Springing up, sliding down Monadnock

by on April 7, 2009 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

The stunning view from Bald RockThe warm weather and abundant sun on Saturday, March 28 was the perfect impetus to get up and get out for the first hike of the spring. My wife Anne and I decided to head up Monadnock via Bald Rock, a path we had not yet taken. It was well worth it.

We checked in with the park to see what the conditions were up near the summit. We were informed that there was still some snow but it was mostly compressed and not too difficult to get through. In light of this, we both opted for leather boots instead of our preferred lighter (but more porous) hiking shoes. This proved to be a wise choice, although by the end of the day, our socks were rather soggy all the same.

The trailhead we chose to start from is the Old Toll Road Parking Area, off of Route 124 in Jaffrey. It took about 25 minutes to get there from Nelson, driving slowly to enjoy the scenery and avoid the numerous frost heaves. Parking is plentiful and there is a kiosk with updated information and a sign-in book. There were about a dozen other cars in the lot when we arrived, proving that we were not alone in following our impulse to get out and hike.

Our hike started with an easy walk up the Old Toll Road, a good way to warm up. And warm up we did! With the sun shining and temperatures in the upper fifties, we were quickly down to our t-shirts and looking forward to getting under a bit of tree cover. This happened in short order as we took a right onto the Parker Trail, a nice easy walk through the woods. It was here that we first began to encounter patches of snow. Nothing too deep, but a good indicator of what lay ahead.

We soon went left onto the Cliff Walk Trail, which was supposed to be marked very clearly with white letter ‘C’s painted on rocks and trees. We found that the higher we got on this trail, the better it was blazed. Towards the beginning, however, you have to keep your eyes peeled and try to follow any evidence of foot traffic you can find. When you hit a large wooden ladder within the first few minutes you will know you are on the right track. The Cliff Walk Trail is challenging is some areas, requiring the use of hands and feet to scramble up some particularly steep and slippery parts. If you are up for it, it is well worth it, both for the interesting rock formations and the incredible views to the south. One of the highlights of the trail is Thoreau’s Seat, a rock outcropping where Henry David himself used to sit and ponder all things natural.

The real prize of this hike is Bald Rock itself. Back when the summit of Mt. Monadnock used to be completely forested, Bald Rock was the only open spot on the mountain. It provides one of the most stunning views of Monadnock I have ever seen. We spent a fair bit of time here, eating our lunch, basking in the sun and watching other hikers slowly ascend and descend the summit. We decided to keep going, but it is easy to make a loop back to the car from here via the Hedgehog trail if the summit isn’t in your plans for the day.

We took the Smith Connecting Trail, marked with a yellow ‘S’, to the White Cross Trail to the White Dot Trail, which led us to the summit. This was the most strenuous part of our hike. By now our boots were pretty soaked and our legs were punching through the snow, sometimes sinking past our knees. This, added to the steepness of the terrain, made for some good exercise. Certain sections were covered in large patches of ice, which required some tricky maneuvering. I wondered how the young kids running past me in the opposite direction wearing shorts and sneakers fared by the end of the day.

The summit was, as always, a great reward for the hard work. Though the day by that point was a bit hazy, the panoramic view never fails to impress. We shared the top with ten other people, which is a reason in and of itself to go in early spring. Anyone who has stood elbow to elbow on the summit in July will know what I am talking about.

We descended via The White Arrow Trail, a steep, rocky path made treacherous by the frozen waterfalls running right down its center. It was slow going as we found ourselves working hard to avoid slipping and sliding our way to a broken ankle. We spent much of our time in the woods just off to the side of the trail, choosing the deep snow over the icy trail. At one point I found myself sliding down on my back, glissading for 15 or 20 feet before being able to stop myself. While my inner twelve-year-old rejoiced, my more sober self attempted to regulate an accelerated heartbeat. I would suggest that the White Arrow Trail be avoided until late spring in favor of a more gradual descent.

The White Arrow Trail led us directly back to the Old Toll Road, and eventually back to the car. All in all, our hike took about five hours, with plenty of stops and a long lunch. I would encourage everyone to go up Monadnock on a nice sunny day in early spring. No crowds, no leaves to block the spectacular views, and best of all, no black flies.

Visit www.nhstateparks.org for maps, directions and trail information.

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