Wednesday, March 9, 2016


     There's this blogger I know and trust. He recommended climbing Haystack and then attending First Friday in Granville (TGIF). Sounded like good advice so that's what we did.
     Haystack is a much loved local landmark in the Mettawee Valley just north of Pawlet Vermont. It's so popular it has its own facebook page. Because its rocky pointed peak is so prominent, people have always felt the urge to be up there. I used to visit with the farmers at its base and then scramble up the front. There was an oft-used herd path on the back side but I didn't have a clue.

Haystack ahead

     The Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Land Trust and the Friends of Haystack have all been active in conservation efforts here. Protected lands on the high ridge to the east of Rt. 30 are called the North Pawlet Hills Natural Area and are home to peregrine falcon, bobcat and bear. There are rare and endangered plants and uncommon ecological communities. And there is the wild topography with parallel strings of north-south trending hills like pearls in a necklace. Haystack is at the southern end of one such chain. Along with Middle Mountain and Bald Hill it is one of the Three Sisters. Viewed from Wells near Lake St. Catherine, this upland area presents a striking line of west facing cliffs, the scarp of a thrust fault.

     To hike the mountain turn off Rt. 30 onto Waite Hill Road. In about a mile look for Tunket Road, a dirt lane leading uphill on the left. Don't drive up but do pull off Waite Hill without blocking access to the lane, fields or silage pile across the road. Walk up Tunket a half mile to a TNC trailhead on the left.

     The road has been here since the 1700's and it used to be a lot busier. In the 1800's there was a bustling settlement in the hollow between the Three Sisters and Fox Cobble. I wonder if all the kids made the reluctant trek down to the Spanktown School? Maybe some did but not for long. By the early 1900's Tunket was an abandoned ghost town. Today beef cattle graze, the maples get tapped and a few people homestead off the grid. There's an interesting local connection in that Brian and Justine Denison once owned land here. They currently operate the Denison Farm in Schaghticoke and many in southern Washington County and beyond purchase CSA shares with them. Part of their former Pawlet property was added to the Natural Area and part became the Laughing Child Farm, which grows sweet potatoes.

     The trail starts in piney woods that seem to be overgrown pasture. Look for two large maples that surely predate the evergreens. You go up and down a little, rock hopping a couple of small streams, before beginning a steady climb thru hardwood forest towards a col between Haystack and Middle Mountain. The rock is a wavy, greenish phyllite with several large boulders that may have been plucked and placed by the glaciers.

A Chilling Sight

     Eventually the way becomes quite steep, grazing a hemlock ravine and winding thru thinning scrubby woods till there are no trees at all - just bare rock, views in every direction and a sense of fellowship with those who've come before seeking respite, rejuvenation, exultation.

     After Haystack we drove along the Mettawee and thru the slate quarries to West Pawlet where we stopped at Wayfaring Goose Farm. Spent a few pleasant minutes with Dan and his jersey girls before it was time to head up to Granville and the Slate Valley Museum for a "soups on" First Friday. There were five steaming crock pots representing the ethnic diversity of the quarry workers and their families - Irish Stew, Italian Wedding soup, Welch potato and leek, Jewish Matzah Ball and Slovakian mushroom. Naturally I sampled all of them.
     A Haystack appetizer and soup for supper - what a tasty combination!

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