Ascent of Wachusett Mountain on 2013-02-07

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Thursday, February 7, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Wachusett Mountain
    Elevation:1998 ft / 608 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was in Boston for a couple of days of business. I had flown out Monday the 4th, and stayed in Lowell, a suburb about 25 miles to the northwest. The 5th and 6th were spent "on business", leaving the first half of today open. I had not visited a county highpoint since my last time in Massachusetts, in 2010. I came prepared, with some maps of a few nearby highpoints "close" to Boston.

The weather had been cold but not too bad, with lows in the teens and highs in the 30s. Other than one weenie snow flurry, it had been very still. In fact, today started out sunny and calm, with a few high clouds. The outside temperature when I left Lowell was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, with no wind, it was tolerable.

My primary interest was Wachusett Mountain, but I was not sure how far it was from Lowell, having no real sense of the layout of Boston. However, I was pleased to see that it was only about 35 miles away. Not so far off that it would take me two hours to get there. So I left at 7 a.m. and took Interstate-495 and MA-2 west to the town of Fitchburg, then south on state route MA-140 toward Wachusett Mountain. The mountain is home to a popular ski area, with runs nearing 800 vertical feet. The recent weeks had been dry so there was not much snow on the ground. However, the ski slopes were all white, with man-made snow.

I missed a turn in the morning light, but corrected my error and found the Wachusett Mountain State Preserve building on the west side of the mountain. A couple cars were already there. No one was in the building yet, so I got some coats on, grabbed my camera, and started the hike. Higher up than Lowell, the temperature was now about 15 degrees, going by my car's thing that tells temperature. But it was still and calm, so it was actually very nice.

I found the Bicentennial trailhead and followed it south (left) for about 200 yards through open forest, bare of leaves given the time of year. The ground was bare in spots, patchy snow in others, and sheets of ice here and there. I met two women coming down from their hike and we chatted. After parting ways, I slipped and landed on my side, caught by a patch of ice. Note to self: lookout for the ice.

The junction with the Pine Hill Trail was not much farther, and I followed it straight up the slope. The trail is composed of big rocks heaped into stair-steps, lined with similar stones forming a low wall. The rocks, being heat sinks, held more snow and cascades of ice than the surrounding slopes, so I ended up walking alongside the trail for most of the way, generally poking my way through side trails and open areas to avoid the ice and snow. I did not slip at all, but came close a couple times.

After about 400 feet of elevation gain, the trail meets a paved road. Outside of winter, you can drive this from the park headquarters. The trail continued past the road, but I opted to walk the road the remaining distance to the top to avoid the ice. Shortly, I arrived on top, the whole area bare of trees, crowned by a big lookout tower. The top was empty: no cars nor people. There was a soft breeze, that combined with the low temperature, made for slightly uncomfortable conditions. I walked up the last of the road to the summit, a low outcrop of bare rock.

I looked around and enjoyed the views, but kept moving. I snapped a few photographs, but just as fast, resumed my walk down, retracing my route exactly. The Pine Hill Trail segment went well, as I took each step carefully and walked in a low crouch to offset any sudden slips. Within an hour from starting, I was back to my car. The hike had been a delight, and I was happy to have had good overall conditions. It's rare for me to hike in temperatures anywhere near the teens, so this was a new experience for me, too.

From here, I backtracked onto the highways for more highpoint explorations.

I noticed on my visit that everyone mispronounces "Worcester" as "woostah". This is incorrect. You should pronounce all syllables, like "Worr-sess-terrrr", really dragging out those r's.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:600 ft / 182 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    Trailhead:1398 ft / 426 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground

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