Both of us have spent a considerable amount of time on Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, NH. The mountain trails are maintained by Monadnock State Park, while much of the land is owned by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests. We both worked there and we lived together at the base of the mountain in Ranger housing for several years before moving to northern NH. Andrew started cleaning toilets there in 1993 and worked his way up to the Chief Ranger position by the time we left in 2008. Lindsay began working there in 2000 while going to Franklin Pierce University just down the road. Before we were a couple, we were good friends and spent countless evening hours roaming around the mountain with other off-duty rangers. Andrew and others would get off of work around 5 and run off into the woods while Lindsay closed up the park store at 6 and ventured out at a predetermined meetup spot. Then we’d hike all over the mountain under the moonlight, perfecting our night vision, flashlights were optional.
If you’ve ever hiked the 2nd most climbed mountain in the world (Yes, it’s true), you will know that Mount Monadnock is overrun with people. The main trails are beat down to hard packed dirt, exposed roots, and rocks too big to move out of the trail. We could spend hours telling you stories about the people that came to hike, the crazy questions they asked at the toll booth, and the disturbing mess we’ve all had to clean up in the bathrooms. But, we’ll save that for another day.
There is a rich history on the mountain that is detailed in several books. The most recent is Monadnock: More Than A Mountain by Craig Brandon. Andrew’s picture and quotes are all over the book, but can you find the image of Lindsay? This book among a dozen others (like the Annals of Grand Monadnock) have pages filled with the history of the hotels on and near the mountain, the taverns that greeted hikers on the trail, and descriptions of trails that have long since grown in. This last piece is every Monadnock lovers favorite thing to do: explore old trails on Mount Monadnock.
Andrew is a lover of abandoned trails and we’ve spent countless hours all over (not just Monadnock) following openings in stonewalls and beat down trails, feeling for hard ground under foot and imagining different forest structures. If you’re skilled, you can wander anywhere and not get lost or at least know how to get out of the woods when you are lost. The bad thing about Mount Monadnock and her abandoned trails is that a lot of people look for them. So, if you hike off trail searching for the coffee pot, red cross trail, pumpelly’s cave, paradise valley, you are certain to find someone else. And they will be familiar faces if you hike there regularly. Most of the regular hikers know the old trails and hidden places and use them as short cuts. There are a few places however that are still a mystery to most. Trails that show up on only one very ancient map, or just a subtle reference in the Annals to someone making camp on one side of the mountain. We hesitate to write much more, but we will just throw a few names out there: Hazard Trail, Cottage Reservoir, and ….
Okay, that was a lot of introduction before getting to our adventure on Monadnock, but well, we’re going to be really vague. We can’t expose our secrets! We met up with our good friends Chuck and Lee at the Old Toll Road entrance. Lee was working the booth today so we hung around for a little while with her as she went about her usual business of letting cars in and helping a couple of teenage boys, that had just stumbled down the mountain, figure out where their friends were. Andrew got on the radio and called over to headquarters for old times sake. It was Saturday and the cars were filling up the lot so we started up the trail leaving Ranger Lee and Ranger Ted down at the bottom. We headed up the Old Toll Road and then onto the Sidefoot Trail, eventually taking the White Arrow to the summit and back down to Bald Rock to Noble and Sidefoot. We ended up doing about 7.5 miles zigzagging our way up to the summit and then back down.
Along the way we did a little exploring to a newly discovered abandoned trail that leads up to a rock foundation. Very little reference can be found in the history books on this one and we highly doubt anyone comes there on a regular basis; the 2 experts suspect it is the location of Fife’s original ‘tavern’, not Dinsmores as early history books suggest. We then made our way to another favorite hidden gem, the cottage reservoir, and listened to hikers on the trails oblivious that we were just a shout away.
The summit was crowded, as can be expected on a warm Saturday in May. We ran into Larry Davis (trip wouldn’t be complete without it!) but we were on a mission to follow the old Telephone line down (Telephone not the Telegraph). Chuck was asked by several hikers on their way up to the summit if he was Larry, that guy that hikes all the time, and Chuck’s answer was a classic, “No, I’m the other guy that hikes with no shirt and has long hippie hair. I only hike it 3 times a week.” We told them Larry was on the summit and the hikers seemed to speed up with the opportunity to see the “Legend”.
We followed the old Telephone line down to a steep cliff, then slabbed over to follow the telegraph line down to Mead Brook and the Muncy Trail (not gonna find that one on a recent map), and then back onto the Noble to the Sidefoot Trail.
Monadnock is a favorite hiking spot for so many people. Some like to hike the main trails like the White Dot, White Cross, White Arrow and obsess to reach the summit, while others prefer to take a more leisurely route on the Red Spot or Lost Farm with the summit just an option. The cheap visitors only hike the unmanned trails to save a few bucks on the Marlborough, Dublin, and Pumpelly (they are beautiful routes also). Once you’ve hiked all the trails however, and you’ve done crazy things like hike up at midnight to watch the sunrise, or “lace the boot” on the hotel side, or see how many times you can hike the Dot in one day, you start to wander off trail looking for interesting or noteworthy things. Andrew and I have hiked around so many times that we just about throw a fit if someone suggests we hike up the White Dot trail. The only time we did that was when a search or rescue forced us up that trail. We’ve both spent so many cold and rainy nights carrying people off the mountain that the main trails just start to lose their wonder. However, Ranger Andrew and Ranger Lindsay recommends everyone hike up the Dot and down the Cross from the headquarters, give yourself 4 hours round trip, no pets allowed on the mountain, be sure to bring enough water, carry in-carry out, you’ll gain 1800 feet in elevation, the rocks get slippery when wet, and it gets dark after sunset, have a good time!