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.