It’s always nice to revisit a place that I haven’t seen in several years, especially when I have fond memories of it. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway was one of the highlights of my New England Trail hike from 2009, with its quiet paths through the low hills and rural neighborhoods of southern New Hampshire. Gary and I saw not a single hiker on that trail three years ago, despite its location and ease. Last weekend I had the opportunity to get back on the trail again, for the first time since 2009. With a forecast of some rain and some sun, it would be a good test of how comfortable I was with wet weather, too.
|Starting out at Eliza Adams Gorge.|
Four of us gathered at the Dublin Trailhead north of Monadnock on Friday night, and we decided to skip Monadnock since it was already late. We hiked four miles by headlamp to the Spiltoir Shelter, the first campsite on the trail. I was a bit annoyed to see the shelter full with two tents set up inside. Setting up tents inside a shelter is poor form– it blocks other hikers from using the shelter by taking up more space than would be taken by the same number of hikers sleeping on the shelter floor, it makes others feel unwelcome in what is supposed to be a public space, and it’s a waste of campsite real estate. But the group of us set up our tents behind the shelter in no time, and got right to sleep. It was nice to see that I was still in practice with setting up my tarp, after not using it in quite a while.
|Plenty of walking along dirt roads, but the scenery is fine by me.|
That was Friday night. Saturday and Sunday were going to be the real tests of this first backpacking trip of the season. For Saturday, we had a 26 mile day planned, which is something I haven’t done in quite a while. I knew that the trail would be relatively easy as far as grades, but 26 miles is still 26 miles. We hit the trail at just before 8 AM, and set a steady pace through the morning. The grey skies that threatened rain early on lightened eventually, and turned into clear, sunny skies. “We can do this,” I thought.
|Exploring the waters of Center Pond.|
The miles flew by in the morning, as we walked through the small village of Nelson, and past several ponds and bogs. The new Gossamer Gear Kumo that I was testing felt light on my back, especially with only two days worth of food and one liter of water at a time. My feet felt surprisingly good– better than usual at this point in the season, in fact. The fact that we made only 11.5 miles by lunchtime didn’t bother me. The black flies that were making an early appearance this season weren’t too bad, either. The unusually high heat, in the upper 70s, was a little off, but no matter. It was nice to be on the trail.
|Clearing skies in the afternoon on Pitcher Mountain.|
The second half of Saturday was a treat. By the time we arrived on Pitcher Mountain, Hubbard Hill, and Jackson Hill, the sky was mostly clear, and the heat of the day began to dissipate with a cool breeze. The views from all three were sublime– from Pitcher we could see the entire weekend’s trail laid out to the north and to the south. Each mountain we would climb or had climbed was easily visible, plus a few others. Even without the fall foliage that I’d had in 2009, the scenery was picture perfect. We took plenty of breaks, then kept moving.
|Sun starting to get low on Jackson Hill.|
We arrived at our Saturday night campsite at about 8:30 PM, hiking until after dark for the second night in a row. It felt great to be in camp after such a long day of hiking, though. The feeling of being so wonderfully tired at the end of the day, and being able to just sit in camp, cook dinner, and go to sleep, is one of the simple delights of backpacking. So is falling asleep while breathing fresh, cool air straight from the outdoors. Unfortunately, the third part of my camping trifecta wasn’t in place– I realized that night that I’m quite sick of couscous. I need to change up my backpacking meals.
|Lupus doesn’t care what kind of food it is, as long as it’s edible.|
Sunday morning we hit the trail again at 8 AM, but this time with a somewhat wet trail. It had rained during the night (a lot, I think, but I’d slept through it all), and the temperature had dropped like a rock. Throughout the day, the temperature never got any higher than 45, nor did we see the sun. Shame, since there are plenty of fine views in the northern half of the Greenway. We moved much slower on Sunday due to the long day before, but it was nice just to enjoy the forest, even without views.
|Hiking into the storm.|
Around 3 PM, while we were somewhere on Pillsbury Ridge just north of Lucia’s Lookout, the rain started to fall. It wasn’t much at first, but at forty degrees it doesn’t take much rain to be a nuisance. As we continued along, the rain came a little harder, and a little harder. It never got to be torrential, but it was icy cold, and eventually soaked us all. Had we planned on camping that night, we might have stopped early in the day and hunkered down in our tents, but we had to be done that night, and the car was still six or eight miles away. Nothing left to do but hike.
|Now things are getting pretty damp.|
Upon reaching the summit of Mount Sunapee, we stopped for only a few moments to regroup before starting the last few miles down to the car. The rain was colder now, forcing us to keep moving to avoid hypothermia. Even with constant movement, it was pretty chilly. By the time I saw the ski lodge, it was dusk, and I realized we had hiked until dark all three days. Of course, that thought left my mind as I dug my keys out of my pack and dove into the car. We cranked the heat up and breathed a collective, and large, sigh of relief while the fans drove away the moisture. That was a heck of a weekend.
It’s been a while since I’ve hiked through really nasty conditions like Sunday afternoon– it reminded me a little too much of my last few weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. But this time, instead of feeling exhausted and discouraged at the end, I was so happy to be out in that kind of weather. I was sore and sleepy all day on Monday, but I knew I had earned every minute that I sat on my couch. And it was just a nice feeling to know that even when I feel out of practice, I can still get right into the nitty gritty of backpacking. I think this summer is going to be a good hiking season.