Taking a Hike columnist explores Mount Race

Mount Race lies four Appalachian Trail miles into Massachusetts from the Connecticut line in Salisbury. It is a modest hill of 2,372 feet, but it is there and I had never climbed it. I had climbed summits to north and south, so tackling Race was also a tidying up exercise, filling in a gap in my Taconic Mountains experience. The Taconic Mountains, for the record, are those that run north from the northwest corner of Connecticut, hug the Massachusetts-New York boundary, and eventually enter southwest Vermont. All our state’s highest points are in the Taconics.

One Taconic experience that I have relished many times is the hike, via Undermountain and Paradise Lane trails, to the Appalachian Trail (AT) just north of Bear Mountain. It involves a steep ascent followed by a long, easy rounding of Bear’s eastern side. This familiar route formed the first few miles of my Memorial Day Saturday outing.

Until now, on reaching the AT, I had always turned left, up Bear or toward Taconic summits to the west. This time, I turned right into Sages Ravine. Now, Sages Ravine is a much-referenced hiker landmark, perhaps because of its AT campsite or because it divides the trail’s Connecticut and Massachusetts sections. I had, however, never before entered the ravine, and did so now with some anticipation.

And what a reward! The trail went down among shady pines into a rocky, wooded gorge, all the time a fast, cheerful brook to my left. White water tumbled over boulders and little ledges; a tributary stream cascaded through a steep, mossy rockery into the main brook. How had I not visited this place in 20 years of hiking the area?

I forded the brook and followed the AT on an easy ascent of the Massachusetts side of the ravine, and then on a steeper climb toward Mount Race. At first, this climb was wooded in, although the sight of sky through the tree trunks indicated a sharp drop to the east. Then, at about 2,000 feet up, the trees fell back and shrank and the panoramas began.

The first panorama showed all the country I had covered. I could see the escarpment of the steep ascent from the trailhead, and the green wart of Bear Mountain squat on the plateau that Paradise Lane crosses. I could see where Sages Ravine opened on to the lowlands, though not its higher reaches. Above these handsome contours stretched a pale blue sky lightly decorated with unthreatening clouds. Soon, the 1,400-foot cliff of Race’s eastern flank came fully into view ahead—the abrupt divide between mountain and flatlands. Here, reluctantly, I spread my shirt out on a warm ledge and sprayed it with Off to keep the multiplying bugs at bay.

Fifteen minutes later, I was atop Mount Race. A huge swathe of our regional landscape was on display— 40 miles to the north, Mount Greylock; 30 miles west, the line of the Catskills; and to the south, much closer, Connecticut’s Taconic peaks—Bear, Gridley, and Round wrapped in unbroken forest. I ate lunch, bugs dancing in my view but leaving me otherwise in peace. Then I walked to the far end of the summit and admired Mount Everett, little more than a mile away. I’d climbed Everett before, the last time in deep winter, and decided now to come back on Memorial Day to scale it again.

I drove again the two hours to Connecticut’s top-left corner but, this time, crossed the line into Massachusetts and parked at the Race Brook Falls trailhead. Memorial Day promised more sunshine and warmth. The trailhead lies at the edge of the flatlands and, here, climbing the Taconic escarpment offers a special treat. I had seen Race Brook Falls before, once in spring and once frozen, but over the intervening years my memory had diminished them and when I saw the falls today, I was enchanted all over again. They were a channel of splashing water falling from a sunlit ledge into the shaded ravine where I stood. A more exquisite sight was hard to imagine.

The remainder of my trek could have been an anticlimax, but it didn’t prove so. I took in the views from Mount Everett, as grand as those from Mount Race two days before. I descended into the saddle between the two mountains and climbed to Race from the north, filling in another little gap in my Taconic experience in the process.

Rob McWilliams is the author of “The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain: A Walk from Cape Wrath to the Solway Firth.” Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike,” blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.