Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mt. Gilboa: Shoulda Brought my Snowshoes (And some climbing gear)

Mt. Gilboa

February 8, 2009

Distance: 13 miles
Location: Somerville & Arlington, MA
Sights: Minuteman, Puddles, & Mt. Gilboa Conservation Area
Difficulty: Easy (except climbing the cliff

It seemed odd that it was dangerous since I had brought my proper climbing gear – Reebok running shoes and my bike gloves. About halfway up the icy cliff I realized this might have been a bad idea. The foothold above me was sketchy, at best; and, there was no way down. I had no choice but to scramble to the top from here.

The cliff I was climbing was Mt. Gilboa, in Arlington, MA. Its namesake is a hill in the Jezreel Valley of Israel. It was here (in Israel not Arlington) that Saul lost his battle with the Philistines, and, “therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it” (1 Samuel 31:5). Gilboa is also known for its distinctive irises, which grow only on its ridge.

Once I had struggled to the top, there were no irises in the winter snow (and, fortunately found no Philistine heavy infantry). I did find two things though. First, there was a great view of downtown. Then I looked over and found an easy path up the side of the hill. Apparently, I risked my life for nothing.

Easy Trail up Gilboa

Sunday was a brief Indian Summer – 45 F and sunny. It was a perfect excuse to take out my new bike, Schwarzfahrer on its first long ride. Literally “Schwarzfahrer” means “black-rider in German. The color of the Trek FX 7.1 is black; therefore, it makes sense. But, idiomatically, it means a person who rides the subway without paying his fare. Thus, when I commute to work with it – I’m a “Schwarzfahrer.”

So, I set out on my bike planning to ride the Minuteman into Bedford and then the Narrow-Gauge Trail to Billerica. The total ride was to be 31 miles. The Minuteman is the jewel of the Rails-to-Trails in Eastern Mass. It’s 11 Miles from Alewife Station to Bedford Depot. Along the way one can stop in Arlington Center and at the site of the Battle of Lexington. The Narrow-Gauge Trail, I’ve never ridden and this seemed like a good time to explore it.

The Indian Summer had caused one major issue – melting. The two feet of snow we’d gotten in the past three weeks became puddles on the trail. Between Alewife I found one 60 feet long and about 6 inches deep. Then some points of the puddle weren’t even puddles but ice hidden under a thin layer of water. At points Schwarzfahrer was not a ride but a poor icebreaker. In front of the Bike Stop (The Bike shop on the Minuteman), it was another 30 foot-long puddle of ice!

Ice Sheet in Front of the Bike Stop

For better or worse, I fought through each of these spots – mostly for worse. But at Bow Street the town stops plowing the Minuteman. Indian Summer or not, There was still a foot and a half of snow on the rest of the trail. So, I removed myself to the road. At this point, I had no clear idea where to go. I meandered the streets of Arlington – taking the most challenging hills I could find.

This eventually led me to the Mt. Gilboa Conservation Area. I dismounted Schwarzfahrer and started walking down the trail. About halfway across the park I saw it. There was the cliff I had to climb! After that adventure, I was wet and tired. So I rode back to Davis, hit the Mexican place and went home to watch the stupid Pro Bowl and eat a quesadilla.

View from atop Cliff

Map of Ride


  1. I played around that cliff and woods when I was a kid back in the 40's (WWII era)