by David Roy
Trail Runs add a little adventure and exploring in a way that Road Races can’t. Chances are that even if the course is an “out and back” the return trip won’t look or feel the same (trust me, I missed a turn on one). There is always an unknown and the same course can change greatly with the season.
I needed a training run with elevation and Mt Toby, only a couple hours from Albany, had a challenging course that wouldn’t kill me (there also was a 50K option). It is part of the “Beast Coast Trail Running Series” in Western Massachusetts and the name alone was enough to make me want to enter!
This was a typical early spring run where there was a lot of great trails, some muddy sections, and several opportunities to fill your shoes with water. If you like the woods, you were seldom out of it. There is a Fire tower at the top of Mt Toby I didn’t know about but would have checked out if it wasn’t a race. The caves were the novelty of the race. You literally climb down into a hole in the ground, and you can run (or walk and observe) a short distance and then climb back out. [Headlamps were provided.] If you chose the 50K you had the opportunity to climb alongside the waterfalls. (There are tons of pictures on www.facebook.com/beastcoasttrails)
No surprise this was an extremely well-run event! “Race Director Amy Rusiecki is also the current Race Director for the Vermont 100 and continues to do an amazing job year after year.”
Next year I’m In for the 50K!
Mt. Toby Ultra & 25k - April 9, 2022 in Sunderland MA (50k and 24k options)
Seven Sisters Trail Race - May 7, 2022 in Amherst MA (12 miles)
Chesterfield Gorge Ultra & 25k - June 4-5, 2022 in Chesterfield MA (option for 25k, 50k, 50 mile, 100k, 100 mile)
Race for DFL - Date TBD (likely Sept/early Oct.) in location TBD (options for Backyard Ultra/Last Runner Standing style race, or single lap/4.16666 mile 'fastest lap' honors)
Mt. Tom Trail Race - October 22, 2022 in Easthampton, MA (option for solo 20k or 2-person 25k relay)
All of the Above Trail Fest - November 5th in location TBD (option for competitive 25k or fun run 5k). *Further info on this event to be posted when available.
The Story of Mt. Toby
Mt. Toby, at 1269 feet (387 m), is the highest summit in the upland areas of Sunderland and Leverett, Massachusetts, east of the Connecticut River. The three smaller peaks of Roaring Mountain, Ox Hill, and Bull Hill surround Mt. Toby to make the whole area a delightful place for outdoor activities.
The Mohican people named the mountain Kunckquachu, meaning high mountain. The area was also the ancestral home of the Pocumtuk tribe. From the fire tower on Mt. Toby, an expansive view of Kwinitekw, the Indigenous name of the Connecticut River Valley can be seen.
The Sunderland Cave is an amazing underworld adventure on the slopes of Mt. Toby. Unlike solution caves that are formed by water eroding limestone, the Sunderland Cave was formed by rifting and uplifting of the sedimentary layers. The conglomerate rock layers are distinctive in this cave.
To get to the cave from the Reservation Road parking lot, follow the orange-blazed Robert Frost Trail for about a half-mile until it intersects with the blue-blazed Cave Trail on the right (also called the Sugar Farms Trail). Take another right at the Cave sign and descend the hill. The trail will reach a T intersection and you will stay right. After a few minutes, you will see an impressive chasm in rock. The cave entrance is around the corner from this split in the rock.
The climb down into the cave can be extremely slippery in the winter and early spring so use microspikes on this part then. The cave maintains a constant temperature so it will feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Be sure to explore all the different size chambers in the cave. I’ve seen hibernating bats and porcupines taking shelter in the cave.
A helmet and a headlamp are essential caving gear. I recommend the Black Diamond Half Dome helmet that can be used for both cave and rock climbing. If you are a casual caver, just bring your bike helmet–it will work fine.
For more inside info on the Sunderland Cave, hop over to my post on 10 Outdoor Adventures in Western Massachusetts.