On a cold, January morning I woke up before sunrise, laced my hiking boots, grabbed my Quabbin Reservation Guide map, and threw my hat in the ring of Gate 29 Trekkers. What I did not pack: my camera. Some might be wondering why I didn’t just turn around and get it once I realized I forgot it. For starters, I didn’t forget it; it was supposed to be a hiking affair, not a photo shoot. But secondly, even as close as I live to Gate 29, it’s still about 4 miles from my home and I had walked there, not driven. By the time I realized the photogenic potential of this place, I was easily 5 or 6 miles from home. So, forlornly, the pictures below had to be dramatically enhanced and edited in order to advance the quality.
So, without further delay, pull out your Quabbin Reservation Guides or observe the posted maps below and follow along as I outline this day-long, onerous journey.
I left my home and then traveled south along the 202/122 corridor until they split at the flashing, yellow light. I pressed on until I got to Gate 29, directly across from Elm Street (Gate 29 being an extension of Elm Street itself) where the Swift River Valley Historical Society is located. On the map, Gate 29 begins as a trail, which I followed until I got to the main road, which is depicted as a solid, black line on the map (all lines posted below will be yellow). I followed the black line until it ends at the water, just west of Rattlesnake [North].
From there, I broke brush by moving east in between Rattlesnake Hill & Pittman Hill until I reached a wide path, observably a main road once upon a time. At the “T” I went south, wandering along the west side of Pittman Hill, again until I reached the water. Then I backtracked up Pittman and then down, awaiting the path that edges the east side of Rattlesnake Hill for as long as about the lower third. Then I climbed up the side of Rattlesnake, followed the ridgeline, and came back down on the east side again. From there, I followed the road back until I looped to the black line once again. It took an entire day, and I walked between 12-16 miles that day.
While inbound at Gate 29, you are greeted not quite instantly with a divide to the left. This would be the quickest path to get to Gate 30. Having already visited that destination, I continued straight. Further ahead, there is another split, which will take you back to Gate 30 as well, or go right to stay on course.
Walking along [what is now] the black line on the map, heading southward, you are traversing the southeast slope of Harris Hill. I have yet to navigate this mount, since there are absolutely no trails leading to it, but will likely spend another day exploring here, for which there will be an unreservedly separate entry. Incontestably, its unsullied isolation will turn out a quite remarkable and unadulterated storyline.
Along this main road, you can see all the customary staples of the Quabbin: cellar holes, swampy bogs, roadside washouts, etc. Almost half way into the expedition, you encounter an impressive junction. Going west takes you to a village formerly known as Millington, and heading east takes you, ultimately, to Fishing Area 2. Continuing south is the road to Rattlesnake and Pittman.
Emerging from the canopy, you will be accosted by those pesky high-tension power lines. At this point, it’s important not to presuppose that following the clearing along the power lines is the best route if your aim is to see Rattlesnake Hill [North]. The faster route to Rattlesnake is, in fact, to go left near this point, not at it. However, the clearing under the power lines, although tempting, is nothing more than a trap! I don’t even understand how 4×4 trucks can make it through this marshy muddle. Virtually every step you take has to be circumspectly plotted. It’s either ice, or mud, or a sinkhole, or rigid micro-cliffs (capable of twisting your ankle) created by tires cutting through the mud while wet and then freezing in the winter, or a puddle hidden by grassy overgrowth –all dependent on which season it is. No matter how you break it down, it will actually take you longer to cut through by the power lines than it would to move farther up the road and work your way back.
The good news is there’s a site not far from that location where you can see the foundation of the first location of Herrick’s Tavern before it burned down in 1912. There’s a large billboard commemorating, which falls right at a fork in the road. Should your plan be to visit Rattlesnake Hill, make a U-turn back to the left and it will bring you out to the other end of those power lines. Continue south, and you will follow my journey to Pittman Hill on this day.
Aside from the occasional, relatively inconsequential trail branching left or right, there is not much along the rest of this road until you get closer to the water, according to anything I’ve found. As you draw closer to the water though, you will feel the anticipation of completion and accomplishment as you begin to see shards of water breaching the trees off to the west. Eventually you see the end of the road. In fact, you see it as it sinks into the water. Whenever I see something like this, I experience a culmination of conflict to include eerie sedation and evocative unrest. Knowing this was once a road traveled by residents whose homes are likely something I passed by moments ago without notice; perhaps once where children played or where neighborhood conversations and gatherings took place. Now, it lends itself to no more than a post-apocalyptic remnant, threadbare and surmounted by nature as a direct result of a deficiency in human initiative.
From this spot, find a way to cut over to the east. There’s an old driveway just before the water on the left. Walking up this driveway will lead to an open meadow on a pitched hill that can be seen from the water. To the right appears to be a quarry of sorts, and although there is nothing placed in the quarry presently, there is an impressive vantage point from which you can take gorgeous photos of the water along the precipice at the top of the quarry zone. Turn 180˚ from that vista and you will see one of the best preserved wells remaining in the Quabbin. The well is actually capped with a concrete slab, but someone has angled it obliquely so you can see down into the well. Bring a flashlight and you can look down about 20 feet.
The rest of this journey can be summarily explained by discriminating between the positive features of Rattlesnake and Pittman. Manifestly speaking, Pittman Hill contains some of the strangest tree growth formations I have seen in one location, while Rattlesnake Hill provides defiant climbs and rewarding views.
In particular, I was so impressed with two trees on Pittman Hill that I named them: Brontosaurus Tree and Bowtie Tree. Brontosaurus Tree is, of course, wrought much like a Brontosaurus. The unintended beneficial corollary, in this case, of taking a picture with my phone is that the tree is actually a little blurred at its base, making it appear to be an actual dinosaur in motion! Bowtie Tree takes on a much more puzzling and unique contour. This tree began growing at about a 45˚ angle. About 2 feet up from its trunk, it makes an approximate 170˚ turn downward. 12 inches later, it begins bending back in an upward direction, causing a “U,” until it passes its own stump and shoots nearly 90˚ back to an upward trend. Even after having bore witness to Redwood Trees in California, this is, by and large, one of the strangest tree I have ever seen. Understanding that all plant life grows toward light, one must question what warped fragments of light were exposed to this mutant growth and in what capacity or with what intermittent frequency.
Maneuvering down Pittman Hill’s north side attempts to bring the traveler back to a reminder of civilization as you can see logging efforts with large cleared lots as you go. Reaching the path used on the way in, I headed north past the “T” so that I was now hiking along the east side of Rattlesnake Hill [North]. Consequently, this is the more attractive side. This is the side that most people see by taking the fork backwards from the site of the old Herrick’s Tavern.
Along this route, you travel on a road that is, at one point, within inches of Quabbin water, giving way to a partial view of Bassett Island. Just beyond this point is where the summit to Rattlesnake can be found.
The sight is initially overwhelming; awesome, to say the very least. There is one part of the rise to Rattlesnake that defies the foundations of physics; I call it The Flintstone Awning. It is merely a stone plate, roughly one foot thick and 25-30 feet long, that protrudes horizontally from the edge of the mountain by about 10 or 15 feet. It creates a rock crown above an easily navigable platform below, complete with tabled plateaus, making a perfect picnicking venue.
From the top, Rattlesnake doesn’t have quite the view as some places in the Quabbin, but it has less to do with a lack of elevation than it does with overgrowth and basic vegetation. Still, the view is well-worth the climb!
I would recommend not going back down the mountain the same way you went up. The climb can be vertical at times. However, from the perspective of exploration, returning the way you entered is only counter-intuitive to the doctrine of exploration! If there’s a different way out, you should take it.
On the return, you come out by the fork in the road near Herrick’s Tavern. En route, there are all the standard hallmarks of the Quabbin that I mentioned on the way in. One baffling section past the power lines is where there’s a property line by the road, but then another one inset from the road, as if there was once a stretch of eminent domain permanently etched as a boundary.
Gate 29 is easily a 12-hour adventure if you’re to see it all. Based on my several visits to this one location, it’s apparent to me that most people travel the length of the main part of the road and voyage possibly as far as Rattlesnake. Very few people actually climb the mountain, and even fewer journey past to see Pittman Hill. Ultimately, Gate 29 can be a meeting place for friends or strangers, or it can be a refuge to get away from all signs of civilization.
Plateau at the end of Gate 29
The sign marking the previous location of Herrick’s Tavern.
A well preserved well!
A look into the well.
The view from the edge of the quarry’s cliff.
From the summit of Rattlesnake Hill.
The summit of Rattlesnake.
Marked trees. Completely random. No apparent method to this madness.
The Flintstone Awning
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