Friday, September 16, 2016

M-M Section 7a: Boat Launch to the Mt. Holyoke Summit House

Section 7 along the Holyoke Range (from a trailhead sign)
On a beautiful Friday morning, after exploring the Oxbow by kayak, we picked up my pack at the boat launch and set out across the Connecticut River. My goal for the day was only to climb to the Summit House on top of Mt. Holyoke, where my husband would pick me up. From the river to the summit! The hike is just over two miles, so I didn't expect it to take very long. ha ha ha ha

Heading out from the Oxbow to the Connecticut River
I like to define hiking success as having an adventure, and by that measure, this hike was a smashing success. There were some great parts, like the kayaking and the Summit House at the top of Mt. Holyoke. But I had a horrible time trying to get from the river to MA 47. If you're a thru hiker, find a different way than the way I went (the route described in the M-M guidebook 2005 edition). 

Crossing the Connecticut River
The river was gorgeous.  I stopped in the middle and just floated in the sun for about five minutes. No power boats. Completely peaceful.

M-M guidebook on where to land

The M-M Guidebook has a pretty clear description of where to land, and we had no trouble finding the sandy beach between the two sets of powerlines opposite the entrance to the oxbow. 

Sandy beach between two sets of powerlines

The landing, with Mt Tom Reservation in the background
The sandy beach was wonderful and we regretted not having a picnic lunch. It's obviously a party spot, and there was a lot of litter washed up at the flood line, but it was still really nice. But after a half hour or so, it was time for my husband to tow my kayak back to the boat ramp. Farewell!

My kayak getting towed back across the river
Now for the horrible part. I did my homework, studying the M-M guidebook map and description, and had the course mapped out on Google maps as well. I expected an overgrown trail, faded blazes, and some self-navigation, since this part is seldom used. I'm good with that. 

M-M Guidebook map (the book seam covers part of the map)

Screenshot of my Google map based on the M-M Guidebook. 
But I was not prepared for the impenetrable, unbroken thicket that blocked my passage from the beach. The first section of "trail" is through a belt of woodland that is only about 350 feet wide at its maximum. This took me a good half hour at least to get through, and it was exhausting. I went up and down the beach between the two powerlines, trying first one way, then another and another, and each way was a solid wall of vines and bushes. I looked for blazes and found nothing. At one point I managed to find a way through a 40 foot section by walking on a fallen tree trunk that had crushed the vegetation. Thank goodness there weren't many briers or thorns. It would have been impossible.
What I actually hiked (yellow) Vs. the Guidebook route (blue)

Wall #1: The Thicket
I recently read a book about explorers in the Amazon and how it would take them forever just to walk ten feet. I didn't really understand that when I read it. Now I do. At one point I was trapped by Black Swallow-wort, which also goes by the name Dog Strangle Vine. I could hardly pull my trekking pole out of the stuff. It was crazy. By the time I staggered out of the thicket, I was exhausted.

Oh Thank God: The field.'s a wall of corn.  Are you kidding me?
I was so happy to see the field. I took a right turn like my map said and walked to the powerlines. The map and description say to follow the powerlines across the field. But there was a wall of 7-foot tall corn in the way, planted in rows at right angles to the "trail." Again, this was absurd.  Not gonna happen.

Detouring along the field perimeter
Coincidentally, the farmer was out harvesting the corn, and had made a couple passes on the perimeter of the field. I went that way. If I had been there a day later, I probably could have walked right along the utility towers like the guidebook says. If I had been there a few hours earlier, I don't know if I would have been able to walk the perimeter of the field. C'est la vie. 

Corn harvesting on the "trail"
The field perimeter route added about half a mile to the walk, which was OK. I had the Google satellite view up on my phone, showing the M-M guidebook route, and knew the perimeter would eventually bring me back to the powerlines.  At one point I passed a lane with a view of the harvesters, who were headed my way, and I thought they would catch me and I would have to duck into the woods to avoid getting in the way of the equipment, but they turned the other way.

A lot of corn gets left on the ground
I've never walked through a cornfield right after harvest. A lot of corn gets left behind and attracts deer and turkey and other wildlife. The kernels were hard, so I guess this is corn was destined for animal feed.

Russell Cove
The field skirted Russell Cove and some ducks flew by. There were several animal runs from the field into the water. Otter? Muskrat?

Wall #3: The Loosestrife Field
Finally, the perimeter route circled back to the powerlines, which I was supposed to be hiking under. And guess what, there was now a wall of purple loosestrife to wade through. I triple-checked the map. The Third Wall. This would have been no big deal if I had long pants on, but in with the loosestrife was one of the smartweeds with small thorns, maybe Lady's Tearthumb. Little tiny scratches were added to the bigger scratches on my legs I got earlier trying to get through the thicket. But I got through it. That night my legs burned as if I had a sunburn. Just a heads up:  Purple loosestrife is a wetland plant, by the way, so I would think this gets wet, but I wasn't too worried during the drought.  It looks wet on the satellite image, too.

Looking back towards the cornfield. Joe Pye Weed in the foreground. 
And then I came to the Fourth Wall - ten foot tall cattails (no photo). I've never seen cattails so thick. I tried going through (no water with the drought) and that was impossible. So I veered right, found a way around it eventually. and a field of grass opened up with Highway MA47 up the hill. Yay!

MA 47 up ahead. 

I came out at Hockanum Cemetery and sat down to take a break. The cornfield didn't get a breeze at all, and it was hot walking even on a cool day. I glanced behind me and saw a 'no trespassing sign' at the edge of the cemetery where I had just come through. Oops. Well. The M-M map does show the trail route curving back behind the cemetery. But I doubt there was any trail there and it would have been impassible. 

Hockanum Cemetery
After a break, I headed through the cemetery towards the junction of MA 47 and Mountain Road. I failed to copy the right maps for the trailhead area in detail, and didn't know where the trail went from here. There were no white blazes anywhere. I finally pulled out the gps and checked the route I found online from a previous hiker, and discovered the trail went up Mountain Road for a bit. But no blazes at all.

In the cemetery
By the way, what did that hiker with the gps route do to get across the river? I remember reading something about confusion over the drop off point and getting dropped too far upstream. And that's what the gps showed, with the hiker following the northern powerline rather than the southern powerline. That accidental route, though longer, actually looks easier than what I did. The northern powerline looks like it has a road beneath it.

Oh Thank God. A blaze!! I see a blaze!!
I was never so happy to see a trailhead and white blazes. And what does that NET map show for the crossing, I wonder?

Trailhead Map of the NET
Well, it's slightly different at the beach, showing a more southerly entrance, but the rest of it is identical to the M-M Guidebook map. To be fair, the online NET map shows no trail at all between the boat launch and MA 47, nor does the NET fold out map I purchased. But still...we're getting mixed messages here about the trail.

Looking back down at the way I came.
So anyways, the trail headed up the mountain and the hike from here to the top was pleasant and uneventful. I passed no one on the trail until I neared the top.

Scenic Trail

Solomon Seal berries

Coming up to the Summit House

The Summit House is gorgeous. As are the views. The inside wasn't open when I was there on Friday, but the big wrap-around porch was. A road goes up to the top, so there were people up there enjoying the scenery. It was a great place to wait for my ride back to the hotel.

Nearby is a monument to a WWII era plane crash on the mountain that includes one of the propellers from the plane. The young men were training for the war when someone made an error in judgement and crashed into the mountain.

Mt Holyoke from the Northampton Quality Inn
Back at the hotel, we hung out on the deck for a bit overlooking Mt. Holyoke. Looking out beyond the construction zone and Shell gas station, we could see the Summit House. To the left is the Seven Sisters, a hike planned for the following day.  After a nice hot shower (sorry backpackers!) and a break to relax, we had a great dinner at the Northampton Brewery. Highly recommend it!

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