Mt. Monadnock is named for a geological feature, a monadnock being a mountain that stands alone. On the one hand, it seems pretty impersonal to be named after a geological term; on the other hand it’s like saying this is the monadnock. I tend toward the latter understanding. Mt. Monadnock is, after all, the second most-climbed mountain in the world, its first-in-the-world status having recently been taken over by Mt. Fuji.
I climbed Monadnock for the second time in my life in May, with good friend Meg. The first time was twenty years ago when I was 48, so, do the math. Because we’re in training to hike in the Bavarian Alps in a few weeks, we chose the two hardest, most direct routes to the summit. We went up White Dot trail—2 miles to the top—and down 2.2 miles on White Cross trail, the latter being somewhat less steep (emphasis on somewhat) than the former. The total elevation gain is about 1800 feet.
White Dot trail begins kindly, a gentle slope of mostly dirt, a lovely warmup after a long drive from Boston. But all too quickly it reverts to its true rocky self.
Then it adds the second facet of its personality as it begins to turn steep.
And steeper. Around this time, Meg began to look up the trail and say, “I hope we get to climb all those rocks.” When I looked back at her in disbelief, she informed me she was trying to reframe. So from then on we frequently intoned how eager we were—not—to hike up all the rocks and ledges.
We did see some sweet wild white violets, tucked up close to a rock for warmth.
Then Meg pointed out American Mountain Ash saplings. They grow in moist places in fields and forests and, obviously, on mountains. They’ve been known to grow as high up in the Alps as 6000 feet. Their pinnate leaves reminded me of ladders. Soon they would sport bunches of white flowers and then, in the fall, the bunches of bright orange-red berries for which they are famous to birds and humans alike.
Mountain Ash is also known as Rowan. Greek mythology has it that the gods ordered an eagle to recover a cup offering eternal youth to whomever drank from the cup. The poor eagle had to fight demons to get the cup and the drops of blood it shed in battle fell to earth and became the berry clusters of the Rowantree.
Meg and I began to get a bit of a view, and then, as we kept ascending and the trail turned more ledgy, a lovely wide-open view. One of those lumps in the distance is Mt. Wachusett, but I couldn’t tell you which one. I’m guessing it’s the little one that’s just about in the middle of the picture.
The weather held for us, with frequent sun, in the 50-60°F range, but oh my, was it windy. Whenever we popped through the cover of forest, the wind blew me off balance, despite my heavy training pack. I had to take off my hat.
As we got closer to the summit, we saw this alpine azalea crouching beside the trail, which now consisted of open ledges marked by cairns or painted white dots put in what seemed to be the oddest of places.
The rocks fascinated us. Quartz showed up in white and pink tones. And then this beautiful palette of colors, some contributed by lichen.
We noticed what I began to think of as chicken tracks or rock hieroglyphics and I have no clue what caused them. Are they just another form of glacial striation? Maybe one of you will write and educate me; I’d be grateful.
Glacial striations appeared frequently, scratches in the rock caused by glaciers as they inched their way past over time.
And then, a new one for me and therefore my personal favorite, slickenside showed up. Slickenside is basically a smoothing that results from the friction of rocks moving against one another alongside a fault. Here’s a great example that we enjoyed.
Just below the summit, I halted. The wind was fierce and my fear of heights had been activated quite a while ago, once we began working our way up the steep, open ledges. Now all I could think about was how the devil would I get down? Fearless Meg climbed the last bit to the top where the wind pushed her around enough that she returned lickety split down to where I waited in a hollow of rock where the wind was less forceful. All in all, a memorable, educational trip.
Oh yeah, the first time I did Monadnock it took three hours, including time for eating lunch. This time? Five hours. Yup. Those twenty years made a difference. At least I’m a bit more ready for the Alps.