HIB VIII: Wachusett
I am in the process of catching people up with some early hikes and other encounters with nature that I thought people might find interesting as part of a "How It Began" (HIB) series. Mostly this will describe specific hikes and perhaps some lessons learned along the way...if there are any. They are meant to be short and, perhaps helpful in some way to other hikers or fellow-travelers. I will post the dates of when I hiked a specific mountain since the ones in this series are NOT posted at or near the date hiked.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021
But special I remember thee,
Wachusett, who like me
Standest alone without society.
Thy far blue eye,
A remnant of the sky,
Seen through the clearing or the gorge,
Or from the windows on the forge,
Doth leaven all it passes by.
Nothing is true,
But stands 'tween me and you,
Thou western pioneer,
Who know'st not shame nor fear,
By venturous spirit driven,
Under the eaves of heaven,
And can'st expand thee there,
And breathe enough of air?
Upholding heaven, holding down earth,
Thy pastime from thy birth,
Not steadied by the one, nor leaning on the other;
May I approve myself thy worthy brother!
from "A Walk to Wachusett" by Henry David Thoreau
I don't really know where to start with this mountain. I have hiked it a number of times, sometimes with family and sometimes alone. This particular hike was a solo one on a fabulous fall day. I took some time at the top to work on a sermon before hiking back down to have coffee with a friend and colleague who lives and serves nearby.
Wachusett is a monadnock, which is to say it "standeth alone without society" in Thoreau's words. Monadnocks rise up as a single hill in an otherwise lower landscape. There are a number of these in the area. Two of which--Watatic and Monadnock, itself--will be written up soon. This means that--much like the ridges of the Pioneer Valley--they have an unobstructed view in spite of the relative shortness of their peaks.
My trip was about 4ish miles (give or take a mile). I started at Balance Rock Trail (because I am sucker for big rocks) and headed up Old Indian to Semuhenna to West Side Trail back to Old Indian Trail to the top. After exploring a bit, I settled on to the observation tower to do some work and to eavesdrop on a group of birdwatchers who were cataloguing raptors. My way down was even more of a ramble. Be sure to have a map with you. There are a bunch of trails leading to different locations and trailheads. Honestly it wasn't my favorite trail up. That would probably be Harrington/Mid-State Trail. However it worked for the day.
The one thing that is worth noting is that Wachusett is a ski mountain. In this case that means that there are many great views that would not otherwise be possible, thanks to ski trail clearings. On the other hand...it is not as remote or wild as Thoreau's time. It is an extremely accessible place, with both the good and the bad that go with that. Unlike even many ski mountains, it has a parking lot at the top. It can be a bit jarring walking off a secluded trail and encountering a scrum of humanity and their cars. This is still Henry's "Watchtower of Massachusetts" but now...it actually has a tower on it. I suggest weekdays in the morning. Then there are fewer people.
That said, I do love this mountain. The walk up and down is always worthwhile. Both the views and the foliage are worth pausing and examining. Fall is best, but spring is nice too. Summer and winter can be a bit chaotic, but other people experiencing and loving nature isn't the worst thing, right?
Update: I have been up Wachusett since I posted this and--in April of 2023--I made a short video of a slightly different hike from the one described here. I ended up on the same peak...but it was quite a bit longer. Here it is!
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I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.