Our first trip took us to the lovely Mt. Toby State Forest located in Sunderland, MA. The forest itself is actually property of UMass Amherst and is used for a variety of natural sciences classes at the university. We ordered a few necessities from 4WD.com to ensure that the Jeep wouldn’t get stuck in any mud or on any rocks, and hit up Eastern Mountain Sports for some climbing supplies to use for our hike, i.e. hiking straps. After scouting out a good route and hitting some of the trails a few weeks back, we grabbed a trail map from the web, packed up the Jeep, and headed out bright and early Sat., Oct. 1.
ENTERING THE FOREST
After about a 30 minute drive from campus, we arrived at the outskirts of Mt. Toby. We entered into the forest through Gunn Mountain Rd. off of Route 47 in Sunderland. Just a heads up for anyone who wants to take this route themselves, it goes from pavement to dirt and rock in literally 150 feet. The trail up this road isn’t an impossible one, but prior knowledge in off-roading and most importantly a high level of understanding in your vehicle’s capabilities are definitely needed here. In other words, don’t take your parents’ Ford Escape up here. Of course if you don’t have access to an off-road vehicle like we do, parking is available off of Route 63 on the eastern side of the forest. The only real difference is the path you take to the summit of the mountain, but regardless the journey up there is equally fascinating.
After making our way over the rocks and through the mud pits of Gunn Mountain Rd., we linked up with North Mountain Rd. and followed that up to Summit Trail. We gathered up some firewood along the way and threw it on the front of the Jeep to make all of our lives easier. This turned out to be a smart move on our part since up the trail was a nice river of water due to all the recent rain, along with some low-hanging branches and a decently sized rock that Scott had to He-Man out of the way so I could attempt getting the Jeep as far up the trail as I could.
Here’s some more advice from the three of us: always keep in mind where you’re walking, especially in a forest where there’s sure to be lots of insect species, including but not limited to, pain in the ass yellow jackets. These decided to show Frank who the kings of the forest were. But like the true man he is, Frank rubbed some dirt in his four or five stings and carried on like it never even happened. I wish I could say I would have done the same, but I’m going to be completely honest with you and tell you that wouldn’t have been the case.
SETTING UP CAMP
After making it as far up Summit Trail as we could with the Jeep, Frank and Scott jumped out and began scouting the area for a suitable place for us to make camp. While they ran off, I checked out the Jeep to make sure nothing was falling off and that all the tires were in fair condition. It’s always a good idea to give your vehicle a good one-over to make sure you aren’t going to run into any significant problems the next time you have to move. Frank and Scott decided on an area about 200-300 feet from the Jeep across a small stream that had formed because of the recent rain.
The area was surrounded by birch trees, which Frank and Scott informed me was the perfect type of wood to get our fire started. It had a nice flat clearing where we could set up our tent and was elevated higher than the surrounding areas to help ensure that a flash storm wouldn’t flood the site. The one issue however was getting our gear from the Jeep to the camp. This is where Frank’s brilliance struck once again. He took some of the hiking strap we bought at EMS and created a secure line for us to hold onto while we crossed the stream with the gear so we could climb the slopes on both sides.
This nifty little manuever helped us keep all of our gear and ourselves dry but allowed us to set up a safe and secure campsite. Later in the day I gathered up some rocks from the nearby stream and pieced together a make-shift fire pit that we would use to cook our food and dry our soaked off shoes later that evening. Frank and Scott, the determined souls they are, tried for about 25 minutes to get the fire started without using our matches, resorting simply to flint and steel. But after Frank managed to slice his thumb upon and the two of them determined the wood to be too damp to catch, they whipped out the matchbook. After countless attempts to get this to work, and with only two matches left the tinder finally caught and we it was smooth sailing from that point on.
CLIMBING MOUNT TOBY
It might sound a little ridiculous, but climbing to the top of Mt. Toby was actually the easiest part of our trip. The trail leading to the top of the mountain was just a short walk from our camp (yes we planned it that way) and fairly easy to access. The trail took us through some swampy and muddy areas, but nothing we couldn’t handle. The ultimate ascent to the “peak” (Mt. Toby is only about 1270 feet according to our map) was a series of switchbacks that took us up the hillside. Though not so pleasant on the legs, the climb was very scenic and incredibly enjoyable. The top of the mountain was also a little bit of a let down with a very bland few and no particularly exciting landmarks. The most noticeable of these was the Sunderland Fire Tower which did give us a nice lookout over a decent chunk of the forest.
We stayed at the top of the mountain for about 45 minutes before we headed back to camp. We walked along a road trail on the opposite side of mountain to check out the scenery on the other side of the forest and to get a better understanding of what surrounded the mountain if we were to come back and explore some more. And even though it was damp and dreary the day we went, the sights were still spectacular and making the trip was well worth it.
NIGHTFALL AND RETURNING TO CAMPUS
After making it back to camp, we immediately began prepping for dinner. After a nice dinner of hamburgers and buffalo burgers, we hung out around the fire until about 11:15 when we all decided to call it a night. Now, it had been quite some time since I had been camping, so it took me awhile to fall asleep in a fairly unknown environment. Frank and Scott immediately passed out though, but I didn’t keep allow them that luxury for long. About 25 minutes after we all jumped in the tent, something began blocking out the fire-light around our camp. I being the only one awake began to get slightly freaked out. I won’t go as far to say panicked, but I will make it known that this barely caused any reaction in Frank and Scott after I woke them up. Eventually whatever it was moved on, and I eventually fell asleep like those two with my knife tightly clenched in hand. Later during the night, we all woke up when something was sniffing around the outside of the tent. None of us were too worried about this though, we just assumed it was a fox or something else small that was just as curious about us as we were it.
We started packing up the gear around 8 in the morning on Sun., Oct. 2. We exited the forest around 9:30 after packing the gear back into the Jeep and carefully putting out our fire and checking camp to make sure we left as little a footprint as we could. The drive out was a breeze seeing as going downhill over rocks and through streams is a lot easier than driving uphill in the same fashion. We were back on campus by about 10, giving us plenty of time to rest before watching the Patriots game later that day. Overall, the weekend was an overwhelming success and left us hungry for more like it.
Check out photos of our trip to Mt. Toby State Forest here, and visit the Photos tab on our main page to view pictures from other trips we’ve taken as well.