Hiking Mount Greylock and Saddle Ball Mountain

This past weekend, I went “home.” I got to Longmeadow late morning on Friday (thank you to my boss, who insisted I sleep in after not sleeping at ALL Monday-Wednesday!) and checked the weather constantly. It was looking like Sunday was going to be the better weekend day to hike, as Saturday’s mountaintop forecast for Mount Greylock – the highest point in Massachusetts – was calling for morning rain, temps that didn’t make it out of the 50s, high winds, and clouds even when it wasn’t raining. The forecast held true, but it turned out to be a lovely day to spend with my mom in Connecticut. We ran some errands she needed to do, got lunch at a new place in town (it was delicious!) and relaxed while enjoying each other’s company. And OK fine, I took a 30-minute nap on her living room couch because even though I slept great the previous night, a week of crappy sleep was still making me feel exhausted.

I had dinner with my dad back in Longmeadow and went to sleep at a decent time, making sure to keep hydrating like I had been all day. Unfortunately, sleep didn’t come until several hours later and it was only in fits and starts. Before I knew it, my 5:30am alarm was going off. I begrudgingly rolled over, opened the bedroom door so Chip could bolt down the stairs and join my dad and Magee for a walk, and tried to get moving.

We were in the car a few minutes before 6am but Dunkin Donuts employees were really struggling for some reason, and it took almost 10 whole minutes in the drive-thru to get our order, mostly because they failed to make my breakfast sandwich the first time. Ugh. Finally we were cruising up 91, then getting on the Mass Pike heading west. I hate heading west on the Pike past Springfield when my destination isn’t the Adirondacks, but I knew this was going to be a great hike. We got off at Exit 2 in Lee, drove through the adorable little towns of Lee and Lenox then Pittsfield (which seems to be on the up & up after years of blight, but who knows – it was still pretty dead at that hour). Eventually we got to Lanesboro/Lanesborough and that’s where the trailhead we wanted to park at is located, even though the mountain itself is in the town of Adams.

You can drive to the summit of Mount Greylock, although it’s a very long and winding 8-mile road with a 25mph speed limit. We only went up about 1/3 of the way, found our trailhead parking lot, and got geared up to hit the trail. It was just about 7:45am, and I was a tad cold in capris and a long-sleeve zip-up. I could see my breath until several miles into the trail, but warmed up quickly. Oddly enough I didn’t end up taking off my long sleeve and stripping down to a tank top until we had about 1.5 miles left in the hike.

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The Jones Nose trail starts off in a flat meadow, where the path is barely a foot wide. There were two young guys in jeans, sneakers, and each carrying one Poland Spring bottled water who started ahead of us but we quickly passed them when they stopped to – I can only assume – check a map on their phone or something. I could hear them debating, and one of them even said, “It’s only 4 miles. We can do this.” Uh, 4 miles each way = 8 miles, unless they were getting a ride back down. We ended up leapfrogging them several times when they stopped to rest for extended periods, and then finally they passed us and I overheard one saying, “Let’s just go a little further and see if it gets any easier.” We never passed them again, but they were about as ill-prepared as I’ve seen on some of my recent hikes, although at least they had water.

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Is this the summit of Saddle Ball Mountain? We had no idea!

Sure, the trail starts off steep. You climb about 1,000 feet in elevation over a mile. I’ve experienced much worse, but I’m always super huffy puffy first thing in the morning. Fortunately it was neither hot nor humid and that helped a lot. After about 1.25 miles of climbing, we met up with the Appalachian Trail and followed that to the summits. It was really well maintained, with lots of places where log walkways had been installed to reduce mud and protect the plant life underfoot. It had rained the day before, so the brush was wet and there were some muddy spots we had to trudge through, but nothing compared to the Adirondacks this summer. We reached the summit of Saddle Ball Mountain – the second-highest point in Massachusetts – pretty quickly, or so we thought. There was no sign or summit marker, and I read afterward that there might have been a cairn somewhere to mark it, but we didn’t see anything. I took a photo of a large tree at what seemed according to the elevation on my Garmin to be the highest point. Who knows?!

We continued on, mostly downhill till we reached the summit auto road. We’d cross it three times in each direction. From the first meeting with the road, it was a decent climb through mostly wet rocks up to the summit of Greylock. I noticed my dad was really starting to lag behind, which was unusual because this was far from a difficult climb in comparison to what we’ve done recently. I stopped to check on him (we usually hike about 50-100 feet apart, but I always make sure he’s within my sight line or I wait until I can see him until I proceed. Yesterday was easy to spot him through the trees in his bright white hat – I might require him to always wear that!) and he said his knee was really bothering him. He had surgery in March, but it’s been mostly fine since. I was worried about him, and know how miserable it is to hike (or run) with pain, so I slowed it down until we got to the summit.

20190811_112626Finally we reached it, and the Bascom War Memorial was a sight to behold. The wind was whipping but the sun was shining, and it turned out to be a perfect time to summit as it had been cloudy for most of our ascent. We checked out all the cool signs, maps, and informative displays, and then finally made our way to the top of the War Memorial. The summit of Greylock is 3,491 feet but the top of the memorial is 93 feet, so we were technically as high as 3,500+ feet up there, which is still well below all of the Adirondack High Peaks (4,000+ feet). But we could see some of them! The windows looking northwest were clean, for which I was incredibly grateful. The windows looking in other directions were dirty, but I didn’t care nearly as much about those views.

After some exploring, we found a good rock along the ledge looking east to sit and have lunch. I had worked up a sweat and was now sitting still, and even though we had the sun shining down on us, the wind was strong and the temps were chilly for August (normal for this elevation but I mean chilly for sea level in August), and I started shivering. As the temperatures start declining, I may need to consider bringing either a dry change of clothes or additional layers for moments like these. Lord knows I sweat while running in -10° weather, and that’s fine until you stop. So I’m always going to sweat on hikes and know that even my moisture-wicking sports bras and base layers will end up soaked.

Anyway, we spent about 45 minutes at the summit. We finished by checking out the Bascom Lodge, which actually has rooms for overnight guests, a restaurant, and indoor plumbing for hikers. AT thru-hikers must love this perk right on the trail, because I sure was grateful for a real bathroom and, even more importantly, a sink with hot water to wash my hands. We strapped our packs back on and began our descent, which was to be slightly longer but more gradual – kinder on the knees.

We were on the AT for almost a mile, and then we veered off onto the Hopper Trail, which basically runs concurrent to the auto road but in a less direct route. We passed a few people here but not many. Eventually, we crossed the auto road and picked up the CCC Dynamite Trail. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built alpine ski trails all over New England in the 1930s and 1940s. Many get used as summer hiking trails, but some people still ski them in the winter. We never passed a single soul on the Dynamite Trail, and it was lovely. The trail was mostly flat – we were essentially hiking on the side of Saddle Ball Mountain instead of up and over it. It was much easier on dad’s knees and on my feet, which have really struggled on steep descents lately, resulting in nasty blisters. I finally used my trekking poles on descent, and now the palms of my hands are sore from clutching those for dear life to take the weight off my feet!

Whereas it took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to summit (and 4 miles), it only took us 2 hours to descend (and 4.5 miles). We eventually met back up with the Jones Nose trail to get to the car, which was extremely steep but not for very long.

When we got back to the lot, I couldn’t believe that it was completely full. We changed into dry clothes and headed out, well timed because one car was waiting for our spot while others had given up and driven off. We took the same route home, albeit this time with many more cars on the road now that it was mid-afternoon. I did a load of laundry, took a nice, hot shower, and we ate an early dinner before I headed back to Boston.

I am surprised at how easy it was to hike to the “top of Massachusetts.” I know that the more popular and crowded trails – Thunderbolt and Bellows Pipe – are much shorter and steeper, and also start at a lower elevation but I loved this hike and hey, we didn’t drive so it definitely counts.

Over dinner, we talked about how my dad has been to the highest points in Vermont (hiking), New Hampshire (by car), and Connecticut. He hiked and camped at almost the top of Katahdin but never reached the summit. I’ve only been to Mt. Washington by car as well and have never done the other 5/6 New England high points, so we’ve got some good New England hikes to look forward to!

But in the meantime, there are only about two weeks until I’m back in the Adirondacks and we’re already planning several multi-hike days when we’re there!

(click on any photo to enlarge)

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