As I sat down to write this blog post, my first thought was:
“Crap. I need the power cord to my laptop. I’m not sure I can get up to get it.”
Luckily, it was next to the bed (yes, I type this from the bed, because it’s an oven here in Boston and my bedroom is the only room with AC. That’s how we do it up here in the north).
But then I thought:
“I need my phone” (for photos)
“I need my camera” (for better photos)
“I need a glass of water” (because, well, read on)
“Well, I guess if I get all three an once, I can justify getting off this bed. Just hope my legs agree.”
Because, damn, y’all. I just got my ass kicked by a mountain.
Let’s back up a bit. Those who follow me on the socials may know that I’m heading out west later this summer to feed my addiction to epic views. Naturally, I am both excited and nervous about this, because, well, the mountains out there…let’s just say they are a wee bit taller than even the tallest we can muster here in New England. And, well, if today’s adventure is any indication, I might have some issues climbing them.
Mt. Monadnock is legendary in these parts. In fact, I met a bunch of visiting teachers on the hike, from all over the country, and they said “We had to hike THE mountain, right?” To which I agreed.
This wonderful little trail connection moment happened just past the 2 mile mark, when I was still filled with joy and bonhomie prompted by my first glimpse of a view and a relatively easy…well…tolerable hike.
Whoops, getting ahead of myself again.
Mt. Monadnock = legendary; it’s one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. Check. Mt. Monadnock = moderate to difficult to hike, which translates to, for 98% of the population, “holy-hell-this-is-tough-i’m-gonna-die-will-I-ever-get-to-the-top?”.
I encountered many of the 2% on this hike. You know, the folks whose steady, upward cadence never varies (even when they just hiked the same section that you basically crawled up and are now “admiring the view” from the nearest rock while sucking oxygen frantically into your lungs) or who glide down over the boulders as if the boulders were water and their boots were Jesus. This while you are sliding down the boulders on your butt in order to avoid, well, dying.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m in the 98%. I’m with the poor lagging teenager who, when I told him there was a nice view up where his friends were, pleaded “is it the summit?” I had to tell him it was nowhere near it. 😦
I suspect I might be in the bottom of the 98%, because I struggled mightily on this hike. I took the Birchtoft (no that’s not a typo) route, mostly because I’d read it’d be less crowded, and it was about 7 miles roundtrip with some difficult sections, which is what I wanted to try to get my hiking legs a little more under me before I go west.
But, enough exposition. Let’s get to the narrative.
It’s worth pointing out that I woke at 5am for this adventure. Just so you know I’m committed.
I reached the parking lot around 8am, and was greeted by a super-friendly ranger who did his best to make sure I understood that A) it was cold on the summit and B) I’d better bring lots of water. I assured him I had both of those covered, plus a poncho in the case of rain, a first aid kit, a multi-purpose tool, a map, a combo whistle/compass/thermometer, and someone back in Boston who was on standby to call him if I didn’t check in at the appropriate time. Hashtag responsible solo hiking for the win.
Birchtoft was pretty easy (it’s rated a 2 for difficulty) – just a nice 2 mile stroll in pretty woods with the occasional hill. Oh, I won’t lie, it got my heart rate going, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It started off so hopefully – 3.4 miles ain’t that bad, right?
But then…Birchtoft ends and eventually links up with the Red Spot Trail, aka Satan’s trail (not really, I just made that up).
The last 1.4 miles of this hike, in a word, completely slayed me. The steep part started off ok. I mean, this doesn’t look THAT bad. Plus, the ferns!
But after a few of these teasers, the “trail” became basically nothing more than giant granite boulders strewn on a slope that felt like more than a 45% angle. But by far the worst, worst moment was when I trudged up a rock face, thinking I was near the summit, and saw that, no, I was not, in fact, anywhere near it.
I might have said some bad words at that point.
Standing there, I honestly considered turning around. I was miserable. I felt like such a loser, unable to climb a mile of rocks without my legs shaking and my heart pounding. The 2%, and several of the higher-level 98%ers, were passing me by. I had to stop and rest every few feet, it seemed. It was both pathetic and not a lot of fun.
I almost turned back about 50 times over the next 1/2 mile, a scramble over granite slabs and cool little tidepool-like puddles, on the way to the summit. But eventually, I made it.
The payoff of Monadnock, at 3166 feet, well above the tree line, is 360 degree views of six states. It’s pretty epic. Admittedly, I was shredded, and found my way to a comfy rock recliner and sat there sucking down water and eating trail mix before I had much energy to enjoy the views. It was also very, very cold and windy. I’m happy to report that my new hiking shirt performed admirably.
And did I mention the views?
Just after taking the requisite squinty selfie, I turned to the east (once on the summit, it’s easy to miss the trail…I ,however, was prepared and knew my landmarks as well as used my compass) and sobbed inside at the thought of clamoring DOWN those horrible, horrible rocks. I mean, I like downhill as much as anyone, but I haven’t developed enough trust in my own legs to skip down at a fast clip, letting momentum take me. I’m still convinced that momentum is gonna kill me, so it was a long slog. I mean, really, does that look like a TRAIL to you?!
I did swear a bit. I did crush the dreams of a few upward bound folks who asked hopefully if they were near the summit. I did grab a few trees, and slid down a few rocks on my butt. I did wonder if my legs would hold out long enough.
And yet, I managed to make it to the bottom in one piece, with no ankles rolled and no knees scraped. The sign at the base said hikers should allow 6 hours for the hike, and I finished in about 6:15. So I guess I didn’t do too bad.
And now, I sit on my bed in Advil-induced bliss, after stopping for a meatball sub (the best one I’ve ever eaten, period), taking a long, glorious shower (seriously, a post-hike shower is one of my top five things in life), and attempting to replace all the sweat I lost with copious glasses of water. Sadie’s snoring beside me; I missed her on this hike (dogs not allowed). I haven’t moved from the bed in a while, and I feel pretty good. Mid-way through those rocks (in both directions), I seriously wondered if I’d ever hike another mountain again. Back down at sea level, I know I will, but I think I might stick to the more moderate stuff.