Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Abbott Thayer are just a few of the well-known luminaries who have hiked Mt. Monadnock and considered it a favorite spot for writing, painting and reflection. According to some sources, this 3,165 ft. mountain is the second most climbed peak in the world with an estimated 125,000 visitors a year, second only to Mt. Fuji with 200,000.
Despite all this notoriety, I had never climbed this mountain! However, all that changed on 06-Sep-2013 when I had a truly grand hiking experience on Mt. Monadnock.
A key factor that has kept me from hiking this mountain is its location. I live near the northern end of New Hampshire in Bethlehem, whereas Mt. Monadnock is at the southern end of the State near Jaffrey. It's about a 280 mile round-trip journey to the trailhead, and involves about 5 hours of driving, which makes for a rather long day-trip! To resolve that issue, my wife (Cheri) and I drove to nearby Keene, NH and spent the night. The next morning, I got an early start on my hike. Cheri spent the day walking the urban trails in downtown Keene. And being a librarian, she also enjoyed a visit to the Keene Public Library.
Besides being a marvelous mountain to hike, Mt. Monadnock is also a delight to view from ground level. Shown below is a roadside photo taken on the day we arrived.
|A Roadside View of Mt. Monadnock|
Although Mt. Monadnock's summit is mostly bare rock, it was wooded up until the early 1800s, when local farmers set the mountain afire to clear the lower slopes for pasture. Over the years, there were other fires, as well as hurricane damage, which left the forests a tangle of fallen timber. When it was believed that predators such as wolves and bears were denning in the fallen trees, the farmers once again set fire to the mountain. This fire raged for weeks, destroyed the topsoil, and denuded the mountain above 2,000 feet.
There are about 40 named hiking trails on this mountain which together add up to about 35 miles of available hiking. Although I've not done the calculations, it's my understanding that the shortest trek up to Mt. Monadnock is about 4 miles round trip, and that it's possible to do a loop hike of over 15 miles without coming to the same place more than once.
With so many trails and so many loop options, I was truly overwhelmed. So, I decided to get some advice from my friend Steve Smith who also just happens to be the co-author of the "Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide"! He provided several suggested hikes. The one that I chose is shown on the map below. It was a counterclockwise loop-hike of just over 6 miles using the following trails: Hinkley; Harling; Cascade Link; Spellman; Pumpelly; Smith Summit; Ampthitheatre; Smith Connecting Link; Cliff Walk; Parker.
|Map showing my route (CLICK TO ENLARGE)|
All the trails are well-marked with blazes and signs. Shown in the next photo is collection of just a few of the many trail signs that were encountered along my route.
|Some of the many trail signs that were encountered along my route|
My hike was done on a weekday, and the loop that was chosen involved trails that are lightly travelled. As a result of that combination of factors, there was a lot of solitude on this trek! If you disregard the one large school group that I met on the Cliff Walk trail, I only met 3 other hikers along my route. On the top of Mt. Monadnock, there were about a dozen or so hikers. However, I felt as though I practically had the place to myself since people were so widely dispersed over the massive summit area.
The first three trails in my loop (Hinkley; Harling; Cascade Link) were mild mannered. It wasn't until I came to the Spellman Trail that I encountered some challenging hiking. It ascends steeply over boulders and ledges and requires a fair amount of scrambling. Shown in the next photo is a typical segment of the Spellman Trail.
|Typical Segment of Spellman Trail|
At the end of the Spellman Trail I joined up with the Pumpelly Trail. From that point forward I was walking mostly on bare rock all the way to the summit.
The following series of photos show some of the sights experienced on my approach to the top of Mt. Monadnock.
|Beginning of climb along the Pumpelly Trail|
|Climbing higher up on the Pumpelly Trail|
|A picturesque tarn along the Pumpelly Trail|
|Another pretty spot along the way to the summit|
|Yet another attractive tarn along the Pumpelly Trail|
|A hiker descending Mt. Monadnock|
|Getting very close to the top of Mt. Monadnock|
|Only a few minutes from reaching the top of the mountain!|
Upon reaching the summit of Mt. Monadnock, I could think of no other more apt description than the one given by Steve Smith in his blog report entitled "A TOUR OF MONADNOCK: 8/25/09". Steve stated the following: "The views stretched out in every direction - not mountainous, but vast."
Shown in the next photo is just one example of the type of "vast" 360 degree views that can be experienced from Mt. Monadnock. This particular vista is looking northeasterly, and it includes many of the high peaks in the White Mountains, such as those in the Franconia Range, as well as the Osceolas, Mt. Carrigain, Mt. Washington, Tripyramids, Passaconaway, etc. However, being so far away, they appear merely as squiggly lines on the distant horizon.
|Northeasterly view which includes a faint vista of high peaks in the White Mountains|
The next photo is a collage which includes an image that I grabbed from the Internet, plus a photo that I took from the same general perspective as the Internet image. As can readily be seen, the mountain peaks in my photo are far less distinct than those depicted in the Internet image. But, perhaps this will at least provide a general idea of the types of White Mountain vistas that can be experienced from Mt. Monadnock.
|Internet image as compared to photo taken during my hike|
After lingering for a while atop Mt. Monadnock, I began the descent portion of my hike. The first trail to be used for the descent was the Smith Summit Trail which takes off from the northwest corner of the Monadnock summit area.
|Start of descent via Smith Summit Trail|
From the Smith Summit Trail, I connected with the Amphitheatre Trail. From a point near the junction of these two trails, there were several nice views of the "Amphitheatre". As can be seen in the next photo, it's understandable why this ravine was so named.
|"Amphitheatre" as viewed near junction of Smith Summit Trail and Amphitheatre Trail|
There were numerous beautiful sections of trail and rewarding views beyond the Amphitheatre, but for the sake of brevity I'll leap forward to Bald Rock, which is where I stopped for lunch. Regarding Bald Rock, the Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide (SNHTG) states the following: "According to D.B Cutter's 1881 history of Jaffrey, this prominent 2,628-ft. spur peak south of the summit was the only area of bare ledge on Mt. Monadnock before the fires in the early 1800s."
On the northeast side of Bald Rock is a large boulder inscribed with the words "Kiasticuticus Peak" (see next photo). The SNHTG states: "This unusual word is thought to derive from a Greek word meaning 'bald', or literally 'skinhead'."
|Inscribed boulder on northeast side of Bald Rock|
Although it was totally unplanned, I think Bald Rock a good choice for a lunch venue. From this lofty perch I had a magnificent view of Mt. Monadnock's main summit (see next photo).
|Mt. Monadnock's main summit, as viewed from Bald Rock|
Following lunch, I began the hike along the Cliff Walk. This is a gorgeous trail unto itself, and it leads to several splendid viewpoints.
Shown in the next photo is a segment of the Cliff Walk as it descends to a forested area.
|A segment of the Cliff Walk as it descends to a forested area|
The next photo was taken at a point where the Cliff Walk approaches one of the many viewpoints along this very impressive trail.
|The Cliff Walk as it approaches one of the many splendid viewpoints along the way|
From one of the outlooks along the Cliff Walk there was a ledge (lower left of next photo) which had a profile that very much resembled an Indian with a headband. Perhaps I failed to search thoroughly enough, but no mention of this profile was found in any of the trail guides, nor on the Internet.
|Profile along the Cliff Walk which resembles an Indian with a headband|
There was one ladder along my route (next photo). It was located toward the end of the Cliff Walk as I was approaching the Parker Trail.
|Ladder located along the Cliff Walk not far from the junction with the Parker Trail|
After descending the ladder, it was a short walk to the Parker Trail. This trail led me back to my starting point, and thus completed my loop hike.
To sum it up, I suppose "WOW" might be an appropriate summation! It's easy to understand why this is such a popular mountain to hike. I took my time soaking in as much as I could during my journey along the various trails on my route. However, it's clear to me that I only scratched the surface of experiencing all that this magnificent mountain has to offer. And so, this first hike to Mt. Monadnock will likely not be my last!
ADDENDUM (added 01-Oct-2013)
The information contained in this Addendum has generously been provided via personal communication with Patrick Hummel who is the former Park Manager at Monadnock State Park. He is currently the Volunteer Activities Coordinator for New Hampshire State Parks.
Patrick indicates that it is now thought Monadnock is the third most hiked mountain in the world, behind Japan's Fuji and China's Mount Tai. Mount Tai likely sees more hikers than Monadnock and Fuji combined. Regardless, Monadnock is the most hiked mountain in North America, and perhaps in the Western Hemisphere. Additional data about the most hiked mountains in the world can be found in Craig Brandon’s book entitled “Monadnock: More Than A Mountain”.
According to records available to Patrick in his former role as Park Manager, Monanock's annual attendance is closer to 110,000 to 115,000 hikers per year, rather than 125,000 to 130,000 as had been reported in the 1990s.
The following paragraphs are a quote from Patrick regarding the legend about Monadnock's summit being laid bare by farmers who sat fire to the mountain to eradicate wolves.
"If I can help bring down or call in to question any Monadnock “legend”, it’s the wolf story. It has been ingrained into the local community and people swear this story is true. I even grew up believing this story, myself.
The truth is that Thoreau inadvertently helped to cement this tale simply by casually mentioning it in his journal, as he heard the tale while in Peterborough, NH. In my studies of Monadnock’s history, the story has way too many holes in it for me to buy in. Once I came across James Winthrop’s 1780 study, noting a measurable treeline 20 years before the “first great fire” on Monadnock, and 40 years before the fire that supposedly burned off the rest of the trees and soil, I became convinced the legend was untrue.
And in thinking about it further, old Yankee Farmers would not have purposely burned the summit of the mountain to attack the wolf problem anyhow. Simply put, the wolves would have just fled and moved in elsewhere, thus not solving the problem, only displacing it. The Yankee Farmers would have trapped and/or hunted the wolves (which historical indication dictates that is precisely what they did)."