The Distinctive Shadow Of...
Grand Mount Monadnock
"Besides being the most popular mountain in America, Grand Mt. Monadnock is known as the most climbed mountain in the world. Monadnock has long been described as the second-most-climbed mountain in the world (after Mt. Fuji in Japan). Since 1990, it has been suggested that so many of Fuji's climbers have shifted to newly available public road transportation for that ascent, that Monadnock's annual total of foot traffic now exceeds Fuji's. Now in southwestern New Hampshire, 125,000 people every year hike to the top of Monadnock.
Why? First, Grand Monadnock has at least a dozen accessible trails graduated according to climbers' abilities. Secondly, when hikers reach the top, on a clear day they're rewarded with spectacular panoramas extending to all six New England States.
Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other formative thinkers of our country hiked this mountain and endorsed it in their writings as a symbol of spiritual and environmental awareness. The mountain truly has played a part in our cultural history.
Many types of people are attracted to Grand Monadnock. We've seen fitness hikers speeding up the trails, small children on their fathers' backs, old-timers with walking sticks, experts with cameras and notebooks, young sauntering couples, and energetic school kids."
"Grand Monadnock: Exploring The Most Popular Mountain In America"
By Julia Older and Steve Sherman
Appledore Books, Hancock, N.H., 1990
(photos by Terry M. Clark, Keene, NH)
Grand Mount Monadnock is located in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. Ponds, rivers, brooks, and forests cover the land as far as you can see. In the distance white church steeples point skyward from cozy villages in a rural area of exceptional repose and beauty. And, of course, the best place to see it all is from the mountaintop.The entrance to Monadnock State Park Headquarters is a narrow, paved, tree-lined road that rises gently past the welcome sign, gate house, and into a parking lot. The office of the park manager, a Visitor Center with displays and information, picnic tables, fire pits, the White Dot Trail to the summit, and campgrounds are in this area.The park manager assigns a small number of tent sites on a first-come first-served basis, limited to fourteen consecutive days.Sites are situated in a pleasant wooded section, and public rest rooms, drinking and cooking water are provided.The Visitor Center offers hikers the best introduction and orientation to the more than 5,000-acre Monadnock Reservation.
THE FIVE MAJOR TRAILS
About 40 miles of trails crisscross the sides of Grand Monadnock, but most of the mileage covers connecting paths and cross-country ski trails. The five major trails start from all directions.They include:
Old Toll Road and White Arrow Trails (2.2 miles, south)Dublin Trail (2.2 miles, north)White Dot Trail (1.9 miles, southeast)Pumpelly Trail (4.5 miles, northeast)Marlboro Trail (2.1 miles west)
Old Toll Road And White Arrow Trails (2.2 Miles)
These trails lead to the summit through plush views. They also interweave with many side trails of historical legacies.The Old Toll Road begins on the south side of the mountain off Route 124 from Jaffrey to Troy. A large sign shows the turnoff to two ample parking lots. This unpaved road heading up the mountain is open only to foot traffic.The road makes walking easy for a mile. About halfway, the Parker Trail from Park Headquarters intersects on the right. At the end of the road lies the clearing from the once-proud and popular Half Way House. The now vacant field reveals the rocky summit on one side and soft rolling woodland on the other.This spot used to be the thriving focus of activity on Grand Monadnock. Except for a few foundation blocks to the side and a carved-out seat on a rock slab, virtually nothing remains of the Half Way House complex. An inscription on a rock face against the rear right comer of the clearing where the Thoreau Trail begins reads:"Site of the Hotel known as the Mountain House and later as the Half Way House, 1886-1954." Moses Spring still flows from a hole in the rock below the inscription.More than a half dozen side trails begin at either end of the clearing, all of them rising through rich woodland. Here, for example, you can ascend about a half mile to Thoreau Seat and Emerson Seat, two exposed rock perches overlooking the countryside.
From the north end of the Half Way House clearing, the White Arrow Trail leads to the summit. This is considered the oldest formal trail on the mountain and probably was blazed in 1706.
In 1861 the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey widened the trail, and, in some locations, arranged large stone steps. This wide, rocky trail can be steep at times. In spring and early summer ice melt runoff sometimes cascades down the sides of the trail. At the crest of the last steep section, the trail levels a short distance before emerging onto bird's-eye views above tree line.
Dublin Trail (2.2 Miles)This trail is located by turning south from Rte. 101 at Dublin Lake and following the Old Marlboro Road to Dublin Lake Club Golf Course. Turn left on unpaved Old Troy Road and follow it about one and a half miles to a trail-like clearing in thick woods.At the outset the trail cuts through dense maple and spruce forest before narrowing and turning steep. As with most of the major trails, this one later requires some giant steps over rock slabs and boulders. It can be somewhat strenuous in a few spots, but not impossible.The second half of the trail in distance rises twice as high in altitude as the first. About halfway up, the trail emerges into a scrub zone with low-lying brush and tenacious but delicate moss, grasses, and lichen. In summer you might find some blueberries to pick along the way. Park officials request that you avoid walking near miniature pools and swampy areas because of the fragile ecology.The trail passes timberline at 1.7 miles and enters the open rock ledges. False hopes arise at this point because Dublin Peak appears and seems to be the summit. It isn't. In altitude it's five feet short of the true summit. Beyond this false summit the Marlboro Trail intersects the Dublin Trail, and joined together they lead to the authentic top of Grand Monadnock.
White Dot Trail (1.9 Miles)This popular trail begins next to the Visitor Center at the Park Headquarters. It is the shortest, most direct route to the summit. The first three-quarters of a mile follow a gradual, wide trail through maples, oaks, birches, beeches, spruce, and pines.One of the most refreshing features of this trail is Falcon Spring, located eight-tenths of a mile from the start. A short turnoff to the spring is clearly marked on the left. This fresh mountain water is cold and delicious. It pours from a pipe year round. Don't miss it.Parts of the White Dot Trail follow huge, sloped, granite boulders which sometimes are imposing.
This trail also offers many vistas early on. At 1.3 miles the trail leaves the woods and opens onto an exposed stretch, with the summit visible above and the sweep of forested valleys below. After a short re-entry into woods, the trail emerges on bare-rock ledges for wide-open hiking the rest of the way. On clear days Boston skyscrapers can be seen on the eastern horizon.
Pumpelly Trail (4.5 Miles)The longest trail on Monadnock, Pumpelly stretches from nearly the southeast edge of Dublin Lake to the summit. For a long way it follows the Pumpelly Ridge through open country. Exposed walking can be pleasant, but in cold wind and rain this trail isn't recommended, and, in fact, can be dangerous.
More than the first third of the trail traces relatively flat land. The walking is easy and enjoyable through mixed forest. In autumn this section glows with seasonal reds and yellows of maple and beech. At the midsection the terrain steepens considerably. Once on the ridge the walking becomes easier. The path takes you alternately to the east and west sides of the ridge for long views of ponds and low rolling hills below.Pumpelly Trail passes by some dramatic features - rock pools and fallen clusters of granite cliff. You'll see Thoreau's Bog at the head waters of Mountain Brook, which cascades down the mountainside and eventually crosses Old Troy Road near the Dublin Lake Club. The trail also passes the Sarcophagus at 2,800 feet elevation on the open ridge. This is a mammoth, coffin-shaped chunk of granite isolated on a flat surface.
Toward the summit three connecting trails intersect - the Cascade Link, Spellman, and Red Dot Trails. The last mile up is marked by cairns (pyramidal piles of rock). Now you walk through gentle, open scrub and granite terrain. The summit is in plain view all along this final stretch.
Marlboro Trail (2.1 Miles)To find the Marlboro Trail turn onto Shaker Road from Route 124 and drive over a rough unpaved backcountry road for about three quarters of a mile. A small parking area accommodates a few cars at the trailhead. Of interest here are stone foundations from a small Shaker community.This trail is less hiked than others, so chances are good for long stretches of isolated walking on the lower section. For nearly a mile the trail is rather easy. Then it ascends steadily and steeply. But once you're on open ledges, the views extend to the Green Mountains in Vermont. At this level too is an eye-catching set of giant granite boulders with an overhang slab, named the Rock House for its shelter-like appearance.When the Dublin Trail intersects the Marlboro Trail, you have three-tenths of a mile left to the summit.
The geological growth of Grand Monadnock is somewhat like the "Tales Of A Thousand And One Nights."New chapters constantly are being added to its many-layered history. Monadnock represents a prototype for much of the geological activity in northern New England. in fact, a geologist coined the word Monadnock after the Grand Monadnock to define similar mountains that tower as isolated peaks above an eroded level area called a peneplain.
In The Beginning
According to most geologists, the birth of Monadnock began during the Devonian Period about four hundred million years ago when ocean covered the region. Gradually, the water receded, leaving a flat tableland composed of sand and clay sediment. Fossils of marine life have been found in Littleton, N.H., and although no remnants of oceanic creatures have been discovered on the slopes of Grand Monadnock, it is thought that the mountain developed simultaneously with the Littleton formation.
One Great Geological Fold
After another few hundred million years, the surface-crust thrust upward. Beneath this upheaval, layers of sand and clay eventually folded and refolded. Extreme heat and pressure, sometimes as deep as nine miles below the mountain, transformed the sediment into layers of quartzite and schist. (Monadnock schist is a conglomerate of mica, garnet, tourmaline, and sillimanite.) On the exposed ledges, this folding and swirling looks like a mocha mallow, ripple layer cake.The entire mountain may be thought of as one great fold with seven distinct quartzite beds winding serpentine fashion from the mountain base to its wide summit bowl. When this folding era was about at an end, boiling molten magma forced through cracks and dikes of the older rock formations. Many of these dikes are composed of tar-colored hornblende granites, while others stand out prominently as white quartz veins. The Carboniferous stage of the mountain, two hundred and fifty million years ago, also produced colorful deposits of crystals and minerals.
Monadnock is the large bare-summit mountain visible from all over southern New Hampshire. On a clear day, six states are visible from its summit. The summit was wooded until the early 1800s, when local farmers set the mountain afire in an attempt to kill predators such as wolves and bears living in the tangled woods near the summit. With the vegetation destroyed, the thin soil quickly eroded to bare rock. A few facts about Monadnock:
- Monadnock is an Algonquin Indian name. One interpretation is that it is from man-ahdin-auk or Extraordinary Mountain Place. Allan Chamberlain in "Annals of the Grand Monadnock" lists 22 different spellings of "Monadnock" including 7 by the same Colonial official.
- Although most people call it "Mount Monadnock", the U.S.Board of Geographic Names says it is really "Monadnock Mountain".
- The official survey point at the summit is not the brass disk but the drill hole in the middle of the triangle next to it, and neither is on the highest rock.
- Land on the upper mountain is owned by the Town of Jaffrey, State of New Hampshire, and Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and trails are managed by Monadnock State Park.
- Monadnock is reputedly the second most-climbed mountain in the world (after Fuji near Tokyo), with an estimated 125,000 ascents annually. The busiest times are Memorial Day, Labor Day, and late October.
- While the shortest hike up Monadnock is about 4 miles round trip, it is possible to do a loop hike of over 15 miles using trails on the park map without coming to the same place more than once.
- Local resident Larry Davis has climbed the mountain thousands of times, including every day of the year for several years.
- Monadnock has a summit elevation of about 3165 feet, or roughly half of Mount Washington at 6,288 feet, yet the first known ascent of Monadnock by white men was in 1725 or a century after the first white man ascended Washington.
- Henry David Thoreau camped for several nights on the mountain in leantos he built from trees and brush. If he tried that today, he would receive a citation from a park ranger.
- The first hotel halfway up the mountain was built around 1856. Various buildings at the nearby Halfway House location provided lodging from about 1860 to 1954. There is still a private residence just below this site.
- The trees are growing back, according to comparisons of present aerial photos with those taken in the 1950s.
- Monadnock has become a geological term for an isolated high point above a more level plain, often remaining after erosion.
- There is also a Monadnock Mountain in Vermont, just across the river from Colebrook NH, so if you buy a USGS "Monadnock Mountain" map make sure you get the right one!
Monadnock State Park
The major trails on Monadnock are maintained and patrolled by Monadnock State Park. Pets, camping, and fires are not allowed along any trail. In addition to private campgrounds in the area, there is a year-round campground at Park HQ at the end of Poole Road. Group reservations are required year-round, family camping reservations can be made through the central reservation number (603-271-3628) for the summer and fall and are first-come, first-served in the off season although the park rarely fills then.
A network of cross-country ski trails is maintained on the lower slopes. These do not utilize hiking trails except for portions of the Harling and Parker Trails.
In 2002, the state park service fee was $3 per person 12 and over. The approved 2003 Master Plan suggests fee collection at all trailheads and moving summer family camping to Gilson Pond but it has not yet been implemented.
Monadnock State Park Home Page
Topozone.com live map
With its 5,000 acres of protected highlands, 3,165-foot Mt. Monadnock was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1987. There are forty miles of clearly marked foot trails, many of which lead to the bare rock summit through unique alpine vegetation. Unsurpassed 100 mile views to points in all 6 New England states are the reward for a climb. A magnet for hikers, Approximately 14 miles of the trail system in the lower elevations offer great ski touring for the experienced cross country skier. This area has a rich cultural history and a tradition of providing inspiration for the works of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain and Abbott Thayer.