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View Full Version : Bushwhacking Race Mountain Mass's Cliffs and Bear Rock Falls



Driver8
06-14-2014, 11:36 PM
Anyone here have any experience bushwhacking Race Mountain's cliffs, particularly in the really steep stretch around Bear Rock Falls?

Today, a friend of mine and I had two main targets -

1) Sages Ravine via its old, abandoned trail from near the CT/MA state line on Rt. 41, in the valley, up to the Appalachian Trail's crossing of the Sages brook, and

2) The base of Bear Rock Falls a mile and change north of the A.T. Sages crossing.

We hit both. Sages was epic and scary in places, especially soaking wet after a couple days' rains. From there, we traversed northward to find the Bear Rock brook's falls.

We reached Bear Rock's base via the A.T. northbound, about 0.9 miles north to the point where the trail begins its long ascent of Race. We took a sharp right (SE) there on an old logging road, an old A.T. routing, for about 0.1, then taking a left (NNE) where another old logging road was joined. We then followed that road, or its bank, steadily and somewhat steeply down, NE, joining another road at a very rough spot, then following that new road, also mostly rough, NNE to a hairpin turn depicted on the historic UNH 1949 Bash Bish topo, NE quadrant: http://docs.unh.edu/MA/bash49ne.jpg.

From there, we whacked through intermittently rough and generally wild though open terrain, about 1/4 mile, descending sharply near the brook, following our ears to the roar of the falls until we found their base at about 1200'. Returning, we scrambled back up the steep south bank, then fortunately spotted an old road bed, mostly level, which contoured between 1250 or so and 1220' and joined the road off which we'd bushwhacked. We followed this down to a point, then descended eastward from about 1000' as the grade eased, catching first a canal fed by Bear Rock Brook (!), then an unpaved road which took us north and then east to Rt. 41 where Bear Rock Brook crosses it about half a mile north of the state line and my car.

The last mile or so of road, whack and road leading us down to 41 was, unfortunately, along private property. I believe it would not be difficult at all to create a new Bear Rock Falls sidetrail from the A.T. to the base of the falls along our return route to the old logging road and then back up to the A.T. It would be a nice addition to the extensive and very nice trail network in the southern Taconics. I'm curious to see who owns the land the trail would traverse and whether they might be willing to give permission for such a use. Much of this route appears to be within the A.T. protected corridor or within Mount Everett State Reservation.

From the base of the falls, we could see the bottom 100' or so, and from the sidehill views approaching from the south, we could see another 75'. From the top, on prior trips, I've scrambled down the south bank of the top of the falls and been able to see down about 100', the sharp first main drop. I believe, from topos, from eyeballing the top and bottom and from Google Earth imagery (the top of the falls is at approximately 42 deg 03'44.89" N, 76 deg 26'13.15" W), that the Falls lose 400' in several pitches which constitute one big fall. Eyeballing the terrain from the base of this long fall, it appeared that the north bank could, for a ways at least, be scrambled up in order to get additional views of the middle 150' or so of these falls.

I will post pics and other data later, but I wondered - has anyone here had the experience of taking in the full extent of Bear Rock Falls via such a scramble? They quite clearly are the largest falls in southern New England, from my understanding, and by a good margin. Neighboring Race Brook loses 600' in its falls and intervening cascades, but these are across six or seven distinct falls ranging from 100' to 7' in height. From what my friend and I saw today, and from my prior explorations, BRF looks quite awesome and appears to be one big fall with a few different pitches. Wondering if anyone here has more beta on them or knows of someone who does. Looking at the topos, I'm wondering, in a related question, if it would be possible to ascend along the north bank up the side of the falls, then, at some point, side slope northward out of the super steeps to a leveler stretch below Race's cliffs, then, picking a manageable line, climb to join the A.T. up Race's "cliffs" where they're not sheer but merely steep. It's an ambitious project, one I may not do this year, but it has my interest and attention.

Mike P.
06-15-2014, 10:33 AM
Can't help on the ownership or whacking but know there have been deaths from people falling along the falls. The campsite near Bear Rock Falls was moved to be further away from the waterfalls also. (While a better location for being away from the water is one of several likely reasons, the area is a frequent destination for campers with younger children and scout groups, having a buffer so you couldn't accidentally get to close to the edge was a bonus too.)

Having a spur lead from the AT down to a good view point of the falls would be nice. Thinking that more of your whack was on private property then you believe. The AT corridor is not very wide, the Old Sages access (your #1) starts on abandoned trail which much of it is on private property and the Mt. Everett Reservation is about 1/2 mile north of the Race Brook Falls trail, Bear Rock is further south. (The Reservation boundary does cover much of the Elbow trail behind the Berkshire school) Some of the old roads you walked were probably part of the old Plantain Pond Road.

I know that a fair amount of the CT area of the South Taconic Plateau is owned by the Riga Lake Association. (May not be the actual name, but it's a private group) They own a sizable piece that has some of the lesser used trails pass through, (Brace Mt. Trail from the Mt. Washington Road) including the closed Bald Peak Trail. I was lucky (read old) enough to have sat on Bald Peak prior to the access being revoked.

Is ignoring private property likely to have property owners grant more access? Considering this relatively small area has access from many locations already in all three states, (AT at 41, Undermountain, Race Brook, Berkshire School, Jug End, the Taconic Trail, Taconic State Park, Alander Brook and the South Taconic Trail near Whitehouse crossing & the Lion's Head Trail not counting any trails from the Mt. Washington Road/East Street), do we need another access point. (The Race Brook lot could be bigger)

Do we need to buy or infringe on existing private property on steep terrain that would likely provide difficult to build and avoid erosion issues. My thought would be it would be scarier than any terrain in Sages. (Oddly, I'm usually left of center on discussions on private property rights) Granting access would also require a parking area of some size also. Never thought I'd want a lot like Undermountain in my yard.

Driver8
06-15-2014, 03:10 PM
Hi Mike, thanks for your response. Judging from the Mount Everett Reservation map, here: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/parks/trails/mwashington.pdf - and from our observations on the ground, I believe, in retrospect, that the Bear Rock Falls access trail route I suggest - dropping down from the A.T. along the old Plantain Pond Road route then, near the hairpin, taking a northward turn, traversing, then dropping down to the base of the brook's main 400' drop - is entirely within the reservation and not close to private property.

The Reservation, per Mass DOCR's map, runs south across Race along the A.T. and well below Race's cliffs, all the way to the CT state line in Sages. My friend and I probably saw southeastern boundary markers at the brook where it brushes up against the Mass border - there was a big pink ribbon tied to a large tree, and a series of markers on trees proceeding northerly from there.

Later, on our exit hike, as the Plantain Pond Road got to about 1020', we saw two significant things:

1) there was a stone marker with an orange tag on it, and a line of orange markings on trees proceeding in a rough north-south line from it, and
2) a gate about 50 yards past the stone marker, approximately on the north south line, closing vehicular access to the road, which itself was mostly very rough and impassable.

I believe this line of markings is the eastern boundary of the reservation and that the gate marks where the road passes from the reservation onto private property. We'd had a long day, so we didn't go investigate the marker or the area more closely.

If I'm correct, the Bear Rock Falls Trail routing I suggest, from the A.T. down along the old Plantain Pond Road - I think you're correct that that's the road my friend and I took to our bushwhack, Mike - and from just downhill of the hairpin, at about 1220', northward along the road cut and then down into the brook's ravine to the base of the falls - would be well within the reservation and a good 1000' of terrain west of private property.

As to the danger of the place, I agree, it's treacherous. But people die at Sleeping Giant and Talcott Mountain, which are two of our most popular hiking parks in CT, much less on Mt. Tom in Mass and the Whites and in Maine. I don't think that's a good reason not to put a trail giving access, from above, not from below if the private property owners won't grant access. The last 0.1 mile would involve some pretty intense trail-building work, and the old route routings are very rough in places, but the reward would be to give public access to this spectacular place on public lands.

As to Sages, three years ago on Trails day I hiked the old Sages Trail with a group out of Peter Beck's Village Store in Salisbury. It still had white tags in place on the trees and had been brushed. This time, to my surprise, there were no tags to be seen and the trail was not brushed. I don't know what that means but am looking into it. Fortunately, my friend and I, by taking a somewhat different, lower route than our group took three years ago, caught views of an exceptionally pretty 90' fall in the remotest part of the Sages flume. The main, upper plunge fall was about 50' into a deep, dark, beautiful pool, and the lower, slide fall was about 40'. Truly gorgeous.

https://scontent-b-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpf1/t1.0-9/10436207_10204335291165350_7035331886867160006_n.j pg

Due to the rains, the brooks and falls were running high and beautiful, but the footing in the ravine was especially tricky. We took it very slow, and several times my friend had to give me a hand or two, other times I scrambled on all fours. It was well worth it.

Mike P.
06-15-2014, 07:31 PM
I'm looking at an older South Taconic Trail Map put out by the NY/NJ Trail Conference, It's the standard map that EMS sells for the region. The Reservation and Forest are much better marked, my copy does go back several years.

The DCR map does not appear to clearly define the State Reservation from the State Forest. I believe the section of your map with the vertical lines are the State Reservation boundaries. The white area, where Bear Rock Falls lies & the Old Plantain Road to appear to be in the Mt. Washingtion State Forest though. (Early on in Everett's American History, it also was names Mount Washington)

The dark green on the map would delineate private property. Based on state budgets and several access points to other scenic points within the state forest, I can't see this being a high priority. Sleeping Giant does have a higher mortality rate, it's a favorite place for the local college kids but little to no family camping takes place there. (they have climbing routes there, you're not suggesting climbing are you? I don't recall ever hearing about climbing on the Race cliffs but I don't keep up with climbing boards ever since they were split from here long ago.)

Driver8
06-16-2014, 01:12 AM
Dropping a trail down from the A.T. to Bear Rock Falls likely isn't a priority now, but priorities can change, and private donors might also be enlisted. Who knows? A lot of times, in cases like this, it gets started when someone comes up with the idea.

This pic of the relevant part of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Inc. 2002 map, is interesting, though somewhat outdated. Judging from our observations on the ground and from this map, it looks like the entire area of the trail route I suggest is well within the bounds of Mass state land, in one form or another, and the apparent eastern boundary of the state land on the old Plantain Pond Road is near, per the map, where we seem to have observed it Saturday.

https://scontent-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfa1/t1.0-9/10383493_10204343849539304_25415839884527168_n.jpg

From the real estate legal work I've done, it's clear that none of these maps is definitive. I'd like to see what the official deeds and maps say in the Registry at Great Barrington. I'd bet they say this proposed trail route would be "kosher." In fact, a thought that has occurred to me is that it would be very interesting, if possible, to run a trail to the base of BRF as discussed, then have it continue north from there, slabbing along on manageably steep terrain below Race's cliffs and linking up to the main Race Brook Falls Trail at its southern switchback at about 1400'. It could make for an epic and extra beautiful Race Mtn loop originating at the RBF trailhead and coming back to it, traversing the summit via the A.T. and returning via this new Bear Rock Falls trail, or vice versa as they see fit, or they could stay below Race's high grounds and just take in all the falls.

Driver8
06-16-2014, 01:34 AM
Here are some more pics from the hike:

This is Bear Rock Falls main fall from its base at about 1200', approximately the lowest 100 feet could be seen from here:
https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xap1/t1.0-9/10406552_10204343839979065_5229550071255629317_n.j pg

A pano shot of the two strands of the falls from the same spot. My hiking partner is taking a shower in the main strand, at left:

https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xfp1/t31.0-8/10379848_10204343839459052_6331235724263977639_o.j pg

Nice small 15'-ish foot fall above a pool at the west edge of Sages' gorgeous flume:

https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xfp1/t1.0-9/10439509_10204343786817736_7613005171061881260_n.j pg


Broader shot of the same falls and pool and of the flume's walls:
https://scontent-b-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xap1/t31.0-8/1899689_10204343778297523_5738851805166326656_o.jp g


A shot of my hiking partner, Antonio, on an easier spot along the ravine's south wall, between the big double fall shown in the prior post and the smaller fall just shown:

https://scontent-b-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/t1.0-9/1521230_10204343759177045_6821661186741485169_n.jp g