There were many reasons to cancel Saturday’s trip to 3,165-foot Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire:
— Clouds as far as the eye could see, with a strong chance of afternoon thunderstorms.
— Slick, slippery ledges promising plenty of falls.
— Basketball-sized swarms of hungry black flies.
— A two-hour drive to the trailhead in a Volvo sporting a bright orange check engine light.
Fortunately, the boy and I ignored the negatives and headed north Saturday. The fog and clouds never lifted but we nonetheless had an enjoyable hike up what is supposedly the second most climbed mountain in the world (after Japan’s Mt. Fuji). Instead of taking the direct — and heavily traveled — trail to the top, we took the long way around, doubling the length of our hike.
It turned out to be a good choice. We had the woods to ourselves for most of the morning, a true rarity in New Hampshire. We saw plenty of hawks circling above (the boy will try to tell you they were turkey vultures. Don’t listen to him, even if he may be right. Hawks just sounds better). The trails to the top — Cascade Link and Pumpelly — had a great mix of flat and steep, woods and granite, with a rolling ledge walk on the approach to the summit. The highlight, though, might have been the fall the boy took two-thirds of the way to the summit. A year or two ago, we would have had to turn around and head back down. Saturday, he picked himself up, unleashed a 20-second stream of expletives, and kept moving down the trail. It made me strangely proud. (I’m not sure he was as proud of me after my inevitable fall; he asked “Are you OK, Dad?” four times before I came to a stop. I think he was worried he was going to have to carry — or roll — me down the trail.)
There were no views at the top this time. Then again, the mountain doesn’t owe you a view simply because you made it to the top. Sometimes, the climb has to be its own reward.
After a cold, windy lunch at the top, we took the shortest path down, not wanting to push our luck with the weather or the black flies.
Of course, as soon as we got to the bottom, the sun came out. But at least the check engine light went dark on the way home…