Spring on Cheshire roads and trails

Cheshire County, New Hampshire is best known to outdoors enthusiasts for its most dramatic geological feature, Mount Monadnock. I have nothing against the mountain, except that I can’t seem to get to the summit and back without an injury of one sort or another. That’s not a problem. The Monadnock region offers plenty of options that have nothing to do with hiking uphill.

Rockwood Pond in Fitzwilliam , New Hampshire, with Mount Monadnock in the background.
Seen from the Cheshire Rail Trail in Fitzwilliam: Rockwood Pond with Mount Monadnock nearby. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

As part of the New Hampshire Rail Trails Challenge, I’ve been exploring rail trails all over the state – but I’ve barely touched southwestern New Hampshire, aside from a few miles in the town of Troy. This is the year I’ll get busy out in that direction. I got off to a modest start recently on a short segment of the Cheshire Rail Trail in Fitzwilliam.

What a day! Weather was pleasant. The flying insects were not yet out in force (but alas, the same couldn’t be said for ticks; I came prepared with permethrin-treated clothing). Deciduous trees hadn’t yet leafed out. That left the hemlocks and pines to shade me, and as a bonus, the breeze through their boughs was like music.

Parking along long trails like the Cheshire can be a problem. Not every road crossing has room nearby for cars to pull over. I decided to begin my walk at Rhododendron State Park, a mile away from the trail. No trouble parking there. The park’s signature rhododendrons won’t be in bloom until July, but spring wildflowers abounded in the park’s grove and along its trails.

daffodils and violets, flowers

Spring flowers at Rhododendron State Park

From there – pull out your maps app now – it’s a mile along unpaved Rockwood Road to the the intersection with rail trail along Rockwood Pond. Rhododendron Road provides a shorter but less interesting link.

The scenic highlight of the day was the view of Monadnock seen from the shores of Rockwood Pond. Pine trees tried to obscure the view, but I found my way through them.

From the pond, I headed south. The trail was unpaved, wide, and shaded. It’s a snowmobile trail when there’s snow cover, but motorized vehicles are supposed to stay off the rest of the year. Wide ruts in some soft sections of the trail told me that an ATV driver or two had ignored the restriction. Aside from that, the trail was in good condition between the pond and state road 119. South of there, the trail was full of roots and rocks, looking like a typical New Hampshire woods walk. I got as far as Royalston Road before turning around.

I had thought about stopping in Jaffrey on the way home for a cone at Kimball Farm, but the twenty or so cars overflowing onto Route 124 from the Kimball’s parking lot made me abandon that idea. I’ll be back another day.

Midweek, Mt. Monadnock

When the Forest Society announced its challenge last year, offering a patch for anyone visiting 33 specified Forest Society properties, I jumped on board immediately. Since then, I’ve had great fun discovering some new trails. Others are already familiar – Mt. Monadnock’s trails, for example.

Monadnock State Park is only one piece of the patchwork of ownership on the mountain. The Forest Society has a reservation there as well. For the most Monadnock hikers, borders between properties are imperceptible.

Gap from Halfway House_Monadnock

The view south from Mt. Monadnock’s Halfway House clearing

On a recent visit to Monadnock, my indifferent level of fitness ruled out a summit hike. I settled for an easy walk to the Halfway House clearing, featuring a wonderful view to the south with Gap Mountain foremost.

The well-marked parking lot on NH Route 124 on the south side of the mountain is where to pick up the Halfway House trail and the parallel Old Toll Road path. (Bring $5 for park admission; there’s an iron ranger when the booth is unattended.) The Old Toll Road is a wide, well-drained boulevard with a packed crushed-gravel surface. Uphill, to be sure, but easy. It leads to a tiny patch of private land with an imposing house on it. Past the house, the boulevard becomes a trail: rocks, roots, spring’s inevitable mud. No problem. The Halfway House clearing, named for an inn that once stood there, is less than a 5-minute walk ahead.

Old Toll Road, Spring

Old Toll Road, mid-spring

I looked up to the summit and saw no hikers. That’s unusual, as local hikers will attest. Normally the summit seen from that distance looks like an anthill.

A cool breeze kept the bugs away on the overcast day. I knew I was likely to be rained on any minute. I didn’t care. Solitude on a Monadnock trail is meant to be savored.

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A peek at Monadnock’s summit from the Halfway House clearing

My favorite bad photo

I’m not much of a photographer. When my daughter gave me a digital camera eight years ago and consigned my little plastic 35mm Polaroid to the junk drawer, I soon discovered my favorite aspect of digital cameras: the delete button. No more paying to develop film with 24 exposures but only one picture worth keeping.

Even the bad pictures can bring back good memories, though. This is one of my favorites, taken at Bald Rock on Mount Monadnock about ten years ago.

Bald Rock, Monadnock State Park, NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Overexposed, lousy lighting, hard to see the intriguing and unexplained inscription on the rock: I didn’t get much right with this shot, except capture a special spot on what is so far the best day I’ve ever spent on Monadnock.

This was the day I realized that I could go to the mountain and not feel like a failure for skipping the summit. I sat by this rock and ate my lunch in regal solitude. I felt absolutely no need to join the crowd I saw on the peak above me. With a breeze and a view and a PB&J, I had everything I needed.

Trips to Monadnock don’t always work out that way for me. Last time I went, I kept moving up the Pumpelly trail despite a sore knee. The pain finally got so bad I had to turn around, hobbling slowly downhill, not getting to my car until well after sundown. On another day, a beautiful December afternoon, I dawdled on the summit and figured I’d make up some time on the descent. Bad move. I lost my footing, fell down hard, and slid on my back headfirst, certain that I was going to crack my skull on a rock. Instead, my backpack took the hit, which was more luck than I deserved. (Learn from my mistakes, folks.)

I’ve had good days to offset those misadventures. The day at Bald Rock beats them all.

 

 

Temple, January 1

I made my customary New Year’s Day drive out to the Monadnock region, deciding at the last minute not to do the fun little 5k race (walk, in my case) in Temple that would have set me back $20. Instead, I continued to the Wapack trailhead in Sharon. No trails or uphill work for me this day – lazy, out-of-shape, call me what you will. I did my 5k on local roads, blessedly free of traffic and ice.

Temple Road in Sharon; Mt. Monadnock in the distance

Temple Road in Sharon; Mt. Monadnock in the distance

It wasn’t a brisk walk. I kept stopping to take pictures. Most of the photos are unusable thanks to midday’s harsh lighting. I like this one, though. My route today was flat, except for the gentlest rise on Temple Road where I got a glimpse of Mount Monadnock.

Have a wonderful new year, with plenty of Granite State walks.

A New Year’s Day visit to Mt. Monadnock

I usually travel to Temple every New Year’s Day for the Peanut Butter Chip Chase 5k.  The drive from my home to the Wapack Range is beautiful, and I enjoy walking (not running) on Temple’s quiet roads. Today, though, I decided to bring in 2014 by heading to Mt. Monadnock for a First Day Hike sponsored by the good folks at Monadnock State Park. I chose a guided nature hike along the low and flat Parker Trail; the other option was an uphill hike to a spot with a good view. Each hike drew about twenty people, accompanied by guides from the park and from the Forest Society.

Yours truly celebrating New Year's Day on Mt. Monadnock

Yours truly celebrating New Year’s Day on Mt. Monadnock

I wore strap-on traction aids for my boots, and left my snowshoes in the car when I saw how icy the trails were. The temperature was about 15º, and I can tell you now what happens when you carry granola bars in your backpack on a 15º day: the bars freeze solid. (Three words for next time: inside coat pocket.) Lots of sunshine, though.

Heading out for the First Day hike

Heading out for the First Day hike

We were led by Meredith and Brenda of the park staff, along with a specialist in land conservation from the Forest Society. I didn’t take notes but soaked in what I could as they talked about forest management, wildlife habitat, and the history of the mountain. We walked at a very leisurely pace along the quiet Parker Trail. Half the fun was watching the kids in our group. A few of them appeared to be veterans of the trails. Others were wide-eyed and full of questions, walking a little unsteadily as they adjusted to having microspikes on their boots.

We were hardly the only visitors to the park, which surprised me. When I arrived at the headquarters entrance, the main parking lot was full and I had to proceed to the overflow lot. When I met Sue, the new park director, I asked her about that. “Oh, yes. We’re open year-round. Even on days like this, we get between 200 and 400 visitors.”

This is the third year that First Day Hikes have been held at New Hampshire state parks. I think I’ll be back next year.

Brenda of Monadnock park staff at reservoir dam

Brenda of Monadnock park staff at reservoir dam

New Year's Day fashion: boots with traction aids.

New Year’s Day fashion: boots with traction aids.

A path to take another day: Lost Farm trail.

A path to take another day: Lost Farm trail.

A glacial erratic along the way. Schist, not granite.

A glacial erratic along the way. Schist, not granite.

 

 

 

 

Pack Monadnock, before the summer crowds

Poor Pack Monadnock. Everyone takes pictures from it, while relatively few take pictures of it. This post perpetuates that gross injustice. I would welcome a reader’s photo of Pack Monadnock, since all of mine (taken from North Pack) are dreadful.

Location: Miller State Park, on NH Rt. 101 between Temple & Peterborough. Today: 40s, sunshine, clear day. A Boston day, as I call it whenever the skyline is in view. The gate to the paved auto road was closed, but the large parking lot was accessible, and it was full this afternoon. The entrance kiosk was unstaffed, but there was a box for the $4 park fee. (Yes, I paid. It would have been churlish not to.) Hikers were spread out on the various trails. I walked up the auto road with very little company, despite all the cars parked at the base. The fire tower cab was locked, but the stairway and landings were open for my viewing pleasure.

I set out today to walk south on the Wapack Trail from Sharon into New Ipswich, hoping to reach Kidder Mountain. That’s a lovely little hill, quite an easy climb, with great views. The trail section leading to it, alas, is currently a stream bordered with mud. Springtime, you see. A quarter mile of that was all I could take. Miller State Park & Pack Monadnock made up for that.