I’ve been saying for weeks now that the fall hiking season is done, but that’s probably because I’ve been up in the White Mountains too much this month. While there’s snow at elevation in the Whites, and the leaves lower down are pretty much done, there’s an easy way to get back into the foliage and fine fall weather– just head south. Or in my case, don’t head so far north.
|A new weather vane on Monte Rosa.|
On Wednesday afternoon, my childhood buddy, Jeremy, stopped in Keene on his way from Bar Harbor to Arizona. He’s been a rock climbing guide in Acadia National Park for the past five years, but the island has been a little difficult for him recently, and it’s time for a major life change. Last week, he loaded up his truck, put some town stops on his schedule, and started a trip out of Maine, possibly for good.
Soon after Jeremy arrived, we headed out to Monadnock, my backyard mountain down in the southern regions near Keene. It’s almost shameful to say, but I haven’t been on Monadnock since January or sometime around there. The trailheads are only a twenty minute drive from my home, yet I always seem to pass the mountain by for bigger fish hours to the north. Early this week the air was so clear and fresh, it would have been a crime not to head up a mountain. The leaves are still mostly on the trees, too, and a good two or three weeks behind what I’ve been seeing in the Whites.
|Black Precipice, near the summit of Monadnock.|
Jeremy and I have been friends since we were both three years old, running around the preschool playground together and hiding in the woods at our childhood homes. When I discovered rock climbing in high school, I introduced him to the sport and we came up with the crazy idea of being climbing guides and playing outdoors for the rest of our lives. I gave up on that idea a few years later, but Jeremy went ahead and lived it, doing pretty well for himself and living in Bar Harbor for the past several years. Meanwhile, I’ve been up to other things, but the dream of making our lives by playing outdoors has held pretty strong.
|Looking northwest toward Ascutney.|
We chose to take the long route up Monadnock, parking near Gap Mountain and hiking the Royce Trail (or Metacomet-Monadnock Trail) up to Monte Rosa, then to Black Precipice, and up to the summit. The first two miles were pretty easy and nearly untrodden, walking through beautiful southern-New-England hardwoods and a few small patches of evergreens. The trail was even difficult to follow sometimes, with such thick leaf litter on the ground. But once we passed the Halfway House Clearing, things got steep fast. We stopped to say hi to Yvonne, coming down from her job as a summit steward on the mountain, before rushing uphill so as not to be late for dinner.
Jeremy’s and my situations are interesting to me, because I’ve been hearing a little too much about the plight of Maine in the past years, about the young people leaving the state for better job markets, more exciting places, bigger cities, less forest. You certainly don’t hear much about how strong the community of Mainers-in-Exile can be, or about the people who migrate to Maine because it’s a great place to live. I won’t say that people don’t leave the state, but I can say the full story tends to get overlooked. Jeremy is leaving for various personal reasons, despite having a pretty good gig as a climbing guide in Acadia. I left because of Yvonne, and I still haven’t found a home that I consider as homey as Maine. Keene is close, Vermont was closer. The jury is still out on where I’ll end up.
|The Halfway House clearing.|
For now, a clear autumn afternoon on Monadnock is a fine way to finish a day. Jeremy had never been, and it had been far too long since I’ve been there, so it was a no brainer of a hike. It was also long overdue since we hadn’t seen each other in far too long (Keene to Bar Harbor is a long six hours by car), and I don’t know when I’ll see him next as he works his way across the country. Who knows. Maybe we’ll end up somewhere near Maine again. Or we’ll continue roaming. There’s plenty to explore and see until then.