Solitude can be good. On the cross-country flight heading to my grandmother's funeral I wasn't in the mood to talk much. Especially since I'd gotten only a couple of hours sleep. Nobody bugged me and I didn't really say much to anyone.
Solitude can be bad. Throughout the next day, as we laid Grandma to rest, I sorely missed Amy and the kids, Mom, and (can you believe it?) even my sister.
Solitude can be healing. After the funeral we spent a couple of days working around Grandma's house. Since most of us were from out of town and the local family had already done so much it seemed only fair that we should roll up our sleeves and get to work. But when the chance came to sneak off for more than a trip to Starbucks I jumped at it.
Mt. Holyoke Range State Park was only about 15 minutes away and promised enough mileage and gain to take my mind off why I was in Massachusetts. I started at "The Notch" and climbed quickly on the wide Metacomet-Monadnock trail toward the highest peak in the park, Mt. Norwottock. Early there were lots of people and the trail was wide. Further along the trail narrowed and became rockier and steeper. I had none of my usual gear and quickly remembered why it's so much better to be prepared as my sandals slipped across rocks collected pebbles and dirt slowing my progress.
The summit wasn't really all that interesting. A few views of the surrounding countryside and nearby Amherst, but no other peaks anywhere to be seen. The trail continued along the ridge so I followed it down.
The "Horse Caves" weren't so much caves as huge rock overhangs, but really cool nonetheless. History isn't something we have a lot of in the Northwest so it was cool to learn that these caves (may have) provided shelter for some rebels after the failed Shay's Rebellion.
The trails throughout the park are marked with painted blazes on the trees. I had only a map from the visitor's center so I was careful to follow the white blazes that indicated the M-M trail. In spots the complex intersections were better marked than some intersections in Seattle, though that wasn't that hard to do.
The next highpoint on the route was Rattlesnake Knob. It was a full 300 feet lower than Mt. Norwottock, but still required a climb to get to it. The trail climbs and drops repeatedly rather than contouring around minor peaks. Elevation builds quickly and unexpectedly.
Down again to a deeper valley and then back up to Long Mountain. After Rattlesnake Knob I saw no one. At a false summit there was a register. I sat and wrote a note to Grandma and thought about my grandfather who died in 2006. They were 94 and 96, respectively, and had grown up in the area. No doubt Grandpa had climbed around this area in his youth. I was warmed by the thought of both of them enjoying each other's company again. The true summit was just a bit beyond and once tagged I made quick time back.
On Mt. Norwottock, I finally got ahold of Amy and made use of her shoulder long-distance. A quick descent, again reminded of the utility of proper footwear, and I was back at the car. I felt lighter in spirit for my walk in the woods and was able to rejoin the rest of the family back at the house with renewed energy.
Even though the highpoint was only a bit above 1,100 feet the ups and downs of an out and back added up to 6.5 miles and just over 1,800 feet.