I was apprehensive. The previous day’s lethargy on the Housatonic River (read here) had me wracked with anxiety about my upcoming 2,200 foot climb up Mt. Everett. I felt good – although I had felt good twenty-four hours earlier as I started up Bread Loaf Mountain in northwestern Connecticut. Then, I had started to flag within the first quarter-mile and struggled throughout. Now I was standing at a trailhead in Sheffield, Massachusetts facing more mileage and twice the elevation. I started off.
The Race Brook Trail ran level for a hundred yards or so, crossing Dry Brook which, while not “dry”, was barely a brook. The woods became more dense as my path turned gently upward. I had trodden just over a quarter-mile when I came to a fork. To my left was the continuation of the Race Brook Trail; to my right was the Lower Falls Trail – ostensibly the only way to get to the Lower Falls. Makes sense right? The wrench in the works was that, while on the map, there appeared to be no way to cross Race Brook at the lower falls, I had heard that a connector ( that rejoined the main trail) did exist. My goal was to find that connector. I headed for the falls.
The Lower Falls Trail continued to climb gently through the Massachusetts forest. Much like at Bash Bish Falls (read here), the trees were still vibrant and green, while the trail was littered with colored autumn leaves. It was a little more than a quarter mile to the falls, and soon I stood at the foot of an impressive cascade. A white frothy horsetail spilled from behind a rock over 100 feet above me. The leaves were just starting to turn here, and the vignette through which I viewed the falls was one of dappled greens and yellows. This was the first of five cataracts which make up Race Brook Falls. I would manage to see two more on this hike. The other two? They probably sucked anyway. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
After viewing the lower falls, I started to search for a connector to the Middle Falls Trail, which allegedly passed waterfalls two and three before reconnecting with the Race Brook Trail near waterfall four. I stared across the brook. The terrain on the other side was intimidating. Jumbled boulders dotted an incline that jutted upward at an alarming angle. I could see no trail to speak of – or write about. I’m not opposed to a little bushwhacking, but this promised to be a bushwhack/scramble combo. That wasn’t what I wanted, so I turned and retraced my steps down the Lower Falls Trail to the previous junction. Once there, I turned north on the main trail, planning to take the Middle Falls Trail at the next junction. That junction never materialized. When I came to a trail labeled, “VIEW OF LOWER FALLS LOOP TRAIL,” I took it, still intent on discovering this mystery trail that ran creekside from falls to falls. A quarter-mile later, I stood at the base of falls number three. Huh. What happened to falls number two?
Three of five tumbled down Mt. Everett in fits and starts, splashing down short falls in rapid succession. It was a narrow chute that wove in and among mossy boulders and fallen trees. Beautiful, but of lesser charm than the lower falls. Again, I searched in vain for a trail along the creek. Nothing. I followed the spur back to the Race Brook Trail and turned north once more. The climbing was rocky and uneven, and I was breathing heavily when the trail turned sharply north and leveled out. Moments later, I stood at the base of falls four.
This cataract was a vision of loveliness. Again framed in mottled chartreuse, Race Brook Falls Four gushed from above, rushing down a narrow trough and dancing over mossy rocks as it made its way to a small plunge basin. The scene was unmarred by deadfall save for one, attractively-placed log about a third of the way up the sixty-foot cascade. There were a lot of people gathered around this falls, and I moved on quickly, resolving to snap some more pictures on my way back down.
I crossed Race Brook and started uphill. The trail swung north, away from the creek, then switched back south and passed falls five. Unbeknownst to me, the final installment of Race Brook’s fiver of fair falls required a short bushwhack to view, and I missed it. Frankly, I was busy worrying about the elevation. I had climbed about 1,100 feet at this point – the same elevation that had inexplicably worn me out the day before. I ran an internal diagnostic. I was pleased to discover that I was still feeling energetic! To add to my delight, the trail was now climbing ever-so-gently along a bubbling Race Brook. I enjoyed almost a mile of smooth trail, a charming creek, and easy hiking. Then I hit the AT.
I turned north toward Maine. For a quarter-mile I actually lost a little elevation; then the climb began in earnest. The Appalachian Trail was its usual rocky, root-covered self, and I plodded upward through thick forest, mentally ticking off the white blazes as I hiked. Soon I came to the first of something that would be repeated several times as I pushed up Mount Everett: timber wedges. These wedges were secured to steep slopes of smooth granite with iron stakes to form steps. They were a welcome crutch, as scaling these sections of bald rock would have been precarious without them. A slip of the boot would have resulted in a bruised knee at best or a dangerous, painful tumble at worst. There was often nothing within grasping distance to stop a fall, and the base of these smooth inclines were typically littered with jagged piles of loose stone. Sometimes water seeped down the surrounding rock, making it all the more slippery. The downside of these improvised staircases was that they were spaced unevenly and frequently required large strides to climb. Given that the grade approached 100% (45 degrees) on some sections, there were a few rest stops.
Finally the grade lessened, and I found myself pushing through a narrow tunnel of colorful shrubbery. Twisted pitch pine and wiry huckleberry closed in around the trail, tugging at my clothes as I passed. Moments later, I reached the summit.
At 2,602 feet, Mt. Everett is the tallest mountain in the immediate area, but I was by no means towering above the Teconic range. There had once been a fire tower at the top, and by climbing up onto one of the concrete foundation blocks I was able to get a fair view over the wind-swept foliage to the landscape beyond. The sky stretched out in every direction and cottony clouds extended to the blue-grey horizon. I changed out of my soaking-wet shirt into a warm, cozy fleece and sat down to eat my lunch. I was sharing the summit with two other hikers who got up to leave shortly after my arrival. I thought I was going to have the spot to myself, but no sooner had the hikers left than two frenchmen appeared from the other direction lugging bicycles. What?! On the AT? (Actually the Mount Everett Shelter is serviced by a road and was a short three-tenths of a mile north of the summit.) What I found more interesting than their decision to drag bikes up a mountain was their behavior when they reached the summit. Both men immediately ditched their wheels and set about awkwardly climbing the gnarly pitch pines that were scattered around. They’d each scramble up a tree, holler to the other, and then climb down, only to repeat the process. They seemed to have a plan, but for the life of me I couldn’t reckon what it might be. There was a lot of chatter, but I understood none of it. At the end of it all, they seemed to have been satisfied with the result of their antics.
With lunch in my belly and numerous pictures of the summit safely stowed in my iPhone, I began the bone-jarring descent. With the temperature at the summit hovering around 50°F, I felt comfortable in my fleece and detested the idea of trading it for a soaking wet shirt. I started down in the fleece. Twenty minutes of navigating rocky, uneven terrain later, I was sweltering. I put it off another five minutes, then resignedly stopped and dug my sopping wet shirt out of my pack and changed.
Cold. Wet. Awful.
With a countenance of pure disgust, I stuffed the fleece into my pack and continued down Mount Everett. The sopping shirt clung heavily to my body, chilling me at first. Fifteen minutes later I had warmed up – as had my shirt – and I was begrudgingly pleased to not be roasting inside a fleece. Down I went, picking every step carefully on the uneven trail.
Trekking poles are an absolute must on this trail. I carry my sticks anytime I know I will encounter a water crossing or steep descent. They really take a load off one’s knees and are essential for safety when wading. Sometimes I use them; sometimes I don’t, but it’s comforting to have them when the hiking gets precarious. This was one of those times when I
wantedneeded them. I doubt I would have made it down without a painful fall had I not had the extra stability that the poles provided.
The rest of my descent was routine, although the rocky terrain left my ankles aching. I stopped at falls number four (now devoid of rambunctious children and angry parents) and took some better pictures. When at last I reached the parking lot, I couldn’t get out of my saturated shirt fast enough. Back in the warm comfortable fleece, I hopped ion the car and headed for my motel.
Race Brook Falls and Mount Everett was a fantastic hike and could be tailored to any experience level. The walk to the lower falls was short and easy; the trek to see all (or most) of the other cataracts is moderate, but well within the capabilities of any reasonably fit person. I rated the full hike to the summit of Mount Everett “strenuous” due to the combination of challenging terrain and elevation, but at 2,184 feet over 3.5 miles it wasn’t a particularly daunting climb. Whatever was going on with me the day before had not plagued me as I climbed Everett that day. Give this route a try when you’re in southwestern Massachusetts. Bring your trekking poles, see as many of the falls as you can, and don’t be surprised if you find a frenchman up a tree at the top. Non! Tu es sérieuse? ♦
Date: October 4, 2020
Location: Sheffield, MA
Trailhead: 42.089805, -73.411223
Distance: 7.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,184 feet
BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Mohican.