Misadventures on Mount Monadnock

This is kind of a literary extension of the usual Letterman Top 10 lists. The difference is that list items are also in time order, forming a sort of extended narrative. The items are also in an ostensible "badness order", but this condition is met via descriptions that are contrived to sound bad in the right order. Anyway, this way it keeps the suspense going, too. :-) (In case you don't figure it out, the above photo is not from the trip described below, but from one few years later in conditions only suggestive of the mood of the first trip...)

The Top Ten Reasons why you are GLAD you didn't climb Mt. Monadnock with Chuck on Saturday, 17 Jun 2000 are...:

  1. The lack of anything interesting on WBUR or other stations at 9 am, except for news about a New Hampshire Biker Festival. Additional bad news gleaned is a New England-wide EPA ozone alert, recommending no one in do anything strenuous outdoors, no matter what their level of fitness. These are very rare, and this is when I began questioning the timing of my hike.

  2. It became so blisteringly hot that any garment impeding evaporation was a significant nuisance. The heat makes me begin to wonder what the symptoms of ozone inhalation are... Bare-chested, I hiked on.

  3. The Pompelly Trail turned out to be longer than the 2 hour ascent I was expecting and very arduous. The trail was poorly marked, even with the cairns, and at a few points, after going off trail, the most expedient thing to do seemed to be to break through dead branch-laced thickets shirtless and leap 8 foot gaps in ravines by swinging from the branches of a sturdy pine that spanned the gulf which blocked my progress.

  4. 60% of the way up, ominous thunderclouds became visible in the distance. The Pompelly trail was so slow that the "afternoon thundershowers" in the weather forecast were seeming like they might become unavoidable. Perhaps they would wait until the way down. Still the summit was very clearly in view with little figurines littered all over it, their presence mocking me and goading me to press upward.

  5. About 80% of the way up, visibility started to get bad. Near gale force gusts of wind made it hard for tired legs to keep me upright...

  6. 90% of the way to the summit, torrential downpours and winds arrived, mercilessly pelting my skin with stinging rain. This forced my sopped shirt back onto my back merely as a partial shield. Visibility shrunk to about 30 feet as the mountain top became firmly embedded in a thundercloud. Eye glasses, more hindrance than help, become stowed, further reducing the effective visibility. A foolish determination pushed me onward -- over sheer rock faces with running water everywhere, sliding and shimmying here, stomping through brooks there.

  7. Shortly after the rain began, thunder began to crack in the distance. Lightning-to-thunder timings indiciated a storm diameter of four miles and a periphery at two miles, then one mile, then a quarter mile. The top of a mountain during a lightning storm is not a way to settle ones nerves. Occasionally, I huddled behind cairns or rocks act as as a brief shelter from the blistering wind and bone soaking rain, though I think it quite unreasonably settled some more primitive part of my soul.

  8. A Blair Witch-esque creepiness emerged from the eerily shaped cairns and literally 20 foot visibility. Even though I was in the area of the mountain of utterly bald bare rock, I could not see the next cairn from the present one, or even map the path backward. This is in spite of the cairns at this part of the trail being towering piles of rock every 40 or 50 feet. The lightning had stopped gratefully, but the wind and rain continued to create a deafining roar in a misty haze to confound all the senses.

    Though this was the fourth time on this mountain for me, the summit was utterly unrecognizable. I traveled in a meandering circle. I returned twice to the same human-shaped cairn toward the top of the Pompelly Trail. Each time is the same. At first the form is reassuring -- I am not alone. Soon it became restored as a symbol of my bewilderment and isolation. I was pretty worried at this point.

    Needless to say, I had the summit to myself, though this was an unenviable possession. After enough searching, I eventually found the Dublin Trail and path back to my car. The rain faded and the wind ebbed away. What powerful magics could have insulated a witch from such an inhospitable clime, anyway? :-)

    At this point I ate all the food that which I brought. This actually only consisted of one tiny bag of soup crackers. Thankfully I had enough water...

  9. The way down the Dublin Trail, survival concerns had mostly subsided and visibility improved. The trip morphed into the "Wet T-shirt contest from Hell". Believe it or not, I pass five intrepid, friendly, and scrumptious-while-soaked-but-not-really-caring souls heading toward the summit just after the storm. Other crazies! Only on Monadnock, the most frequently traveled peak in America! (Ok, this may be the best rather than the second worst aspect of the trip..., but we've morphed into chronological mode now...)

  10. Slip-sliding through liquid dirt on more fatigued legs than prior trips could possibly have prepared me for led to a few partial wipe outs and one total wipe-out where I only stopped myself from tumbling down the mountain by wedging my hand under a rock, hurting my wrist.

    As I finally reached the bottom, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and even from the bottom the visibility to the summit is beautiful. Meanwhile, *for me* the departure of the storm meant horse flies and mesquitoes. I shooed them away pathetically while nursing a wrist which I was trying to persuade myself was not broken. The irony of poor timing hangs so thickly in the air as to make me cackle with bemusement even as I curse the whole of the insect world.

Ok. That was really a lot more than "10" distinct reasons, and really almost a case study in everything not to do on a mountain.

As a palate cleanser in returning to the annoyances of ordinary life, the return car trip held in store lots of traffic getting into Boston off of I-93, which was really not the route I should have taken. I also discovered that the philosophy book I had in my backpack, Psychoneural Reduction, got soaked. The cobalt blue cover had bled into pages and the cardboard cover had been utterly warped. :-( It really was almost as wet as if I'd jumped into a lake.