Number one is Mount Fuji in Japan. But the second most popular hike in the world is Mount Monadnock. Here in little ole New Hampshire. The word “monadnock” comes from the Abenakis meaning “mountain that stands alone.” I think, How tough can climbing this mountain be if it is that popular?
With a mid-September Saturday in New England predicted to be sunny and in the low 70s, with our friend Bill we leave our home in coastal Maine for a 100+ mile, two hour drive to the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. Up at 5A, we are off before 6A so we can get breakfast on the road before the Saturday rush and hit the trail by 9A.
Checking out online all the diners/cafes along our route west of Manchester, NH, Joey’s Diner jumps out thanks to Yelp reviews. We had no idea we are in the for breakfast experience of our lives.
Arriving just after 7A we enter New Jersey circa 1950s: shiny red booths, mirrors everywhere and memorabilia celebrating Elvis and mid-century Chevy’s. The décor and feel is cool, but it’s not the best part of the experience.
My two eggs over easy, home fries, rye toast and two pancakes prime me for the trail. A good meal is important, but that’s not the best part either.
Our waitress is. Hannah and I began breakfasting out when we were first married early in the 1970s at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple Restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. We learned that refills for coffee were free and my eggs and hash browns could swim in a sea of barbecue sauce. But in 40+ years of breakfasting out, we have never had a better waitress. Upbeat and personable, she makes mere nourishment an experience. I begin by asking her name and introducing us three. Are you a local girl? is my follow up question and our conversation is off and running. She willing engages with Mama Bear information. Not too little, not too much. She gets our decafs and tea, gives us time to order, and once we order comes back just before the meals are to be served to see if we want any more decaf or tea! Attentive and cheery throughout the meal, she made the experience. She alone is worth the trip to Joey’s Diner in Amherst, NH.
Fueled and so energized by the Joey’s experience, we drive 45 minutes more along routes 101, 202, and 124 to Mt. Monadnock State Park.
The ranger peers into the car, determines there are three of us, and charges $5 each. This is a gold mine for the state of New Hampshire. With 35 cars in the parking lot just before 9A we easily find shaded parking.
Told by the state park ranger that the White Dot Trail (2.2 miles to the top) is steeper, but the White Cross Trail has more obstacles and is longer, we learn he thinks them basically comparable. Once done hiking today we will feel very differently.
At Hannah’s suggestion we choose to go up the steep White Dot Trail and down the White Cross Trail as we join the legion of hikers. Make no mistake about it, this is one popular hike. But to me it doesn’t feel “busy.” Right away we are climbing on an eight to ten foot wide trail filled with rocks.
The white dots guide us to the best way across the rocky terrain. The white dots are everywhere and most helpful. Our climb is steady and relentless; my shirt under my backpack is soon soaked and in short order sweat seeps into my eyes.
Bill and I use trekking sticks, and let me tell you they are a godsend on this rocky, steep terrain. I can plant my sticks and push with my two arms as well as my legs to climb the rocky way, thus reducing the strain on my cranky knees.
As we hands-and-knee-it on the stone facades, we know that this is one demanding hike. On these sharply angled stony faces, the trekking sticks can be a hindrance. These are the times that my poles should be stored in my backpack.
No lie. This is a taxing climb, not a walk in the park. It’s challenging. It’s relentlessly up. As my friend Mitch says, these are Adirondack switchbacks (i.e., the trail goes straight up). But indeed it’s satisfying. Having recently hiked Mt. St. Helens and at Crater Lake, I know nothing we hiked there that compares to how tough this climb is.
After one hour and a half of steady climbing with only one water break, we arrive to the celebratory mountain top which offers a 360 view. Mount Monadnock is 3100 feet above sea level with the last 300 feet are above the tree line. It’s windy up top and I can see how this could be a dangerous peak in cold weather on a trail that is open all year round.
Adding Bill to our hiking mix gives us quality extra interactions along the way. We have hiked with him at the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and he was our car courier when we biked across Prince Edward Island. He’s good guy. You’d like him.
After feasting on Hannah’s turkey sandwiches, snapping pictures with my iPhone, and providing a thankful hiker with band aids, we descend the bare steep rocky slopes below the mountain top. I can’t imagine hiking in such rockiness in fog or light rain. We’d be slip sliding away a la Paul Simon. Below the mountain top, it feels ten degrees warmer.
We take to the White Cross trail which, though still steep in parts, is a gentler, kinder trail than the White Dot Trail. It is no picnic, but again trekking sticks prove beneficial to a knee-compromised hiker such as myself. I can place my sticks below me and use them to brace myself as I step down reducing the weight on my balky knees when I step down. Multiple that by hundreds of steps and you can see how trekking sticks rock!
We learn 95% of all injuries happen on the way down. Other than the scraped knee at the top, we see no twisted ankles nor bloody legs or hikers bemoaning beside the trail.
There are not too many people for me. I love the interaction. Sports is a great entre into conversation. All the time I have wasted watching Sports Center is paying off. To Red Sox fans (wearing the cap is how often tell) I say nice win last night to get the conversation going. The Sox have comeback twice and beaten the Yankees this week. To the one Yankee-capped fan, I sympathetically say tough game last night. She laughs, but I know she is just hiding the pain and has daggers in her eyes for me.
Let me say that the trail creation and maintenance are phenomenal on both the White Dot and White Cross trails. Regulary stone steps are placed conveniently as well as stones have been hewed out for safer foot placements.
Hannah’s solid choice to take the steep White Dot trail up and the less steep White Cross proves genius. She is one good thinker. We are glad to have had both trail experiences, but we disagree with the ranger if he thinks they are basically the same.
The climb down takes a good 15 minutes longer than going up. Gabbing with people and the longer White Cross trail explains some of that. Our weariness explains another part of it. The three to four hour estimate to hike up and down is reasonable.
At the bottom, I see adults folding shirts and wander up and ask them what’s going on. It turns out they are from the nearby Franklin Pierce University and have brought the latest crop of first year students to the mountain to hike. Having extra lunch food, they offer us sandwiches, salads, cookies, and bottled water. Amazing what happens when we seek to initiate.
Fifteen minutes from the park on our way home, we lunch at Howard’s Memorial Park on route 12 in Jaffrey. Leaving this morning at 6A gave us the time to make our day relaxed and unhurried. We even had time for a little garage sailing.