Mt. Monadnock Hike
Mount Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, is a 3,165 foot (965 m) peak in southwestern New Hampshire that has drawn attention for years by its relative isolation from other mountains.
The word "monadnock" has been adopted by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg. In glaciation events, a monadnock may remain ice-free above the iceflow that surrounds it, forming a nunatek and thus may retain relics of the pre-glacial period. This peak is often called Grand Monadnock, to differentiate it from other Vermont and New Hampshire peaks with "Monadnock" in their names. The peak is largely composed of schist and quartzite rocks.
Monadnock was the site, in the 19th century, of a toll carriage road, still visible, and of a resort hotel. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among those who climbed and wrote about the mountain. Herman Melville compared the hump of Moby Dick to Monadnock when describing Captain Ahab's final struggle with the whale. In the same period, uncontrollable fires - some supposedly set to drive wolves out of thickets to be shot (the last wolf killed in the state of New Hampshire was in 1887) - destroyed crucial vegetation, permitting severe erosion and creating a treeline that still persists, though the mountain is too low to have a naturally bare summit.
Today Monadnock is a state park criss-crossed by well-maintained hiking trails. The New Hampshire state park authority reported in 2003 that the park sees 95,000 visitors yearly.
Monadnock is often described as "the second-most-climbed mountain in the world", with "125,000" climbers yearly, behind only Mt. Fuji in Japan, with about 200,000 yearly climbers. Bus routes that head part way up Mt. Fuji opened in 1990, and it has been suggested that Mt. Monadnock may be in first place if Mt. Fuji's bus riders are not counted.
We did our part to beef up these statistics when a group of six of us met in the parking lot at the ranger station at the base of the mountain at 11:00 AM. A seventh hiker was running late but joined our expedition at one of the first rock outcroppings with dramatic views of the valley below.
Our group was comprised of guys from New York City (by way of Brattleboro, VT for the holidays); San Francisco (by way of Connecticut); Boston and Exeter, MA; and New Hampshire, including one fellow from the town of Jaffrey, where Monadnock is located.
It was decided that we would take one of the longer routes to the summit, which proved to be a wise choice since we saw almost no one else as we made our way up the rocky, root-strewn trail. There were patches of ice along the way, but nothing that required any special footware or equipment. In addition to cloudless skies, we had cool temperatures and a steady breeze that gained considerable force as we made our way towards the summit.
In spite of gorging on turkey dinners the day before, the gorgeous views and dramatic rock formations inspired everyone to push on at a steady clip. We made a couple of stops along the way to admire the view and take advantage of various photo-ops, but mindful of how early the sun would be setting, we kept our sights focused on moving onward and upward.
Reaching the summit, we were greeted by windy blasts of cold air, monumental cairns serving as trail markers, and scores of other hikers who had taken more direct routes to the top of the mountain. However, given the immense expanses of rock at the higher elevations, there was no sense of being in a crowd. After taking in the 360 degree view, we made our way down to a semi-sheltered spot just below the summit for lunch. (There's nothing like turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving!)
From here, we began to make our way back down. Given the steepness of the descent, our knees got quite a workout. As with so much of the day, our timing was impeccable. Our descent was paralleled by the setting sun. We arrived back in the parking lot with enough daylight left for everyone to make their way back to major highways before night fell. A small group stopped off for a bowl of something warm and a glass of something cold.
And so the 12th Annual post-Thanksgiving Mt. Monadnock hike came to a close.
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