Mt Monadnock Winter Hike

By Mike Boisvert.

We arrived at Monadnock State Park near 10 am, registered at the store, and prepared for the hike.  It was sunny with wind gusts around 31 mph.  We headed up on the White Dot Trail, the most direct route to the summit. The trail was completely iced over so we put on our crampons in the parking lot.  

The trail starts off gentle. As the group went on, Steve had trouble getting his new Black Diamond crampons to stay on his boots, so the group patiently helped him.  

After a time, we reached our first major incline.  Being the most direct route, the White Dot Trail has 1800 ft elevation gain in a distance of just 2 miles to the summit.  Thus, it has some pretty steep grades on it. After the group had warmed up sufficiently, we stopped to take off some layers, before continuing. 

The crampons were absolutely necessary otherwise we would be slipping and sliding on the slope. Boy, did we
appreciate those crampons on this trip. 

After awhile, we came to our first views of the valley, where small exposed tree limbs were coated in ice that looked like glass.  We couldn't yet see the true summit, but the upper mountain before us showed the trees becoming sparser, and we continued on.  When we thought we were close to breaking treeline and could feel the wind start to make us colder, we stopped to layer up. 

There was one more patch before the trees disappeared completely revealing Monadnock's open summit ahead of us.  The terrain changed to a complete sheet of ice. 

Nearing the top, I turned to take pictures of some group members making their way up the open mountainside.  Soon enough we were all on the summit. 

We took some group pictures.  It was completely clear and sunny. The views were impressive from the top,
especially looking down along the icy ridgeline.  At only 3165 ft, the ice cover on the open ridge made it look as though we were on a much higher summit in some distant land.  Viewing this beauty after a relatively short hike, it is no wonder Monadnock is so popular, being the second most hiked mountain in the world, behind Mt. Fuji of Japan. 

Interesting enough, the splendor of the mountain's open summit is man-made.  According to the AMC Southern NH Trail Guide, around the early 1800s, sheep farmers had set a series of forest fires to create pastures for the sheep to graze on the lower mountain, and then later to drive wolves away on the upper mountain which had already been devastated by fire and windstorms.  The upper mountain fire got out of control and ended up burning down through the soil, leaving only bare rock behind for 500 ft at the top.  Later that century, Monadnock began attracting visitors from afar, and was officially declared a New England attraction in 1850.  It was graced by transcendental likes of Emerson and Thoreau, who praised it in their literature, and has since become a hiking mecca.

I have hiked Monadnock many times in every season of the year. There are so many trails to choose I have yet to use all of them. The mountain offers a great variety of terrain, scenery, and beauty on its many trails, and one never tires of the panoramic views from the top.  I have stood on the summit on a crowded summer day with 50 or more other people, and on a breezy winter afternoon like today with just a few people. I've seen many types of hikers of all ages on the mountain, from snowshoers and trail runners, to a young man reading by himself, to whole families, toddlers to grandparents, hiking the mountain together.  The mountain has something for everyone, and I enjoy bringing new hikers to experience the awesomeness of this place.

We headed down along the ridge to find our descent route following the Pumpelly Trail to the Red Spot Trail.  The Pumpelly trail is marked with cairns and pretty much follows the ridge, but with all the ice it was hard to stay on route.  Mark has been on this mountain much more than me so he led the way. 

The Red Spot trail branches off from the Pumpelly Trail at a wooden trail sign, hence the start of the trail was easy to locate.  However, the trail is marked with red painted spots encircled with white paint on the rocks.  They are easy to see in the summer, but being winter, many of the rocks were now covered in snow. 

The first few marks had been exposed from the snow due to the wind.  But we came to an area where we could not readily tell which way the trail went and ended up following some cairns on a different route (this ended up being the Smith Connecting Link). We realized our error and we headed back to the last red spot blaze had been.  Sure enough we found out that the red spot blaze broke to the left. Soon we were down into the trees far enough where it was easy to see where the trail continued.  There was one set of footprints barely visible from the coating of new snow. 

When we found a sunny spot that was well sheltered from the wind, we stopped for lunch. 

The Red Spot Trail spills into the Cascade Link Trail which leads back to the White Dot Trail, and back to the park headquarters and parking lot.  We reached the parking lot around 3 pm, when it was still light out.  Steve and Seth needed to head back right away, while the rest of us planned to get something hot to drink locally.

We found a cafe in Peterborough near the Depot Place (I think); sort of a small shopping center off the Main Street. We grabbed something hot to drink and sat at some tables at the other end. We had a good day with a good group, and a bit of adventure.

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