Sunday, September 26, 2010

9-11-10 Mt. Monadnock

Hey, it's a nice day, why not climb Monadnock? Well, sadly, this was my only hike to date for September which had a number of gorgeous hiking days. Monadnock is a fun hike, however, and it was a beautiful day. This is a view from the junction of the Dublin Trail, which I usually use to hike Monadnock, and the Marlborough Trail, looking towards the last rise to the summit. The name Monadnock is the Algonquian name for this specific mountain but the word has become a technical term used to describe any mountain that stubbornly remains upright (because it consists of erosion-resistant rock) above a plain leveled by erosion (over millions of years).

Looking North towards Franconia Ridge which if you enlarge the photo you can just make out on the left center horizon with Mt. Washington a bit in back and towards the center. The high mountain in the center distance is Mt. Kearsarge (another Monadnock) near Concord, NH. The Ossipee Range is on the horizon in the right center of the photo. From the summit it was possible to see Lake Winnipesaukee as well as the Prudential Center in Boston, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, etc.

Looking due west into Vermont with Mt. Ascutney in the background. Ascutney is yet another monadnock. Mt. Monadnock used to be referred to as Grand Monadnock to differentiate it from Pack Monadnock, a lower nearby summit, but all through the late 1800s and well into the 1900s this was a popular destination for people in southern New England, Boston particularly, and a grand place to vacation. A road was built partway to the summit on both sides of the mountain and there were fine hotels around the base of the mountain. I've climbed Monadnock many times and early on it was of interest to me because Thoreau visited here fairly often from Concord (after 1840) and explored the mountain's natural history in great detail and his notebooks make references to his myriad discoveries. His great friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, accompanied him on a climb up Monadnock.

Monadnock is 3165' feet in altitude so it's close in height to the Moats in North Conway, and the other Kearsarge Mt. in Intervale, NH, that are roughly 100 miles to the north and it's interesting that many of the same plants found on the high peaks of the White Mountains are found here like this Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum)...

.....the Hares Tail (Eriophorum spissum)...

and Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago Randii). If you look closely at this photo you can see the leaves of Potentilla Tridentata, the three-toothed cinqefoil, and Mt. Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) all of which we saw around Madison Hut and higher on Mt. Adams. Not that they're remarkable, or rare alpine flowers, but part of a well identified plant community that's now a remnant of a old, old plant community that existed here thousands of years ago and now only exists in these island-like high mountain niches.

Looking at the throngs of hikers make this feels reminiscent of the summit of Lafayette on a clear Saturday. It's an interesting summit if only that it's probably the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mt. Fuji in Japan, or that's what's often said. Monadnock hosts some pretty good sized throngs and yet I've been here numerous times and been the only person for hours.

But on a clear, cool, autumn Saturday you would expect this scene and enjoy it, too, as it's a great place to watch people, if you like to do that, and, second, it could be a lot worse.

Everyone was in motion and enjoying themselves. I liked looking at all the movement, Brownian Movement I guess you could call it, as the people, like molecules, became excited by the sun, clear sky and the views. Most of the many trails up Monadnock have an average round trip distance of 5-6 miles that can be completed in 3-5 hours,

This couple was able to find a secluded spot near the summit.

The phenomenon of large groups of people on the summit of Monadnock probably goes back to when some of these dates, like 1808 in the photo below, were chiseled into the schists that make up the summit rocks. I spent a whole day once looking to see if Thoreau had chiseled his name here, or Emerson. I guess they weren't as tacky as some of the other summiteers,

If you look at the third photo back you will see that most of the summit rocks have inscriptions carved in them and a lot of them are from the 19th century which is a mystery to me. There is no sign of such an activity, on such a scale, elsewhere in the mountains of New England, at least that I know of.

Erosion comes in other forms besides chisels.

Monadnock is a phenomenon of smoothed rocks. Some of them on the southeast side of the summit are great for bouldering.

This one looks a bit like a sculpture by Henri Moore.

Lost in thought, I guess.

Glacially smoothed.

Afternoon light on the trail down....

and in the woods near the bottom.

Stonewalls around Mt. Monadnock remind you that this was a rich agricultural area 200 years ago and the primary "crop" was Merino sheep. In fact the summit of Monadnock and the reason it's so barren still is because of two great fires, in 1800 and around 1818, that were set by farmers to create open grazing for the sheep on the upper slopes. The second fire was reported to have burned for weeks and consumed everything that would burn including the soil. It's often stated but more so in recent history that the second fire was set to destroy wolves that were reported living near the summit, or perhaps that was used as an excuse. At any rate, we can see balsam firs and red spruce making a come back along with the herbaceous plants growing higher and higher and closer to the summit of Monadnock just as we have seen on the more northern peaks.

An interesting note about Merino sheep and this area of New Hampshire, and it would be more fitting in a semester-long college class, is that a mating pair of Merinos was stolen from Portugal about the time of the the American Revolution by two men who lived in Portland, ME. They brought them to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to avoid getting caught by customs agents. Just the tale of how they stole the sheep is exilarating, but once they started breeding them in this region of New Hampshire the landscape changed dramatically as forests were cleared and stonewalls were built to contain the sheep and to meet the rapidly growing market for Merino wool. Eventually the entire New England landscape (not to mention Scotland and northern England) was transformed so that only a small percentage of the land was left wooded, more or less the opposite of today. Merino wool is making a comeback at the moment and is being grown intensively in Australia and New Zealand but could easily be grown here again. Just a thought.

Ferns at the end of the trail.

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