Mt. Greylock – Massachusetts’ High Point
This edition of the High Points series takes us to the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. Mt. Greylock rises 3,489 feet above sea level.
Though the peak is often associated with the Berkshire Mountains, it is technically part of the Taconic Mountains. The whole region is filled with craggy goodness. The Green Mountains are just north, the Hoosac Range is to the east, the Berkshires are south and east, and the bulk of the Taconics is to the west. All these beautifully named ranges are part of the greater Appalachian Chain.
Greylock’s height ranks it 31st on the list of the 50 state High Points. 3,489 feet might not seem like the tallest peak, but Greylock features some impressive prominence. It towers over the surrounding valleys by 2,400 feet. The summit stands 1,000 feet above the other mountains in the Taconics and Berkshires. Greylock is so high for the surrounding region that one can see up to 72 miles away into five different states: Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire!
Greylock has long fascinated humans. The traditional trade route of indigenous tribes of the Hudson and Connecticut River valleys passed beneath the flank of the mountain. In the 18th century, settlers called it Grand Hoosuc; in the early 19th century, the name had shifted to Saddleback Mountain, thanks to its appearance. By 1819, records indicate we began to use the moniker Greylock, though the reasoning is lost to antiquity. Many believe it to be a tribute to a legendary Native American chief, named Gray Lock, though no definitive link exists on record.
A who’s who of early American artists marveled and summited Greylock.
Nathaniel Hawthorne climbed the mountain multiple times in 1838 and several stories took inspiration from the peak. Herman Melville lived in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts; the mountain’s omnipresence seeped into his consciousness. Literary historians believe the inspiration for Moby-Dick came directly from Greylock because Melville said the profile of the snow-capped mountain reminded him of a sperm whale’s back breaking the ocean’s surface. He even dedicated an entire novel, Pierre, to the mountain. Melville camped on Greylock’s apex. Henry David Thoreau climbed the mountain and spent the night on its upper reaches. Many historians believe his love for Greylock and his experiences on it ignited his future outdoor excursions. He visited Walden Pond and crafted his most famous works on rugged individualism the next year.
Other famous artists who visited and loved Greylock include William Cullen Bryant and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Much of the region’s old-growth forest was, predictably, ravaged by early settlers. Trees have since taken hold of Greylock again, but scientists have also identified 555 acres of old-growth forest on the mountain. The western portion of the slopes is home to some trees up to 350 years old, including red spruce that reach 120 feet in height!
The acme of Greylock also hosts an extraordinary biome. The height of the mountain, relative to the surrounding areas, and the climate have teamed up to create a taiga-boreal or sub-alpine forest. It is the only such forest in Massachusetts. As such, certain trees and birds appear in Massachusetts on Greylock and nowhere else.
Today, the mighty Appalachian Trail crosses the summit.
Though numerous trails converge on the summit of Greylock and many people climb the mountain during the winter for skiing, one needs not to climb to garner the fantastic views. From May through the end of October vehicle traffic can drive to the top.
Adorning the summit is the Veterans War Memorial Tower. Light perpetually shines from its beacon, except for several weeks a year during important migration times for birds. The light can be seen for up to 70 miles.
Mt. Greylock recently became my 16th High Point. My life is about to change in a major way and my wife and I wanted to experience one last adventure together as a duo. We have sacrificed a lot of our usual outdoor excursions in the past year, so, when vaccine availability increased, we grabbed a small window of opportunity to lace up the hiking boots. In addition to the pandemic, the past year was also hard on my wife because she could not engage in as much physical activity as she usually does. I wanted her to see what a beast she is. She was nervous, but I knew she could take the mountain and crush it.
We spent an amazing early spring morning and afternoon on the slopes of resplendent Greylock. The trails are not technical, but they are steep the entire way. We easily understood how these angles are popular with skiers and snowboarders. We thought we would get a snow-free ascent, but the upper reaches were caked in ice, which was glorious. Even in April, the sub-alpine environment felt like winter.
The nine miles of trails and 2,436 feet of elevation gain were taxing, but wonderful. When we hit the peak, a man approached us and said, “you look like you have the hiker waddle.” I retorted, “no, she looks like she has the eight-month pregnant waddle!” The gentleman jumped back and said, “Are you serious? And you just climbed that??” Indeed, she is incredible!
I created the following video to document our journey. Please do me the honor of watching it!
Further Reading and Exploration
Mount Greylock State Reservation – Official Massachusetts Site
Visiting Mount Greylock – The Berkshires
Birds of Mt. Greylock – Department of Conservation and Recreation
Wildflowers of Mt. Greylock – Department of Conservation and Recreation
Mount Greylock – AllTrails
Mount Greylock – PeakBagger
Mount Greylock – SummitPost