Tuesday, September 27, 2016

M-M Sections 8 - 9a End of the Metacomet Ridge

The Metacomet Ridge is in red.
Sections 8 -9a are at the very tip of it.
This is it - the end of the Metacomet Ridge with its high trap rock cliffs and broad valleys below - and it ends with a bang. The NET has followed the basalt ledges all the way from Totoket Mountain in Guilford, Connecticut to the Holyoke Range in Granby and Amhearst.  I've come to identify the NET as a trap rock trail, but from here to Mt Monadnack everything will be different. I'm a bit nostalgic during this hike. 

Section 8 in purple, Section 9a in red
We decide to do this piece in reverse and also include part of Section 9, starting on Bay Road and hiking west to the Notch Visitor Center, a hike that includes Long Mountain, Rattlesnake Knob, the Horse Caves, and the grand trap rock finale, Mt. Norwottuck, elevation 1106 ft. 

Rope assistance at Bay Road
Well, we got a good taste of  trap rock after only a few steps out of the car. The trail went straight up a basalt ledge and a rope was there to help. 

Trail Register
At the top was a mailbox functioning as a trail register. We signed in. These things can be fun to read.

The broken inner cover

The last people to sign the register
After about a mile of pleasant woodlands we crossed Harris Road and arrived at the east end of Section 8.  Five miles to go. The M-M Trail is co-aligned with the Robert Frost Trail in this area, blazed orange. The Robert Frost sounds like a great trail and I had toyed with the idea of following it instead of the NET in order to bypass all the road walks as well as the long Quabbin section where my hiking buddy and protector Quinn is prohibited. The Robert Frost trail heads north and is co-aligned with some older sections of M-M Trail. It would have been a huge detour, though, so I decided against it.

Trail benched in to trap rock cobbles
Granby - Amhearst boundary marker
We headed up Long Mountain first, the lower of the mountains today. There was a great view of Mt Norwottuck from the summit.

This was the first hike that felt like fall. It was wonderful. We had the hottest summer on record, and September was hot, too. But today was cool and cloudy with a chance of showers. It was also a weekday, so the trails were peaceful. We passed only a pair of trail runners and a mountain bike for the first few hours there on the "quiet side" of the Holyoke Range. It was such a relief after the barrage of trail runners and power walkers I had to keep stepping aside for during the last hike.

View west  from Long Mtn. Mt. Norwottuck in forground,
Mt Tom/Goat's Peak in background
It had rained recently (finally), so the woodland plants looked happier. No surface water anywhere, though.

Maple Leaf Viburnum, upper leaves probably damaged by drought

"End of Cuddeback Trail" at Rattlesnake Knob
The next high point was Rattlesnake Knob, reached via a short detour onto the Cuddeback Trail. I assume there was at least one rattlesnake here at one point, hence the name. Maybe there was a den of them. The Timber Rattlesnake is persecuted and only a handful of small populations survive in the state. There is a controversial proposal to create a home for rattlesnakes on an island in Quabbin Reservoir. I say go for it.

Rattlesnake Knob
Great views were to be had from the knob looking back at Long Mountain, the end of Metacomet Ridge. In the distance are the Eastern Uplands. The last time the trail was on the Eastern Uplands was in Guildford.

View of Long Mountain from Rattlesnake Knob
Polypody on Rattlesnake Knob
From there it's up and up to the Horse Caves and WOW, these are just amazing. We've got fun history and incredible geology all wrapped up in one crazy rock formation. 

Approaching the Horse Caves
Let's start with the history. Shay's Rebellion is one of those post-Revolutionary War rebellions that had to be squashed by government forces, and when it did, this is where some of the leaders supposedly hid with their horses. The farmers were rebelling against taxes and debt collection, and even tried to take over an arsenal. The rebellion was referenced quite a bit when the U.S. Constitution was debated.

The cliffs are several hundred yards long, with an unmarked trail running along the base. Follow it. Some of the best geological features of this formation cannot be seen from the NET. In particular, I'm talking about some arches and oval caves that are unlike anything I've ever seen in southern New England.

At first glance I wondered if they were man-made, but after studying the rocks a bit, it seems it's all natural. This was confirmed by a quick Google search at home, with sites simply referencing 'erosion'. But why would the rock erode into these shapes here and nowhere else along the Metacomet Ridge? The cliff was sculpted as if it where along the banks of a river, but it's not, and it doesn't look like it ever was.

The rock is mostly a conglomerate -- basically sandstone with some gravel -- that looks a bit like concrete. My best guess is that water seeps down from up above through some joints in the rock, coats the rock below, and causes spalling when it freezes. That's when the outer layer of rock pops off. Anyway, that's my theory. What's yours?

Crazy erosion for this area

This looks almost like a concrete pipe

Inside a small 'cave' with three sculpted openings
We had a lot of fun exploring the Horse Caves. Definitely one of my favorite spots on the NET. But eventually we had to scramble up a steep, narrow rock face and continue hiking upward until we reached the summit of Mount Norwottuck, the highest point along the Holyoke Range. It was a beautiful view looking back towards Long Mountain.

View from Mt. Norwottuck
We didn't linger because it was getting late and we had a lot of driving to do. On the way down the mountain, heading towards the Notch Visitor Center, we began to pass people going in the opposite direction, up the mountain. That's definitely the busier side of the mountain, and the trail is deeply eroded.

Approaching the Visitor Center, the trail skirts a quarry, but all you can see from the trail is a quarry sign that says 'no trespassing'. I'm told this section of trail used to be closer to the quarry and was recently rerouted away from it. The trail there was a nice looking section, going up the hills at an angle rather than straight up, and well-benched into the side of the hill. It's a lot of work building a trail like that, but it will be worth it in the end. 

This is probably the last day hike I'll be able to do while 'commuting' from my home in southwest Connecticut. It was dark at 6:00 am when I left the house in the morning, and it was dark when I got back at 7:00 pm. There was about 5 hours total drive time, including the Uber drive and stops to pick up a friend in Springfield. The traffic was horrible on I-91, as it always is. Future sectiona will need to be done differently, and by that I mean I need to step into the world of backpacking. 

No comments:

Post a Comment