Monument Mountain, Great Barrington MA

Below is a 3-mile route to the top of Monument Mountain. I found this route in Brady and White’s 50 Hikes in Massachusetts.

There’s a parking area at the base of the mountain. (If it’s full, or if you want to save the parking fee, you can probably park at the high school across the street and slightly to the north.)

The summit of the mountain offers a view of Mt. Greylock to the north and various peaks to the west, perhaps the Adirondack High Peaks or the Catskills. I was on the summit in February, and saw a ski area to the west, probably Catamount. Brady and White say that Butternut Ski Area can be seen to the south. I don’t recommend visiting Monument Mountain during the winter; the summit is steep and rocky, and ice often covers the rocks. Even if you have spikes on your shoes and trekking poles, the ice is a problem.

Monument Mountain is owned by the Trustees of Reservations. It gets its name from a pile of stones made by Indians. According to the Trustees website, “The original monument was destroyed by white residents... though it was later recreated near the Mohican Monument Trail.” In an effort to be politically correct, the Indian Monument Trail is now called the Mohican Monument Trail, and Squaw Peak is now Peeskawso Peak.

I didn’t find the monument, the stone pile. Perhaps I should try a different route; there’s a steeper route called the Peeskawso Peak Trail, which approaches the summit from the south. The stone pile is said to be “on the south side of the peak.”(Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization, p. 176)

Manitou has a photo of the stone pile, and a photo of a “stone row leading to [the] stone pile.” Manitou says, “Near the stone mound are two lengths of stone row.” Manitou also speaks of “earthworks that we have observed at the base of the mountain.... Monument Mountain strikes us as a place with a tremendous amount of manitou, or spiritual power.” Dix and Mavor, the authors of Manitou, note that Monument Mountain is made up largely of quartzite, and quartz was much admired by the Indians.

Manitou quotes a book on Stockbridge history: “[The stone pile] is raised over the grave of the first Sachem who died after they came into the region. Each Indian, as he goes by, adds a stone to the pile. [The stone pile] marks the boundary of land agreed upon in a treaty with the Mohawks [i.e., a treaty between the Mohicans and the Mohawks].” Manitou says that the summit of Monument Mountain “towers some 950 feet above the adjoining valley of the Housatonic River and marks the southern limit of the Green Mountains.”

William Cullen Bryant wrote a poem about Monument Mountain. Here’s an excerpt:

     It is a fearful thing
To stand upon the beetling verge, and see
Where storm and lightning, from that huge gray wall,
Have tumbled down vast blocks, and at the base
Dashed them in fragments...

This site says that Bryant’s poem “tells the story of a Mohican maiden whose forbidden love for her cousin led her to leap to her death from the mountain’s cliffs. In the poem, Mohicans created a rock cairn on the spot where she lay buried, giving the mountain its name — Mountain of the Monument.” Bryant writes,

And o’er the mould that covered her, the tribe
Built up a simple monument, a cone
Of small loose stones. Thenceforward all who passed,
Hunter, and dame, and virgin, laid a stone
In silence on the pile. It stands there yet.
And Indians from the distant West, who come
To visit where their fathers’ bones are laid,
Yet tell the sorrowful tale, and to this day
The mountain where the hapless maiden died
Is called the Mountain of the Monument.

In a footnote, Bryant says that the stone pile is “at the southern extremity” of the summit. Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and other literary men visited Monument Mountain in 1850, and read the Bryant poem aloud. This was the first meeting of Melville and Hawthorne.

In the parking lot is a sign (see below) commemorating the visit by Hawthorne and Melville, and mentioning other sites on the Melville Trail.

The sign says that the 1850 outing was organized by “publisher David Dudley Field.” This is an error, David Dudley Field was a clergyman and a writer of local history, not a publisher. The publisher was James T. Fields of “Ticknor and Fields.”

This site says “Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s historic house in Pittsfield, leads a marathon reading of Moby-Dick in early August and an annual hike up Monument Mountain.” There’s also an annual hike up Mt. Greylock; it’s called the “Greylock Ramble,” and has been going on for 55 years.

When I climbed Monument Mountain, I ascended the Mohican Monument Trail, then went south on the Peeskawso Peak Trail (to reach the summit), then descended via the Hickey Trail. At the point where these three trails meet, there’s a large rock inscribed with the name of the person who donated the land; Brady and White call it “a large boulder of schist”; they describe schist as “a rock with prominent layering and micas quite unlike the quartzite that forms much of the rest of Monument Mountain.” The word “schist” comes from the Greek word “to split.” BradyWhite say that you’ll find outcrops of schist for about one-quarter mile before you reach the Inscription Stone (i.e., the last quarter-mile of the Mohican Monument Trail).

I didn’t see Inscription Rock, or photograph it. Here’s someone else’s photo of Inscription Rock:

Brady and White say that, as you hike south along the ridge, you’ll come to a summit, then “you descend into a col and then rise again to the top of Squaw Peak.” So Monument Mountain has a “double summit.” I’m not sure if I reached the second summit.