That’s stupid. There’s no reason to be nervous. I’ve climbed this mountain before. Hell, I’ve climbed harder mountains than this before. So what’s different? Oh thats right, I’m doing it alone.
Lets keep things in perspective. Its not like im about to solo climb the Eiger Nordwand (which would be awesome). I’m about to climb a relatively “easy” mountain, that is possibly one of the most climbed peaks in the world. Mt. Monadnock towers over the town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. It’s a small town of nearly 5500 people that also happens to be the home of this rather popular mountain. By all counts, mine included, this is not a hard climb. Because it isn’t a super challenging hike, it seemed like a good choice for my first solo climb. Never the less, difficult or not, it’s still a mountain, and I would be remiss if I didn’t have a plan.
I double and triple check my gear before I leave the house. I have everything I need. Actually, I have more than I need, but that’s nothing new. The pack (5.11 Rush 12), fully loaded out, weighs about 18 pounds. That’s not too bad. I have no intention of using most of what I’m carrying, but if things go sideways, I’ll have some options. Some of the highlights include, emegency shelter, first aid, cold weather and rain gear, my GPS, and the newest addition to my backpacking system, the GPS SPOT messenger. I’ve got enough food for the day, and if I needed to, I could make it last through the night, and my standard 3L Camelbak bladder. It’s more than enough.
It’s a gorgeous day. The sky is clear, and the temperature is a comfortable 80 degrees. With the top down on the Jeep, the drive is pleasant and takes just an hour. As I make a last minute check of my gear in the parking lot, I am reminded that the last time I came to see Monadnock, I was with my wife. We had just started hiking again, and I hadn’t really done much research into the equipment needed to make hiking a little safer. We didn’t have enough water, my pack was terrible, and forget about shelter or first aid. We’ve come a long way since then, and I was looking forward to tackling this mountain again, only this time armed with a little more knowledge and experience.
I start down the White Dot trail, which, with a gradual increase in elevation, winds its way to the first of many steep rock fields. It kinda feels like the staircase from hell. I try to manage my pace so I don’t burn out too early. I mentioned earlier that I’m not the most experience backpacker that ever walked the earth. This is true. I’m also not the fastest. I have plenty of time today, I’m on my own and its certainly not a race, so I decide to take a slow steady pace, taking each steep climb one at a time. It takes some time for my body to acclimate to what I’m putting it through. I take a moment at the top of each rock field, to take a breath and let my heart rate recover. Then, I press on. This is the first climb since Whiteface, which was nearly a year ago. My work with the trekking poles is sloppy and unsteady, but as I put more elevation behind me, it starts to feel more familiar. I occasionally reference my GPS (Garmin HTC Venture) to see how much elevation I’ve gained, but more importantly, how far I have to go. Im starting to see some progress as I slowly make my way towards the summit.
And then, without really expecting it, I hit the halfway marker. It’s nice that they put that there. It’s a little motivator to hikers that they’ve put some good work in, and only have to push for a little longer to get to the summit. I stop and take a knee, grab a drink, and send a Check-In message to my wife. It feels good to get the pack off my shoulders for a moment, but I try not to linger for too long. Theres still plenty of work left to do. Getting comfortable now is only going to make it harder to get moving again. With the message sent, I shoulder my pack and head for the top.
It’s my favorite part. It really is. It’s that part of any climb when you break through the tree line, and get your first view of the horizon. I have to half scramble, half climb a rock face to get to this point, but as I right myself on the ledge, I turn around and take in the view. Awesome. It’s pretty much why any of us are here.
While I’m standing there admiring the view I hear a bit of commotion from the rocks above. I make my way up to find a party of three on their way down stalled at a particularly slick looking slab. I make my way around and greet them. “How’s it going,” I ask. They are all just fine but the one having the issue is a first time hiker, and is nervous about coming down this steep piece of granite. “It’s my first mountain ever,” she says, “and I’m freaking out!” “You’re doing great,” I tell her, “Congrats on making your first climb.” She thanks me for my enthusiasm, but it seems to do little to assuage her fear of sliding off the mountain into the oblivion of western New Hampshire. I exchange pleasantries with her friends and move along.
Earlier in the climb, while I was catching my breath at the top of a rock field, I was passed by a father and young son. Not an uncommon occurrence for me, and as such, I thought nothing of it. Now, as I make my way up the last rocky third of the mountain, I see them again… Coming down. “Nice work,” he says as we pass. “Almost there.” I thank him and then it occurs to me, how the hell did he do that so fast? Up to the top, and back down a third, before I even reach the summit… I know, I’m slow. Im even ok with that. I’m just impressed that people can fly up these climbs like its some kinda stairmaster and get down before lunch. Of course they weren’t carrying any weight. Maybe that makes a difference. Maybe I’m just slow.
I can see it from here. I can see a few people standing on the summit, milling about, taking in the view. The climb from here is mostly granite all the way to the top. I follow the trail markers, stopping occasionally to drink and snap a photo, and finally reach the summit. Holy crap, there are a lot of people here. Its the down side to climbing this vastly popular mountain. Its mostly kids of late high school/early college age, a few couples, and some other solo hikers. I find a small piece of granite that provides some shelter from the wind, set my pack down, and grab a seat. I send an update message to my wife, and just sit and watch for a few minutes. A few kids checking out tadpoles in a nearby rain puddle, a couple just arriving to the summit, the guy on his cell phone.. This seems wrong… A gaggle high school kids joking and eating lunch, and the requisite photo takers. The backdrop to this scene is a beautiful early summer day in New England. There’s not much in the way of cloud cover and the visibility on the summit is in excess of twenty miles. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer afternoon.
There’s something I’ve noticed in climbing these small peaks. I have never had an unpleasant exchange with anyone I’ve met in these adventures. I’m sure it’s in part because we’re all out doing something we enjoy, but it’s more than that. I’ve met some real jackasses on the golf course, which is also an activity that attracts a lot of people. But here high above the parking lot, its different. There seems to be a certain camaraderie amongst those who choose to take part in this challenge. It’s not everyone. Sometimes it’s just quick hello as you yield the trail to someone coming the opposite way, and sometimes it’s taking a moment to encourage the new hiker that is trying to figure out who talked them into this, and how the hell to get off the mountain in one piece. Perhaps it brings out the best in us. Perhaps it’s this unique challenge that allows us to be friendly to our fellow hikers, our fellow man, even though they may be the very people that might piss us off in traffic for driving under the speed limit.
After resting for a bit, and having some lunch, I decide its time to get moving. I collect my gear, snap a couple photos, make my way through the crowd and head down. The rock up here can be a little steep and treacherous, so I choose my steps carefully, using the poles for support when I need them. I reach the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross trails. I came up on the White Dot as it is the fastest most direct route to the top. The same holds true in reverse, but I decide that a little change of scenery might be nice and choose the White Cross for my descent. It has its steep moments, but overall it’s not a difficult trail to navigate. The catch is that due to the usual June rainfall, the rocks and part of the trail are really wet and muddy. I noticed this a bit on the way up, but it seems this trail is a lot wetter. People will tell you that most accidents on mountains happen on the descent, so care should be taken as you make your way down. This is especially true when already tricky rock fields are wet and dangerously slick.
I make my way safely down to the parking lot, toss my boots and gear into the back of the Jeep, and sit on the tailgate for a moment finishing the last of my water. My first solo hike went pretty well. I’m looking forward to a few more of these as I prepare to climb Mt Washington before the end of the season. More on that to follow. All in all, its been a pretty good day.
5.11 Rush 12 Assault Pack
Hiker LT Trekking Poles
Garmin HTC Venture
Spot GPS PLB
Keen Targhee Boots
Camelbak 3L Bladder
Coghlans Tube Tent – Emergency Shelter
20 ft. Olive drab 550 cord
Emergency kit – this includes first aid, fire starting etc.
SOL Rescue Growler
Milspec Black Boonie
Fleece watch cap and gloves
Under Armour Base Layer 2.0
EMS Thunderhead Rain Jacket
4sevens Preon 2
Black Diamond headlamp