LANESBOROUGH — Most likely never heard of it, right? It’s a small town out here in the Berkshires, a short drive north of Lenox and Pittsfield, and home to Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts for the last 300 million years.
On a straight line, Greylock is only about 110 miles west of Beacon Hill. For the record, the Golden Dome is not visible from the top, the tip of Greylock officially 3,491 feet above sea level and thankfully miles beyond earshot of all the Dome’s rhetoric.
Such sweet silence alone makes a day hike up Greylock worthwhile.
It’s always good to get away, and especially so amid our pandemic-cloistered times. Even better if it involves unplugging for a few hours, moving the limbs, expanding the lungs, and tasking the mind with little more than summoning the next step up the hill. Most of us have known only small steps these last two-plus months.
The hike up Greylock is a workout but not a beatdown, at least when the chosen approach is the meandering Cheshire Harbor Trail. It’s mountain hiking for beginners, not really a climb, but enough of a challenge to tease a healthy ache out of the legs, an appreciation of the relative solitude, and that sense of awe that comes when finally standing there at the top, on the highest ground around, with a light wind blowing, an expansive blue sky, and an infinite view of life reduced to tiny specks on nature’s mural of greenery and gray granite splashed around the surrounding states.
The climb took about two hours, and it was worth recording the time only because, well, that’s what most people will ask, right? We’re always on the clock — timing, measuring, calculating. A couple of hours up, about 90 minutes to get down, and roughly an hour at the top to snack, stretch, and ponder the dynamic view that takes in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and a pinch of Connecticut.
Maine and Rhode Island? Sorry, you can’t get there from here, other than with the mind’s eye.
In retrospect, I realize I made too much of the journey and too little of the destination. On scale, for every minute spent on the up and down of the hike, I spent barely 20 seconds on the summit. I’d like a do-over on that. It’s a lesson in appreciating the moment, living in it, that I should have learned many moons ago. Yet, guilty, again.
My adult son Gates came along, and clearly the two of us got caught up in the day-trip calculation and machination of things, which included the 4½-hour round-trip drive from the Boston burbs.
Start to finish, including a drive-thru stop on the way home for a chocolate shake (guilty, again!), it worked out to upward of 10 hours. So what if it had been 10-11 or 11-12? The best part, beyond all that father-son time, mind you, was the awe-inspiring view and feel of the top. In the end, we made the least of it.
Proof, I suppose, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree even when it happens on the highest hill in the state.
In Greylock’s case, appreciation of the summit view becomes all the more important, I think, because there is no expansive view at any point along the Cheshire trail. In fact, other than the obvious perpetual incline of the winding path, there is little sense of elevation, or moving on up, while marching up 1,000 feet, 2,000 feet, etc.
Once on the trail, which in most spots ranges 10-14 feet wide, the hike feels more a cave-like exercise, albeit with ample sunshine, or at least daylight, illuminating the way. The tree cover is thick, and even with spring foliage yet to green the hardwoods, there’s just no seeing much beyond a few feet each side of the cleared path.
Arrival at the summit becomes an awakening of the senses, a regained expansion of vision, not unlike being released into daylight upon leaving the matinee movie.
The trail itself, while simple to follow, is largely paved with chunks and shards of granite, marble, and schist, the composing ingredients of Greylock. So again, while the incline is not terribly challenging, the 6.2-mile round trip can be toughest of all on feet and ankles.
On the way up, nature’s paving stones along the trail are an asset, offering leverage points to plant a foot for the next ascending step. On the way down, the same stones turn slightly treacherous, the combination of gravity and hiker fatigue not playing well across the tops of the embedded rocks.
No matter the mountain, big or small, the coming down is never as easy as it looks. What seems as though it should be mindless typically demands a surprising amount of concentration. Especially when the mind already has wandered off to a chocolate shake.
One word of advice: footwear. Greylock may not be a climb in the sense of ropes, stone pick, and crampons, but those craggy pavers are murder on the feet. Shoes with ankle support and sturdy soles are a must.
Greylock ranks fourth in New England’s highest hikes in each state, behind Mount Washington (6,288 feet) in New Hampshire, Mount Katahdin (5,270) in Maine, and Mount Mansfield (4,395) in Vermont. The southern slope of Mount Frissell (2,379) is tops in Connecticut and the humble Jerimoth Hill (811) the top dog in Rhode Island.
Among US states, only the top spots in Mississippi (807), Louisiana (535), Delaware (447), and Florida (345) can’t even measure up to Rhode Island. America’s granddaddy of hikes remains the majestic Denali in Alaska, at a towering 20,310 feet. As they say in Cambridge, that’s a whole lotta Smoots.
The word from the Golden Dome on Monday — echo heard all the way out to western Mass. — was that Massachusetts once again is opening for business. Slowly but surely, our storefronts, houses of worship, and ballfields have begun to inch their way back to normal.
And here in the northwest corner of the state, the stout Greylock beckons as always, with some lingering ribbons of snow festooned around its summit. It’s worth the trip. Enjoy the hike. The view is magnificent, and all the better if you’re smart enough to linger at the top.