It’s a small piece of the Appalachian Trail. At the top, sitting on a sun-warm tumble of worn stone, I looked out across the valley and wondered how I had taken so long to learn about this place. In a county where most trails head straight up hill, this one follows a gentle switch-back, and the walk from base to top took me half an hour. The only real trick was finding it.
Route 8 in Cheshire has one stoplight marking the cross-street that leads to — and is — downtown. Following directions from the Appalachian Trail I turned at the light onto Church Street, down past the post office and right to park along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. Then, nose to phone, I crossed the street to see the Cheese Press and an AT kiosk. But no path. A trail head without a trail?
I blinked into the sun and stared at the brusque website and worked it out. The trail comes down into a residential street and has no parking, and in a tactful effort to keep cars off the neighbors’ yards the AT has given directions … indirectly. Walk across the rail trail and over the Hoosic River heading east, away from Route 8) and bear right at the fork onto East Main Street. Take the next right onto Furnace Hill Road. Keep on uphill, past hikers in frame packs heading into town in the late summer afternoon, and the trail will begin on the left.
It begins in evergreens and hardwood and winds gently uphill, crossing logging trails. The walk to the summit lasts barely a mile — not a remote climb out of the world. From one of the houses at the foot I heard a radio station playing ’60s hits with gusto, the Duke of Earl carrying clearly in warm air.
Closer to the top it begins to climb in longer uphill rushes, and finally I paused to catch my breath. I had come looking for a way to get into the woods for awhile, not thinking I would have time to walk to the ridge line. But I found myself running out of up and thinking the top could not be far now. And then it becomes clear. The path runs under a young cliff, a real steep expanse of white stone. We don’t usually grow cliffs around here, more glacial boulders. The path edges around and scrambles up where the cliff meets the hillside — not bouldering, no harder than climbing stairs. And it sends out a spur to the North Cobble, where the trees break at the cliff top to give a view.
I sat on the warm stone, feeling exhilarated from the climb and exposed in the open. The lake in the distance caught the light. And I felt astonished all over again that I live in this place, and I can wander up here almost by accident on the way home to dinner.