Trail Mix – Pine Cobble

For the first hike in this new regular Record feature, I thought I’d start out with a Williams classic. Pine Cobble, rising to the Northeast, forms part of the panoramic backdrop of the Purple Valley. Easily accessed from campus, it’s a great trail for those interested in a relatively short, but worthwhile expedition. Well-paced and well-maintained, it is a perfect introduction to the world of New England hiking.

To get to the trailhead, you will need to cross the Hoosac River on Cole Ave. To get there, head north (towards Mission) from Baxter, continue past Mission, Poker Flats and Cole Field House. The road swings right just past Eph’s Pond and runs the length of Cole Field before intersecting with Cole Avenue. Make a left and cross the bridges. Make a right on North Hoosac Road, being extremely careful, as there is no shoulder. Pine Cobble Road will be on the left, and the trailhead will be up the hill on the right, across from the small parking lot.

Almost immediately, the trail departs the road and heads into the wilderness, providing a shady respite from Williamstown’s hot summer days. Designated by rectangular blue blazes (marks on adjacent trees), the trail begins to weave its way through the lush deciduous forest. In this beginning section, there are several tempting side paths that seem to offer faster routes up Pine Cobble. However, these paths damage the undergrowth and rarely end up being shorter than the established trail.

Pine Cobble offers a great opportunity to immerse oneself in the New England forest. Unlike many other hikes, the trail neither crosses roads nor circumnavigates farms or clear-cut fields. After only a quarter-mile, you notice how quickly the bustle of modern life has vanished, replaced by the more muted sounds of the forest. The Pine Cobble trail offers many opportunities to observe the numerous plants that constitute the New England forest. Note how sunny and shady areas support their own communities, each with different types of flora.

Continuing upwards for another third of a mile, the trail passes by the upper reaches of the Pine Cobble development – the last elements of civilization on the hike. From here, the trail steepens a bit. Combined with a previous day’s rain and a rather nonporous trail bed, the incline makes the trail rather slippery.

After about a third of a mile, the trail flattens out slightly. Watch for puddles, as water has carved the trail into a shallow trench. The “0.8 mile” sign signals resumed climbing, as the trail twists past a side trail to Bear Springs on the right and the lower entrance to the Class of 1998 Trail on the left.

The trail soon passes one of the hike’s more interesting phenomena: a cluster of trees growing out of a common stump whose top is filled with water. From here, the top of Pine Cobble is only another quarter mile. At the fork, take the path to the right, leading to a prominent cluster of boulders that form the summit.

To the right, an exposed outcropping offers some of the area’s finest views of the valley. Williamstown unfolds to the southwest, set against the gentle ridges of Hopkins Forest and the dramatic crest of the Taconic Range. Down below, individual campus buildings can easily be distinguished. The Hoosac River can be seen winding northward through the valley. At night, the summit offers one of the most complete views of the night sky.

For those interested in a more panoramic view, another cluster of boulders a bit farther past the first group offers a sweeping westward view uninterrupted by tree limbs. Small trails lead to Pine Cobble’s true summit, a large outcropping with excellent views of both Mount Greylock to the south and North Adams to the east. The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs up the valley directly below, circumnavigating Pine Cobble. To get to the AT, return to the fork and follow the other branch for a half-mile, reaching the summit of East Mountain.

Even if you’ve seen the view numerous times, the ever-changing forest through which the trail winds offers a new backdrop with each new hike. When autumn enters the Purple Valley, the sea of colors will form a brilliant spectacle.