You know what they say: What goes up (and down and up and down and up and down and up) must go down (and up and down and up and down and up and down). Well, maybe that’s not exactly what they say, but then they probably haven’t run the Seven Sisters segment of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in the Holyoke Range of western Massachusetts.
The trail starts at the Notch Visitors Center on Route 116 at Mount Holyoke Range State Park in Amherst, Mass. The peak elevation of the trail is only about 1,000 feet, but the elevation change is relentless. After crossing route 116 from the parking lot to reach the trailhead, you immediately start going uphill, and it never really gets much easier. Covering the six miles to the end of the trail and then back again means a total ascent of at least 3,700 feet (according to the Seven Sisters Trail Race website) and perhaps much more (about 5,000 feet according to Far North’s official GPS watch).
The footing is also super-technical (perhaps the most technical of any trail race in New England, according to Running Times. Rocks, roots, and steep ascents and descents cover the course. The ridgeline is like a rollercoaster, but not one of those smooth modern rollercoasters. It’s more like an old wooden rollercoaster that keeps you alternating between euphoria and nausea. There may be only seven named peaks, but it feels like there are at least twice that many knobs worthy of monikers.
For many years, the trail was home to a popular postal competition—runners would run the course and then report their times at a local running shop in Northhampton. Eventually, with the help of the Friends of the Holyoke Range, a nonprofit preservation organization, local runners were able to convince state officials to open the trail for an annual race, which is now held each May. The race is run as an out-and-back (for a total of 12 miles), but runners looking for a shorter run could drop a car at the end point. Last year, one Far North staffer partook in a “double Seven Sisters”—completing the out-and-back twice for a total of 24 killer miles—as a training run for a 50-mile trail race. Was the training run or race harder? It’s surprisingly hard to say. Of course, runners looking for an even bigger challenge could also try an even longer piece of the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail that stretches from western Massachusetts into New Hampshire (more on that to come!).
Distance: 12 miles (out-and-back)
Ascent: at least 3,700 feet
Terrain: super-technical trail
Races: 7 Sisters Trail Race
Trailhead: The trail starts at the Notch Visitors Center at Mount Holyoke State Park. From the parking lot, cross route 116 and head west on the trail.