The secret seems to be the trails. Monadnock is now said to be the most hiked mountain in the world and most of the times that we've been there has seemed to prove that. No matter the season or day of the week the parking lot is packed as are the "main trails" and the summit. The thing is, all of the thousands of visitors seems to do the same thing - take the standard route. Trusting that not too many people are going to read this blog post I feel safe sharing our solution. The best part is that the alternate trails are not only uncrowded, they're also better in many ways!
We arrived yesterday morning at 10:00 and found the parking lot almost empty. This was a real surprise for such a beautiful day in May (even a Thursday). One of the best parts of Monadnock for us is that we can make in 2 hours from Rhode Island any day of the week. There never seems to be any traffic problems (unlike the weekday drive to the Whites which means fighting Boston traffic no matter the route). We headed up the White Dot trail which was uncharacteristically empty.
The skies were blue and crystal clear and there was a nice breeze. We had been worried about the onslaught of spring black flies but surprisingly they were leaving us alone. We followed our favorite route and at the first junction at Falcon Springs we headed up the Cascade Link trail. This is a really pretty trail that follows and crosses a brook several times as well as going through some beautiful birch glades. The birches seem to have had a tough winter this year.
We started seeing a few wildflowers along this section including some beautiful blooms of hobblebush.
After passing the Red Spot trail junction we hit our favorite section of the hike - the Spellman trail. This is a short (unfortunately) and very steep connection up to the Pumpelly ridge trail that has lots of steep ledges and great scrambling as well as beautiful views. The books say that it is the hardest trail on Monadnock but it feels just right to us.
Start of the Spellman
Steep Ledges - fun scrambling
At the top of the Spellman the Pumpelly trail runs both ways - north to the summit and east to the end of the Cascade Link. We usually just head for the summit but this time we headed out the other way to see what the rest of this trail looks like. The answer? Beautiful! Next time we'll take the Cascade Link to the end and do the whole length of the Pumpelly.
Summit views from the Pumpelly
Nat checking out the beautiful ridge
The entire length of the Pumpelly to the summit is beautiful open ledge walking along the ridge with a few drops into the evergreen groves along the way. There are views in every direction and usually very few people. Yesterday we saw one person on the Spellman and not another one until the summit. They obviously didn't know what they were missing.
Cairns along the ridge
Beautiful tarn near the summit
Most days there are at least 100 people on the summit and often there are too many to count. This time there were only a dozen or so which was a real surprise, but we didn't stay anyway. Heading over the summit we headed down the White Arrow trail toward the beautiful tangle of west side trails between the summit and Bald Rock. Even on a crowed day the White Arrow is an immediate escape and our usual break spot near the top is the perfect place for a lunch break with no trace of the summit craziness.
Nat at the top of the White Arrow
Nice lunch views
The hike down the White Arrow is almost the reverse of the Spellman with lots of interesting scrambling. Someday we're going to have to try this in reverse - should be fun. The White Arrow has many combinations of side trails that provide different scenic routes down and all have something good in common - nobody seems to ever use them. Yesterday we took our favorite combination. The Amphitheater trail goes left off the White Arrow at a sign painted on a rock which is very easy to miss (which we did last spring on our last time). The Amphitheter winds down and intersects with the Smith Connector at an even harder to find junction (which we wandered around for 10 minutes looking for). The Smith Connector then follows a series of rocky ridges through the evergreens and winds up at Bald Rock which is a "sub-summit" below Grand Monadnock.
Old soldier guards the view to the summit from Smith Connector
Blueberries blooming everywhere! Oh to be back here in a couple of months...
Looking back to the summit from Bald Rock
Leaving Bald Rock we take the Cliff Walk trail which winds all the way from the White Arrow further up to the bottom of the mountain along a series of switchbacks and scrambles across the rock ridges. No views down here but a beautiful walk in the woods on a twisting granite sidewalk. Further down the Cliff Walk runs into the final treat of the day - the Lost Farm trail. After all of the boulders and granite ledge above the Lost Farm seems like a plain old walk in the woods. In the spring though it is completely lined with wildflowers and the perfect way to slow down and enjoy the last couple of miles of the hike. We were a little early for everything to be blooming, but with virtual seas of hobblebush and many patches of painted trillium in full show we didn't feel cheated in the least.
Swaths of hobblebush
Hobblebush meadow lining the path
The beautiful Lost Farm trail
The Lost Farm trail ends at the Parker trail for the final segment back to the parking lot making the 10th trail of the day and the end of this wonderful loop. Our final tally for the day: 8 people seen on the trail (besides the summit), zero black fly bites, 5 hours of brilliant blue skies and the end of our 7 month mountain drought. I can't think of a better way to spend a Thursday in May!!
Final look back at the summit over Poole reservoir
On the way home we stopped at the other secret spot that we discovered on our last trip to Monadnock - Kimball Farms. Just a mile from Jaffrey center and some of the best ice cream on the planet. Remember to order a kiddie cone if you want to be able to finish it. On the other hand, after a long day on the mountain maybe a small would be in order...
For those that love hiking in the Whites (like us) that haven't given Monadnock a chance you should try it. If you've been there are were turned off by the crowds you should go back and give the other trails a shot. Just don't spread the word too far. We wouldn't want everyone to know our secret.
There are two really great Monadnock websites with interactive maps and trail descriptions. The first one that got us pointed to the alternate trails is Hiking Trails on Mt. Monadnock. This is an excellent site, but one that I just discovered that is perhaps even better is monadnocktrails.com which is run by a guy that has hiked Monadnock over 1200 times and includes great history, geology, weekly trail conditions and more. Check them out and then go and enjoy!
If you haven't had enough of the views the full album is here: https://picasaweb.google.com/mtruman42/MtMonadnock51211?authkey=Gv1sRgCI-LzJuP1-3ymwE#