Trail Mix – The Dome

Just as Mount Rainier rises dramatically above the Seattle skyline, a monument to nature’s ceaseless dominance, so too does the 2,748-foot granite hill known as the Dome dominate the landscape north of Mission. Like the great symbol of the Pacific Northwest, the Dome is often shrouded in clouds, giving it a mystical loftiness. However, unlike Rainier, ascending the Dome requires neither technical expertise nor superlative willpower; rather, all one needs is a pair of sturdy hiking boots and about three hours.

Before you leave, make sure that in addition to carrying the 10 essentials (map, compass, flashlight, food, clothing, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocketknife, matches and fire-starter), be sure to wear bright clothing. As I was informed by a shotgun-carrying hiker (who was only out for “target practice”), New England will soon enter the hunting season. While this may seem strange to West Coasters whose hikes consist almost exclusively of national forests, hunting is a very popular activity in these parts and something that must be taken seriously. This means that hikers should do everything possible to avoid looking like a deer or some other large mammal. If you have bear bells, bring those along as well.

To get to the trailhead, you’ll need to cross the Hoosac River at the Cole Avenue bridge. To get there, head north from Baxter Hall on Stetson Road past Mission, Poker Flats and the Cole Field House. The road will turn towards the right, and after passing Cole Fields, will intersect with Cole Avenue. Make a left and cross over the river and B&M railroad tracks. Turn left on North Hoosac Road and go about a mile before making a right on White Oaks Road. Stay on White Oaks Road for about 1.5 miles, as it winds its way up into the mountains, passing through the White Oaks neighborhood. At about 1.25 miles, you’ll pass a sign that says “Entering Vermont,” after which the road ceases to be paved. The trailhead immediately on the right is the Broad Brook trail, which will be profiled in a later column. To get to the Dome trailhead, cross Broad Brook, pass a small reservoir on the right and ascend a steep but short grade. The trailhead will be on the right, distinguished (at least when I was there) by the presence of a large traffic marker.

The Dome trail starts out on a four-wheel drive (4WD) road, passing through a deciduous forest interrupted by a brief meadow. A view of Broad Brook and Pine Cobble to the southeast is hidden behind the trees. The Dome trail always follows red blazes, so make sure to look for them whenever it intersects with a different trail (as it does rather often).

After a short quarter-mile or so, the trail swings to the left, breaks off from the 4WD road, and begins its long climb. As it is less easily accessible and, therefore, less popular than Pine Cobble, the Dome trail provides a wonderful opportunity for finding a bit of solitude during a busy week. This part of the trail tends to be covered in gravel, so be careful, as it can be rather slippery. At about 1.25 miles, more or less the halfway point, you pass the intersection with the Agawon Trail, a .75-mile path leading downhill to the Broad Brook Trail.

After another quarter-mile, the trail intersects with a 4WD road by an abandoned truck. To get to the next part of the trail, make a right and look for the path on the left marked by a red blaze and a blue arrow. Look for the red blazes to make sure you’re on the right trail – I forgot to do this and, as a result, spent nearly a half-hour on the wrong trail.

From here, the hike becomes quite an adventure. As the trail has become a bit overgrown, it is sometimes difficult to maneuver through brush and under tree limbs. Take extra care on steeper slopes, as the eroded grade provides less-than-steady footing. The trail alternates between steep pitches and swampy flatter sections, including a forty-foot long bog through which hikers navigate on strategically placed stepping-stones.

After experiencing the Hyde to the lower section’s Jekyll, you ascend into a spruce forest that surrounds the summit. With little protection from the wind, the trees are lankier than their lowland counterparts. After ascending a false summit, a short walk brings you to the Dome’s true summit – a large mass of granite with a smooth top. The summit affords a partial southward view of the valley below, including Pine Cobble, Mount Greylock and the Taconic Range.

In the end, the Dome is a great hike if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging in terms of length, remoteness and vertical gain. Even if the condition of the upper part of the trail convinces you that the hike was not worth it, at least you’ll be able to say to friends when walking towards Mission, “That mountain? Oh, yeah, I’ve climbed it.”

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