Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
The main thing that struck me as I reviewed the Berlin Mountain summit details on Peakbagger.com was the drive time as it compared to the hike distance. I’m sure I’m going to encounter this kind of disparity throughout the remainder of my County High Points project, but this contrast was somewhat new territory for me. Two and a half hours of one-way driving for the sake of a 0.9-mile hike from trail head to summit.
There were other ways to approach Berlin that offered more time in the woods, but as I looked at those options on Google Satellite, they appeared either harder to follow or perhaps even a bit too long compared to the route I had chosen.
And so I headed out on the road on my way to Williamstown, MA, where I would seek out a remote parking area at the bottom of the old Williams College Ski Area. Just a 1/4 mile or so off of U.S. Route 7 is Berlin Rd, which is paved for a time, but then becomes gravel (rough in some places) all the way out to the trail head.
After parking the car and surveying the hike from the base of the mountain, it looked especially steep, and it made me wonder how I would manage it without trek poles (which I had left at home). But after setting out downward at first and then crossing a swampy patch of low land, I sighted a woods road to my right. A brief look up at the ski slope made up my mind for me; I was turning right instead of going up that sucker! I figured that if there’s a woods road here, it must head up the mountain, too, and perhaps at not as steep an incline.
The woods road didn’t last long before petering out, and leaving me scratching my head about what to do next. Should I go back to the beginning, and do the ski hill, or press on from here? But spotting a herd path, I stayed with it, following the route over fallen trees and around large bushes as it side-hilled the mountain for the next 1/3 of a mile or so. But the herd path soon became a “no path”, and with still a long way to go, it seemed, I was now committed to an unintended bushwhack. Luckily, I had fair weather, so there was still plenty of joy. 😉
Trying to minimize the hike distance at this point, I attempted to bushwhack straight up the mountainside. But it was steep – just as steep as the ski hill, in fact. By my guess, it was a 35-40% grade, and I was getting winded. I also didn’t really know where the heck I was going any more, which made me a tad nervous. But good fortune shined on me (or maybe I just had good directional instincts), as to my left, I saw some sort of clearing. Realizing that it was the ski hill, I made a B-line toward it. Once in its track, I trudged directly uphill, wondering how much remained before I would reach the summit.
The answer came quickly, as I saw a familiar sight – a New York State DEC sign, which told me that I was not only back in NY, but also nearly to my ultimate destination. One hundred meters later I reached the large clearing that marks the top of Berlin Mountain. Success!
Despite the clearing, the views from the summit were a bit limited, and disappointing, affording only a semi-obstructed panorama to the east. Mount Greylock – the highest point in Massachusetts, and about 7 miles away by way of the crow – was the feature element of the view. So at least there was that….
After skulking around on the summit for 10 minutes or so, and having a look at the blazes of the Taconic Crest Trail (which passes right over this mountain in a north-south direction), I began the trek back down to the car.
Taking the ski hill all the way, the going was fairly easy at first, but became so ridiculously steep on the lower portions that I was reduced to a form of “woosy-footing” that I had never had to resort to before. Even at my snails pace, I was genuinely concerned about catching a toe and going into a headfirst tumble roll down the hill. In places, I had to descend sideways – no lie!
Happy to reach the car and put this summit hike behind me, I decided to have my celebratory beer at the Chatham Brewing Company in Chatham, NY, which I had passed by on the drive up. But discovering that the brewery was closed on Tuesdays, I chose instead to seek out a worthy pub in Pittsfield, MA. However, on my way to Pittsfield, a moment of serendipity happened, and I found myself in front of the Old Forge in Lanesborough, MA.
Having last been at “the Forge” as a young summer camp counselor in the early-to-mid 80’s, here I was again thirty years hence. And remembering the great food and beer I had here all those years ago, I knew it would be a sure thing, so I headed inside for my solo celebration of reaching the Berlin Mountain summit, my 9th New York county high point.