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On the trail of Melville -- Monument Mountain Reservation -- 9/4/17

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  • On the trail of Melville -- Monument Mountain Reservation -- 9/4/17

    About a year ago a friend and I climbed Mount Greylock in Massachusetts - the tallest peak in the Bay State. While researching our hike we learned of some fascinating literary history that linked both Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville with the mountain. Thoreau devoted a section of one of his books to his tale of climbing Greylock and it's said that Melville got the inspiration for "Moby-Dick" from seeing Greylock from a distance. Or so the story goes. I had to see the view he saw at some point to fully grasp the concept. On Labor Day weekend I finally got to Arrowhead, Melville's home in Pittsfield MA where he wrote many of his great works, and experienced the view of Greylock that inspired him. I still don't understand how it looks anything like a whale but at least I've satisfied my curiosity. Afterward I headed south past Stockbridge to Monument Mountain Reservation. That area has a Melville connection as well. Melville, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, and other notable citizens of the era all climbed the mountain together. That's one interesting hiking party! During their hike they were caught in a thunderstorm and sought refuge in a cave where "a lengthy and vigorous discussion ensued, inspiring powerful ideas for Melville's new book Moby-Dick." At least that's what the sign at the trailhead read.

    Monument Mountain is about 14 miles south of Arrowhead and provides no more inspiring view of Greylock than Melville's home does. It's along the same line/angle and the view is further off in the distance. And on the day of my visit a bit obscured. The trail system on the Reservation does not go to the top of Monument Mountain, only to shorter Squaw Peak but it's an interesting loop with some cool features, some great views, and some very fun trails. Monument Mountain itself is only 100 feet taller than Squaw and would require about a mile bushwhack in each direction to reach. I didn't find any evidence of a herdpath or anything heading in that direction but perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough. In any event, Squaw Peak was more than enough to get the view and enjoy walking in Melville's footsteps even though I never did find that famous cave.

    The trail system is not imposing. I did a clockwise loop starting from the huge parking area (which probably fits 50+ cars) up the Indian Monument Trail and around the back side of the mountain. On a busy day this was a smart move as everybody else went up the Hickey Trail counterclockwise. I only ran into a few people descending who were doing a loop. Once you reach the junction for the Squaw Peak Trail you come upon Inscription Rock (see pic below). That's a natural spot to grab a quick breather and take a picture. From there the trail climbs some more to the summit ridge. Everybody was gathered at the first rock outcropping which I suppose was the summit. Just a sea of humanity. I wriggled my way through the boisterous crowd to take some pictures but stayed only briefly. I worked my way along the ridge, first by the marked trail then by bushwhacking along the edge of the cliffs to the next bump then to the open ledge with views to the south and east as well as Devil's Pulpit - a rock formation just to the south along the cliffs. That was a neat spot that I had to myself for a few minutes before more people crowded in. The discussion of the imminent danger among the half dozen petrified adults standing fifteen feet from the cliff's edge was my cue to move on. I bushwhacked/ followed a faint herdpath further south along the cliffs to get a close-up view of Devil's Pulpit. This was the second Devil's Pulpit I've been to in my life. I think Devil's anything is a much overused naming convention. Off the top of my head I've also been to Devil's Coffin, Devil's Corncob, Devil's Den, and Devil's Tower. I'm sure there's more. As I was taking pics at this spot three large turkey vultures were circling just a few feet above me maybe 50 feet out from the cliff. That was neat to see them up close. On my descent I bushwhacked back to the main trail which I followed for a bit to the north then discovered a herdpath (maybe an old abandoned trail?) running parallel to the ridge that would allow me to avoid the giant crowds. I knew I was going in the right direction as I could plainly see the giant handrail of the ridge above me to the east the entire way. A while later I was dumped back out onto the main trail and I descended via the Hickey Trail back to the parking area thus completing the loop.

    Nice little hike. Nothing too challenging but the link to Melville as well as the sights and features along the trail system made for a fun day. If you're ever in the Stockbridge area and are looking for a few hour diversion go check it out.

    Melville's home Arrowhead...

    Melville's view of Greylock...

    Start here for Monument Mountain Reservation. Hard to miss the sign or the large parking area...

    more on Melville...

    These maps/ "You Are Here" signs were at every trail junction. Nice touch for this tourist mountain...

    Inscription Rock
    "This ridge and the cliffs of Monument Mountain were conveyed to the trustees of Public Reservations by deed bearing date October 19 AD 1899
    Is fulfilment of a wish of Rosalie Butler that such portions of this mountain might be preserved to the people of Berkshire as a place of free enjoyment for all time."

  • #2
    View from Squaw Peak north toward Greylock (left of center above water on horizon). Not so easy to pick out...

    timeless graffiti...

    View from the last ledge looking toward the south and Devil's Pulpit (center bottom)...

    View from along cliffs on way to Devil's Pulpit looking back toward the ledge. For scale the red arrow points to a man standing on the ledge...

    Wide view of ledge and surrounding area...

    Be careful around the cliffs. The first step is a doozy...

    Devil's Pulpit from up close...

    What the blazes?...
    Last edited by Makwa; 09-18-2017, 02:01 PM.


    • Trail Draggin
      Trail Draggin commented
      Editing a comment
      I used to go sit up there at lunchtime just to get away from things.

  • #3
    Just tacking on.

    Was just in Oregon near Portland. I climbed to Angels Rest. There is a Devil's Rest nearby that can be added as a loop hike A bit further away near Mt Hood there's a Devils Pulpit that is on the Pacific Coast Trail. It sould have a great view of the adjacent Preachers Peak.

    And nearby in the Catskills Devils Tombstone. And Devil's Kitchen which, I've heard (after a fall and fatality), is aptly named because of its reputation as a killer.

    Last edited by Hear the Footsteps; 09-18-2017, 07:20 PM.


    • #4
      Monument Mtn is a nice short hike, parking is not free (this is a trustees place) but not expensive and there are ways to come in from Rt 183 in Housatonic, with a nice 'whack (sort of) to Flag Rock and ways to connect to the trail system.

      I think the whole Greylock as a whale originates cause somehow both the summit and saddle ball mtn sort of forms a double hump when viewed from the south. I dunno, maybe a little artistic license if you ask me, but hey, I didn't write a bazillion page book on a mountain that looks like a whale. :-)


      Life is a short, warm moment
      And death is a long cold rest.
      You get your chance to try in the twinkling of an eye:
      Eighty years, with luck, or even less.
      -Pink Floyd


      • #5
        If you viewed Greylock from the area of Pontoosuc Lake, you can see the 'whale' feature much better. The nearness of Saddleball to that area gives it the look of being as tall as greylock, and a breaching whale look. Hard to see all of that feature from Arrowhead, as the angle is different. In Melville's defense, there were no trees limiting his view.
        The only view of Greylock that you might get from Monument Mountain Reservation would be from the northern hill top, about a mile north of Squaw Peak. There are no maintained trails over there, but some old carriage roads do criss cross the area. But again, the view is limited due to the trees. But perhaps not in Melville's time.