“I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather.”
– Mark Twain
I know I have dropped that Twain quote into Trails Reports before, but it seems especially true now with the Arctic air mass that has had a week long frigid touch reminiscent of the X-Men’s Robert Drake.
Grand Monadnock, just days after a January thaw, has been in the midst of a legthy cold spell. Daytime high temperatures at the summit have barely reached above zero on most days this week with windchill factors nearing -30 at times. It is a cool 14 degrees at the Monadnock Park Office as I type this report now.
This air mass will be hanging out in the Region all weekend and we won’t see warmer temperatures come through until the early part of next week. Monday and Tuesday’s forecasted high temperatures in the low 30’s may feel like a touch of Spring at this point. The early part of the week could also be accompanied by mixed or freezing precipitation.
Hikers considering a jaunt up Mount Monadnock this weekend will likely not have any precipitation to contend with on Saturday or Sunday. A dusting of snow could roll over the mountain tonight, but the rest of the weekend looks clear.
However, the air will remain frigid with expected highs only in the mid teens at the base of the mountain. Hikers will need to dress in layers and have spiked traction as there is much ice to be found, especially above treeline. Eye protection will also be a key this weekend with the extreme cold. Pack those goggles with you.
I have received a few calls this week asking about snowshoeing and X-C skiing. Unfortunately, there is just not enough snow here for either activity. Hopefully, that will change soon.
Last Week’s Quiz
Last week, I touched a little bit upon the history of trails that have, at one time or another, seemed to cover every corner of this mountain. There have been over 100 paths throughout the nearly 200 year history of trails on Mount Monadnock. While most are now abandoned and have been reclaimed by the forest, today there are 36 maintained hiking trails on Mt. Monadnock. I presented a list of names of 10 formerly maintained trails and asked which one was not once a trail on Mount Monadnock. Here, again, was the list:
1) Green Carpet Trail
2) Spooky Woods Trail
3) Tenderfoot Trail
4) Hazard Trail
5) Twisted Birch Trail
6) Chipmunk Trail
7) Sarcophagus Trail
8) Eveleth Trail
9) Sweetwater Trail
10) Red Cross Trail
The answer is number 7. There is no record of a Sarcophagus Trail on Mt. Monadnock. There is a glacial erratic landmark on the Pumpelly Trail, just above the junction with Spellman Trail, known as “The Sarcophagus”, but the name has never been utilized in a trail name. Congrats to those of you who picked that one out.
Monadnock Time Machine
A gentleman from Newton, Massachusetts reached out to me just today to alert me to his story. Bob Burke wanted to share with you fellow Monadnock admirers his story about biking to Grand Monadnock from Massachusetts in the early 1950’s. The article appears in the Newton Tab with the link to the story included below.
– We were born in Newton in the late 1930s and lived in the Highlands right through high school. The current crop of Newton students are light-years ahead of where we were in many things like organized sports, curricula, and truly great newspapers and theater productions. One area where we excelled was the ability to self-organize most of our own activities. This included fierce pickup games of football, baseball, “Capture the Flag” and zany events like Halloween swims at Crystal Lake, and hopping freights on the now defunct Needham Heights Line. Mostly, we played at places along the two Newton aqueducts with strange sounding names like Fanny Fogg’s, The Hole, and Gootchy’s Cave.
Bicycles were our most prized possession. A dramatic change in how far we could travel occurred in the early 50s with the arrival of fast, 3-speed bicycles from England. At the time, we were in 8th and 9th grades at Weeks Junior High School, had a 12-client lawn and landscaping business, and rode Royal London 3-Speed Specials.
Route 128 had just opened as a divided highway and bicycles were allowed in the right two lanes. We started weekly races along the new highway from Hemlock Gorge to the summit of Prospect Hill in Waltham. Our friend Jimmy Smith kept telling us about Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and the three of us determined we were going to ride our bikes up there the following summer.
We knew nothing about organizing this adventure, but John Boyle, a quiet Irishman who owned the Highland Cycle Shop on Walnut Street, patiently showed us repair techniques and how to pack loads of gear on three bicycles. After many fits and starts, we eventually cycled all the way to Monadnock State Park in August of 1953, the first of several trips over the next three years. The only harrowing experience on the road was a time we were heading home and unexpectedly hit a raw summer nor’easter. We frantically peddled from the New Hampshire border to Newton, arriving home at 2 in the morning dead tired, very cold and thoroughly soaked to the bone.
Mount Monadnock was Henry David Thoreau’s favorite hiking area, but he couldn’t have cherished the region any more than we did. We regularly hiked the mountain and found a secluded beach on nearby Gilmore Pond that is still exactly as we found it. We camped under a blanket of bright stars and heard the chilling screech of bobcats and the sounds of other animals roaming in the dark.
Many people assisted us along the way, but our greatest champion was the Park’s Head Ranger, Charlie Burrage. Charlie called our parents with updates without telling us, and helped get us out from under a few serious jams. In 1954, he moved us to safety just minutes before Hurricane Carol dropped a huge tree squarely on our tent.
The most serious mishap occurred one afternoon when a massive hail and lightning storm came roaring in just as we neared the summit. We were running down the mountain when Bob tripped, went down hard, cracked his head on a large rock, and passed out for a few tense minutes. Charlie Burrage rushed Bob to a country doctor’s office in his tiny frame house. This kind doctor put several stitches in Bob’s head, told him not to cycle home, and adamantly refused to take any payment from “young wayfarers in dire need.” A few days later, Bob’s dad showed up in a yellow Plymouth Convertible and somehow squeezed four people, three bikes, a large tent and other gear into the car for the trip home.
Some may be puzzled as to why our folks let us do all this without adult supervision. The 1950s was simply a far different time. Our parents were concerned about our education and safety, but they did trust us to act responsibly.
We can still vividly recall almost everything from these trips. We found a mystical freedom on Mt. Monadnock that countless others have felt, but for us there was also a special joy that came from creating this experience with our own imagination and resources. We discovered an idyllic place in those wonderful journeys to the Monadnock area, and we’re sure that many of today’s kids would have enjoyed coming along with us.
Bob Burke is a member of the Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council. John Seery now lives in Florida.
I want to thank Bob for sharing his story with us. Monadnock is still visited a couple of times each summer from long distances by campers with bicycles. Or, perhaps, really, bicyclists with tents.
Charlie Burrage would manage Monadnock State Park from 1950 to 1962. He has since passed away, but his time and service here is certainly not forgotten. Like the rest of the the men that have managed this park and cared for this mountain before me, I do my absolute best to carry on their legacy of care, stewardship, dedication, and sacrifice to this beloved mountain. I am most proud to have an opportunity to do so because, after all, Mount Monadnock has always been there for me.