My Dad and I thought we should do something interesting for February break. (He teaches school, and I go to school). We opted for Monadnock . We left from our house in CT at 4:20 in the morning, and got a beautiful view of Monadnock in the early morning light about 10 minutes after sunrise. As a sidenote, our car finally made it to 200,000 miles on the way.
We parked at the old toll road parking around 7 o'clock. The temperature was 7 degrees on the building at the parking area. I noticed that my altimeter was about 750 feet off, and I had set it only last night. The road was easy walking, but that altimeter was stubborn about rising. Then at what was 500 vertical feet higher on the map, and about 160 on the altimeter, we reached the point where we thought the halfway house should have been. Instead, there was a driveway marked no trespassing, and one of the most opulent houses I have ever seen.
Proceeding onwards a couple hundred feet along the White Arrow Trail we came to the actual halfway house site - a snowy field as it burned in 1954. A little after we passed what looked like a few gravestones on the right of the trail, but we didn't stop to investigate. We then turned left on the Fairy Spring trail, which had no new tracks in the snow. Fairy Spring itself was very nice. It was a lot of pretty ice set in a dark forest. Soon after Fairy spring we emerged on Monte Rosa, a bare spot on a South-Western ridge of Mount Monadnock.
The view was excellent, we could see Mount Wachusetts, Mount Greylock, and the snow-covered ridges of the Green Mountains. Closer to us we could see Mount Monadnock itself, Bald Rock on another ridge, possibly Pack-Monadnock and North-Pack-Monadnock, and most definitely that house. Everything above about 2,200 feet glowed spectacularly in the hoar-frost.
Continuing on, we dipped down about 50 feet, and then continued climbing up the Smith Summit Trail. The trail did a nice job of taking us on the bare slabs of rock so we could see out of the trees. At treeline ~ 2700 feet, we left the trail, and headed for the summit going over rime-ice encrusted rocks, and windblown snowpatches. We went to the left of the cliffs at right at the summit, and met up with a trail. Then we went up a short snowpacked gully and emerged on the surprisingly windy top.
We hadn't gotten a chance to look around before we were accosted by a very worried guy who looked to be in highschool, or college. He asked us the time, and upon being informed htat it was 9:11 he told us that about two hours ago he and his friend had separated at treeline and intended to meet at the summit. By this time he was very worried and had walked around the top and found some of his friend's tracks. His friend was apparently quite athletic but "didn't always use his head".
The worried hiker left his stuff on the summit , and we looked around for more tracks. We found some, and followed them. There were a lot of fun icy rocks to slide down, and the hiker's friend obviously liked sliding down them and would do so at every opportunity, judging by his tracks. We followed the tracks down into the woods off the wrong side of the mountain, still sliding down rocks at every opportunity. The friend got to the Great Pasture Trail, and turned on it, and came to the Marion Trail. Then, after going on it for a short distance, plunged off into the woods again. It was during this hike down, that I finally figured out that I must have accidentally set my altimeter to measure in meters instead of feet, now all I have to do is figure out how to set it back.
We followed and came to a gently sloping hardwood forest. The tracks wound around some, but headed pretty much straight down. After a while we hit a road, and then came to a house. There wasn't anyone there, so we left a note, admired the beautiful view of Mount Monadnock from their backyard and started to walk out the road, guessing that he had gotten a ride back to the trailhead with the people in the house. Turns out we were right, and we met the guy who had taken him coming back to their house, saying he had delivered him to the trailhead two hours ago. Then he was nice enough to take us to the trailhead, where we met a police car, and a park ranger.
The person we had trailed (dressed in sneakers and sweatpants ) said he had waited at the summit for 45 minutes and then gotten worried, and gone looking for his partner (presumably while his partner was looking for him) and then gotten lost. I''m a little unclear how he got lost above treeline, but everything worked out alright in the end. I'm not quite sure what the moral of this story is, but there must be one, the boy-scout motto would be a good start.
By this time it was only noon, and having driven up from Connecticut, we felt we ought to get a full day out of it so we headed up the same path, a little more slowly. We took the White Arrow Trail all the way to treeline this time, to save time. It was a great timesaver trail - pretty steady moderate grade, and well travelled, but it seemed determined to keep us in the trees for as long as possible. It led us to a nice overlook, and here we could look down on Monte Rosa, and we think we saw the house we walked out to.
This time, when we abandoned the trail, the scramble over the rocks was positively exhausting. There was one icy 10 foot scramble that was a little dicey, but fun. When we got to the top, it was nice to actually get to look around. It was warmer than the first time too. We met volunteers on the summit who had gotten the equipment from the guy who had left it there as a marker.
We had a little time to explore and went out the North-East ridge that the Pumpelly Trail is on. Looking back the mountain was absolutely stunning, it looked almost pure white on this side, where as you could see a lot of black rocks on the other side. I slid much of the way down. There was an neat protected hollow on this side of the mountain - the trail dipped steeply into the trees for about 30 feet, and then rose up again,. It was like being in a tree-filled canyon.
Hiking back to the summit was enjoyable, though we were both getting tired. Then after I took a couple "Look, he made it to the summit!" pictures we headed (sliding as much as possible) down. We decided to hike out by way of Bald Rock. Heading partly off trail, and partly on the Amphitheater trail, we made our way to Bald Rock, which I think was actually clear before the fire that cleared the top of the mountain, but don't quote me on that.
Having taken our last good look at Mount Monadnock, we headed down the Cliff Walk Trail, and didn't see the Hedgehog, Noble, Do Drop (great name) or the Thoreau trails and were considering just going off the ridge off trail, when we met the Point Surprise trail, and took that down to the road, which we walked out, kicking a few snowballs along the way.
All in all, quite an enjoyable trip. I enjoyed the tracking, though I was starting to worry about the poor lost person. Considering that this mountain is vying for the most climbed mountain in the world status, we did pretty well, only seeing about 8 people. Winter is definitely the time to do it.