Wednesday, October 18, 2017

NH MSG Sections 1b-2a Old Troy Rd to Eliza Adams Gorge

Map box at the Old Troy Road parking area
The morning after completing the NET/M-M Trail by climbing up Mt. Monadnock, we were packing our bags getting ready to head back to Connecticut, and I said, "This is the last of our vacationing this year. Do we really want to race back to Connecticut?" We didn't. So after the packing was done, I continued walking the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway while my husband set off to try out an old golf course in Dublin.

The first Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway sign
What I really wanted after a day on Monadnock was to stretch my legs and just relax and walk without having to concentrate on the footing. The next five miles on the MSG fit the bill perfectly. It was a breeze.

Ground Pine and mossy rock line the trail
I had never heard of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway until I began researching the New Hampshire section of the M-M Trail. The name is long and awkward and I've seen it shortened to MSG, M-S Greenway, M-S Trail, and MSG Trail.  The most common seems to be MSG, so that's what I'll use, while trying not to think of the food additive.

Well, this is nice. It's so flat and even. 
The term"greenway" can be a little confusing. A greenway was originally meant to be a corridor of protected green space, sometimes with a trail through it, typically in an urban or suburban setting. There are greenways with no trails.  But in some areas and for some people, the term greenway evolved to be synonymous with trail, especially where a major trail dominated a minor green corridor, like a rail-trail. So a greenway can mean either a preserved natural area or a trail depending on where you live and who you're talking to. Confusing. But whatever it's called, it's a lovely trail.

Sign board in the middle of nowhere
I had picked up an MSG trail map at a book store in Keene a few days prior, you know, just in case, so I was prepared. Don't know if I'll hike the rest of this trail, but I would love to. It has shelters and is more set up for backpacking, something I wasn't able to do this year due to injuries.

Is there a name for the route from Long Island Sound to Mt. Sunapee other than the awkward NET/M-M/SWG?   Sound-Sunapee route? Does anyone even hike from the Sound to Sunapee?

Pond seems to be flooded

"Dam every culvert", the beaver's creed. 
The trail was well marked and well-traveled and peaceful.  The M-M Trail in New Hampshire was very spare, with a minimalist's approach to blazes and signs. There was always a little blaze where you needed one, and no more. Here the blazes were bolder, easier to pick out at a distance, and there were a number of trail signs.

We're back to hand-made signs :)

Following old woods roads

Glossy Buckthorn, an invasive shrub thriving under powerlines

Trail section protected by an easement
After several miles of easy walking, the trail passes by the first shelter. There are several shelters along the way to Mt. Sunapee, although no fires are allowed. This one came equipped with a book of Irish Fairy Tales.

Spiltior Shelter

Irish Fairy Tales??

Such a beautiful day
The highlight of this hike was the scenic Howe Reservoir and the gorge. The water in the reservoir came to a high, narrow dam, then crashed over the top and dropped into the gorge with an impressive roar.

Howe Reservoir

Howe Reservoir
The trail crossed over the raging water via a two part bridge and then rambled on up the hill.

Interesting bridge over Eliza Adams Gorge

Eliza Adams Gorge, without the roaring sound
And then it was just bit further through a sunny area that's been recently logged before arriving at Brown Road, the designated pick up point.

Logged area
According to the MSG map, Brown Road is at Mile 6.8 along the trail, and the summit of Sunapee is at Mile 48.0.  Well, it's a start, and I have something to look forward to next year perhaps.

Brown Road

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

NH M-M Section 22: Mt. Monadnock, the Grand Finale

Mt. Monadnock in morning sunlight with bright fall leaves
Mt. Monadnock from our Airbnb apartment
(Click photos to enlarge)
Last day on the New England/M-M Trail! As we strolled out of our Airbnb apartment with a breathtaking view of Mt. Monadnock and vivid October leaves, our host Jo came past and said she had left fresh banana bread right outside our door in the hallway. I went back in and grabbed the steaming hot bread and we devoured a piece of this unexpected treat even though we'd already had breakfast. Pretty sure we were going to burn off those calories.

Mt. Monadnock at sunset with ominous dark clouds
Monadnock from our Airbnb apartment the night before
This was our first time trying Airbnb and it worked out pretty well. Previously we had stayed at local hotels and had good experiences, but we wanted to try something different. For slightly more than we paid for a room before, we got a full apartment with a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom and a view of Monadnock. Nice!
Map of Mt. Monadnock highlighting the M-M Trail and Monadnock Sunapee Greenway
M-M Trail in orange (Royce/White Arrow Trails)
Monadnock Sunapee Greenway (Dublin Trail) in Yellow
The way up Monadnock was predetermined: The M-M trail follows Royce Trail up to the popular White Arrow Trail near the Halfway House, then follows the White Arrow Trail up to the top. But what was the best way down? I settled the question by asking Google, and was advised that Dublin Trail was a good choice. And, as fate would have it, Dublin Trail is also the beginning of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail that goes another 50 miles to the north to Mt. Sunapee. Sweet! If I went down that way, I'd have the first couple miles of that trail done in case I wanted to hike that trail some day.

Trees along the M-M Trail at the base of Mt. Monadnock
A gentle start on a crisp fall morning
My husband dropped me off in the 'no parking' zone where the M-M crosses Rt 124 and drove off towards the Dublin Trailhead. He had surprised me by wanting to hike up Monadnock, too. Usually he golfs while I'm out hiking. "Go slow!" I told him. "Make it last. That's what I'm going to do." I didn't want to feel rushed.

Trees with changing leaves along the M-M Trail
Fall color at the base of Monadnock
The trail started out easy and was worn just enough so you knew where it went without having to deal with erosion or crowds. The lack of parking on Rt 124 keeps most people off of this trail, and some of the maps don't even show it. The best place to park for the Royce Trail is probably the north parking lot for Gap Mountain, which adds an easy 0.8 miles to the route each way.

Quote from Henry David Thoreau seen at the Monadnock Visitor Center
Quote from Henry David Thoreau at the Visitor Center
From Rt 124 to the top, the M-M gets progressively steeper and the footing more difficult, so that by the end you are essentially rock climbing. The beginning was an easy morning stroll, but I still made a point to slow myself down. A quote by Thoreau stuck in my mind: "They who simply climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it."  
Golden hobblebush leaves along the M-M Trail
And at one point is suddenly struck me that as eager as I was to complete the NET/MM, I suddenly didn't want the trip to be over. I wanted to savor the last few hours and make them last. Everything was perfect. The day was crisp, cool, and clear, but not too windy. The leaves were at their peak.  The cast on my broken hand had been replaced with a much smaller splint that allowed me to bend my wrist and was far more comfortable.

There had been a hard frost over night and it was probably 40 degrees when started, so I had a lot of layers on. As I walked up the steeping hill, one layer after another came off. Finally I stopped and switched from jeans to a pair of shorts I didn't expect to use but packed anyway.

Old sign that says "Royce Tr. Metacomet-Monadnock Tr."
End of the less-traveled Royce Trail. 
The character of the hike changed dramatically when the Royce Trail ended at a major trail junction and the M-M began to follow the White Arrow Trail. Before continuing uphill, I took a turn on the White Arrow Trail headed downhill  to the site of the old Halfway House. It was much closer than it looks on the park map and well worth the detour. The sky opened up with views of the peak and the surrounded countryside below.

View of the top of Monadnock as seen from the Half-Way House site
Halfway House Site looking up at the peak

Old photo of the Half-Way House
What it used to look like.
At this point people were trickling up the popular White Arrow Trail. It wasn't crowded (this was a Tuesday in October), but I could just image the crowds on a weekend in the summer. Before hiking the New Hampshire M-M I had no idea that more people hike the Grand Monadnock than any other mountain in the world except Mt. Fuji in Japan and some mountain in China. For us, this part of New Hampshire was the drive-by section on our way to the White Mountains or Acadia.  Monadnock is popular in Boston, but in southwest Connecticut it seems most people have barely heard of it.

Vista from the Half-Way House on the White Arrow Trail
Vista from the Half-Way House site on the White Arrow Trail. 
Monadnock was a popular spot for tourists going all the way back to the early 1800s. The White Arrow Trail was cut in 1854-55, with the lower part expanded to a wagon road in 1857. A few years later, the Mountain House was built at the top of the wagon road, and Ralph Waldo Emerson stayed there. It burned down in 1866, but was replaced with a building that was gradually enlarged and renamed the Half-Way House in 1919. You wouldn't know that now unless you took some time to explore the edges of the clearing.  Which I did.

Black chokeberries at the Half-Way House site
Black Chokeberry at the Half-Way House site
The rock is heavily carved, and some of these carvings could be pretty old. The one below caught my eye. I can't figure out what the symbols mean.

Carvings on rock at the Half-Way House site.
The mountain is full of carvings
After that diversion, I headed back to the well-signed junction of the White Arrow and Royce Trails, and continued up the White Arrow Trail.
Trail sign that says "White Arrow Tr." nailed to a white birch with vivid fall leaves
It's all rock underfoot now.
From here on up the trail was completely different than the Royce Trail had been. That gentle trail had dirt under foot and wasn't eroded much. This trail was all rock. It started out with some attractive steps but before long it was all boulders. Boulders, boulders, boulders.  The deeply eroded trail looked like a dry mountain river bed.

Rock steps on the M-M Trail
First some steps...

The trail becomes a series of boulders to step on
...and then I think they just gave up on steps. Walk up the boulders. 
The boulders aren't so much difficult to walk on as tedious. I forced myself to go slow. No point in breaking an ankle. The boulders go on and on and on.

Flat stepping stones over a wet spot
Easiest part of the White Arrow Trail
But finally the boulders came to an end and it was smooth, sloping bedrock all the way to the top. That's when it really started to feel special and different. And the views began to open up. The hard schist underfoot was full of white sillimanite crystals a few inches long. The mineral was discovered here at Monadnock and named after Benjamin Silliman, a geologist from Yale.

Large flat rock with white sillimanite crystals
Sillimanite crystals taking the shape of Andalusite
The sillimanite crystals are actually in the shape of andalusite crystals. Sillimanite and andalusite  have the exact same chemical composition, but different crystal structures,  like graphite and diamond. When the metamorphic schist was forming at Monadnock, low metamorphic temperature and pressure resulted first in andalusite crystals. But then the temperature and pressure increased, and the andalusite crystals converted to sillimanite, while keeping the shape of the andalusite crystals. In geospeak you say, "sillimanite after andalusite."

Small rock plant surrounded by rock
Three-toothed Cinquefoil
When we were at the visitor center the day before, I took pictures of the wall displays pertaining to plant communities at Monadnock, which is how I was able to identify the tiny three-leaved rock plant which I had also seen at the top of Gap Mountain. My number one rule for identification of plants and animals is to find the most local key possible, and you can't get more local than the one at the visitor center.  There was a display for each plant community, including the, "red spruce-heath-cinquefoil rock slope" said to occur at elevations of 2500 to 3000 ft. The top of the mountain is at 3166 ft, so this seems about right.

View of the M-M Trail on open rock with a few trees and blue sky
Rocky ledge. It's getting dramatic.

Looking between rock faces and the countryside far below
Steep. Getting pretty steep. 
Monadnock used to have trees at the top until white settlers supposedly burned the mountain down a few times to get rid of wolves, which were eating their sheep. The thin soil washed away and left only rock. It's not a tree line based on climate like the one at Mt. Washington. Back when it hid wolves, people didn't much care for the mountain. Once the wolves were gone, people suddenly grew fond of the big rock and began climbing it.

M-M Trail on rock face with bright red mountain ash berries
Mountain ash berries brightened up the rocky slopes.
As the trail climbed, vivid mountain ash berries started to decorate the rock. They were all over.

View of countryside far below including Gap Mountain and Little Monadnock
Up and up and up.  Everything was a post card now. The trail map showed an Ampitheatre Trail crossing at right angles to the White Arrow Trail, but I was looking for it and never saw any markings.

Looking up towards the top of Monadnock, where people can be seen
Can see people at the top now. Heading for that notch in the center.
Climbing over a rise, the peak came into view and I could see people on top. And I could hear them, too...screaming teenagers. They were so loud and obnoxious.  I sat down and  took a break before that last push up. At this point I'd only had a few sips of my 2.5 liters of water since it was so cool out and I was going so slow, so I dumped most of it.  The last part was almost vertical and the weight of my pack would be pulling me backwards, so it was best to lighten the load. I also folded up the trekking pole and stuck that on the pack as well. I would need both hands for climbing. Finally, the good camera got packed because I was tired of it dangling in my face. As a result, I have no pictures of the last part of the climb, but here's a great one from the visitor's center:

Old photo showing a group of men and women climbing up the last section of the M-M Trail
1905 photo near the top of that notch
That last part was slow and I had to wait for some people coming down. They told me there was a class of middle school kids up there doing all the screaming and offered that it helped to keep some rocks between you and them.  I noticed how the people coming down were bundled up in winter coats, while I was perfectly comfortable in shorts and tee shirt. Although it was a pretty long, steep scramble, there was always a reasonable place to put your feet and hands and I never felt scared.

Then I got up over that crest, and that was it. I was done.  I had thought there might be more. Nothing announced the end of the M-M. There were just some markings for the Dublin/Marlboro Trail nearby, which is where the M-M ends. It took a moment to sink in. I looked around not 100% sure that was really it. It was.
The rocky crest of the White Arrow Trail
Cresting the notch and looking back

Panorama of the top of Mt. Monadnock
Top of the world!

Cairn marking the end of the M-M Trail and beginning of the Dublin Trail
End of the M-M Trail and the beginning of the Monadnock-Sunapee Trail!
Mt. Sunapee is in the distance. 
The screaming teens had thankfully left and the dozen or so people up there were just quietly soaking in the view. Gorgeous.

Gap Mountain and Little Monadnock as seen from the top of Mt. Monadnock
Gap Mtn and Little Monadnock look kind of flat from up here
And cold. The high at the base was supposed to be in the 50's and it was around noon, so maybe it was in the 40's there, but with a good wind.  My shorts and a tee shirt were quickly augmented by several additional layers. They say to expect the temperature to be 10 or 15° cooler at the top, plus a wind chill. That sounds about right.

Jagged rocks and low plants at the top of Monadnock
Exploring the top
My husband was still heading up the Dublin Trail with sandwiches, having stopped at the visitor center on his way over and starting his hike almost an hour after I did. So I walked around the top taking pictures for an hour or so. I never got bored.

Tiny pool surrounded by dried vegetation at top of Mt. Monadnock
One of several tiny puddles hosting Tussock Cottongrass

Thoreau was right when he said, "The great charm is not to look off from a height but to walk over this novel and wonderful rocky surface."  The top of Monadnock is so high relative to the land below that everything in the distance seemed flattened and faded, like looking out the window of an airplane. Even the fall colors were muted. The effect is an amazing backdrop to that rocky surface, though.

Mt. Sunapee as seen from top of Mt. Monadnock
Mt. Sunapee off in the distance
Eventually my husband joined me and we sat facing Mt. Sunapee off to the north while we ate our sandwiches. I started getting cold. I had more layers in my pack but didn't feel like putting them on, so I started down the Dublin Trail very slowly to get out of the wind while my husband proceeded to the very top to check out the panoramic view.

Trail sign for Jim's Junction: Dublin Trail and Marlboro Trail
Dublin Trail is also the beginning of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway
So. The M-M Trail was done and I was starting a new trail and a new adventure! I wasn't sure if I was ever going to hike the rest of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, but I could. Why not? Dublin Trail is also called the Old Farmer's Path and was the first of many trails built to the summit.

Open, rocky exposure on the Dublin Trail
Typical sloping rock for much of the Dublin Trail. 
The Dublin Trail was not as steep as the White Arrow Trail, thank goodness. But it was wetter, and there were places where we had to either walk through water or carefully step on the dry spots to keep our soles dry. Wet boots can slip on that rock pretty easily, so we were cautious going down. It seemed to take forever, but there were spectacular views for much of it.  There would be a flat stretch for 50 feet, and then another moderately steep section of rock to pick our way down. Over and over almost all the way to the bottom. 

Short flat stretches between rocky slides

There were a number of spots where we would get on our butts and slide and at one point a big hole ripped open in the back pocket of my cheap Cabela's hiking shorts where I had stuck my camera lens cap.
Very rocky Dublin Trail
Much of the Dublin Trail was like this. 
But eventually the rocky outcrops finally ended and we were able to stroll down to the parking lot on Old Troy Road. It was getting late and the sun was low. I joked that Mt. Monadnock was the old person's Mountain Washington, which got a laugh. We had done Mt. Washington 25 years ago when we were both a lot younger and thinner and didn't have various maladies of the knees and ankles and feet. Although the climb up Washington is about twice as high as Mt. Monadnock, I think the effort and time we spent climbing Washington in our prime was about the same as our older selves climbing Monadnock.  But hey, we did it.

Low sun shining through the trees
It's getting late. A full day of hiking!
We got to the parking lot at 5:15 pm. Almost 8 hours on the mountain. The parking lot was nearly empty and we had only passed a few people on the Dublin Trail.

Large empty parking lot on Old Troy Road
A very empty parking lot
So now what? Is the story over. No! The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway has just begun. Two miles down and 46 more to go!