

When we got to my car, my Garmin said we had covered 5.93 miles in 4 hours and 22 minutes. It was definitely a workout, and I was so excited to sit down. But first I ripped off my hiking boots and slipped into my Oofos recovery sandals. Wasting no time, I drove my dad back to his car at the starting point, and aside from a quick stop at the closest convenience store (which was primarily a liquor store that sold a few types of soda and bottled water), it was all about Destination Hot Shower.

I tried to nap after my shower but I had a chill I couldn’t quite cure, which was especially strange because it was 75 degrees out, so I blow-dried my hair, ate some leftovers from Friday, and drank a nice cold beer instead. I was still starving so we decided to go for an early dinner, where we sat on the patio soaking up some more sun. After some ice cream on the way home, reviewing our hike data on our laptops like total nerds, and planning for next weekend’s hike if the weather pans out in the Adirondacks, it was an early night to bed for both of us, and I finally got a full night of good, restful sleep.

(click on any photo to enlarge)

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