Mount Greylock, Massachusetts
From the picture above you can see why it was called "Saddleback." Herman Melville who has a similar view from Pittsfield at Arrowhead is said to have been inspired to write about the white whale Moby Dick. The summit is actually the peak on the right. Saddle Ball Mountain on the left is closer and so seems higher.We last visited Greylock on October 15, 2000.
A lot has happened to the mountain since my previous visit in 1996.
- In 1998 the Greylock reservation celebrated its 100th anniversary and the state spruced the summit display up by renovating the tower and sprinkling the summit with lots of "interpretative" stones and brass plaques.
- Sleepy little North Adams on the north side of the peak turned into a "Silicon Village" after Internet startup Tripod.com was founded there. Perhaps the most notable addition is "MASS MOCA" -- the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art -- which claims to be the world's largest museum of modern art (all housed in abandoned factory buildings).
- Plans moved forward for a $125 Million "Greylock Center" resort on the mountain's north slope that is supposed to include weekend summer homes, a golf course and more trails.
- Several areas near the summit have been cleared by the state in an attempt to return it to meadow status.
- In 2000 The Pope canonized the Millennium's First Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska after Massachusetts woman was healed of lymphoma after praying at Sister Faustina's tomb in Poland. The Marians have a Shrine in her honor at Stockbridge that is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.
Greylock is the great muse for writers and artists.
Herman Melville set up a special observation deck at his home at Arrowhead by Pittsfield so he could gaze on Greylock. According to legend its saddleback profile from Pittsfield (another name for Greylock is indeed Saddleback) was the inspiration for the great white whale in Melville's "Moby Dick."
The ocean metaphor is very big.
Nathaniel Hawthorne described the summit view as being "huge mountain swells heaving up like immense subsiding, waves far and wide around it."
In fact, the Bay State was so agog over the ocean metaphor that in 1931 a lighthouse destined for Boston's Charles River was diverted to the summit to be used as a war memorial. Its beacon according to summit plaque would "guide aviators in their long night-time journeys over the treacherous mountain range."
This light can be seen for 70 miles.
The manmade light is not only illumination attraction on the summit.
Henry David Thoreau was so enthralled with an aurora on the summit and marveled at "the rosy fingers of the Dawn, and not a crevice through the clouds from which those trivial places of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont could be seen."
The Bascom Lodge just below the tower is always booked with folks wanting to see the famous Greylock sunrise/sunset. The Appalachian Trail's Thunderbolt Shelter is also a major stopping point.
With such a rich literary pedigree, it's little wonder that the name "Greylock" is a frequent literary character. How the summit got its name is open to debate. There's the usual tale of it being a Mohawk Indian chief.
Among the area's famous artists are Norman Rockwell who closed out his days in Stockbridge as well as sculptor Daniel Chester French (sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial and The Minuteman) also in Stockbridge.
And where there are artists and writers, there's bound to be musicians and other performers. Numerous companies make their summer home in the area but the most famous being Tanglewood in Lenox (with the Boston Orchestra) and Jacob's Pillow which claims to have America's oldest dance festival at Becket.
Greylock is a "monadnock" which is a fancy way of saying that it is visible from all directions. This makes for it being a very handsome and distinctive mountain (many highpoints tend to be just the highest of a cluster). It has the only sub-alpine environment in Massachusetts.
If you follow the conventional assessment of it being three degrees colder for each 1,000 feet of elevation then in you can expect at least a 9 degree difference between base and summit.
In the winter that difference can mean a lot as I was to find out on my first attempt on December 2, 1995. Greylock was one of the first peaks I attempted when my passion for highpointing reignited.
I suffered from the stupidity that is fatal to a lot of people who do not appreciate the dangers of "those little 3,000 foot peaks in the East" in the winter.
I arrived at the Greylock Visitor Center about 3 p.m. A sign at the entrance warned that only 4-wheel drive vehicles were permitted in the road and that the roads had not been snow plowed. This warning was underscored by a sheet of ice covering the initial very steep ramp to the gate.
The Visitor Center was a cozy arrangement with big stone fireplace and a scale model of the mountain. The woman at the front desk repeated the 4-wheel drive warning and said that if I broke down ("as others have"), I would be responsible for the substantial towing charge. The mountain would only be open for snowmobiles the following week.
I still set out in my Geo Metro! Encouraged by triumphing over the glaze at the gate, the driving initially was easy going. Soon I was into a light dusting of snow, which kept getting heavier the higher I climbed. My heart jumped each time I scraped bottom or the car spun in the tracks. My heart was completely out the window by the time I passed the last campground where six vehicles were parked. I passed four people walking up in full cross country ski gear.
A few hundred feet shy of the summit near the powerlines, every tree and rock was crystalized with a thick coat of snow and ice. The car was constantly scraping now. At the "historic 1990 rock slide" I looked in horror down precipitous drop into Adams. The wood barrier was broken. Had some fresh body just disappeared? I backed up. The car reeked of burned rubber.
The ranger back at the station stared at the car. "Is that 4-wheel drive?" Even he hadn't been foolhardy enough to drive that far.
Greylock can be a magical place in the winter. There are numerous ski resorts in the area. In the 1960's there was a move to build a ski lift to the summit. Greylock has faced the battle of preservation/recreation for more than 100 years. It was heavily logged into the 1880's when a group bought 400 acres around the summit. After failing to make a profit, they turned it over to the Commonwealth in 1898. It has since been expanded to 11,500 acres and now has more than 45 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail that crosses it.
Incidentally, Greylock has a long history of people not being prepared for it. Thoreau in his book in his book "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" says he wasn't prepared for the cold on the summit and so he piled boards on top of himself for his night on the mountain.
Currently, there are plans to build a $125 million resort on the north side of the mountain but away from the summit and the state reservation area.
The forests have bounced back and some trees are now 150 years old. The National Park Service has designated Greylock and neighboring mountains known as the "Hopper Natural Area" a National Natural Landmark.
Greylock has its share of controversy. Massachusetts in recent years clear several acres near the summit to create a meadow.
At lower elevations, Mt. Greylock's vegetation is typical of the northern hardwood forest type which generally includes a mix of Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch, Beech, Red Maple, and Red Oak along with other species. The forest floor is rich in a variety of ferns and spring wildflowers. Further up the mountain, the Sugar Maples disappear, giving way to Fir and Spruce trees with parts of the trail to the summit taking one through boggy areas of sphagnum moss.
Our other climbs on August 17, 1996, and the October 15, 2000 climb were uneventful. In August the summit area was taken over by ham operators (who incidentally are attempting to broadcast from the tops of all 50 state summits). A wharthog air force jet roared by at eye level. A prop plane circled below at the Adams Airport.
We summited the peak in October for sunset. There were perhaps 20 other cars there then -- a surprising number for a Sunday. Besides the stone and brass interpretative plaques there was a large brass model of the area landscape showing the neighboring peaks noting that the highest point in Connecticut is visible from the summit.