Monday, October 17, 2016

Sea To Summits Tour - Mid-State Trail Day 2

It was raining and 50 degrees with occasional wind gusts courtesy of Hurricane Matthew. It was a prefect morning to sleep in, or sit at the breakfast table drinking coffee. But I had already asked a friend to join me for a 15 mile run on the Massachusetts Mid-State Trail (MST) and I wasn't about to bail on him. I drove west on Route 2 and hoped the weather would improve as I moved away from the coast. It only got worse. I knew we were in for a long, wet slog.

After spotting a car at the Redemption Rock parking lot in Princeton we drove to Ashburnham and found a small patch of dirt on the side of Route 12 and parked the second car. We ran along the narrow shoulder of the road before reaching the trail head and turning into the woods. From here the trail gained 300 feet of elevation in a half mile which helped to take the damp chill out of me. Once we crested the climb we stayed above 1000 feet for the next three or four miles. The trail was littered with slippery rocks and roots and I was thinking it would take a miracle to keep me from falling today.

Before leaving higher elevation we made a brief stop at Muddy Pond to take in the foggy view. There was a tent pitched next to the Muddy Pond shelter and a backpack hanging inside, but no one in sight. I could tell by the size of the food hang that it was probably a thru-hiker or someone out for a long section hike. It was still fairly early in the morning and the hiker probably decided to sleep in when they heard the sound of steady rain hitting their tent. I know I would have done that.

 Gray sky over Muddy Pond.

 Muddy Pond shelter. I laughed when I saw the bear bag hanging five feet off the ground. It would do nothing to deter a hungry bear from snacking on your food.

After passing under graffiti bridge we missed a turn but found it after wandering around in the rain for a while. Less than a half mile later we missing another turn. Once again Bill and I went in opposite directions in search of an elusive yellow triangle which marked the direction of travel. It took some time but we found the trail again. In both cases the trail markers were placed to high to be easily seen. We had one more mishap later in a gravel pit near Route 2 but it was not because we had missed a turn. This time the turn simply was unmarked. These navigation errors added several minutes and about a mile to the run. 

Much of the MST passes through private property so it's important to stay on the marked trail. Eight miles into the run we came to a fenced in cow pasture. After carefully closing the gate behind us we attempted to follow the trail along the perimeter of the pasture. A couple of cows had other ideas and they blocked our path. Instead of sticking close to the fence we had to cross through cow pasture proper, carefully avoiding the numerous, giant, soupy cow patties while looking over our shoulders for an angry bull. Fortunately, the pasture was only occupied by cows and heifers and most of them were hunkered down due to the miserable weather. A quarter mile later we exited the field unscathed and our shoes free of cow poo.

Most of the cows were lying low and didn't give us a second look.

The trail lost elevation over the next four miles and was generally less technical than the previous eight. That all changed when we began the climb up Crow Hill. It may be called a hill but the climb was long, steep and very technical, requiring rock scrambling at times. It's not something you want to do under wet conditions but we didn't have any choice. Crow Hill is known for its vertical cliffs and is a popular location for rock climbers. At times the trail came within inches of the cliffs and one misstep could have resulted in a long plunge to the ground below. I moved with extreme caution through these sections. 

Bill on the steep, rocky climb up Crow Hill.

On a clear day the views from Crow Hill are spectacular but today there were only low clouds and a gray sky visible. Here are some of the views we missed. Photos below were taken from the web.

 View of Mt. Wachusett to the south-west.

View of Rt. 31 and Crow Hill Pond below.

One of the many vertical cliffs.

Getting off Crow Hill was more challenging than climbing it. We had to make a steep descent of about 250 feet over wet boulders of various sizes and shapes. I took to descending on my butt on more than one occasion. I thought it was the safest option. When my feet finally touched dirt again I thought the climbing was over but I was wrong. We made one last climb of 125 feet over the next half mile before reaching Rt 140 in Princeton and the Redemption Rock parking lot. Whew!

A tough, technical and wet 15 mile section run on the MST with over 3,300 feet of elevation change.

Another section of the MST completed. And I make it without a single fall. Miracle! 

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