On the summit in 2006

Mount Greylock, 3491ft

Dates climbed: July 30, 2006 3:48pm and February 26, 2011 3:46pm

1st Ascent: July 30, 2006

The trail to Massachusetts’ Mount Greylock actually starts at Springer Mountain, Georgia. That summer were hiking the Appalachian Trail and by the time we reached Mount Greylock in Northwestern Massachusetts we had hiked about 1000 miles through the long “Green Tunnel” that stretched all the way back to Northeastern Georgia.

We had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail that summer for a little change of pace from the stresses of MIT. Instead of problem sets and textbooks we were now concerned with how much food to eat, which rock to step on, and how to stay dry. Our needs were much more basic now.

Hiking along the Appalachian Trail

Well I guess we didn’t leave all the math behind in Cambridge. Every day we tried to think of something interesting to talk about. This particular day I think we had just calculated how many gallons of white paint would be required to paint the blazes on the Appalachian Trail: about 200 gallons. Other days we figured out the necessary volume of helium to offset the weight of your pack (about the volume of a fridge), or the amount of white gas that would be required to fuel you for the entire Appalachian Trail if you were as efficient as our camping stove (50 gallons).

Every day we also looked forward to “trail magic.” Ahh trail magic. Sometimes very nice people will leave coolers full of fruit and drinks at road crossings for thru hikers to eat. Sometimes on the trail you might go a week without fresh fruit or anything to drink besides water, so these trail magic coolers are like an oasis.

The previous day we had hit the trail magic jackpot. In the morning we had stopped for a snack at a nice little country store near a road crossing. We split a refreshing half-gallon of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream along with some yogurt and peaches. We estimated that we had each consumed about 3000 calories in half an hour. With an extra couple of pounds in our stomachs we stood up and started hiking. Although this wasn’t technically “trail magic” it had already brightened the day.

But we were in store for more. Five years later I still remember that evening vividly. We were hiking through some dense woods when all of a sudden we emerged upon a glorious sight. A husband and wife had driven their pickup truck a little ways up this abandoned road and there in front of us stood a large grill and a table covered with all sorts of exquisite food, including watermelon.

Loading up at a buffet after climbing Mt Greylock

“How’s it going guys,” they asked, “would you like some quesadillas?”

It was a rhetorical question. I don’t think we needed to say yes, they could see the answer in our eyes. We ate everything they offered us.

They said that they lived somewhere in Massachusetts and take a week’s vacation every year to serve trail magic to thru hikers. We made a pledge that someday we would follow in their footsteps. By the end of that day we calculated that we had eaten about 10,000 calories – a new personal best. We had consumed two spectacular feasts in addition to our normal rations. We usually hiked between 20-25 miles per day (and up to 33) but I think this day with a stop for some trail magic we were satisfied with 15.

The next day we kept following the white blazes and found ourselves on the roof of the Bay State: Mount Greylock. A tall tower christened the summit. We could see into five states: MA, VT, NY, CT, and NH. It was the best view we had enjoyed in days. We took a few classic summit photos but unfortunately Eric’s memory card became corrupted during a rainstorm a few days later and the pictures were lost. The picture at the top of this webpage is the only remaining photographic evidence that we visited the highest point in Massachusetts.

Eric and I had each prepared special headwear to commemorate the event. We had each cut our own birchbark crown from fallen trees using my Leatherman. In preparation for the ascent I had knighted Eric with my trekking pole. My trail name was “Thor,” the Norse god of thunder, and Eric’s was “Sven,” an Old Norse word for “young warrior.”Out of deference to my king’s status Eric elected not to wear his head adornment for the official summit photo. We carried our crowns faithfully for the next several days of hiking.

Another form of trail magic struck that evening in North Adams: a Chinese buffet. We had read—and dreamed about it—from our Thru Hikers’ Companion book, an excellent resource. As we strolled into the restaurant I could see a few smiles from the waiters. We were two smelly, dirty hikers who hadn’t had a shower in a week and hadn’t put on a clean shirt since the state of New York. But we were hungry. Real hungry.

I’m sure they knew that they weren’t going to make any money off of us. For goodness sake, it was just $5 for the whole buffet. It’s hungry people like us who bring up the prices. That dinner I ended up eating a new personal-best: six whole plates of food plus one plate of dessert. You weren’t allowed to carry any food out so our only option was to carry it in our stomachs. Besides feeling a little queasy for the next half hour, the net effect of eating that much food is that you’re not really hungry for breakfast the next morning. That’s it. I’m still not quite sure what happens to all those calories.

For us Mount Greylock had been our 5th state high point on the Appalachian Trail and our 13th state high point overall. Maine’s Katahdin – at the end of the Appalachian Trail – would be next.

2nd Ascent: Feb 26, 2011

At the summit in February 2011

More pictures on the MITOC Gallery

We had some unfinished business with Mount Greylock. Our first ascent while hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2006 had been successful, but there were a few critical summit souvenirs that we had failed to capture. First: some jumping photos. Sometime in the 28 intervening state high points between #13 Massachusetts and #41 Georgia we had begun the tradition of taking a jumping photo on each summit. We needed one for Mount Greylock. Second: a photo of Eric juggling. Taken with Eric’s camera, Eric’s official 2006 juggling summit photo had been erased when his camera got wet. So he needed another one. And third: a summit rock. Atop #27 Indiana we had started collecting a pebble from every summit, and lacked one from Greylock.

There were two other important reasons for climbing Mt Greylock. Our younger brother Jacob was in town and Garrett was free. Garrett and Jacob were both hot on the state high point trail and eager to taste the crisp summit air from the roof of the Bay State.

Parked at the base of Mt Greylock

For the four of us the journey to Mt Greylock began that day in Garrett’s shiny new Clubman Mini Cooper outside of the Alewife T Station. You might ask: how do you fit four people + four large backpacks + four winter sleeping bags + four pairs of snowshoes into a Mini Cooper? Answer: very carefully.

After driving west on the MassPike we passed through the Appalachian Trail town of Adams, MA and wound our way up the mountain towards the trailhead. The parking lot was unplowed but fortunately just minutes after we arrived a nice woman with a plow excavated it out for us.

This was Jacob’s and Garrett’s first opportunity to use snowshoes but they wielded them like experts. After a short 1.5 miles we ditched the heavy overnight gear at Peck’s Brook Shelter and continued on up the Gould Trail. The plan was to spend the night at the shelter. After dodging some snowmobiles and hiking another 1.5 miles we were on top of Massachusetts. A very cool War Memorial tower christens the summit and in the summer you can see five states from the observatory. Unfortunately it was cloudy today so we could only see the town of Adams below us. But that wasn’t a big deal, the summit itself was a spectacular sight.

Half of the summit tower was plastered in rime ice, which really brought out the “MASSACHVSETTS”

Eric at the summit

carved into the granite. Replacing the “U” with a “V” must be a Massachusetts thing, we figured, because that’s also how it’s spelled below MIT’s Great Dome. If they replace the U with a V because it’s too hard to carve the curve, we wondered, then what about the S?

On the summit we went through our checklist: Genuine summit photo – check. Jumping photo – check. Shirts-off summit photo – check. Summit rock – uh oh, no check. We couldn’t head down before finding a rock. Unfortunately though finding a rock proved extremely difficult because everything was covered in snow. We scoured the summit but couldn’t find anything better than a miniscule pebble. It was getting desperate. But finally we came upon a little rock wall and found the perfect little stone waiting for us on top. Whew. We breathed a sigh of relief.

Matthew at the summit

With plenty of summit photos along with an official summit rock, our climbing objective was satisfied and it was time to head down. When we arrived back at the shelter we began the important task of collecting wood for a big campfire. I’m always amazed at how it’s possible to have a campfire when there are two feet of snow on the ground. I’ve learned that one effective strategy is to place some big logs on top of the snow, forming a platform on which to build the fire.

Everyone had an important job. Old “one-match” Matthew got the campfire roaring in about ten minutes. Meanwhile “eager-to-eat” Eric worked on dinner. “I-just-lost-my-gloves” Jacob thawed his hands over the fire. And “meteorologist-man” Marino (a.k.a. Garrett), exercising his meteorology black-belt skills, gave us an updated snowfall forecast based on the wind direction and speed. We were an efficient team.

The first dinner course was cheddar + broccoli pasta, followed by couscous + mashed potatoes.

Eric, Jacob, and Matthew with a shirts-off summit photo

Sometimes you might have a little excess water when making couscous but we learned during our A.T. days that you can absorb some of the water by mixing in some powdered mashed potatoes. I don’t think any of us actually knows exactly how couscous + powdered mashed potatoes tastes indoors. But we do know that it’s one of the most compact meals you can get for backpacking.

We (well, some of us) slept peacefully in our subzero-rated sleeping bags. Some of us had a Nalgene full of boiling water to keep our toes warm during the night. We awoke the next morning to 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground outside the shelter. Eric won the bet because he had guessed 2.00001” while Jacob had guessed only 2”.

Camping out at the shelter that night

Hiking back down was like walking on a big soft pillow. The fluffy snow grew deeper as we descended and cushioned every step. Soon we arrived back at the parking lot where Garrett’s trusty olive-colored steed awaited us.

It was time to head to Dunkin Donuts for a celebration. It was rumored that it was possible to obtain the elusive powered-sugar jelly doughnut at Dunkin Donuts locations in western MA. This wonder of modern food engineering was too radical to be found in Cambridge. Garrett was yearning to find out for himself if the legends were true.

We did indeed find the powdered-sugar jelly doughnuts he sought, a fitting end to noble quest to climb the highest point in Massachusetts.

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