Savoring the Solitude on Mount Monadnock (Not!)

When friends planning a group hike up Mount Monadnock asked which day I would recommend, Sunday or Monday, I instantly replied, “Monday; it’s less crowded. You’ll be wading through teeming hordes on a Sunday.”

So on a bright, blustery and chilly Monday last week seven of us rendezvoused at the base parking lot in Jaffrey, N.H., strapped on day packs and began tramping up the White Dot Trail, the most popular route to the 3,165-foot summit.

Though only about two miles long, the path ascends steadily and steeply in sections, particularly over bare ledge near the top, making it a worthy climb, especially for the expansive views from the peak. Monadnock, derived from an Abenaki word loosely translated as “mountain that stands alone” because it rises 1,000 feet higher than any nearby hilltop, inspired such writers as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who clambered to the top on several occasions. A couple lookouts on Monadnock bear their names.

These days some 125,000 people scale Monadnock annually, making it the most-climbed mountain in America, and third in the world behind only Japan’s Mt. Fuji (about 200,000 hikers) and the Chinese peak Tai Shan (reportedly visited by 2 million people a year). Peak baggers also consider Monadnock, a National Natural Landmark, one of the 50 finest mountains in New England.

Our merry band included longtime kayaking-hiking buds Mary Lou Lowrie and Nat Steele, who were on their way back from her son’s wedding on Long Island to their home in Maine; Phil Warner, a kayaking pal who lives in Massachusetts; Bob Graham, with whom I run almost every morning – in fact, Bob, Mary Lou, Nat and I went for a jog together an hour before driving up to Monadnock; Jenna Cho; a newspaper colleague and fellow outdoor enthusiast who I accompanied one long day last year on a 22-mile hike of the Narragansett Trail; and Karin Crompton, who I never got around to hiking with when she worked as a reporter, but at Jenna’s urging managed to get the day off from her real estate business and responsibilities as the mother of a 3-year-old.

A relative novice to mountain trails, she asked me about the difficulty of Monadnock.

“It’s a bastard,” I replied, suppressing a mischievous grin.

As we ascended I noticed quite a few teenage boys on their way down.

“Playing hooky?” I asked one kid taking a break.

“Naaah. It’s a school thing.”

Soon more teenagers emerged from the path ahead of us, whooping, hollering and sliding down rock faces.

“Try it face-first,” I joked, and then shouted, “Wait!” when one turned to the kid next to him and cried, “Dude! Let’s do it!”

We now were at the steepest section, with room for only one person at a time to go up or down, and my heart sank. A line of dozens of descending hikers stretched uphill and disappeared into the trees. Amid this sea of raging hormones an adult head appeared.

“What is this? A class trip?” I asked.

He nodded. “Mountain Day at Eaglebrook School,” he said, referring to a junior boarding school in nearby Deerfield, Mass. “We do it once every year.” Our lucky day.

“How many kids?” I asked.

“More than 250.”

So we waited, waited and waited while the teenagers slid down, one after another, until finally another teacher called out, “Hey guys, hold up a minute. Let these folks pass.”

We scrambled by and soon poked above tree line. Normally trees in New England stop growing at about 4,000 feet, but fires set by 19th century settlers lowered the line by about 1,000 feet on Monadnock and created its signature bare summit.

The wind whipped up to about 30 mph and temperature dropped into the 40s, so we hastily donned shells, hats and mittens before proceeding to the top.

A jutting rock at the summit created a perfect windbreak and we huddled in the lee, making extra room for Phil, the only one in the group with enough sense to bring chocolate peanut butter cups instead of granola and other tasteless snacks.

As we munched away before preparing to descend I thought about the Eaglebrook students.

Having an entire school climb a mountain together is a good thing, I decided. I’m always glad to see people enjoying the outdoors.

But maybe next time I head for Monadnock I’ll call the school first to make sure it’s not Mountain Day.

 

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Kill The North Stonington Mountain Lion! (And Other Phrases I Hope People Never Utter)

Every time there’s a report of a dangerous, predatory animal prowling local woods or waterways I fervently wish that two things don’t happen:

A ‘Frozen’ Moment: Don’t Let It Go

This week’s cold snap has spread a shimmering, silken coating over ponds and lakes throughout the region, creating some of the best conditions for skating in years, so you must get out now and enjoy it because who knows...

Hey, It’s Winter — Deal With It! Embrace The Cold, Snow And Ice

First of all, it’s way too soon to start whining about the cold. Let’s all agree that by March, if we’re still getting hammered by ferocious winds, driving snow and frigid temps, then a little complaining might be in...

Eagles, Seals, Swallows, Mountains, Rapids: You Can Never Have Too Much Fun

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that people, even — make that especially — hard-core adventurers/endurance athletes tend to set the bar way too high: bike across the country, qualify for the Hawaii...

Brace Yourself For The New Year’s Day Run-Swim

When those uninitiated in the longstanding New Year’s Day tradition of running from Mystic to Fishers Island Sound and leaping into the icy water ask, "How can you stand it? Doesn’t it hurt?" we stoic veterans...

Two's Company, Three Hundred's A Crowd – On The Trail Or On A Sidewalk

While kayaking the 341-mile Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany a few years ago I spotted another paddler a mile or so away headed in my direction. Having encountered only one or two other kayaks nearly a week into what turned out to be an...

Wouldn't It Be Wonderful To Hibernate?

When I pried a rock up with a mattock the other day, rushing to finish a small retaining wall before the ground froze, I inadvertently disturbed a hibernating spotted salamander’s winter home.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Cheap Fuel And Gas-Guzzlers!

Isn’t life great?! Gas is so cheap now I can get rid of my puny, poky, fuel-efficient econobox and get behind the wheel of an auto with plenty of ponies under the hood that any American would be proud to drive, just like the good...

Siri To The Rescue!

"Siri, how much farther to the summit?"

A-hunting We Will Go

Blam! Blam! Blam!

Urban Excursions: Finding Adventure In The Big City

A brisk autumn breeze scattered crimson maple leaves that fluttered from trees lining a pond glittering in the morning sun as my friend Bob Graham and I loped along a narrow path the other morning.

My Friend The Log Splitter: Leaf Blowers Notwithstanding, Not All Machines Are Evil

After my overwhelming victory last year in a rake vs. leafblower contest I hoped I’d heard the last of those infernal, noisy, polluting contraptions — but while out for a run the other day, savoring the fall foliage, a familiar whine as...

Welcome To Steve's Lumberjack Camp

Good morning! I hope you all had a good night’s sleep, enjoyed the griddle cakes and are eager to work off those calories.