Climbing the Snowy Trails of Mt. Monadnock
Submitted 14 March 2004, Steve Keri
I’m not one of these people who can sit home in front of the television watching other people hike mountains on the Discovery Channel. I need to be physically involved. So in between responsibilities I have managed to pack food and gear, jump in my car and drive to New Hampshire in search of a snow-covered mountain to hike for the day. Have map, will travel.
Just over the New Hampshire border and east of Keene is the town of Jaffrey––home to the baldface mountain known as Mt. Monadnock.
Mt. Monadnock is the centerpiece of the 5,000 acre state park and the most hiked mountain in the world. It stands at @3200 feet. The word “Monadnock” originally comes from the Abnacki Indian language meaning “mountain that stands alone”. Because it “stands alone”, the views from the tree-less summit stretch far into the distant surrounding states. Mt. Monadnock forms one end of the Monadnock-Sunapee Trail and is also the terminus of the Monadnock-Metacomet Trail that traverses the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Mt. Monadnock has at least a dozen accessible trails graduated to climber’s abilities. Thoreau and Emerson hiked this mountain and sanctioned in their writings Mt. Monadnock as being a symbol of spiritual and environmental awareness. The geological foundation of it began during the Devonian Period, 400 million years ago, when ocean covered this region. As water receded, a flat table land composed of sand and clay was exposed. After a few hundred million years more, the surface-crust thrust upward, forcing folds and refolds of sand and clay. Extreme heat and pressure transformed the sediment into layers of quartzite and schist. The carboniferous stage of the mountain, two hundred and fifty million years ago, added its deposits of crystals and minerals forming a great fold of rock with seven distinct layers of quartzite and schist. Molten Magma forced its way through cracks and dikes to form present day Mt. Monadnock.
So with that said.......
I entered the parking lot at the end of the dirt road, I proceed to register with the park ranger at the visitor’s center and ask about weather and trail conditions. According to the ranger, the temperature is at minus 8 degrees with a 10 mile an hour wind and the main trails leading to the top have been packed down flat with varying areas of ice covered rocky sections. I ask him if snowshoes and in-steps would be needed and he says that most people hiking the trails today have been doing fine with just boots and using in-steps for the icy sections and hands me a map while pointing out the areas of ice on the main trails. I study the map briefly and choose the white dot trail start with. I pay my $3 park entrance fee and head out the door, grab my gear from the trunk, and head through the connecting path between parking lots towards Mt. Monadnock. I can’t help notice how many cars are parked in the lot and think to myself, this really must be a popular mountain to climb.....even in subzero temperatures. As I start hiking up the trail, light flurries begin to fall. I stand still for a moment or two enclaved in a winter land of peace and silence until the distant sound of other hikers breaks my trance. I continue to follow the trail to its junction with the white cross trail and Falcon Spring, stopping to chat with the other hikers about wind conditions at the top. I get varying degrees of answers from not blowing too hard to hurricane winds. I thank them and proceed to follow the white cross trail, paralleling an old property divider fence. Climbing gradually up the side of the mountain for the next mile, I become engrossed in the quiet and white surroundings, while carefully negotiating my steps between the ice-covered rocks. I think to myself, it’s a good thing I put on my in-steps to help me navigate. As I continue to ascend, my mind starts to wander to thoughts of being grateful for today’s opportunity of playing in the woods. Nature has a way of providing plenty of peace for the mind, meditation for the soul and physical challenge for the body. Continuing my ascent at a sharper incline, I roam through a forest of “shortened in height” evergreens listening to the sound of the wind above the tree-line and the crunching of my in-steps. Part of the rocky trail is covered in frozen still water, reminding me of a camera freeze-frame of little waterfalls. As I wind my way through the shrub-like trees, I break tree-line and pause to check my map against the visible summit and conclude that I am somewhere around the 2700 foot mark. Standing still to view the summit in front of me, I am captured by an awe of an image of the snow-capped slabs of exposed granite which holds me mesmerized as the dizzy swirl of snowflakes catapult me into another dimension. All of a sudden, my cocoon of white sculpture is interrupted by a pair of descending hikers. We exchange hellos as we pass one another. Finally I reach the wide open ledges beneath the summit. I stand here in a semi-trance state of mind, visually breathing in an arc of a winter forested valley dotted with frozen ponds and smoke-swirling chimneys. The wind is now blowing at hurricane force as I start to ascend the summit. I pick my way through slabs of snow-covered granite and mounds of icy boulders, I wonder if there is anybody else at the top braving the elements. The winds have increased to a steady blow, scattering swirls of snow in my face. Breathing fairly hard, I summit the peak and try to keep my balance as the force of the wind attempts to knock me over. I take a 360 degree turn and lavish in the surrounding 15 mile view of a white rural picturesque landscape. I feel so serene and continue to marvel at the postcard winter scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse a couple of other hikers hunkered down in a pit of granite boulders. I walk over to greet them. Soon, we all head down off the summit, no longer able to withstand the intense wind with a now dropping temperature. Having a hard time picking up the trail that I ascended, (everything looks the same on the summit), I decide to follow the other hikers who are more familiar with Mt. Monadnock. We pick up the pumpelly trail following the cairns on its exposed ridge through frozen scrub and granite. I get down to tree-line, the arctic wind won’t let up. Shortly there after, I pick up the red dot trail. According to the map, this leads down to a connecting trail for the parking lot. Traveling down the red dot trail, it is mending this way and that with dips of descents that test my knees, as I navigate over and between ice-covered rocks which after a while melts into one long frozen waterfall. I feel more comfortable to be amongst the snow-covered evergreens than in the direct path of the arctic winds.
Finally, the trail flattens out as it mends through a low lying stream of run-off and enough stones to make sure that one is paying attention to where one is stepping. Proceeding further, the trail becomes wider and less filled with obstacles, giving myself permission to slide down the not so steep hills, like a kid on his first sled ride. I reach a T-bar with the cascade link trail at 2000 feet. This trail parellels a stream with small waterfalls, now frozen with the season, which winds gently through a forest of mixed hardwoods and connects me with the white dot trail that I had started my hike on. I stop and take one last look and listen to the winter silence before heading back to the parking lot.
If You Go: Mt. Monadnock State Park is located in Jaffrey, NH. There is a $3 parking fee for the day. Trails are open year round Directions: I-91N to Rte. 9E to Rte 124. Look for the Mt. Monadnock State Park sign (on your left). Turn left onto Dublin Road and then a left onto Poole Road, which heads directly to the Visitor Center and Park Headquarters. For more information, contact Mt. Monadnock State Park at 1-603-532-8862.