Finding waterfalls along the Appalachian Trail

I came to the waterfall almost by accident. I didn’t know I was close — I just wanted to get into the woods on a sunny morning. I wanted to get far enough from the valley to lose the sound of traffic, far enough so I could hear songbirds and the wind in the leaves. The summit road on Mount Greylock opens up in May, and I went up from the closest entrance, in North Adams, and stopped at one of the closest trailheads.

It’s a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, north of the summit. They call this trail Wilbur’s crossing, and in one direction you can follow it upward. I walked through young beech trees and striped maple, and the clintonia were blooming. They’re called corn lily, yellow bead lily, bluehead lily — and up here there are drifts and pools of yellow flowers.

The trail climbs up to a lower peak. You can keep on up the AT to the summit, if you have a few hours and a bottle of water. Or you can scramble down and follow the AT north (on the other side of the road from where I’d parked). It runs through a spruce wood, and the foaming white blossoms of hundreds of Canadian mayflower, wild lily of the valley.

When I come up the mountain, I think about how little I know about what grows under the trees. A hundred years ago, there were sheep grazing near here. European colonists like my forebears cleared most of the woods in the Northeast. The trees are growing back, but what about the understory, the berries and wildflowers and ferns that grow below them — how much have we lost?

This pathway runs gently flat along a shoulder of the hill, and some way along, past an Appalachian Trail shelter, it meets the trail that leads to the waterfall. (Trail maps will call the place Money Brook Falls, and I think this waterway should have other names. The stream runs between Ragged Mountain and Mount Greylock, in a hollow called Bellows Pipe — and it’s a beautiful, clear brook with trails along it, high and low.)

This pathway runs across the mountainside and then climbs down through hemlock trees, with a scramble near the end, and then you start to hear the water. You don’t see the brook until you come out of the trees right beside the waterfall.

And I forget, every time, how massive they are. I can never show the scale of it. If you were standing here with me, we’d be looking straight up the falls — it feels like hundreds of feet up, many heights of trees. And the water would keep on falling away below us, farther than we can see.

Somehow, when I’m standing here, I feel the size of the mountain. I know it would take me at least four hours to walk from the foot to the top, and I’ve walked the Hopper Trail that way before, but measuring the climb a step at a time feels different. Sitting here, on a rock in the river, I can hear the weight of the water. It’s cooler too — the falls seem to carry their own air current with them. And it’s quiet. I can sit here for an hour and more, with the sound of the water and the sound of my breathing.

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