An Early Winter Climb of Mt. Greylock MA

Mt. Greylock
Adams Massachusetts
14 Miles
3,491 feet
December 11, 2010
Mt. Greylock

The iconic 93-foot high Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower atop Mt. Greylock.

Mt. Greylock – The whole world upside down

Mt. Greylock is a 12 mile long, 4.5 mile wide hunk of Ordovician phyllite (a highly metamorphosed rock) overlain on younger layers of metamorphosed sedimentary rock, especially marble. Mount Greylock is the product of thrust faulting, a tectonic process by which older rock is thrust up and above younger rock during periods of intense mountain building. This is only accomplished deep in the earth, and can be thought of as squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. This strange inversion of massive rocks structures is responsible for much of the mountain formation in this part of the world, as the older rocks are typically much harder and erosion resistant than the younger rocks upon which they rest. The younger, underlying marble bedrock layers have been quarried in the lower foothills of the mountain nearby. During the most recent glacial period (the Pleistocene), 10,000-18,000 years ago, Mount Greylock and the surrounding region were covered by ice sheets up to 1-kilometer thick. Glaciation rounded and wore down the mountain, carving out U-shaped valleys and leaving glacial erratics such as the balanced rock on the west side of Greylock. Mt. Greylock is the southernmost expression of alpine glaciations in the Eastern US.

Named for an Indian, not an English Lord

Prior to the influx of Europeans, the Mohegan people were closely associated with this region (prior to their infatuation with large casinos to the South). The traditional trade route connecting the tribes of the Hudson and Connecticut River valleys follows the Deerfield River up through the Valley and over the pass to the north of Greylock. Today this is the path of Route 2, arguably the worst major highway in the United States.

Greylock has sported a variety of monikers including Grand Hoosuc and Saddleback Mountain, but the name Greylock seems to have stuck, in honor of the Abenaki Indian Chief (and fierce warrior) Grey Lock (1670-1750), who managed to terrorize the area during the Three Years War (1722-1725).

Greylock seen from near the Appalachian Trail – Auto Road intersection

Greylock – The Southern reach of the Northern Forrest

Greylock is the southernmost extension of the boreal forest. It is reported to include over 500 acres of old growth forest, which managed to escape the cutting and burning of the 18th and 19th centuries. There are some very large and old red spruces near the top, but the summit is mercifully free of the thick black spruce that makes travel above 3,000 feet so challenging 150 miles to the north. In fact, the predominant species near the summit is scrub oak. We saw very little evidence of true old growth forest, and I remain skeptical about claims of large areas of old growth in heavily settled areas.

Rick Morse (in new clothes) looking for old growth forest.

The Hike

The crew for this hike included Rick Morse and his two trusted canine companions, Liz and Teddy (aka The Menace), as well as my steady pals, Mrs. Katie and Baby. Rick had apparently gone on a pre-Christmas shopping spree, and was outfitted from head-to-toe with the best winter attire that money could buy, including some very fancy new Italian crampons (these proved unnecessary).

Greylock is covered with hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail) and the mountain has an auto road to the top. We wandered up the road and AT, enjoying the views from the road, and the quiet of the trail. After a couple of miles, we had the first tracks up from the north, although we did encounter a couple of groups of hikers at the top who had climbed up other routes. The climb and descent were good exercise, with an average snow depth of 4 inches from bottom to top. We are hoping for snow, and the opportunity for some more challenging work in the step and deeps of the Green, White and Blue Mountains to the north in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine respectively.

The Summit Monument

The summit sports a large lighthouse, shining as the beacon of hope for peace, commissioned and erected after the end of the War to end all Wars. It is somehow sad, and naïve; but at the same time clearly a simple message of hope, still relevant almost 70 years later. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

1 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    July 29, 2013

    balanced rock on the west side of Greylock.

    Have worked on Mt Greylock with the DEM 1975-1978 and DCR and know nothing about a balanced rock on the west side of Greylock.

    Could you direct me there?