Great day hikes near Boston: Hiking Mt. Wachusett

Today, for the first time in a while, I feel a literal spring in my step. Also a metaphorical one. For weeks now, I have felt strangely weighed down, either by my actual body feeling stiff and creaky, or my head feeling clouded into inertia. I’m not a fan of this feeling, which is why it feels good to write this post.

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The literal spring comes from my legs feeling like they finally got some use as I hiked up, down, and around Mt. Wachusett in Central Massachusetts this past weekend. More on the details of that hike can be found below, if you just came here for the hiking details and have no need to hear my philosophizing about life.

A lot of folks out there talk about the power of a detox – and I sort of feel like that’s what yesterday’s 4-hour hike was for me. It was a chance to worry about nothing more than a few immediate, real-time things:

Sucking in enough oxygen to keep climbing up;

Placing my shaky feet to avoid breaking an ankle on the way down;

Watching (and occasionally helping) my dog navigate her way down some pretty steep rocks;

Oh, and of course, letting the gorgeous blue/green colors of summer in New England wash over my pale, office-bound, city dweller’s body.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, and failed at taking a panoramic photo (see the really long and skinny photo I posted here), proof that I probably shouldn’t even have taken out my phone as I enjoyed a nearly perfect summer New England Day.

We talk of hiking as therapy, and I guess, in my case, it’s true. I definitely felt like I’d hit the reset button on my soul this time around.

Now, for those who are interested, here are details of this hike.

Mt. Wachusett is the tallest mountain (just over 2000 feet) within a relatively short (just over an hour) drive from Boston. I have a hard time making the trip to NH (for Mt. Monadnock or the White Mountains) in a day, mostly because of how much my dog hates being in the car (plus I am SO BAD at getting up before the sun when I’m hiking solo), so finding something with a bit of elevation a little closer to home is always a bonus. I hiked this hill last year but took a relatively short route that left me feeling less than challenged. So this year I scoured the interwebs for other hikes and found a good one. Here’s an abbreviated description – I recommend getting a map of the Mt. Wachusett State Park so you can either follow this or find your own route. There was a whole box of them at the trailhead, or you can download it here.

From Boston, take Exit 25 (140 South) off of Route 2. Follow the signs to the Mt. Wachusett Ski Area. Avoid the first parking lot you see and turn right onto Bolton Road to the main Ski Area parking lot. Look for a light brown warehouse to the right of the main lodge. The trailhead is right next to it.

Your first leg is on Balance Rock Trail (yellow blazes). You will, after a relatively short and mild uphill hike, realize why it’s called Balance Rock trail.

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There are lots of rocks and roots on this entire hike, FYI, so be prepared.

A little way beyond Balance Rock you’ll come to an intersection – take the Old Indian Trail. This trail will cross a few other trails, and also a few (4) ski slopes, and one summit road, but basically, just stay on this trail as it’ll take you to the summit. It’s about 1.2 miles long. There are a few places that are fairly steep, but nothing truly difficult, although if it’s rained recently, there will be mud and the rocks could be slippery, so it’s worth proceeding carefully. This was my first real uphill in quite a while, so I stopped several times to…ahem…catch my breath, but the good news about this hike is that it’s never the same challenge for very long. If it gets steep, it’ll flatten out pretty soon. Unlike a hike into the Whites, for example, you’re not facing 3 miles of steady uphill until you get to the good stuff.

Right before you hit the summit you’ll come upon a ski lift platform with a lovely view of a lake – if one of the gondolas is open for lounging, take it, and remember that these summer days are what make the long, snowy winter bearable.

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Anyway, the good stuff on this hike is 360-degree summit views that on a clear day, will show you the Boston skyline, the Berkshires, and Mt. Monadnock. The summit is likely to be crowded unless you’re hiking really early, but the views are worth it. Definitely make sure you climb up to the viewing platform and snap some pictures of the prettiness. There are plenty of warm rocks to grab a snack and a drink on as you soak in the views.

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There are several options to get down from the summit. You could turn around and go back the way you came, but I’m a loop person, so I chose a different way down.

Harrington Trail, my way down, gets pretty steep and rocky. It reminded me a lot of coming down East Oceola in the White Mountains. There were a few times when my pooch watched me slide down a big rock on my butt and gave me a look as if to say “I’m not jumping that.” Dogs should be on leash in the park, but on the hike down, I did let Sadie off occasionally because it was simply safer for her and me to let her find her own way.

This trail heading down was significantly less crowded than the Indian Trail heading up, but it was also later in the day so that probably contributed to the relative peace and quiet. Anyway, Harrington Trail will cross two “roads” as it descends, and you want to take the 2nd one and head right. This is West Road, and it’s flat and goes on for a while. I was getting pretty zen at this point, so I don’t know the mileage, but I’d say it’s at least a mile or a mile and half before you reach the gate marking the end of the road.

There, you’ll turn right onto West Princeton Road, which is open to traffic, so be careful. You’ll stroll along here for a bit, and then you’ll want to take a right onto North Road, also marked by a gate. This road climbs a bit, but it’s gentle.

There will be an intersection relatively soon, and you want to take a left onto it. This is Balance Rock Road, and soon you will find yourself back at the intersection of Balance Rock Trail. Take a left onto the trail and head back past Balance Rock to the parking lot.

I read that this hike should take 5-6 hours and is rated moderate/difficult. I would say that, unless you are with kids, stopping frequently, and/or having a several course meal on the summit, it’s more like 4+ hours. The total mileage was about 6.25 miles. There are only two parts I would call “difficult”: one stretch of Indian Trail near the summit, and coming down Harrington Trail. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy/moderate hike, with the benefit of a lot of different terrains so you never get bored, and plenty of flat strolling that allows you to just zone out and enjoy being in the woods.

So if you can’t make it up to the White Mountains, this is a nice alternative. It’s not a 4,000 footer, but it’ll get your heart pumping and give your legs a little challenge.

If you do this hike, let me know what you think in the comments! Have a great day, everyone.

A toast to the slow and average

I’m not gonna lie…I’m slightlyhugely addicted to my hiking and running tracking aps. I love logging my treks on MapMyRun and MapMyHike, I love trying to figure out my pace, and I love seeing what my (few) friends on the aps are up to. It gives me that little jolt of competitiveness: “oh, look, he/she ran/walked/hiked…I need to get out there and do it too!”

However, this also happens on a regular basis:

I finish a 2.5 mile run or maybe a 4 mile hike. I’m feeling good and proud of myself. And then my phone buzzes, and I see it:

So-and-so ran 5 miles at an 8 minute pace. 

Another so-and-so hiked 12 miles in 4 hours. 

Or Alex Honnold free-solos El Capitan.

And ugh, cue the wha-wha of a deflated-sounding trumpet. Because damn, I am SLOW!

When I first got into running in Boston, about 3 years ago, I figured it would be fun to find a running group. I stumbled on one right in my ‘hood, and I was excited, because they said on their facebook page “all levels welcome!” Then I started getting notices about runs with descriptions like “We’ll do an easy run on Tuesday. 5 miles, about a 9-mile pace.” A friend who was running a 10k said casually to me once: “Just train for an hour and you’ll be fine.” That’s basically a 10 minute mile, FYI.

I have been “running” for 3 years and the fastest mile I’ve ever run was 10:30, and I wouldn’t have minded getting some oxygen after I was done.

I am a slow runner.

The same can be said of hiking. I admit to being slightly terrified of joining a hiking group, because I’m pretty sure that their “moderate” pace would leave me gasping for breath within a few strides. It’s one of the reasons I like hiking alone, even as I’m lapped by children, dogs, and those incredible lean-legged mountain men/women.

I might be called an average hiker, whatever that means.

I don’t look like a runner. I don’t look like a hiker. And frankly, it’s easy to let such comparisons get you down. But to that, I’ve gotta call bulls#!%.

I don’t know the stats (and Google didn’t give them to me in 10 seconds of searching, so I gave up), but I do know that those of us who are out there hiking and running are NOT in the majority. We are a small percentage of the population. And again, I’m guessing, but I bet the slow/average folks outnumber the super fast folks. It’s just that the fast folks will win the races and get to the top first and generally be more visible (and usually less red of face and less out of breath).

And there is only one Alex Honnold.

So to my fellow 11, 12, 13 (or more) minute-milers…you go, friends! You are awesome and you should be proud of yourself.

To my fellow bringing-up-the rear/stopping-to-catch-your-breath hikers…keep on with your bad selves. You will get there eventually, and don’t let anyone ever make you feel less than proud of yourself for doing it in the first place.

To the slow and average among us, I salute you with my Nalgene bottle, and wish you happy trekking. I’ll be happy to high-five you as we are lapped by the gazelles at our next 5K, or stop to “admire the view” with you on our next hike. Anytime.

Zion 2017 Day 2 (20 of 32)

A Spooky lesson in confidence

There’s a thing that happens to fat kids. Or at least, it happened to me.

Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how hard it is for me to write the words “fat kids,” because they are so incredibly fraught with anxiety and shame. They carry – literally – a lifetime of doubt, of fighting to believe that one is still worthy of joy, love, happiness, even when one is overweight. I never, never, never, want any kid to feel any of what I felt as someone who’s struggled with weight my entire life, so it’s hard to even say the words.

For fat kids, everything active that “normal” kids do is harder. At least, it was for me. Pull ups. Situps. Learning to waterski. Playing soccer. Running. All of it.

Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, fat kids are as strong as other kids. But what they aren’t, or at least what I wasn’t, is as confident in their bodies.

It’s taken a great deal of self-analysis and deliberate, almost dogmatic self-encouragement, for me to accept my non-skinny body and still demand a great deal of it. I ask it to play volleyball, to run, to hike mountains, and in most cases, it obliges, albeit with the occasional protest.

But sometimes I am faced with a situation where – even though I KNOW I am a strong and confident 40+ woman who can do anything I set my mind to – I suddenly become that fat, timid kid who couldn’t climb the rope for the Presidential Physical Fitness test.

It happened to me this past week, on the tail end of a marvelous vacation. I’d hiked my way through Southern Utah, up “strenuous” climbs in Zion National Park and even up one trail in the pitch black of night. I’d done most of the trip pushing through a minor ankle injury that made every step a little more precarious. I wasn’t as fast as my hiking buddy, but I’d finished nearly everything he’d done. I felt good…happy, strong, confident.

And we were heading for the famous slot canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. For those who are wondering, a “Slot Canyon” is a narrow path that’s been carved into sandstone by flash floods and water flow over time. I’m sure they aren’t meant for man and woman to traverse. But because they are so magical, traverse them we do. Here’s a picture of a very wide and accessible one that we visited earlier in the trip.

Lower Antelope Canyon (38 of 46)

Now, I won’t lie, when I heard “Slot Canyon”, my knee-jerk reaction was to wonder if I’d fit; that’s the lifetime of being just a bit too big for comfort kicking in. Rationality indicated that I would, as did the eagerness of my hiking buddy to add this to our trip, so I set that foolishness aside and prepared to enjoy myself.

And for a while, I did. I had to suck it in and make sure I found the right contours in the rock to accommodate my, ahem, curves, but it was a riot. I was laughing and having a blast.

Then, we came to the first of two sections that required some climbing. I took one look at the height, did the math, and was instantly despondent. In the space of a moment, I was reduced to a trembling child, fearing, above all else, that I wouldn’t be able to do what the other kids could do, and that I would look foolish trying.

If you want to get to know Spooky Gulch and its tiny crevices, here’s a good description, but keep in mind that, on the advice of our shuttle guide, we were going the opposite way from what’s described in the article. This would wind up being a good thing in the end, but at that moment, it was a crisis for me. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to get up that first section. Certain of it.

My hiking buddy, who loves to climb and has complete confidence in his own body to get him where he wants to go, scrambled up like a monkey and then looked down at me with a grin. But I was flummoxed.

In the end, it took him hauling me from the top and a stranger down below giving me a boost, and then basically just planting his hands on my butt and shoving, for me to clear the obstacle. And all my mojo was gone. Shaky, embarrassed, filled with adrenaline of the not-good kind, I slogged forward. Then the 2nd obstacle appeared, and I heard myself, to my chagrin, whimper “I don’t know if I can do it” in a tiny voice that I hated to hear coming from my mouth.

With little choice, and his own brand of confidence, my hiking partner blithely assured me I that could, told me he’d help by anchoring my foot, and basically forced me up. Surprisingly, I popped through this one pretty quickly; I even heard another stranger exclaim in pleasant surprise when my head cleared the top.

After that, it was easier, but the residual fear of being weak – and all the scars of fat kid embarrassment – followed me through the rest of the canyon, so that I don’t remember much of it. I’m sure I missed some amazing pictures because I was so far gone into my head that I couldn’t even look beyond my feet.

As we cleared the slot and sat to have lunch, I fought the shake in my hands and the welling tears in my eyes. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the water valve on my water bladder. We faced another slot canyon and I honestly gave thought to bailing, right then and there.

But my hiking buddy just tossed me a bagel and told me how to switch the water valve without making me feel even more stupid than I already did. We talked a bit about technique, and he offered me his gloves, and then we set off for the 2nd slot, known as Peek-A-Boo. I discovered, to my joy, that we were going to go DOWN this slot, rather than up, and for some reason that seemed better, even though Peek-A-Boo was supposedly full of water, which had a lot of our fellow hikers freaked out. My hiking buddy was determined to stay dry, and I was pretty much resigned to getting wet. But I felt like I could handle downhill. I’m always on friendlier terms with downhill.

And then something wonderful happened. As we entered the slot, we tramped along a bit, and then came to a big pool of water ringed with sandstone. Ah well, I thought, it’s time for me to get wet. My hiking partner did this nifty thing where he basically plank-walked his way over the puddle, inching his way in a spread-eagled fashion. He made it look easy and quite impressive. As I looked at the pool and prepared to step into it, he suggested that I try it his way. No way, I said, laughing. I can’t do that.

Sure you can, he said back. Give it a try. Just don’t fall in.

So I did, and by God if I didn’t make it across. At one point, I was what felt like completely parallel to the pool (I suspect it wasn’t quite as bad-ass as that, but it felt like it) staring at the water, thinking “Man, this will suck if I fall in. ” But I didn’t, and with a whoop, I cleared the pool and stood up, laughing in relief. My hiking buddy was laughing too, regretting that he’d been too busy watching me (and hoping I wouldn’t fall in) to snap a picture.

And on we went. Eventually, I had to get my feet wet, though he managed to pull off some Spider-Man worthy moves and stay dry.

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It was a riot, and I was soaked and giddy when we finished.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the strangers who’d helped shove me over the first obstacle, and they were smiling and chatting with us and no, they didn’t laugh at me or or make fun of me for my struggles. When I thanked them for their help (again) they seemed surprised that I felt I needed to, even though they’d literately had to shove my butt up a rock crevice.

So, here’s the marvelous thing to learn from all of this. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. It’s that we are often our own worst enemies in situations like this. Everyone ELSE in that canyon figured I’d make it up eventually. Sure, maybe they felt a little embarrassed for my flailing attempts, but odds are, they were more worried about themselves than me. Even after watching me struggle, my hiking buddy kept pushing me to try stuff beyond my comfort zone, because he figured I could do it.

Sure, it’s a little annoying that I needed the external affirmation before I could get over myself. But how great that it was there when I needed it?

And how lucky that we did the downhill portion of the hike last. 🙂

Peek A Boo (1 of 1)

Peak-bagging in the White Mountains

Living alone can be wonderful, empowering, freeing, fun.

It can also suck.

Like, for example, when you’ve just done something fairly epic and you have no one who is forced, by virtue of his/her being trapped in the same space as you, to listen to you retell the story, adding the occasional “wow” or “uh huh” at appropriate intervals. Dogs don’t count, because, well, they can’t speak.

Blogging just ain’t the same. But we humans are nothing if not practical and persistent, so I will use the tools I have and blog on, because, dammit, I want to tell someone about my Saturday hike in the White Mountains.

I don’t understand my recent obsession with hiking lately, but luckily, I am able to indulge such whims without it negatively impacting my, or anyone else’s life; after all, the laundry left languishing on the floor at home is mine alone. Sadie would probably argue that her life is negatively impacted, being that she’s often left behind when I embark on longer adventures, but, well, I will just have to accept that dog mom guilt. Because I’m pretty sure the tortuous 7 hours in the car would have erased any joy she’d have gotten from the 7 hours on the trail.

Anyway, I set out at around 5:45am, with a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me. Driving in Boston early on a weekend is bliss; I zipped through town and onto the highway. The sun was rising to my left, the harvest moon was setting to my right, mist was rising off of various ponds and rivers; it was magic, pure and simple. A wonderful start.

I-93 is so eerily familiar – I drove it a million times in my youth. It’s still a little weird to drive by exit 23 without my car automatically taking the exit…but it’s only a little bit weird. I feel pretty remote from that part of my life these days.

Anyway, I arrived at the Edmands trailhead around 9am and it was already fairly full of people. It was a beautiful late-summer-not-quite-fall day, and I set off with a spring in my step.

A little background for those unfamiliar with the Whites: there are 48 “4,000 footers” up there, and those tall (for us East Coasters, at least) hills have been calling to expert and would-be hikers for hundreds of years. I was headed for Mt. Eisenhower, which according to most articles, is one of the more “moderate” 4,000 footers, because, well, I’m still building up my fitness and skill for difficult mountains. If I felt good when I got up there, I planned to bag Mt. Pierce, as well, about 500 feet lower and a mile and a half away, and then loop back on the Crawford trail.

This is the 2nd time now that I’ve been lulled into the idea of “moderate” by a White Mountain (the other time can be revisited here). And objectively, it wasn’t like I was scaling a vertical cliff. Nope, the first three miles were just…up. Sometimes mildly up, sometimes more severely, but unrelentingly, steadily UP. There were no switchbacks. The trail showed a lot of use, which meant it was full of roots and boulders and mud and so I trudged, waaaay slower than I’d hoped, up the first couple of miles. I stopped a lot. I was passed more than a few times, and I’ve gotta admit, with no one to talk to other than the occasional fellow hiker, I was a little bored.

But eventually, I passed a trio of older hikers who informed me we were 500 feet from something (I didn’t catch what we were supposedly heading to) and that put some life into my legs. And finally, I saw a hiker ahead of me get out his camera. Yes!

We emerged to a brief view of the brilliant blue-green that is the signature of the White Mountains. I saw no evidence of changing leaves, by the way.

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And then, I turned back to the trail and blinked. Gone was the boring woodsy upslope – instead I faced a cliff of wet, black rock. It’s a sign of how I’ve changed that I said to myself “FINALLY! Something fun to tackle!” and up I went, slowly as always, but grinning nonetheless.

After I cleared the slippery rocks, I found myself on a flat ! trail that was clearly winding around something…and that went on for a bit. There was a slightly hairy place where I was stepping over boulders that were part of some kind of rock slide, completely exposed and at the mercy of a fairly steep cliff to the right. I wished for hiking poles in that moment. A few more big boulders to scale and then I reached the junction of Edmands Path and the trail to Mt. Eisenhower’s summit, which looked pretty steep from where I stood.

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However, there were a few dozen hikers at the junction, and they were loud and chatty, so I lit out for the top of Mt. Eisenhower pretty quickly. It was a short trek up, about half a mile, and not nearly as hard as I’d thought; just some scrambling and long rock faces. I saw this view along the way…I mean…come on.

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And then, the summit, marked by a huge cairn and 360 views of the mountains, including Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, just two peaks away, looking tantalizingly inviting. The weather was completely perfect, which is saying something at a place where it (the weather) has killed people when it’s bad. But not today, it was sunny and windy but not too cold. So, so, so gorgeous.

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One sandwich and a bunch of water later, the gaggle of loud hikers had reached the summit, and I layered up and prepared to head down the mountain and on to Mt. Pierce. The trek down was as fun as coming up, with some helpful wooden ladders dropped in occasionally when things got too steep.

img_9557When I reached the bottom of Mt. Eisenhower, I found myself at a crossroads and had to get my map out. I set off along the Appalachian Trail (also known as Crawford Path), and had one of those moments that the chronically directionally-challenged among you will understand – even though I’d checked the map 17 times and confirmed with a passing hiker that I was indeed heading to Mt. Pierce, I still had that niggling fear that I could possibly be going the wrong way. So out came the map again, and this time I even got out my compass, confirmed that Southwest was the direction I wanted, and continued on my way.

Crossing the ridge between Eisenhower and Pierce was wonderful. Gorgeous views, easy hills. The biggest adventure on this stretch was remembering how to use the bathroom in the woods, which I’m happy to say I achieved without incident.

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Mt. Pierce was full of lovely views, too, but by this point, about mile 6 into the hike, my feet were starting to hurt, and I was feeling tremendous dog mom guilt, so I didn’t linger, and headed down Crawford Path, which is, for those who care, the oldest continually in-use trail in America. This path was basically a reverse of the Edmands path – a long, rocky, muddy slog through the woods that, I’ll admit, sort of kicked my butt. I’m pretty sure that every muscle in my legs rioted on me at least once on the trek down. I might have whimpered once or twice as the 3-mile trail seemed to go on FOREVER. It was also crowded, and several times I encountered lithe, gorgeous teenagers hauling giant boxes of supplies up to one of the huts, which of course made me feel totally lame for being tired.

However, I did reach the bottom eventually, only to have another 2 miles of road to trek before I got back to my car. I passed one couple who were talking about how much they couldn’t wait to take off their boots (YES!) and another group who asked me if they looked as bedraggled as I did (NO, they looked positively chipper…bastards). Despite my niggling fear that I’d again taken a wrong turn (even with multiple map checks), I did eventually make it back to my car, where I might have collapsed on the hood for a moment or two before violently tearing off my shoes and socks and nearly weeping in relief.

Then it was the drive home, which was made nearly 1.5 hours longer by traffic and other nonsense coming in to the city. By this point, the dog mom guilt was at its peak, but Sadie, the awesome pooch that she is, had not peed in the house and was super glad to see me.

However, going down the stairs to let her out that night, and the next morning, and the next night…yeah…ouch.

So, all in all, a good adventure. Can’t wait to get back up there and bag some more 4,000 footers. Thanks for reading and hopefully adding your nods and “uh-huh”s at the proper intervals.

PS: Summiting more than one peak is called, appropriately, peak-bagging, and it’s cool to say you’ve done it. I won’t lie.

 

When Mt. Monadnock kicked my ass

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.

Ahem.

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?

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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!

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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.

image3I 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?

Monadnock3 (1 of 1)

Monadnock4 (1 of 1)

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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?!

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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.

Maybe. 😉