Spring Equinox on Monadnock   Leave a comment

Almost a month ago now I got the nudge to visit the major peaks in the area — Monadnock (NH), Hogback and Ascutney (VT) — starting on Alban Eilir, the spring equinox.  Energy-lines and Native American paths have been in my thoughts since the new year, and yesterday I climbed through snow and ice to within bowshot of Monadnock’s stony peak at 3165 feet.  The mountain is a New Hampshire state park, and lies a short distance north of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, southeast of Keene and west of Jaffrey, NH.

Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, to distinguish it from other lesser monadnocks in the region, has the reputation for being one of the most-climbed peaks in the world.  Thogh my wife and I have lived off and on in the area since 1991, I’d never visited.  From what I saw yesterday, a summer climb would still be strenuous, but I’m glad that with the ice and cold, I had the mountain nearly all to myself.  Or, more accurately, the mountain had me.  All wild places have a presence, and the berg-geist or “mountain spirit” of Monadnock made itself known most of all in a listening silence.  I met just six other people, and all in the first half hour of my climb. All were descending.  After that, no one but the mountain and me.

The first leg of the southeast ascent rises gradually, just enough to get you conscious of your breathing.  The temp at this point was in the low 40s — it just looks colder in these shots.

M1-foot

The new season really is here, though a 4″ fall of heavy wet snow two days ago seemed to give the lie to that. When I left the ranger station at the foot, the sun shone through scattered clouds.  Ice doesn’t rule everything any more. A small spring had broken free of ice and ran across the trail.

M3-spring

The climb begins in earnest once the trail splits into White Cross and White Dot.  The trail map showed similar elevations and roughly equal distances, so I opted for White Cross.

M2-signs

Besides, to paraphrase Frost, “it was snowy and waited there.”  As the map warned, “trails are not necessarily marked for winter use.” Painted arrows and keys on the rocks often lay below the snowline.  Markers on a few exposed boulders showed  and the prints of those ahead of me provided enough guidance.  But I was mindful of the sky — a quick change could easily leave me lost in fog or snow showers, as the map also warned.  It was easier, not just prudent, to pay attention, because I was alone.

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Many states in the U.S. still retain versions of Native American place-names.  Vermont and New Hampshire bristle with them: Bomoseen, Skatutakee, Memphremagog, Ascutney, Monadnock.  The Wikipedia entry obliges with the following information about the mountain’s name:

… “monadnock” is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means “mountain that stands alone,” although the exact meaning of the word (what kind of mountain) is uncertain. The term was adopted by early settlers of southern New Hampshire and later by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg or isolated mountain.

As I climbed, the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees. No birds here, unlike at the foot where a few sang tentatively overhead. The higher elevation showed visibly in pines coated with ice.

M7trees

I didn’t wear crampons or any special footwear beyond a pair of good winter boots.  Only in a few places was ice a problem.  The snowfall of the day before was a gift — it coated the ice of thaws and freezes beneath it, and made for easier going.  The ascent continued to sharpen, and I remembered bones and muscles I’d forgotten about since late fall.

Vistas offered compensation.  Here’s the view to the west and south, during a particularly clear interval.

M6hills

White Cross and White Dot rejoin about half a mile below the peak.  I was tired by now, though I chuckled at the mixed message of this sign:

M8sign2

It was soon time to descend.  The rock of the final 500 feet was too slick, the weather worsened by the minute, and leaving now would bring me to the foot again before twilight.  Here is the peak over the treetops.

M9peakview

I’m including this final image, though it’s blurred, because this is the highest I climbed, and it captures the berg-geist in winter:  I have been here a long time, and I am still here.  You are flesh — I am stone.

M10Little ceremony — that wasn’t my intent when I climbed.  A few words and gestures to the trees, the sky, the rocks, the snow and brisk fresh air. The mountain, always answering, said nothing.

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