New England Hikes

Connected on Monadnock, or Alone on the Mountain with Everyone

The summit of Mt. Monadnock is awash in humanity! We loved it!

The summit of Mt. Monadnock is awash in humanity! We loved it!

“We’re connected to these people,” I tell Tough Cookie. “All of us, right here, connected to everybody who came before and everybody that will come tomorrow.”

We’re sitting atop Mt. Monadnock on Columbus Day weekend and the most popular mountain in North America is living up to its mythology. There must be two hundred people at or around the summit. Tourists. Boston day-trippers. Tons of kids. Some are freezing in the October wind. Some are miserable and complain loudly. Some are taking pictures of the glorious foliage.

Some, like myself and the girl, just lean back in the sun, sip tea and people watch.

Janelle gives me one of her looks that says she’s not quite dismissing me and my philosophical fancies, but I better back it up quick or she’s walking away.

“Here, look at this carving.” Someone in 1920 carved their name in the rock. Rock graffiti like this is all over Monadnock, some of it over a hundred years old. “This guy sat right here, right where we are, nearly a hundred years ago, and saw and felt the same things we are today.”

She runs her fingers over the date in the rock. “And maybe he brought his kids up, just like I brought you up,” I continue on a roll. “And maybe someday you’ll bring your kids up.”

She perks up. “And we’ll bring your new baby up too!”

“Exactly! The past, the now, the future, we’re all connected, through nature, through this mountain.”

Tough Cookie begins the final climb to the summit.

Tough Cookie begins the final climb to the summit.

We sit for a while longer, watching the people. I felt awful at first, when we popped out of tree line and saw the huge pack of humanity at the summit. But I feel better now. This is nice, all these people – some unprepared, yes – but still we’re all here on this brilliant fall day connected in our pursuit of something bigger than us. Connected by Monadnock.

“My aunt climbed this mountain,” Janelle says. “And her friend.”

And for the next half hour we eat our PB&Js and chocolate chip cookies and play a game where we list all the people we know who have climbed this mountain; it’s a long, long list.

“Everyone climbs Monadnock,” she finally says settling our conversation.

A hundred years ago, John Muir mused that “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”

I think Muir would appreciate the crowd at the top of Monadnock, and be amused to realize how connected to him we are as well.

Tough "Rooster" Cookie surveys her hiking comrades from the summit.

Tough “Rooster” Cookie surveys her hiking comrades from the summit.

Categories: New England Hikes | 4 Comments

Letting go of fear on Mt. Sunapee

Rebel and Tough Cookie tearing up the trail on Mt. Sunapee.

Rebel and Tough Cookie tearing up the trail on Mt. Sunapee.

At our presentations, Janelle and I always look for kids or young adults in the audience.

When Tough Cookie fell in love with the mountains, she was barely more than a baby, but she chose faith over fear. This isn’t religious faith I’m talking about, but faith in her own capacity as a human being to be empowered, to step into a new world and embrace the challenge and not be afraid of the natural world. And now, when we see the looks in kids’ eyes when they hear about that faith, it makes this whole amazing trip worth the sweat and tears and laughter.

One of those kids is Sam (trail name, Rebel) whose family has become friends with our little misfit tribe and has begun to hike with us. He’s new to New Hampshire and new to hiking, so we started with Mt. Sunapee. Though only about 2,700 feet high, we picked a path that was a challenge, and a hard rain the night before made the trail slick and wet.

Janelle threw everything she had at Sam on this wild, muddy, amazing hike (and Tough Cookie has a considerable arsenal) but the boy kept coming. Sam ended the day wet, dirty, banged up and sore, but I’m certain he’ll be back for more. (And Sam’s mom is no hiking slouch either!)

Calm at Solitude Lake

Calm at Solitude Lake

Is there any greater day in the mountains then to be able to hear the gasps of new hikers as they take in a glorious view? Is there any greater personal challenge then to pull yourself up out of the mud, brush the dirt off your face and say, “I’m good, let’s keep going!”

Tough Cookie and I love being on the trail together, the two of us, now old friends, understanding each others’ pace and strengths. But taking someone new – wide-eyed and giving it all they have – well, that’s a real treat.

Some days now, it feels like Buffalo and Tough Cookie have begun a new chapter in our journey. Janelle rarely sweats now when we hike together. I can count on her understanding the woods enough to give her some space, to allow her some unfettered time alone with the hills. There’s little more precious than that. She’s beginning to recognize the mountains, like visiting the comfortable home of a friend. So bringing Sam up was new, and a little chaotic, and wonderful.

A big thanks to Sam and his mom, Elsa, for giving us a little bit of new wonder. We cannot wait to go again!

Categories: New England Hikes | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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