Stone piles on the ridge of Temple Mountain. Part of the old ski area? Definitely augmented by amateur rock artists now.
I’m spending the week at a family cottage in southwestern New Hampshire, near Mount Monadnock, supposedly the second-most most climbed mountain in the world, behind Mount Fuji. Monadnock commands attention from a very wide radius around here: it’s the Mount Fuji of lower elevations. Nothing blocks it from view, whether you’re in the Shaw’s Supermarket parking lot in Keene or driving along way on the other side of it, in Jaffrey. A devastating forest fire many years ago left the mountain bare on its upper flanks. All this means that everyone goes up Monadnock. It isn’t reserved for mountain lovers.
I can’t count how many times I’ve climbed Monadnock. I used to go up alone at 7 in the morning and sit alone on the summit, watching the hawks circling for food scraps. We took our kids up from babyhood on. But this year I’m here with only my dog for companionship, and I just learned that the state bans dogs from Monadnock. I missed this because my first dog had a gimpy leg and I didn’t think to take him up. My new dog, Talley, could do this mountain even though she’s small. But if I were to take her along and get caught, the fine would be $250.
This rule, on a mountain with so many trails, proves that too many people are congregating on the summit. A dog wouldn’t fit, I guess, although I remember well a scene several years back, when a runner startled a German shepherd into barking, and the runner than spent some time making friends with the dog. The next step after bannning dogs might be to limit people’s access.
Baxter State Park in Maine limits the number of climbers allowed to Katahdin. But Katahdin lies in a remote area and only a few trails climb it. Trails lead to Monadnock’s top from every imaginable angle. They swing underneath the summit, too, past an outdoor amphitheater and to a lower bump called Monta Rosa. How would authorities limit access? Impossible. And not very American, somehow.
All this led me to go up a different mountain today. Most people around here haven’t done exhaustive research into alternative mountains—why would they want to? the thinking goes. Monadnock is the king.
But. I drove out Route 101 just over the Peterborough line into Sharon, parked at the Temple Mountain State Reservation with about four other cars, and climbed up an old gravel ski route to the rocky ridge. There, my dog and I found rock cairns and rock formations that might have been left from an old foundation. Never mind that; people add rocks to them, making them look like a mini-Stonehenge. Talley and I sampled blueberries growing low next to the path. She was allowed, not banned, because on this trail, people haven’t caused a crowding problem.
Walkers, let’s imagine ourselves exploring the trails we don’t know, in towns we’ve barely considered. Let us give Monadnock a rest. Sometimes.