Sunday, August 10, 2008

Climbing Mount Monadnock

August 2, 2008.
Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire is only 3,165 feet elevation but feels and looks much higher. For one thing, the trail up is very steep. For another, a very large amount of the mountain is above the tree line and is an alpine zone. It is the most climbed mountain in North America.

The three of us hiked up the Marlboro Trail, which is only about 4.5 miles round trip but very, very steep. It climbs about 1,800 feet and most of that climb is in the last mile and a half. I think that the trail gets its name because at times one is breathing so hard that it feels like one has smoked a pack of Marlboros (not that I would know for sure since I have never smoked). The first part of the trail climbs nicely through a pretty northern hardwood forest, with some level areas.

Indian Peace Pipe in the lower hardwood forest:

Once you get past the lower section, there is barely a level spot until you reach the summit – it just climbs and climbs, often at a very steep pitch. I kid you not - a few times we came on a 50 foot section of trail that was pretty level and we practically rejoiced! There are pretty views as soon as one climbs out of the forest onto a very large exposed rock face.

The summit looks deceptively close at this point, and not too high, but it is all an optical illusion. There is still plenty of climbing to do:

The path keeps climbing, with hardly a switchback. You do plenty of scrambling over and around rocks, often using your hands and placing your feet carefully so as not to trip or slip.

We helped ourselves to blueberries along the way. It gave us an excuse to pause to catch our breath. A few times, we sat on the rocks and rested, waiting for our pulse and breathing to return to normal. Not far from the top, a shirtless man celebrating his 75th birthday came down at a good clip. He looked in pretty good shape for a 50 year old, much less 75!

For a while, the trail left the exposed areas and reentered the forest, but at the higher elevation it was spruce – fir rather than hardwoods. The trail continued to climb steeply through the trees, and most of the time we walked over rocks.

A quarter mile or so from the summit, all exposed rock, the climb became more gradual for the remainder of the hike:

There are great views, and supposedly on a clear day one can see all six New England States, the Atlantic Ocean, and Boston. Alas, our day was far from clear, but even so the views were impressive.

We were only minutes on the summit when the distant thunder started to become more ominous, and a ranger ordered everyone down. So we complied, but paused on one of the last ledges on the way down to eat lunch. The first rain drops began to fall after this point, and the rain gradually became close to a downpour, soaking all of us to the skin. Frankly, we seemed too close to the car to bother with rain gear. Fortunately the worst of the rain didn’t happen until we were mostly off the steepest sections. Even so, the steep rocks were slippery and treacherous, and the going was slow. Martha slipped at one point, skinning her knee badly and twisting her ankle, but the injury was not serious.

Shortly before the rain started I was able to get this photo of some pretty pink spirhea:

We got back to the car a little chilled, soaked, and tired – the steepness of the trail made it seem more like 8 miles than 4. However, we all enjoyed getting to climb this famous mountain, the first time for all three of us.


  1. Sounds like a great hike. We'll have to get out that way one of these days and do it.

    I always like when an older person is in good shape to do something like that - they are good role models!!

  2. Yes, it is insprirational to see that, HappyOne. He had about 20 family members with him all celebrating his 75th!

    Of course there are days when I feel like I am approaching that "older person" label myself! :) Usually I feel about 30-something but my birth certificate says otherwise.

    Northern New England has so many great places to hike and explore the outdoors. I miss it often this time of year, and even now and then in the winter. I used to cross country ski and snowshoe a lot. Not much opportunity for that here in Virginia.

  3. What an accomplishment! Glad you were rewarded with some beautiful views!

  4. I'm going to have to try it again on a crystal clear day and get those views of Boston 60 miles away as the crow flies. But it definitely felt like an accomplishment.