Monday, October 2, 2017

NH M-M Sections 20b-21 Little Monadnock & Gap Mountain

Really nice job on the metal signs.
Day 2 of the New Hampshire M-M Trail started at Widow Gage Town Forest in Fitzwilliam and I meant to stop after the Troy road walk, leaving Gap Mountain for Day 3. But by the end of the day I had done both hikes and was at the foot of Mt. Monadnack.

"Curved stone wall"
Clearly a lot of love has gone into Widow Gage Forest by the Fitzwilliam Conservation Commission. They have an excellent trail map to go along with the well-marked trails. Landmarks labeled on the map include "curved stone wall" and "massive rock pile" so you have something there to look forward to. They've installed nice custom metal signs, too. Nicely done.

You got It! (Also, I feel loved.)
Before long, the access trail meets back up with the M-M Trail and the slow climb up Little Monadnack begins. This way up wasn't steep at all. This was a coffee-sipping stroll. I looked forward to getting to the top and finally getting some views.

Morning stroll up the mountain
And the view of  Mt. Monadnock from the summit was well worth it. The last view of the mountain was at the Richardson-Zlogar cabin, and the trail is definitely a lot closer to the finish line than it was then. How exciting!

Little Monadnock summit. 

Rhododendron S.P.
There's a trail junction at the summit with a steep trail that leads down to Rhododendron State Park. That's another option for accessing the M-M Trail. The next day we stopped at the state park  on our way home to see the rhododendrons and it was well worth it. There's an expansive 16-acre grove of Rosebay Rhododendron, perfectly wild and natural and not something you normally see out hiking in New England.  This species is huge for a rhododendron, growing up to 30 feet tall. We have one planted on the north side of our house where it gets almost no sun. Even so, it's about eight feet from the ground to our lowest window, yet we still have to cut the rosebay back hard every few years.  At the state park, you walk through areas that are essentially rhododendron tunnels. 

It must be amazing when it's in bloom. The only other time I've seen wild Rosebay Rhododendron in New England was in Patchaug State Forest in Connecticut, where it was growing in a swamp and a boardwalk takes you through the grove. Although the grove in New Hampshire wasn't exactly swampy, it was low and probably gets a lot of water seeping out of Little Monadnock.

Well-weathered summit marker
Up at the top, there were striking clumps of mountain ash berries only a few feet from the summit marker. Mountain ash makes me think of the White Mountains further north. It's not something I see hiking in Connecticut. It's something I see on vacation.

Mountain Ash
Hiking with the cast on was working out OK. I was worried my hand would swell up or something and I'd have to bail out, but it was good. Better than being at work trying to type. As long as I didn't have any scrambles, the cast didn't interfere with hiking too much. I will note that wrists are highly underrated. You don't realize how well they rotate your hand into the correct position to do things like turn door knobs or put a cell phone in your pocket until you can't move your wrist.

Hiking with a cast. 
After the summit, there were a few more views, like the one below. Notice how the ledge drops off steeply and how far down the tops of the trees are off to the left. Where the trail was headed.

Another view, with the trail going straight down the ledge.
I walked down the ledge OK (good thing it wasn't wet), until the last fifteen feet or so, which was a seemingly impossible scramble. Sure, my 20-year-old cast-less self probably would have laughed at this, but it hasn't been the 1980's in a very long time.

It's steeper than it looks, I swear. That's my pack at the bottom.  
I sat at the top of this scramble for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out how to get down without breaking a leg. Never make a rash decision out in the middle of nowhere, right? I rolled my pack down, and was then fully committed. But I still couldn't figure it out. The rock was smooth and mossy and slick with pine needles and leaves. And I couldn't use my right hand to grip anything. This was the worst scramble of the entire NET, and I went down the Chauncey scramble before it was rerouted, so that's saying something. But the Chauncey scramble actually had nice squared places to put your toes and hang on with your hands once you studied it. This had nothing.  I didn't even have any rope. I had visions of breaking an ankle (which I've already done three times, twice going out for the school bus and another time up a mountain like this one) and the embarrassment of getting hauled down the mountain. And then I'd be wearing two casts!

Looking back. 
I finally chose a spot off to the side, cleared out some potential finger holds at the top of the rock, then got on my stomach and slide down that way about four feet to a small ledge just a couple inches wide. I was terrified my feet wouldn't stop at the ledge because everything was so rounded and mossy, but they did. I halted there for a minute or two, carefully clearing leaves and needles off of the ledge, then finally made a move down to another marginal ledge, then another and I was down.  Oh thank goodness.  Later that day I opened up the M-M Guidebook to see what it said about that insanity, and it simply told hikers to "slide down over a nearly vertical, small rock face." Slide down? Is that a thing? Apparently it is. If I had known that was the normal way to get down and my hand wasn't in a cast I'm not sure if I would have tried it or not. I almost want to go back and try to master that skill. Almost. At any rate, that's a good spot for a bypass trail if possible. Next time I hike in New Hampshire I'm bringing rope.

Relieved to still be on two unbroken legs, I meandered on down the trail and came to the next challenge, which was finding the blazes across a very wide powerline clearing. It was kind of like a scavenger hunt. Are they down this way? Nope. How about this way? Nada. Oh, hey there's one. Ok where's the next one? The blazes were all on rocks and didn't go down the various roads and paths like I expected, but climbed up rocky features and then plunged back down into brush. It wasn't a big deal because it was still morning and I had all day and was in no rush. If dark was approaching it could have been a problem.

There are worse things than hunting for blazes in a beautiful area. 
Before long the trail came out onto a rough dirt road and followed the road all the way into Troy. The road gradually improved as it continued east and eventually evolved into Prospect Street.

Prospect Street, still a dirt 4WD road, passing a beaver pond
It was a pleasant morning walk down the hill. The scattered houses became more frequent as the road descended and approached Troy.

Upper Prospect Street

Concerned chickens.

Troy Railroad Depot, where hikers used to start their Monadnock climb.
Back in the day, people like Henry David Thoreau used to take the train to the Troy Railroad Depot, where they would get off to begin their climb up Mt. Monadnock. The train station is wonderfully preserved, although the doors were locked as I walked by.

Water Street
I turned east onto Water Street when I got to Troy. I didn't see any blazes on Water Street and it could be the trail technically goes up to the next street before turning east. The night before I had studied the maps and it seemed like there were a couple different versions of what street you were supposed to go down. This was the fastest, so that's what I did.

View from Water Street
There sadly didn't seem to be any shops open, but it was a Monday, and it seems that many of the restaurants and shops are closed on Mondays. I turned right onto Highway 12 and began following the white blazes down the sidewalk through a well-kept neighborhood. At one point there was a pickup truck parked up on the sidewalk and as I passed it a couple of older gentlemen leaning against the truck gave greetings and asked how far I was going. Everyone is so nice.

Highway 12
My plan was to complete the road walk at the end of Quarry Road and call it a day, leaving Gap Moutain for the next day before heading home to Connecticut. Shortly after turning onto Quarry Road, my husband drove up and I was able to ditch the pack for the rest of the road walk.  He drove up the road and explored a spring house located where the trail leaves Quarry Road. The spring house protects the water coming up out of the ground and there's a hole in the floor where people can fill containers with water. The water looked pretty stagnant, though.

Spring House at the end of Quarry Road
I caught up with my husband at the spring house and it was only 1:30 pm. I didn't want to stop. My arm was doing fine in the cast, and Monadnock was getting so close. My husband was up for a hike, so he left me there with a lightened pack and drove off to the north parking area for Gap Mountain. The plan was this: I'd climb up from the west and he'd climb up from the east and we would meet at the summit and go down together. That way, if there were any steep scrambles like that "slide" on Little Monadnock, I wouldn't have to do it alone in a cast.

Spring House
Gap Mountain was a much steeper climb than the ascent up Little Monodnock had been earlier in the day, and the afternoon sun was beating down on the west side of the slope. My photos turned out to be nothing but sun glare and deep shadows. The cast on my arm was getting itchy. I began to question my judgement at continuing on when I was in such couch-potato physical condition (in my defense, I was lame for the past year). But Monadnock! 

Wolf trees and stone walls from an old farm.
Gap Mountain appears to be a very popular place to hike, although not on Mondays in September because I only saw one other set of hikers the entire day. A huge amount of work has gone into improving the trail and addressing erosion, with a number of stairs and water bars in the steeper areas. 

Signs of former farmland abounded, especially rock walls lined with big old wolf trees from when the land was an open pasture. About half way up there were the skeletal remains an old apple orchard interspersed with pioneering gray birch. 

Old apple orchard converting back to forest.
After several stops to catch my breath as the path steepened towards to the top, it leveled off and opened up. Wow. What a joy to reach the first summit! Look at Mt. Monadnock, no longer off in the distance, but right there.
Middle Summit - Wow!
After snapping a few photos I continued on to the north summit, which was very close by and easy to get to. The view was even better. Holy cow. No wonder a lot of people climb Gap Mountain.
North Summit - Even better!
I was still taking pictures when my husband joined me at the top. Great timing! That worked out well. We lingered for twenty minutes or so just enjoying the view, the cool fall breeze, and the warm sun. Then we headed down the hill.

Winterberry at the summit
In contrast to the hot and sunny west slope, the east side of Gap Mountain was in late afternoon shadow and it was darker and cooler heading downhill. The trail was well-built and although rather steep, there were no major scrambles or spots with bad footing. A pleasant descent.

Some of the rock work at Gap Mountain

At some point the trail begins to be called the Royce Trail. I'm not sure if that starts at the top of Gap Mountain or what, but the local Royce Trail name for the M-M continues on up Mt. Monadnack a good ways before the M-M begins following the White Arrow Trail.
 Royce Trail = M-M Trail on Gap Mountain & Mt. Monadnock
I was surreptitiously checking the trail map as we headed down the mountain and ascertained that it was 0.8 miles from the north parking lot, where the car was parked, to Route 124 at the base of Mt. Monadnock.   So close!

Getting so close!
So you won't be surprised to hear that when we got to the parking lot turnoff I just kept going straight and said, "Pick me up on 124!"

Old pastureland
It was a nice last bit of walking along a well-used trail through the lush forest and before long I came out onto the highway. Whoohoo!  There's a pull-off where the M-M crosses the highway, but it's full of 'no parking' signs. So that's inconvenient. But sitting in a car for a few minutes seemed OK.

Route 124 and the foot of Mt. Monadnack P.S No Parking
There! All ready for Monadnock, which would have to wait until I got my cast off.

I was pretty tired that night. I don't usually get too focused on stats like mileage or elevation, but I added up the total for the day and it was 9.6 miles with more that 2,000 feet in elevation gain. That was a lot for this couch potato. So, so tired!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

NH M-M Section 19b-20a Greenwood Road to Widow Gage Forest

Welcome to New Hampshire, the Granite State! 

The M-M Trail in New Hampshire is not officially part of the New England Trail. I believe the federal NET designation was originally meant to go all the way from Long Island Sound to Mt Monadnock, but the New Hampshire portion was ultimately excluded out of fear that private landowners would evict the trail.  Whatever. Same trail, different name.
New Hampshire M-M Trail overview.

My goal for our little New Hampshire vacation was to get from Greenwood Road near the state border to Rt 124 at the base of Mt. Monadnock. It's a distance of about 16 miles, which isn't too far, but there is a long remote stretch right in the middle as the trail traverses the long axis of Little Monadnock, and this mucked up my plan to split the trek into two 8-mile walks.  I decided to be conservative and leave Little Monadnock for the following day, setting Widow Gage Town Forest as my destination, a distance of about six miles.

Pretend this is granite.
My fractured hand was still in a cast from a fall just before the NH/Massachusetts line, but healing well, and as long as there weren't any big scrambles I figured I'd be OK hiking. It held up pretty well for the hike, but I did have a lot of trouble taking pictures. I finally abandoned use of the 'real' camera and just used my phone. But I kept dropping it and accidentally quitting out of the camera app.

Back on the trail! The first mile was in the woods.
There are no major features or parks between Greenwood Road and Widow Gage. Just lots of space and trees and gravel roads. We drove up from Connecticut on a Sunday and I was worried that I'd be sharing the trail with hoards of ATVs because so much of the trail does follow old roads in this area. Getting an early start can help, but we didn't arrive at the trailhead until 11:00 am. All was quiet, though, and I headed out down the trail through a lush and peaceful forest.

And then there was about three miles of road, mostly gravel
After about a mile of lovely forest trail hiking, the 3-mile road walk began. It wasn't a bad road walk, just a gravel road with a scattering of dwellings along Monument Road. Music pops unbidden between my ears fairly often and of course John Denver showed up singing Country Roads. It wouldn't stop. I think I finally sang along for awhile.

Cue up John Denver's "Country Roads"

Rt 119 - The end of M-M Section 19. 
The road was quiet aside from the occasional rooster and barking dog, and I didn't see any cars until I got to Rt 119. The trail followed the highway for about 1000 ft and then turned onto another gravel road. A pickup truck drove by and the driver waved.

County Road
As the trail turned north onto a 4WD road, a sign announced a brewing company further up the gravel road. "Riders welcome." Riding what? ATVs? Motorcycles? Snowmobiles? All of the above?  I had a feeling this would be a popular area for ATVs.  Still hadn't seen or heard any, though. I don't have any problems with ATVs in a rural place like this, I just don't enjoy walking through an area where people are riding due to the noise and the dust. The same way I don't have a problem with people driving cars, but don't enjoy walking along the highway as they go whizzing by. This area seemed like it might have room for everyone, though.
Dang. I forgot to pack my growler.
At one point I had to step off the 4WD road for a convoy of pickup trucks to pass. Each of the drivers waved politely as the trucks crawled by, and each truck had dog crates in the back. Looked like hounds, the kind of dogs that hunt by scent. My guess is they were hunting bear. In Connecticut, the only New England state without bear hunting, people routinely feed the bears (ie bird feeders) and freak out as those trained bears keep coming back for more. I spoke to a man recently who came out of the shower only to discover a bear had opened both the back door and the freezer and was munching a frozen chicken pot pie. He tried to scare the bear away but it just looked at him and kept eating. Occasionally these trained bears start following people around looking for food and even start to think about eating a stray hiker, as happened in New Jersey. I don't think that would happen here.  

Bear hunting convoy
Though the roads are not a bad walk, I was delighted when the M-M turned east off the 4WD road and headed down towards Tully Brook as a hiking trail. Before long there was a sign marking a "dry-shod bypass" that said I could follow blue blazes to avoid swampy areas on the M-M and the two trails would rejoin in half a mile.

Bypass Trail
It wasn't very wet, so I opted to stay on the M-M and take my chances with the swampy areas. I was glad I did, but it's pretty obvious that some parts of the trail get water logged during the wetter parts of the year and the bypass trail is needed. For the rest of the year, this is a beautiful trail, passing through mossy lowlands.
Beaver dropped a tree across the trail
There was beaver sign and I wondered if they were the caused of the swampy areas and feared the trail might be blocked by a beaver pond up ahead.

Mossy lowlamds
The trail skirted a big open marsh that's part of Tully Brook. Looked like a good place to see moose.

Tully Brook Marsh 
There was a trail register at the Tully Brook crossing. This a pretty remote area and there weren't very many entries considering the logbook was placed four years ago. I took a break and read them all.

On a wild moose chase.

Here are all the entries from people hiking the M-M or NET:
Pioneer Valley Hiking Club 11/2/2014 Started the MM in spring 2013. Almost there!

Patches 12/27/2014 Southbound M-M  (Monadnock to NET to CT to ocean) The trail markings have been awesome so far! 

Lara & Diane 8/8/2015: Finished NE Trail yesterday! 215 miles from Guilford shore in CT! Hiking 20 m to Mt Monadnock today & tomorrow.

Charlie & Bill 10/2/2015: Hiking the NET to Mt Monadnock. Started in Guilford, CT 6/24 doing two hikes a week. This is our 24th hike, almost done.

Nick C. 3-20-2016: Started in Guilford CT to thru hike the NET, now on to Monadnock to finish the M&M! 

Jeff & Judy from Warwick, MA 5/9/2016: Day hiking S->N from CT. One more hike after today to reach the summit of Monadnock. This has been a wonderful trail with both good/bad surprises. Hopefully the Long Trail next. Happy Hiking.

Chad & Beth 9/20/2017: Hiking NET - after today 18 miles left!

Trailhead Tessie from Shelton, CT 10/1/2017: Started in Guilford in Jan. 2012 before that part of the trail even had blazes. Broke my hand at the NH border. Sorry about the sloppy writing. Have a cast on. Gonna finish if it kills me. PS This section is great - thank you!

I had a little trouble finding the trail after it crossed Tully Brook, intuitively thinking it went left when there was actually a sharp right into the denser growth. One thing they do differently up here that I don't understand is the lack of offset blazes to let you know whether the trail is going left or to the right. If a turn is marked, it's with two blazes, one directly above the other. That gives you no clue about which way to look for the next blaze. Why not make the two blazes offset, which is pretty standard? At the Tully Brook crossing, an offset right turn blaze would have instantly clarified that confusion.

"Widow Gage Road." Notice the turn blazes? I didn't.
Upon reaching Widow Gage Town Forest (Town of Fitzsimmons),  I started seeing red markers for a walking loop, then the M-M joined an old road for a bit. I was looking for blue markers on the right to get down to the Widow Gage parking area, but they showed up on the left instead, so something was wrong there. Checking the map, I finally realized I had missed a turn and was no longer on the M-M Trail. Tracing my footsteps back a quick 200 feet, I found the missed turn. I had actually taken a picture of it a few minutes earlier, not realizing it was a turn, because there was a stone wall, cairn, and town forest marker. The double blazes alerting hikers to the turn were barely visible, and the aligned double blazes really don't jump out to hikers used to offset blazes for turns. Also, the New Hampshire blazes are about half the size of the standard NET blazes, and often faded. So although there are consistent white blazes along the entire NH M-M Trail, you have to pay very close attention to stay on the trail.

Photographing the turn as I'm missing it
I had texted my husband and he wasn't going to be there for awhile, so when I got to the blue trail I opted to take the longer option and go around the loop counterclockwise. The trail map showed a beaver pond and scenic overlook, as well as the "Whitcomb Cellar Hole" in that direction

Taking the long way. Love the metal signs.
Who was the Widow Gage? Who were the Whitcombs? I don't know, but it's a lovely town forest, with well-marked trails.

Whitcomb cellar hole - Blue Trail
I had wondered if I shouldn't try and make it over Liitle Monadnock that afternoon. It didn't look that far on the map. But it was close to 3:00 pm with sunset around 6:00 pm and my hand was in a cast.  If anything went wrong, darkness would be upon me. Instead, I took my time and enjoyed the Widow Gage property.

Beaver Pond - Blue Trail

Beaver Pond - Blue Trail
At the parking area, a note in the kiosk gave the street address, 668 Rhododendron Road, and there was a street number nailed to a tree out at the road entrance. This is a great idea. Emergency response systems tend to be based on street addresses, as do gps devices (try getting an Uber ride to a trailhead). Yet parks and trails don't normally have addresses assigned to them.

A trailhead with a street address!

This bit of information turned out to be pretty handy when I discovered my ride was waiting for me at Rhododendron State Park instead Widow Gage Town Forest. I was able to text a street address for clarification.

*Note that for the New Hampshire posts I'm going to use the sections as defined in the M-M Guidebook, but you should be aware there's a website for the NH M-M trail that uses different section numbers, with Section 1 beginning at the Massachusetts border. This post covers Sections 2 & 3 as defined there.