Located on the edge of the Monadnock area, for hikers, Stratton Mountain in Northfield, Massachusetts, is well worth the short drive.
Most people associate Stratton Mountain with the popular ski area of Vermont.
But in Northfield, Massachusetts, there is another mountain by this name.
Earlier this summer my longtime hiking companion Curtis Carroll and I made the short drive from Keene to see this lesser-known peak on the edge of the Monadnock region.
Most people associate Northfield – established in 1673 – with a distinguished old New England town known for its two-mile wide Main Street, beautiful homes, and history.
But this small town which borders Winchester (NH) to the south also offers many possibilities for hiking.
The topography of Northfield is very contrasted. The western part of the city sits on the rich alluvial floodplain of the Connecticut River. But in the east, the landscape rises sharply towards wooded hills.
Thousands of acres and 17 miles of trails are open to the public.
At 1,289 feet, Stratton Mountain is the highest point in this chain of hills.
We started our hike from the Gulf Road kiosk following a 3.3 mile one-way section of the New England Trail (NET) – formerly the Monadnock-Metacomet Trail.
The New England Trail, 125 miles, is a long-distance hiking trail that runs from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to the New Hampshire / Massachusetts border.
The trail climbed into a wood of tall pines, maples, beeches, and birches with striped maple (sometimes called goosefoot because the leaves of the small tree resemble the shape of a stalk). goose) growing below. Striped maples and tramp bushes (which we would see much later) are typical of the understory of a northern deciduous and coniferous forest.
Although we had no clear views until the very end of the hike, the tall trees providing shade over long wooded areas, both hardwood and hemlock stands, were much appreciated .
Several minutes after starting the hike, we arrived at the west junction for the Bald Hills Blue Loop, an optional side path that crosses the top of the ridge above Gulf Road and joins the NET at the east junction.
We chose to bypass the loop and stick with the NET, which continued over slightly hilly terrain and past a variety of ground cover including wild lily of the valley, the starflower – a low growing wildflower with 5 lance-shaped leaves arranged in a single whorl near the top of the stem – princess pine and partridge.
The tattoo of a hairy woodpecker – short, with strong, deliberate, and well-spaced strokes – and the chipmunks “chip” provided familiar sounds of nature. The name chipmunk derives from the jagged call these bulky little rodents make when surprised.
Curtis, a geology enthusiast, stopped to extract a flat garnet shale rock and tucked it into a side pocket of his backpack.
“There are shards of garnet mixed in. They polish them and use them for countertops,” he said.
Ten minutes from the start, the trail began a long, steady descent into a deep valley.
We knew the hike required a moderately steep climb out and back.
“It will be a steep climb,” Curtis said.
After passing through an impressive bed of ferns, a ledge area, and huge oak and white birch trees, we came to the east junction (left) for the Bald Hills Loop. We continued on the NET which was going down steadily.
An interesting stone wall rolling down the hill caught our eye. This ancient barrier, like many old stone walls in the woods, was “dry stacked” (mounted without mortar). A stone wall assembled in this way has many cracks. But don’t let the dry stacked method of building a stone wall fool you about its strength. The dry stone walls last for hundreds of years. If there is movement in the ground, they can flex, move and settle.
The trail descended into a hemlock ravine.
Here we saw thick clusters of tramps. The scattered shrub seemed to follow us for the next part of our hike. Hobblebush has dangling branches that can trip over or “hinder” walkers, hence the name. It thrives in damp, damp woods and often forms an understory in hemlock forest.
The trail passed two huge boulders (left) covered in rocky, paper-like guts – a large lichen resembling a leathery, coiled lettuce leaf tied in its lower middle to the rock. It sort of looked like peeling paint on the side of an old house.
Unless the day is humid, rock guts are likely to be rather dry and brown.
We continued through hemlock forest along the west side of Hidden Pond passing more rocks and bums. Soon the trail moved slightly uphill over a surface of drier, matted oak and beech leaves.
A sudden movement on the forest floor, a flash of emerald, caught my attention. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an emerald ash borer. Although only half an inch long, this shiny metallic green beetle is capable of cutting down ash trees thousands of times its size, digging into the tree, feeding on tissue under the bark, and ultimately pulling it down. to kill. Native to Asia, the small beetle is said to have entered this country hidden in wooden packaging materials. How can something so beautiful be so bad?
An hour and 20 minutes after starting the hike, we reached the junction with the Collier Cemetery trails.
Turning left we followed the NET uphill on a wide path. “It’s probably an old road (of the woods) because there is a graveyard nearby,” Curtis said.
A few minutes later we turned right and exited the old forest road. After passing an impressive flat horizontal ledge (left), we saw a patch of blue through the trees indicating that we were approaching our destination.
A few minutes later, we got to the top (East View).
Here we found an AMC shelter and a wonderful 180 degree view.
Mount Grace in Warwick, Massachusetts dominated the foreground with Mount Monadnock prominently on the horizon to the northwest. Mount Ascutney was visible on the far horizon to the far left.
After picking a few blueberries that were starting to ripen, watching the cloud shadows drift over the hills, and checking out the Richardson-Zlogar hut built by AMC volunteers in 2001, we returned home – refreshed and ready for the ” steep climb “.
To get to Stratton Mountain, from Keene, travel south on Route 10 to Winchester. At the junction of Routes 119.78 / 10, continue on Route 10 South 7.2 miles to Northfield. Turn left on Maple Street, which becomes Gulf Road, and continue for 3.2 miles to the trailhead (right).
To learn more about the Richardson-Zlogar Hut, visit newenglandtrail.org. Night pitches.