Thursday, October 15, 2015

Finding Negus

For years I'd been hearing whispers of a neat trail on a peak called Mt. Negus (a.k.a., Negus Mountain, pronounced "knee-gus") in the Zoar region of northwestern Massachusetts, just north of and across the Deerfield River from Mohawk Trail State Forest. But I couldn't find much information about it. It wasn't in any hiking guidebooks and it didn't show up on any maps and there didn't seem to be any official trailhead. I couldn't even find much on the internet. Eventually, though, I pieced enough together to figure out where to park and where to start walking. And naturally it really wasn't all that hard to find once I knew where to look and where to go.

Parking is along a short section of paved road on the right side of Zoar Road immediately before it crosses the Deerfield River and becomes River Road. Elevation here is about 750 ft. You walk down the road until you reach a yellow metal gate just before the railroad tracks, at which point you should see the trail start into the woods on the other side of the tracks. It has recently been blazed with blue paint markers, and there are occasional round white signs with a blue bear paw symbol saying "Bear Swamp Hiking Trail -- Brookfield."

the trail at Mt. Negus
the trail at Mt. Negus

The trail is steep right off the bat. Really steep. Really, really steep. As in, you gain hundreds of feet of elevation in the first quarter mile or so. That said, it's not so steep that it requires ladders or rungs or ropes or anything. But you'll probably need to use your hands to scale some of the rocky ledges, especially while the trail is still down in the woods. When I hiked it, I was scouting to see if the trail could be used for trail running, and my general assessment is that I think it would be just over the edge of being too dangerous and probably not all that much fun to run, especially if the rocks were at all wet or icy, or if they were covered in leaves. The day I did it was dry and the colorful autumn leaves were mostly still on the trees, but I still wouldn't have wanted to run it. 

the steep trail up the southwest ridge of Mt. Negus
the trail up the southwest ridge of Mt. Negus is very steep to start with

Before long, the trail emerges out into the open along the narrow spine of the mountain's southwest ridge. Just past a large boulder perched right out in the open on the crest, it swings slightly right and climbs the semi-open ridge to the first peak. This section is remarkably dramatic and scenic, feeling much more like a wild White Mountains trek than most places I've been to in Massachusetts. 

dramatic scenery along the semi-open ridge of Mt. Negus
dramatic scenery along the semi-open ridge of Mt. Negus

Just before the first peak, the grade lessens slightly and you get some views of the reservoir to the north. At this point you realize that the mountain is really less of a peak than the edge of a broad upland plateau covering much of this far corner of the state, and that over time the Deerfield River has carved a pretty deep, now-wooded canyon out of it. Then the trail crosses over the wooded knob and makes its way north towards the actual summit. 

For the record, the next quarter mile or so of trail IS quite enjoyably runnable, as it gently meanders through the woods between the two peaks. Then it comes out at an old jeep road just west of the higher summit (which it does not cross). The road ends at a bulb here, and there is a limited view to the west, but the better summit was definitely the first one. From the bulb, the rough road descends towards Steele Brook Rd / Tunnel Road and the reservoir to the north. This was where I turned around. 

ledges partway along the narrow ridge of Mt. Negus
 bony ledges partway along the narrow ridge of Mt. Negus

far-reaching view from Mt. Negus
a far-reaching view that feels as wild and remote as anywhere I've seen in this state.

Overall it's really not a very long hike, hardly 2.5 miles round-trip. But it's challenging, especially in that first quarter mile or so near the bottom, with about 1,000 ft. of elevation gain in total. And it is exposed, and could be cold and/or tricky when it's windy or stormy out. On the day I did it, however, the afternoon sun warmed the ridge exquisitely, and there was a light breeze, so I just took my time and snapped some photos and sat in various spots along the way and admired the view. I've since heard that my friend Jeff incorporated it into a longer run that started at Mohawk Trail State Forest, which sounds like such a fun trip. All of the trails are on the scannable QR code map for site #8 in Trail Running Western Massachusetts.

map of Negus Mountain
map of Negus Mountain

Great Stuff Nearby: Mohawk Trail State Forest just to the south across the river; Monroe State Forest (with Spruce Peak, Raycroft Lookout, and Dunbar Brook) a few miles to the north; the little-known gem of Pelham Lake Park a few miles northeast in Rowe; and the Charlemont Trails network and Thunder Mountain Bike Park at Berkshire East.

1 comment:

  1. Nice report Ben. You photos, as always, are amazing! I keep coming back to Negus this winter, and today am getting ready to hike the whole ridge with snowshoes, but I am going to start from the Rowe side, coming up that steep section from the Zoar Gap seems too risky with the amount of ice and snow.

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