Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mt. Tom Range Ridge Walk, Holyoke, MA, May 6, 2018

Mt. Tom Ridge Walk via Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, Holyoke, MA, 5/6/2018

Mileage:  6.2 (RT)

Elevation gain: 1,237'

Trailhead:  This hike starts just before the southwest entrance to the Mt. Tom State Reservation.  The entrance, listed as Christopher Clark Road in Easthampton, Massachusetts, is directly across from Log Cabin wedding venue (500 Easthampton Road [Route 141], Holyoke).  

Part of the New England National Scenic Trail system, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail begins at the Connecticut/Massachusetts state line and ends at the summit of Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire, a total of 114 miles. The hike described below is along Section 6.

Hiked with Lindsley on this rainy day.  We parked at the cutout just outside the Reservation gate and carefully walked south along busy Route 141, hopping onto the path at the end of the guardrail.  

There's a labyrinth of unmarked paths here. They go every which way but eventually intersect the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (M-M) as it heads up the mountain.  It gets confusing as to which path to take but Mt. Tom's antennas are in clear view and we walked up the slope toward them, quickly finding the white blazed M-M trail.

This part of the M-M trail is short but steep; a mixture of slab and gravel.  Within minutes we were high enough to get glimpses of view through the trees.  It continued to rain; luckily, there were breaks in the clouds and we could see parts of Easthampton below.  

View at the top of Mt. Tom.

The top of Mt. Tom (1,201') was ahead of us on a craggy outcrop.  Years of graffiti littered the rocks.  There's a sidewalk (parts broken) and railing facing the valley. We stopped for a minute to put on our rain jackets.


Note the sidewalk in the center, completely broken and fallen.

For the next few miles we were treated to a ridge walk complete with scrambles and narrow aisles skirting steep drop offs. There's more rocky cliff than woods on this hike - the terrain reminds me of the Blue Hills near Boston.  Rocks are pretty sticky though even wet but there were a few areas we chose not to scramble down, opting instead for the walk-around (most of the steep areas have less steep side paths).

The trail is the cliff here.

No one was out hiking today and we wouldn't have been either except this was our only free day. It wasn't cold and the trail is very interesting so we kept on.

Next bump to summit.

The ridge has all sorts of interesting waypoints.  We passed another antenna and a horizontal windmill but never did see the abandoned ski slopes.

Fog blew in.

Descent here is steep but there's good footing.

We reached Deadtop Mountain (1,093'). The rain was really coming down. Discouraged, we talked of turning back.  But we had rain jackets and ponchos, leaving no excuse for wimping out so we continued on.

To the left is cliff, and the abyss.

The trail is well marked and footing is good for the most part, though there's a place or two that we took extra care.  In several areas you can see 50-100' down the side, wouldn't want to slip!

Turbine was used to power the ski area at one time.

Trail provides incredible views at the edge.

We topped out again  - at Whiting Peak (1,003'), headed down and were back in the woods.  When the junction to Quarry trail (right) came up, we went straight.  

A Baltimore Oriole was chirping/hopping around the ground on the trail.  His wing looked broken, feathers facing the wrong way.  He was quite chatty and seemed interested in us.

The trail continues to descend and there's even a switchback.  We were heading toward Reservation Road, in the middle of the park.


There's an area of broken concrete and old picnic tables, the park dump perhaps.  A few minutes later we were on Reservation Road.  The rain had let up and a group of kids were at the pavilion a few yards down the road (glad the weather had improved for them).

Trail sign at the road.

Map of Section 6.

Here, 3.1 miles in, we turned around. The other option would be to continue to the lookout tower on Goat Peak but we were pretty sure it would be closed (still early in the year). 

The hike back was pleasant; the weather had improved and people were on the trail.  The areas that were hard to descend in the wet were much easier to manage on the ascent.

At that same spot in the woods we found the Oriole chirping and hopping.  I threw a little of my granola bar to see if he was hungry.  He wasn't interested but stayed with us for a minute or two.

Heading south back to the car.

Good view of some of the cliffs.

Past the summit of Mt. Tom and heading back to our car that maze of trails stumped us again.  We kept going south and then headed right where we thought we came in. We got it right  (even if you wind up on another trail you can see the highway and make your way back to the car).

We enjoyed this hike and want to come back in better weather. Between five and six miles of the M-M trail runs through this reservation so if you want to hike the entire park, plan to be on it a good part of the day.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Croom C Loop Day Hike, Withlacoochee Forest, FL, April 26, 2018

Croom C Loop Day, via B, B-C, and C Loops, Brooksville, FL, 4/26/2018

Mileage:  7.4ish miles (lollipop loop)

Trailhead: This hike starts at the Tucker Hill Day Use area, 26414 Croom Road, Brooksville, FL. The parking area opens at 8:00 a.m. and there's a $2 fee to park.  To access the "C" Loop trail you must first hike a portion of the "B" loop trail (about .7 miles), which begins just past the kiosk - same side of the street as the fire tower (I've included a map at the end of this report). 

Croom Tract is one of three areas in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The tract has three hiking loops (A, B, and C) and connector trails. A portion of the orange blazed Florida National Scenic Trail runs within the Croom tract.  The area is also widely used for horseback riding and off-road cycling.

Hiked with the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, led by Joe. The Croom area was mined years ago and the hills and dips we encountered are overgrown quarry pits. 

This area is the place to train if you live in Florida and plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Trails total just under 20 miles, divided into three loops: A, B and C, with optional A-B, and B-C Crosstrails.   I've hiked here several times (see previous reports on A Loop, and B Loop hikes) but this is my first time on "C" Loop.

Tucker Hill parking lot (there are bathrooms!).

Tucker Hill fire tower.

We met at the picnic area at the far end of the lot. "B" Loop trail is accessed here. 

Started here.

"B" is yellow blazed.

The trail is wide and predictably flat. It wasn't long before the trail crosses a clearing.

In a little less than a mile we arrived at a trail junction. The plan was to hike "C" Loop clockwise so we took the B-C Crosstrail.

Went left.

Blazes are now blue - we are on the B-C Crosstrail.

Pine flatwoods are as far as the eye can see, though small oak "treelets" cover the floor, scheming to eventually dominate (which is why this area receives regularly prescribed burns).

We crossed Forest Road 5,  heading into more of the same.

There are several road crossings on this hike.

Baby longleaf pines.

We arrived at the next trail junction - the second "C" Loop intersection, and took the "C" Loop trail.

Out of the pines for now.

Forest Road 7 intersects shortly after the junction.

And busy Forest Road 10 (they're constructing a paved bike trail here).

The trail takes a sharp right turn and after crossing Forest Road 7 (again) we arrived at Twin Ponds camping area, a large clearing with quite a few overnight spots. This place, I am told, fills with campers during hunting season (check it out here).

Campground is on FR 7.

The campground is a good place to stop for lunch.  At this point we're just under five miles into the hike, over half way there.

Back on the trail, the group soon arrived at the limestone pit/ridge.  Heavily mined for limestone, Croom's pits or quarries make for a few ups and downs. Half of us dropped into the pit, the others walked the ridge. Nothing too grand about doing either but it added a bit of variation.

Down in the pit.

Up on the ridge.

Back on the flat.

Big snake skin (coachwhip perhaps?).

We crossed FR 5, then FR 10 again and wound up back at the junction of "B" Loop trail.

FR 10 - bike trail under construction.

Back on "B" Loop trail.

Ten minutes later we were back at the picnic/parking area.  

At the parking lot we checked out the old cemetery, located in back of the pay station sign, about a tenth of a mile in.

Wide trail behind this sign goes to the cemetery.

Headstones date as early as mid 1800s and late as 1930s.  

Our route.