Saturday, April 12, 2008

The View From Tekoa Mountain, Russell , Massachusetts

Maybe climbing Tekoa Mountain in Russell, Massachusetts, isn't the best way to break oneself into warm weather hiking season after a long, and somewhat sedentary, middle-aged winter. Tekoa is no Everest, but it is an invigorating jaunt up steep trails and over crags and boulders to the summit. The view is well-worth the heart-hammering, breath-gasping, leg-aching Sunday stroll, though. Funny how I remembered the climb as being much easier. Then again, the last time I climbed the mountain I was 15.

Here are some photographs of last Sunday's adventure.


Skirting the rocky spine of the Berkshires, twin steel rails thread a path westward between Tekoa Mountain Range and the Westfield river, miles and worlds away from their Boston beginnings. On May 24, 1841, the first locomotive climbed into hilltown Chester from downriver Westfield, and by 1842, under the auspices of the Western Railroad Corporation, Chester had linked with Albany, New York. The advent of rail travel was a quantum leap in the transportation of freight and passengers across the unforgiving Western Massachusetts landscape.


The Mass Turnpike (I-90) bridge looms overhead as the swollen Westfield River mounts an assault on its stalwart foundation in an annual Spring ritual. The fishing is good along this stretch of the river when the current calms a bit, with plenty of parking along Route 20. B & G Sporting goods is nearby if you don't feel like digging worms.


A slab of stone alongside the rails hosts the determined etchings of hands now long at rest.


New growth sprouts from the charred trunk of a pitch pine tree. A fire in early April, 1999, claimed 1200 acres of the Tekoa Mountain Range and the life of 64 year-old John Murphy, the town of Russell's dedicated deputy fire chief, who made the ultimate sacrifice while battling the blaze.


A train rolls westward toward Springfield, the smoke from a distant fire billowing across its path. The John S. Lane & Son sandpit on Pochassic Road in Westfield is prominent in the center of the photograph. Glaciers grinding through the metamorphic rock of Western Massachusetts left plenty of sand and stone in their paths, much to the delight of quarrymen, and quite to the disdain of gardeners.


The graceful spans of the I-90 turnpike bridge lend an industrial elegance to this bird's eye view. Route 20, also known as Russell Road, parallels the Westfield River, seen here passing beneath the Pike on the far bank. The section of 20 known as Jacob's Ladder begins around here for travelers headed west through Huntington, Beckett and Lee and points beyond. It is a beautiful ride any time of the year. For folks interested in going a little further afield, I-90 west will take you clear out to Seattle. Send us a postcard, will you?


The Berkshire mountains: Blue and brown and gray. Spring comes a little later to the higher elevations of Western Massachusetts, bearing gifts of muddy roads and raging brooks. An old Strathmore Paper mill smokestack reaches skyward from the valley floor in the distance, dwarfed by surrounding sentinels of stone. Tekoa Mountain is about 1,130 feet at its summit. In comparison, Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, is 3,491 feet tall at its summit, in the northwestern town of Adams.


Tekoa Mountain is home to many kinds of wildlife, including deer, bear and coyote. It is also populated by timber rattlers, a fact that is important for visitors to be aware of. They are mostly dormant in cooler weather, but a rise in temperature will bring these poisonous sun-worshipers out to the rocks to bask in the warmth of old Sol's golden rays.


For an assortment of maps of local concern, check out EWM's 'Trails, Rails & Roads: Maps' link, always available in the right sidebar. One interesting source is Maptech's Historical Topographic Maps web site, which includes mid-20th century maps of Western Massachusetts and many other locales. Here is a link to the Woronoco, Massachusetts Quadrangle from maps created in 1942 and 1951 from 1937 and 1951 surveys. The southwest quadrant shows Tekoa Mountain Range.

To find out more about the Berkshires, and to order a free, printed copy of the Official Visitor's Guide, which is a great way to seek and schedule fun events throughout the year, visit the web site, The Berkshires (berkshires.org)

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.



Directions to Tekoa Avenue, Russell, Mass. via Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/43sO
Directions to Reservoir Road, Westfield, Mass. via Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/Bqmb


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19 comments:

Tony said...

The first (and unfortunately last) time I hiked Tekoa was coincidentally the summer right after that fire. I remember the fantastic views,and the charred wasteland all up and down the north(?) side. It was beautiful. I'll have to get back there again soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I also hiked this little mountain for years and was grateful for it's tranquility and beauty. Although these memories are plentiful and peaceful I found that Western Massachusetts has more beauty in the most remote places. One has to travel to these areas to explore them, but it's all well worth the time. I have recently moved to Georgia, but fondly recall western Mass and it's people. Traveling across this country and hiking the mountains in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, California, Oregon, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina has brought me so much happiness, but Tekoa Mountain will always be a favorite of mine.

placertogo said...

I can recall helping fight a forest fire on Mt. Tekoa back in 1964 when I was a freshman in college. We worked the mountain at night when the wind had died down and had to beware of timber rattlesnakes and copperheads that were driven from their dens in the fire.

Roy C. Gutfinski
Pittston, Maine

Anonymous said...

How beautiful and breathtaking. So sad it is the intended site of the Russell Biomass plant. This beauty may soon be gone.

zob said...

I grew up in the 1950's and 60's in the farm country of Pochassic Road in Westfield overlooking the Westfield River Valley to the South and with a magnificent view of the loaf-shaped Tekoa Mountain to the West. We took these beautiful views all too much for granted.

I recall as a kid hiking to the base of Tekoa and exploring all around Tekoa reservoir at the mountain's base.

We never dared brave the mountain itself thanks to my father's regaling us with stories of close encounter with monster rattlesnakes lurking in the rocks and crags. I'm sure those snakes got bigger and scarier with each tale, and also with time and memory -- or - maybe not. I see now that Tekoa has been designated as a "rattlesnake sanctuary!" Although why anyone would want to provide sanctuary to timber rattlers is beyond my powers of reasoning! *shrug*

amy said...

wasnt a few years in a row that the mountain caught fire! I have lived in the hilltowns for over 22 years, i remember. It was 3-4 years in row! Does anyone remember dates i do know it was around 1999! Thanks

Matt said...

Nice post.

Found it from a link in the comments on the Globe, and I'm putting a link from my New England wildfires blog posting about the current fire back to here :)

http://www.d90.us/wooden_nutmeg/

Anonymous said...

I hike tekoa in 2001 or 2002.I was amazed by the burned forest and how much of it there was.I grew up in westfield and seeing the mtn on fire every year was expected.Quite a site.Beautiful breathtaking views.A train was rolling through when we were looking down.It was so neat.I fell in love with westfield and the area even more when i finally hiked the mtn that all through my childhood would look up at and not turn away until it was out of view on all those trips into "the hilltowns"after that hike i never wanted to leave the area.I had to but that mtn i look forward to see whenever i go back to visit.

Mark T. Alamed said...

Thanks everyone, for your nice comments on the post and for taking the time to add information and memories.

Amy, The most recent big fires on the mountain were in 1995 and 1999. I remember being a kid and watching it burn, too, back in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Another commenter, Roy Gutfinski, relates that he fought a fire on the mountain in 1964.

Matt, Thanks for the link, that is a very interesting site.

Again, thanks everyone for leaving your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark-

How 'bout that night we "lost" Rick?

Brother Jim

Mark T. Alamed said...

Jimmy...That's a night I'll never forget!

Keith said...

Here's how to access the mountain as there are no official trails.

Drive to the center of Woronoco from Route 20.
Take Valley View Road, which becomes Bridge St., then Tekoa Road.
Drive past the Strathmore Paper Mill and park at the canoe portage on the right. (there is a gate for the mill across the street)
Walk down Tekoa Road and cross through the woods to the railroad tracks.
On the other side of the tracks is a rough dirt road, listed as Pochassic Road on maps. Take this trail. You'll be walking east, towards the Mass Pike bridge, paralleling the CSX tracks.
Walk about 15-20 minutes until you get to the bridge. Just past the rock wall that supports the bridge you'll see a trail going up the hill towards the top of the bridge.
Once you are directly under the Mass Pike (marvel at the fools who risked their lives to paint their names on the bridge) look for a trail that goes north, towards the mountain.
The trail is blazed in white on the trees. Follow it all the way to the summit.

Travis said...

I grew up 27 years in Montgomery on Pomeroy Rd. I have spent most of those years climbing and mountian biking up and over Tekoa. It is a place I hold dear in my heart . I have spent a lot of time on those craigs and they have streangthed my soul. For I now have found a new home, but whenever I return to the beautiful township of Montgomery Tekoa is the first place I go. See you there.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday was the first time I've hiked in a while, and being young and in shape, I expected a hike with friends to be no problem at all. I'm not sure what I expected, but that was one of the most beautiful and trying hikes I've been on! But so worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking, and just looking down on the various degrees of new and old growth after the obvious past forest fires was amazing. Aside from the mountain its self, we hiked down to the gorge under the old bridge to the factory to look at the glaciation, which was spectacular! Great way to spend a Saturday!

Timothy Gould said...

Keith,

Your directions are most appreciated and quite detailed. Thank You. Sure enough, after all of the years my Father spoke of this mountain (range) in "Westfield", not recalling the name but having trained there in the Reserves during the 60s/70s, he proved legit. When I said/confirmed Tekoa Mountain to him, he immediately said Woronoco! He knew what he was talking about alright, and Your directions and mention of the Strathmore Paper Mill made sense to him and rang many bells. :)

I just want to confirm a couple of things: 1) that it’s actually Tekoa AVE., You mean? There is a Tekoa Road alright, but according to this map: https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=Tekoa+Mountain&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89e722096f4f7005:0xd0171aeef46a4ab9,Tekoa+Mountain&gl=us&t=p&ei=gELUT6OMC-GI6QG-o4SMAw&oi=local_group&ved=0CJkBELYD, it's Tekoa AVE. from Bridge St. Tekoa ROAD goes behind the mountain...? Nonetheless, 2) You can’t drive far down Tekoa Ave. before a small sign, “Private Property, Keep Off” or whatnot appears on the right…?

Can You just park behind the paper mill, facing the CSX tracks/Pochassic Rd.? It appears legal with no “No Parking” signs anywhere…?

3) Regarding Valley View Rd. into Bridge St. into Tekoa "Rd.", when You first say drive to the center of Woronoco...is this even a town? Haha, sorry, but my Father didn't even know. (I suggested it is a municipality-like of Westfield, Russell, or Montgomery, similarly to Feeding Hills of Agawam.) Just curious. No matter, I have to mention the amazing coincidence that AS SOON AS I pulled down Woronoco Rd. this past Sunday, I recognized I had been all the way to the Strathmore Paper Mill with a friend last year – as a random turn off Rte. 20 for some herping! I cannot believe We were RIGHT there facing Timber Sanctuary and didn’t even know it!!

Anyway, my girlfriend and I went on a nice little motorcycle ride down the Mass Pike on Saturday, towards NY of course, and We received a nice view—and took a handful of pictures of—Tekoa Mountain. Sure enough to my Father's claim, the new growth since April 1999's fire appears to have grown in well!! :)

Now, just gotta get up there this month!! I LOVE to hike and keep fit, and this will be easy. Probably going to sleep over. To be honest, I am a herpetologist and seek the opportunity to claim my own photography and video-recordings of Our most beautiful Crotalus horridus, or Timber Rattlesnake, as a friend and his movie company and I are making a DVD of Massachusetts' and Connecticut's herps.

Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

Just got back from a great hike on Tekoa. Great views and surprised the trail was marked as well as it was. Thank you for the directions, they were very helpful. We have been by the Mountain for years and always talked about trying to find a trail to hike up. It's worth the trip from anywhere!!

West Springfield Sunday hiking group.

D Cyr said...

I loved hiking takoa mountian . I hike it as much as I can and take in the great views at the top. I have seen timber rattle snake ang got pictures and been in the caves that my family an I have camped under . Can't wait to go back and take it all in again this year.

Anonymous said...

I just hiked it this past summer and got lost. Two out of the 3 of us had hiked this mountain a few times before and we each had gotten to the top on different trails. We left the tracks but never really got on a good trail and had to bushwack our way up. When we got to the top, the views were just wonderful. Then we got lost trying to go down. The entire hike took 4 HOURS!!! It probably should have only been an hour to an hour and a half. We saw lots of footprints in some mud. One was a bears footprint that looked quite large. We are going back in October to tackle this hike again. Can we actually find a trail? Who cares. We had a blast but this time we'll bring more food and water (and maybe a gps).

Anonymous said...

Has anyone found "counterfeit cave"? And, if so, can you tell me where on the mountain it is? I heard that it was no longer accessible.