Last Saturday Youngest Son and I decided to take a chance and make the trip down to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to give Grand Monadnock a go. This 3166 foot mountain is one of the most climbed peaks in the world, second only to Mt. Fuji in Japan according to some accounts. Over 125,000 people hike to the top each year.
So, we knew going in this would be a “shared experience” with other hikers. I had previously hiked the White Arrow Trail before, ‘way back in the Dark Ages. It was 1979, I think. Monadnock was not nearly as crowded then, and there was no need for a $16 reservation. If it weren’t for the unparalleled views from the top, I probably wouldn’t have repeated this hill. But the views are fantastic, and I wanted my son to see them, too.
We chose one of the less popular trails to start our way to the top, the Birchtoft Trail, which leaves from the Gilson Pond area. This would feed into the Red Spot, and then the Pumpelly for the final ¼ mile to the summit.
Arriving at the Gilson Pond parking area just before 11AM, we checked in at the gate, parked the Transcontinental Jeep and quickly prepared for the walk. There were perhaps eight other cars in the lot. It was sunny, breezy and the temps were a bit over 60° at the start.
Birchtoft Trail started off right from the parking lot, and there were plenty of signs directing you on the wide and well-worn woodlands path as it passed along the south shore of Gilson Pond.
The woods were sparse along this trail, and early on we noted the many signs posted to keep us on the trail. The Birchtoft is well-marked with red reflective blazes nailed to trees, but you’ll also see some white ones here and there, along with blue blazing of a cross country skiing trail. Follow the red ones.
The trail continued along, following an old stone wall for a time. The grade was steadily up, but never severely. There were a couple of dips for water crossings, which were no issue at all anywhere on the mountain. Conditions were quite dry for the most part. A few muddy spots easily navigated around or through on the rocks was all.
At the two mile mark of the hike we came to the first major trail junction. Here the Cascade Link joins the Brichtoft, and a few feet further the Brichtoft gives way to the Red Spot Trail. It was about here that we encountered our first black flies of the season, with an occasional mosquito. If you kept moving they weren’t an issue. It would be a different story on the way down.
On the Red Spot things become steeper and much rockier. The trail tightens up, and there’s a transition from roots and dirt to rock-hopping as you ascend.
The Red Spot lasts for just under a mile, but it is the steepest part of the climb thus far, and it eventually is all across rock. There are several short, steep areas that have to be traversed, and it’s not long before the bulls-eye trail markers are joined by rock cairns to guide the way.
Around the half mile mark of the Red Spot we got our first glimpse of Monadnock views. From here on we were leaving the trees behind, and rock would be underfoot for the rest of the climb.
We came to the last junction of our hike when the Red Spot ended at the Pumpelly Trail. There’s a very large cairn with an embedded signpost, directing you to the summit that’s only ⅓ mile away now.
The section of Pumpelly we traversed was typical of granite cones in the Northeast. Short trees, various mosses and small growth, along with dormant blueberry bushes. It was not long before we could see the summit, happily festooned with humans enjoying the bright, sunny day.
The final ascent to the top was steep, but uneventful. It became crowded enough that we had to detour around folks sitting wherever to get to the marker, but we did it.
Then we wandered over to the west side of the knob, looking for a place out of the wind to enjoy lunch. No luck- that section was at capacity. So we headed back over to the east side, and did find some shelter from the wind where the Awesome Trail Sandwiches (described here) were deployed. Many photos were taken topside by both Son and myself- here are some of the better ones. Click on them to enlarge.
It was comfortable and warm once out of the wind. Son and I perched on our rocks for quite a spell enjoying the sights. We watched eagles and other raptors- peregrine falcons?- soar along the thermals surrounding the ridge. As an added bonus, there were no bugs topside that day.
As we rested, we were amazed by how many people were on the top of this rock. There had to have been easily 200 people up there when we decided to head back down the way we had come.
The trip down started slowly, as there were many others heading up the trail. Old school rules say uphill has the right of way, so we waited a bit here and there. At one point we ended up behind an older fellow- at least a dozen or so years older than me- fully laden with a 40L pack. He was headed down, and some of the rocky areas were presenting him challenges. I watched him take on some difficult descents down the rock, and while he was slow, he crossed every obstacle successfully. He was a tough old bird; exactly how I hope to be at that age. We passed him not long before turning off onto the Red Spot Trail.
Going down the Red Spot was harder than coming up it. That’s the usual scenario for me. We met a lot of folks coming up, which slowed things down. I especially enjoyed encountering the foursome of folks heading up trail in sneakers with their “music” blaring from a Bluetooth speaker. It added to the ambience of the natural surroundings.
The bug situation changed dramatically when we returned to the Birchtoft at the 2 mile mark. The black flies were out in force, and it wasn’t long until I gave in and broke out the Ben’s 100 DEET. They were swarming. The DEET held them at bay from there on, and we covered the remaining forest trail steadily, if a bit slowly. We arrived back to the now full parking lot just before 5PM.
This is probably one of the harder 3000 footers, at least from my perspective. I think the trail selections played a part. Although it was a long time ago, I don’t recall the White Arrow as being as difficult. Regardless, it was a challenging and fun hike, and the topside payoff superb.
We traveled just over 7 ½ miles with an elevation gain of 2021 feet. Not counting topside lollygagging and waiting on the trail, our journey out & back took 5 hours. Drive time for me was three hours each way.
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Stunning views! I think Monadnock is closer to where I lived in NY than to where you live.
This hill is just about where Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont abut each other- roughly the same latitude as Albany, I think. Unlike further north, it’s the only mountain of any height in the area, so the views are amazing. You can see the Boston skyline on a clear day.