For many years, the West River Whitewater Festival in Jamaica, Vermont has been a destination of choice for Maine paddlers in late September. Each fall, the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the Ball Mountain Dam for recreational paddling on the West River in southeastern Vermont. My addiction began in 1989.
About a five hour drive from Topsham, my first trip was back when I was actually working a 9 to 5 job and it turned out to be a sleep deprived late Friday night ordeal. Arriving at about midnight, my travel guide prodded me into attending a late night paddler’s party where I could barely stay awake. A learning experience, now that I’m retired from a real job, I always start over on Friday morning and climb Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire on the way. Three hours from home, it breaks up the trip quite nicely.
In hiking circles, Monadnock is reputed by some to be the most frequently climbed mountain in the world. For that reason and because it’s a moderate hike to an exceptional summit, I included it in my mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England. When I did the research for my book in 2007, there seemed to be evidence that Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Monadnock were running neck in neck for the dubious distinction of being the most trampled peak on the planet. However, current information seems conclusive that Monadnock is the second to Fuji, perhaps not a bad thing since Fuji hosts an estimated 300,000 climbers each year. Averaging over 800 trekkers a day, it sounds like they need traffic cops at the trail junctions.
Regardless, Monadnock is clearly the most popular hike in New England and probably the United States. At an elevation of 3137 feet, it’s required hiking for peak baggers climbing 3,000 footers. A recovering peak bagger, I hike solely for aesthetic reasons or so I tell myself.
Epitomizing the definition of monadnock, a mountain that stands isolated or alone; the distinct open summit is visible for many miles as you approach from either east or west. Much of the upper portion of the climb is over open ledges with spectacular views of southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. A sucker for scenic vistas; that’s all the attraction I need to make it an obligatory climb whenever I’m in the area.
Because I’m generally pressed for time, my usual preference is the White Dot Trail that begins at Monadnock State Park on the south side of the mountain. Only about a 4 mile roundtrip trek, the entire hike can usually be completed in 3 to 4 hours. Faster, if you’re one of the kids, and a handful of old folks, that run the trails. I ran a few mountain trails when I was young but nothing as substantial as Monadnock. Now wearing a plastic knee and possessing a growing fear of injuries or additional physical problems, that’s no longer even a remote consideration.
We had a sunny, breezy day with no precipitation predicted for our recent climb. Bad weather is always a risk on Monadnock so we took spare clothes and waterproof jackets. Beginning on the White Dot Trail, we hiked easily for about a half mile to a junction with White Cross Trail. An easier descent, we decided to save White Cross for our return route. Scrambling steeply for the next half mile, we emerged above tree line to enjoy outstanding views to the south and east.
Shortly after, we encountered a couple of rain squalls that temporarily dampened both us and our spirits. Fortunately, we were prepared for that unpleasant eventuality that soon ended. Skies cleared and we had our first unimpeded view of the summit where successful climbers could be seen lingering at the top.
Passing the upper White Cross Trail junction at 1.5 miles, we met what seemed like a whole school of kids as the trail snaked circuitously and steeply upward on exposed rock and ledge. Following cairns and white blazes while angling slightly northeast, we scrambled up an extended, sloping rock face and through a narrow slot between giant boulders to the summit.
Gusty winds greeted us as we joined about a dozen climbers braving the conditions to savor 360 degree views. Others were huddled in crevices, resting or having a snack.
After experiencing the magnificent views, we descended the summit cone and turned right onto White Cross Trail. Slightly longer and gentler than White Dot, we finished our hike in a little under four hours. My Monadnock hiking time continues to grow, another unwanted sign of old age.
Traveling west into Vermont, we arrived at Jamaica State Park in time to set up camp before dark. Friends from the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society began to filter in for the upcoming two days of whitewater paddling on the West River.