Sunday, October 9, 2016

MA NET Sections 12-14 Quabbin Part 1

Heading into Quabbin
Three new sections of NET run through the Quabbin "off reservation" land and Shutesbury State Forest.  Sections 12 through 14 start at Shutesbury Road 2 in Pelham and end at Lake Wyola in Shutesbury, for a total length of 14.5 miles.  The sections are so new that I wasn't able to find out much information about them and really didn't know what to expect, other than the trail follows a lot of old roads.  I found a bike map online for the northern part of the area, and my heart sank, thinking this would be heavily used by mountain bikes. It wasn't. 

Sections 12-14, Quabbin "Off-Reservation" Land & Shutesbury S.F.
The original plan was for my husband and I to get a motel room and drive up on Sunday morning and leave on Wednesday, giving me a few days to day hike these sections, but at the last minute my husband wasn't able to go up until Monday morning. So I decided to go up myself on Sunday and backpack all three sections, and he could pick me up at Lake Wyola on Monday morning.
Moose tracks!!
Sunday morning arrived with light showers, but Accuweather claimed these would clear out by noon up in Shutesbury. I drove on up and started walking. No dogs allowed at Quabbin or most hotels, so I was all alone.

It was raining lightly when I arrived, but I knew it would clear out soon, and started hiking. Walking in the rain can be nice. It's moody, and no one else is out.

I saw several newts on the trail.
The rain gradually picked up, but was still light. Section 12 is mostly a newly cut trail that roughly parallels MA 202. Sometimes there is some road noise, but not too bad. It's a beautiful forest. I saw both moose tracks and moose droppings in this section.

Moose droppings
The recent rains brought forth lots of mushrooms up and down the trail, and with the rain they seemed to be growing before my very eyes.

Mushrooms everywhere
Instead of clearing out, the rain picked up. Gah! My supposed "waterproof" boots made by Merrell were leaking through. These used to be a good model boot, but they are crap now. You can walk ten feet through a wet lawn and the water will go right through the boot, even if the boot is fairly new and even though they have a little tab sewn on that says "WATERPROOF." What I'm saying is, don't buy these boots.

Taking a break in a rock cave
I came upon a jumble of huge boulders next to the trail and there was a good sized overhang in the back, just about large enough to stand up under and take a break from the rain. Hopefully it was just about to clear up. Some of the biggest liverworts I've ever seen were growing on that rock and happily soaking up the water. They had a rough summer.
Bridge at the rock cave
After a while I got bored waiting for the rain to end and started walking again. There was a nicely done bridge, the second of the hike so far, crossing a stream that looked like it was just starting to flow again, and then the trail popped out onto MA 202 again before turning back into the woods. Many thanks to the bridge builders.

Beaver dam near Town Farm Road
After a couple hours of very easy hiking the trail joins old woods roads then turns right onto Town Farm Road, which was gravel and pleasant.

Walking down Town Farm Road
The blazes then take you left onto paved Prescott Road, and I followed that in a steady rain and walked right past the sharp right turn onto Cooleyville Road. The problem with a lack of blazes, especially at turns, is that not everyone is walking around with a map in their hand. I don't remember seeing a right turn blaze telling me to turn, and I remember standing at the intersection wondering which way to go. My map was tucked away in plastic so it wouldn't get wet, and my head was down. The sign for the road ahead said Cooleyville Road, and I knew the trail followed Cooleyville Road for a long time, so I just followed it. And there are long stretches without blazes, so it doesn't necessarily mean anything when you don't see them for a stretch.

Paved Prescott Road turns into Cooleyville Road up head at the intersection
So I missed the turn and trudged up the wrong road, but on the plus side, I passed this really neat old Town Pound about 250 feet after the turn I missed. If you get a chance, take a little detour to check it out. There's an oval pen up on a knoll made of stone walls where they would keep any livestock that was wandering around. Just like a dog pound, only for livestock.

Town Pound
Eventually I realized my mistake, and had to pull out my map, gps, and phone in the rain, which was really coming down in that open area. The map was too small for detail, my phone touch screen was wet and wouldn't work, and the gps track I needed to look at wasn't turned on. Technical difficulties! Eventually I figured it out and made my way back to the intersection and walked down the other road, which also turned out to be Cooleyville Road. Once I started walking down it I saw blazes. It's always comforting to see the white blazes.

Cooleyville Road (the correct one)
It was a long wet walk down, down, down on Cooleyville Road. There's no Verizon coverage down in this hole. There was water between my toes, and by now my shorts were getting wet and wicking up water. All the gear in my backpack was nice and dry though, protected inside a heavy duty garbage bag.
Trail parking is located between two bridges
When you get to the bottom of the Cooleyville Road you arrive at a pair of bridges and there is a small hiker parking lot on the right side. The trail takes a left off the road, but there are no blazes indicating which way to go -- they just stop. There is a blaze at the parking area and then nothing. I walked up the road, crossing the second bridge, looking for blazes but finding only a nice view of the beaver pond.
Pond at the bottom of Cooleyville Road
I walked back and forth looking for blazes and finally spied a yellow gate through the overgrowth. It's located about midway between the two bridges.

Gate SH7 was hard to see from the road due to overgrowth along the road
The next section was a little weird to follow since there aren't a lot of blazes and some of them are at right angles to the trail. I did a bit of backtracking just to make sure I was on the correct route, but it wasn't terrible. Before too long the trail joined up with some substantial old farm roads, and then it was smooth sailing. The easy (but wet) hiking continued.

Most of the trail in this part of Quabbin looked just like this
The trail head gradually up, up, up out of the hole, and I got cell phone reception again. Nice to be able to tell the other half I'm OK and where I'm at.  I was surprised to not see any sign of bikes in there. I live in an area where mountain biking is very popular and expected it would be here, too, but these old roads look like they get very little use by anyone. Maybe the trails are just too easy for the "real" mountain bikers and too hard for everyone else.

Shutesbury State Forest
Along with the dog ban, there is no camping allowed in the Quabbin Off-Reservation areas. You should know, however, that parts of the land here are Shutesbury State Forest, and those parts are well marked for you.

It stopped raining!!
It finally stopped raining around 3:30 pm. Thank goodness. I couldn't wait to get those dry wool socks on my feet! I stopped at the top of the hill in the state forest at a turn in the trail. When the trail starts heading west, it goes down into another hole where there is no cell phone reception again. Not a place to spend a long, dark night. The reception was spotty, varying between no service one minute and 3G the next, but it was good enough.

I was happy to find everything nice and dry in my pack. But guess what I forgot? My extra pair of socks. Oh well, I manufactured something with supplies that included duct tape. Thankfully, I didn't have a wet dog in the tiny tent with me, so I guess it turned out to be for the best that no dogs were allowed. A cold front was moving in with the windchill forecast to be in the upper 30's. The wind started howling and the oak trees were whipping acorns all over. Later on the stars came out. The next day promised to be sunny.

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