Thursday, May 12, 2011

Monadnock Ends A Long Mountain Drought

I knew it had been too long since we'd hiked.  A couple of local hikes this winter and spring but almost 7 months since our last trip north and a day on any kind of mountain.  WAY too long.  With a perfect day forecast for yesterday we decided to go to our old standby for the first real spring hike - Mt Monadnock.  Our first time up Monadnock was about 5 years ago and we did it "the standard way" - up the White Dot trail and down the White Cross with a nice stay on the summit with a few hundred of our closest friends.  More like a walk through downtown Boston than solitude in the woods.  We hated the crowds, but there was a problem - this is really a beautiful place.  Miles of beautiful granite ridges, birch glades, wildflowers, mountain streams.  Too good to give up on.  Later that year we went back a second time armed with a plan for some different trails and happily we found a totally different mountain.  One that we've gone back to many times since and visited again yesterday.

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

Great views

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.

Getting ready...

Painted Trillium

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 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:


  1. Great report, Mark! Glad to see you're back on the trails. We saw plenty of hobblebush and painted trillium up in the Whites, too - what a welcome transition to spring.

  2. Mark,
    Awesome report. You're right, Monadnock has turned me off for quite a while due to the crowds I have heard about. However, if I head up, I'll definitely be taking the route you've outlined.

    Looks like you guys had great views from the Pumpelly Trail all the way to Bald Rock. Your Hobblebush and Painted Trillium views looked great too!

    Looks like it was a really fun day and perfect pick for the day given the crowds and skies!

    Very nice!

  3. It's terrific for you and for all of us that your "long mountain drought" has ended. I've missed your superb Trip Reports which are always a delight to read, and it's a pleasure to see your photos which are so skillfully composed.

    Like you, I also enjoy steep rock scrambles, and so the Spellman Trail would definitely be one that I'll try when I hike Monadnock!

    As your photos demonstrate, the Hobble Bush is so beautiful when blooming in the springtime. I must admit, however, that my admiration of this plant is somewhat diminished when bushwhacking through large patches of it! There's a reason why it's called "hobble" bush!:)


  4. Thanks guys. Appreciate the kind words. It was great to have a reason to write a new blog post and there will hopefully be many more following soon. Monadnock is less of a treat for those living in central NH as opposed to those of us in southern NE since it takes longer to get there than it does to get to the Whites. Still worth visiting at least once though. I hadn't thought about you perspective on the hobblebush John but it makes a lot of sense. I definitely like it better on the side of the trail than I would wading through in a bushwhack. The image that usually comes to mind when I see it is of moose peacefully grazing on it. I'm going to have a new image in mind next time ;-)

    Happy trails!

  5. Great Trip Report and I agree that the spider web of short trails are seldom used but some of the greatest ones! I routinely head out over the Do Drop Trail to Bald Rock which affords great views south.

  6. Really enjoyed this and several other of your reports. Dipped my toe in the White Mountain pool with friends last month, ascending just over halfway to Mt. Washington via Boott Spur Trail, which was beautiful. Leg cramps and the overall difficulty caused me to turn around on a bluebird day 7/19. Still, was the highest I've ascended on foot in altutide (approx 4430') and highest elevation gain in one day. By far the hardest trail I've done. I'll be back for more as soon as possible.

    But enough about me - really enjoy your journals. Your and my enthusiasm for hiking and outdoor photography are a match. I like meeting kindred spirits - thank you so much for sharing about your trips so generously!

  7. Great route selection, spellman looks gnarly in the summer to! I will bookmark this route for my future use but I won't tell anyone about it, I don't want the secret to get out!

  8. Perfect Grant. We'll keep it our secret. ;-)