My favorite bad photo

I’m not much of a photographer. When my daughter gave me a digital camera eight years ago and consigned my little plastic 35mm Polaroid to the junk drawer, I soon discovered my favorite aspect of digital cameras: the delete button. No more paying to develop film with 24 exposures but only one picture worth keeping.

Even the bad pictures can bring back good memories, though. This is one of my favorites, taken at Bald Rock on Mount Monadnock about ten years ago.

Bald Rock, Monadnock State Park, NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Overexposed, lousy lighting, hard to see the intriguing and unexplained inscription on the rock: I didn’t get much right with this shot, except capture a special spot on what is so far the best day I’ve ever spent on Monadnock.

This was the day I realized that I could go to the mountain and not feel like a failure for skipping the summit. I sat by this rock and ate my lunch in regal solitude. I felt absolutely no need to join the crowd I saw on the peak above me. With a breeze and a view and a PB&J, I had everything I needed.

Trips to Monadnock don’t always work out that way for me. Last time I went, I kept moving up the Pumpelly trail despite a sore knee. The pain finally got so bad I had to turn around, hobbling slowly downhill, not getting to my car until well after sundown. On another day, a beautiful December afternoon, I dawdled on the summit and figured I’d make up some time on the descent. Bad move. I lost my footing, fell down hard, and slid on my back headfirst, certain that I was going to crack my skull on a rock. Instead, my backpack took the hit, which was more luck than I deserved. (Learn from my mistakes, folks.)

I’ve had good days to offset those misadventures. The day at Bald Rock beats them all.



Temple, January 1

I made my customary New Year’s Day drive out to the Monadnock region, deciding at the last minute not to do the fun little 5k race (walk, in my case) in Temple that would have set me back $20. Instead, I continued to the Wapack trailhead in Sharon. No trails or uphill work for me this day – lazy, out-of-shape, call me what you will. I did my 5k on local roads, blessedly free of traffic and ice.

Temple Road in Sharon; Mt. Monadnock in the distance

Temple Road in Sharon; Mt. Monadnock in the distance

It wasn’t a brisk walk. I kept stopping to take pictures. Most of the photos are unusable thanks to midday’s harsh lighting. I like this one, though. My route today was flat, except for the gentlest rise on Temple Road where I got a glimpse of Mount Monadnock.

Have a wonderful new year, with plenty of Granite State walks.

A New Year’s Day visit to Mt. Monadnock

I usually travel to Temple every New Year’s Day for the Peanut Butter Chip Chase 5k.  The drive from my home to the Wapack Range is beautiful, and I enjoy walking (not running) on Temple’s quiet roads. Today, though, I decided to bring in 2014 by heading to Mt. Monadnock for a First Day Hike sponsored by the good folks at Monadnock State Park. I chose a guided nature hike along the low and flat Parker Trail; the other option was an uphill hike to a spot with a good view. Each hike drew about twenty people, accompanied by guides from the park and from the Forest Society.

Yours truly celebrating New Year's Day on Mt. Monadnock

Yours truly celebrating New Year’s Day on Mt. Monadnock

I wore strap-on traction aids for my boots, and left my snowshoes in the car when I saw how icy the trails were. The temperature was about 15º, and I can tell you now what happens when you carry granola bars in your backpack on a 15º day: the bars freeze solid. (Three words for next time: inside coat pocket.) Lots of sunshine, though.

Heading out for the First Day hike

Heading out for the First Day hike

We were led by Meredith and Brenda of the park staff, along with a specialist in land conservation from the Forest Society. I didn’t take notes but soaked in what I could as they talked about forest management, wildlife habitat, and the history of the mountain. We walked at a very leisurely pace along the quiet Parker Trail. Half the fun was watching the kids in our group. A few of them appeared to be veterans of the trails. Others were wide-eyed and full of questions, walking a little unsteadily as they adjusted to having microspikes on their boots.

We were hardly the only visitors to the park, which surprised me. When I arrived at the headquarters entrance, the main parking lot was full and I had to proceed to the overflow lot. When I met Sue, the new park director, I asked her about that. “Oh, yes. We’re open year-round. Even on days like this, we get between 200 and 400 visitors.”

This is the third year that First Day Hikes have been held at New Hampshire state parks. I think I’ll be back next year.

Brenda of Monadnock park staff at reservoir dam

Brenda of Monadnock park staff at reservoir dam

New Year's Day fashion: boots with traction aids.

New Year’s Day fashion: boots with traction aids.

A path to take another day: Lost Farm trail.

A path to take another day: Lost Farm trail.

A glacial erratic along the way. Schist, not granite.

A glacial erratic along the way. Schist, not granite.





Pack Monadnock, before the summer crowds

Poor Pack Monadnock. Everyone takes pictures from it, while relatively few take pictures of it. This post perpetuates that gross injustice. I would welcome a reader’s photo of Pack Monadnock, since all of mine (taken from North Pack) are dreadful.

Location: Miller State Park, on NH Rt. 101 between Temple & Peterborough. Today: 40s, sunshine, clear day. A Boston day, as I call it whenever the skyline is in view. The gate to the paved auto road was closed, but the large parking lot was accessible, and it was full this afternoon. The entrance kiosk was unstaffed, but there was a box for the $4 park fee. (Yes, I paid. It would have been churlish not to.) Hikers were spread out on the various trails. I walked up the auto road with very little company, despite all the cars parked at the base. The fire tower cab was locked, but the stairway and landings were open for my viewing pleasure.

I set out today to walk south on the Wapack Trail from Sharon into New Ipswich, hoping to reach Kidder Mountain. That’s a lovely little hill, quite an easy climb, with great views. The trail section leading to it, alas, is currently a stream bordered with mud. Springtime, you see. A quarter mile of that was all I could take. Miller State Park & Pack Monadnock made up for that.

Gregg Trail: Wheelchair-Friendly, & Good Views for All

The Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield built two trails on its property in 2010 that are designed to be accessible for all, including people whose mobility is limited. One of the trails is a short loop around a wetland. I was there today for the longer trail: the Gregg Trail, 0.9 mile long, leading to a knoll with a view towards Mt. Monadnock. Other trails, rougher and more traditional, continue from there to the summits of Crotched Mountain.

Gregg Trail is wide, with an average 5% grade. Bring the whole family and take your time along the way. There are blueberry bushes all over the place, which of course did me no good today but should be perfect in July. Along the way, look east to the twin Uncanoonuc Mountains in Goffstown and the whaleback-shaped Joe English Hill in New Boston. As you approach the knoll, you’ll see North Pack Monadnock and Pack Monadnock to the south. Finally, as Monadnock comes into view, you’ll see all kinds of hills that will make you wonder what’s what – and fortunately, there’s an illustration nearby that names each peak.

No dogs allowed except for service animals. Sorry, Fido.

Head north out of Greenville center on route 31 and look for the blue Crotched Mountain sign at an intersection. Turn right and follow the road uphill about a mile and a half to the rehab facility, and you’ll see the trailhead on your left. There are picnic tables and a porta-john along with a map kiosk at the trailhead.

Summit of Crotched Mountain, from Gregg Trail
View of Mt. Monadnock from end of Gregg Trail

This is December?!

The weather forecast predicts some light snow tomorrow. We’ve had none yet in my neck of the woods. So it’s a Sunday, and probably the last chance to get out for several weeks, and I decided to go to Monadnock. That’s not a frequent stop for me, but I like heading there every now and then to check out different trails and to enjoy the views. I have NEVER been tempted to approach the mountain in December, but today’s conditions and temperatures were too good to pass up.

What amazing conditions! There were trail runners in t-shirts and shorts zipping past me at some points. There was mud, and skims of ice were forming where water flowed over rock, but the going was mostly easy. I ascended via Cascade/Red Spot/Pumpelly, deciding along the way to go clear to the summit even though that hadn’t been my original plan. I’d never been on either Red Spot or Pumpelly, and they were a nice change from the Halfway House and White Dot trails. My first 3 trips up Monadnock were on the White Dot, and I swore to myself after each hike that I’d never go back again — too steep for the likes of me, too crowded. Then I finally got smart and started taking other trails. What a difference!

The blazes on Red Dot could stand some repainting, but the trail is pretty wide and easy to follow, though it helps to have patience and a map. I noticed things I can’t really see when the trees are in leaf, like the birds that are chirping. I’m not sure if they’re singing just to delight me or if they’re making noise to warn their neighbors that there’s a noisy hiker coming. I also tried to capture some photos of the ground-level ice formations, some of which are quite beautiful.

I shared the summit with a grand total of 3 people. That’s December for you. I was once there on Columbus Day weekend with about 150 people. Three is better. The wind at the summit was cutting, as always. This was not a day to sit and enjoy lunch up there. I walked around for about five minutes, treasuring the quiet and the views, then started down to beat the sunset. It was 2:30, with sunset coming at 4:15. I had to scoot, so — big mistake — I resorted to White Dot, the most direct route back to my car.

I knew enough to avoid shiny rocks and the ever-growing icy spots. White Dot heads down rather precipitously for me. It’s bareboot territory today, and every Cub Scout in southern NH has probably scampered up at one time or another, but I don’t like this route one bit. I had a hiking staff, and I needed it to protect my knees. I walked slowly enough that one passing hiker asked how I was doing. (I assured her I was fine, just slow.) My caution proved inadequate somewhere between the junctions with the old ski trail and Cascade, when not once but twice I slipped in mud and went bumping and sliding until I hit good solid pieces of granite. The first fall was annoying enough, snapping my hiking staff. The second one was downright humiliating. I was grateful I had no audience. Of course, if I had really hurt myself, company would have been nice, but I know I take my chances when I hike alone.

Once I got up and brushed off what mud I could, my pace slowed still more as I babied a sore ankle. I got an uneasy feeling about getting back to the parking lot after sunset. I had all the standard dayhiker gear including a flashlight, but I always hope I won’t need to use it. As it happened, the trail flattens out as it approaches the parking lot, and I got to the car right at 4:15.

I will undoubtedly feel the bruises tomorrow, but the hike was worth the effort. I still hate White Dot, but that’s not the same as hating the rest of the mountain. I’d like to go back in the wintertime, after a good snowfall, and snowshoe all over the lower slopes. There’s a prospect to warm a flatlander’s heart.