Monadnock Sunapee Greenway

I’ve been so excited for this hike for months.  A thru hike is a thru hike, even if it is only 48 miles!  And the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway is close to home to boot!  There were supposed to be four of us hiking but some last minute changes in work plans led to three of us starting and a different three of us ending.

Jon had to leave early so he got on the trail in the middle two days early and hiked north.  Chuckles and I met him at Mount Sunapee on Thursday, left a car, and drove down to Mount Monadnock.  We stopped in Peterborough for brunch first.  Two of us weren’t even hiking yet and it was already hard to leave the diner in town!  We eventually made it to Monadnock State Park to get started.

The MSG doesn’t actually start until the top of the mountain so we had to get there first.  Monadnock is often claimed to be the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji, maybe because of its proximity to Boston and its relatively short distance to the top.

Just getting into the park was an adventure.  The guy at the entry gate was definitely high and very entertaining.  Here’s how it went down:

Us: Hi, we’re here to park for a few days while we hike the MSG. We have the NH State Park license plates so we don’t have to pay, right?
Him: Yeah, there’s no entry fee if you already have the plates.
Us: Cool.  We heard that you just give us a permit to put on the dashboard so no one gets worried that a car is still in the parking lot overnight.
Him: Yeah, I think we do that.
Us: So can we have the permit to put on the dashboard?
Him: Oh yeah, of course.  That’ll be $15.
Us: Doesn’t the NH plate mean we don’t have to pay?
Him: It’s $5 each.
Us: Doesn’t the NH plate mean we don’t have to pay?
Him: I’m only going to charge you for the first day even though your car will be here longer.
Us: Doesn’t the NH plate mean we don’t have to pay?
Him: Oh yeah.
Him: Here’s your permit.
Us: *hysterically laughing as soon as we drive away*

We went up the White Dot Trail, which climbs about 1800′ in 1.9 miles.  It starts out nice and wide but is super rooty and rocky.  You can tell that loads of people hike up it.  It turned steep fairly quickly, and as we got closer to treeline, the rocks turned to giant slabs.  I had decided to wear long sleeves and pants after the bugs two weeks ago so I was super hot going up.

There was still a ways to go after hitting treeline, but it was fun, slabby hiking.  That’s something I only say when hiking uphill.  Hiking down slabs is not quite as fun, and I definitely wouldn’t want to do this one in the rain.

A lot of the day hikers seemed to be very confused by our overnight packs and also very confused by geography.  We got asked if we were on the Appalachian Trail (nope, a couple hours south of it), you know it goes all the way to Maine (yes, we are aware), the Long Trail (not even in the same state), and somewhere else I can’t remember now.

There were views all around the 3165′ summit.  We took a break at the top even though we’d just taken a break earlier to enjoy it without other people.  Being a Thursday, there weren’t too many folks up there though.  The weekend sounds like it would be a nightmare.

Jon was complaining about some blisters so a nearby trail runner sunning herself on the rock said she was a nurse and had a clean hypodermic needle that he was welcome to have to lance them.  He initially refused but she harassed him into taking it.  It sounds way better than the sewing needle I keep for such purposes.

Now that we were at the southern terminus of the MSG, it was time to get moving, and we followed the Dublin Trail north down the mountain.  There were way fewer people this way and we descended back into the trees and down a very steep, rocky path.  We ran into another hiker towards the bottom that was at least aware of the MSG since he’d day hiked all of it, but he was astounded that we were thru hiking it.  It just about blew his mind when we mentioned that we planned to hike the Cohos Trail later this year, a two-week journey.  We tacitly agreed not to mention some other notable hikes we’ve all done.

Once we crossed the road leaving the park, we saw no other hikers and the trail looked like it hadn’t been touched yet this season.  The trail only had small, gradual ups and downs now, with a short walk on a dirt road.  The bugs were getting bad so out came the head net and bug spray.  We made it to Spiltoir Shelter after an 8-mile day.

A lot of this trail is on private land and camping is only allowed at the provided shelters, each of which has a pit toilet.  Not a full privy, mind you.  When I say pit toilet, I mean a box on the ground, in the open, with a hole cut in it for you to sit on and a shallow hole dug underneath.  That’s always fun in the rain.

We dropped our things at the shelter then walked a little farther up the trail to collect water at Howe Reservoir.  We set up camp and cooked dinner as dusk set in.  I wanted to sleep in my tent anyway, but the bugs confirmed the need for mesh walls, so I set up on what I thought was a level spot.  I am out of practice picking tent spots though.  I had a diagonal slant that I repeatedly slid down and climbed back up all night.

No fires are allowed but we didn’t want to go to bed right away and, luckily, the shelter had a full deck of playing cards.  They taught me a fun game called Danish and I had enough beginner’s luck to win a couple of hands.  The bugs kept getting worse so we packed it in and retired for the night.

It wasn’t supposed to rain at all but I woke up to heavy rain about halfway through the night.  I hadn’t done a bomber job pitching my tent so I checked to see if everything was staying dry inside and it was.  I knew Chuckles had set up without her rainfly but I soon saw her headlamp moving around so I knew she’d also been woken by the rain and was taking care of it.  Jon had set up his tent in the shelter so he was fine.  The rain was pretty loud but I eventually made it back to sleep.

The rain stopped early enough that by the time I was getting out of my tent to pack up, my tent was mostly dry.  As we hiked out, down to the reservoir again, we started seeing tiny red efts on the trail every couple of minutes.  They were smaller than any I’d seen before.  I ended up counting over 60 throughout the day, and I’m sure there were many more we didn’t even notice.  One of them was so small as to be almost translucent.

We hiked through Eliza Adams Gorge at the base of Howe Reservoir, and then past many other ponds and reservoirs that day.  There was a lot more dirt road walking, but there was almost never any traffic.

We did have to walk some pavement into Nelson Center, a very cute small town where everyone’s mailboxes are under one roof on the square.  As we walked past the church, a man with a little boy said we’d be walking right by his house up the road and were welcome to stop for water if we needed any.  He was just putting something away and then heading there himself.  He reiterated the offer when he drove by us a few minutes later so of course we had to stop.

We started to go for the hose but Rich invited us into the kitchen instead, waving away our warning that we smelled bad.  He and his wife had hiked the MSG before so he knew all about the smell.  His boy didn’t seem too phased by us.  I think it’s great that he’s teaching him to get to know strangers instead of being wary of them.  The boy was concerned for us that it was starting to sprinkle as we put our packs back on but we told him rain would be better than bugs.

We kept hiking and the rain didn’t make it through the leaf canopy much.  Jon left us at Route 9, where his truck was parked and where he had started his flip flop hike, and Chuckles and I continued on.

I was more than ready for lunch but stopping to eat in the rain isn’t fun.  I figured better wet than bug-bitten, but not enough of the rain was getting through to drive away the bugs.  We doused ourselves in bug spray, sat on the ground, and tried to eat anyway.  I found out that I can fit both of my hands and a sandwich inside my head net.  Good to know.

It started raining more in earnest as we got moving after our very short lunch break.  As we hiked in the middle of an old road, the rain was pouring down, and yet I still needed to wear my head net to keep the bugs away.  I never thought I’d hike in the rain with a head net but these mosquitoes were hardy.

We had a lot of dirt road walking to do, past empty lake houses and Robinson Brook Cascades.  At one point, the trail took us up someone’s driveway and then past their house into the woods.  Although the signs were clear, I was still confused that we were going up the driveway.  We took a short break to sit on a wet rock in the rain because my feet hurt.  It’s hard to take breaks when it’s raining so my body always hurts more.

We reached Route 123 just after Little Spoon got there to join us.  We were happy to have a car to sit in after being completely soaked and we figured we’d just wait for the rain to die down a bit.  It didn’t.  We debated going to town for a quick coffee and joked about who lived closest that we could crash with for the night.  We had only planned a couple more miles that night so it’d be easy to make up.  Plus, we were heading for a tent platform, not a shelter, so we wouldn’t be able to hang out or dry our gear.  Spoon’s dad’s house was only a little over an hour away, and we could pick up Chuckles’ car on the way, and leave them both at this trailhead, saving time shuttling when we finished hiking on Sunday.

We decided to run into town and see the forecast.  It didn’t look good.  But it looked great for the morning!  It pained me to think back and realize that I’ve never done a thru hike without getting off trail for a night.  Not even the similarly distanced 50-mile Batona Trail.  Not even the 25-mile Devil’s Path!  But we decided to do it.

We drove down to Spoon’s dad’s house, picking up Chuckles’ car and stopping for pizza on the way.  I was happy to take a shower and put on dry clothes.  I then proceeded to fall asleep in the middle of the room while visiting with Spoon’s family.  Oops.  Warm, dry, and wine will do that to me.

We got an early start out of the house.  We’d done 15.3 miles Friday and planned 15.9 for Saturday.  It was a little foggy as we started up Pitcher Mountain.  There was a little boy pretending to be a smoke watcher in the fire tower who gave us a tour and told us how hard it was to see smoke in the fog as his mom laughed at him from the ground.

But it still wasn’t raining!  We were all happy with the decision we’d made the night before.

A lot more dirt road walking took us past an Adventist Church.  We knew they had a nature trail and were hoping they’d have a bathroom to go with it.  We walked into the trees to find a huge picnic pavilion with outhouses nearby.  Just then three people came out of the church and said we were just in time for their Saturday 1:00 potluck.  They also directed us to a much nicer bathhouse to use.

Turns out this is the birthplace of the Seventh-Day Adventists in America and people come from all over to see it.  It was just the site director and two women who had traveled from down south who had been at the service, but he said they frequently get tours buses and then the potlucks really get interesting.   There’s one every Saturday at 1:00 and hikers are always welcome.  Our second piece of trail magic for such a tiny trail!  (Or third if you count staying with Spoon’s family.)

We had to get moving again since we were almost to Washington Center and were ready for its general store and ice cream.  (Hurrying away from trail magic for ice cream?  Oh, the life of a thru hiker.)

The general store people were very nice, letting us loiter and throw away our trash there.  They run a little diner counter so Chuckles and Spoon grabbed sandwiches while I had ice cream and then my packed lunch.  All of us found ticks crawling on our clothes while there, a lovely addition to the mosquitoes.

The town apparently also has a farmer’s market on Saturdays from 10-1.  We’d missed it but will have to plan around that and the Adventist potluck next time.

We walked more dirt roads out of town and finally turned onto the ascent to Lovewell Mountain. It was a short, steep climb, and so humid.  All I wanted was a breeze at the top.  All we got were more mosquitoes and black flies.  Why are we doing this again?

We hiked down to Max Israel shelter, collecting water at a stream along the way.  Chuckles and Spoon found their and Jon’s entry in the shelter register from two years ago!  We ate dinner, enjoyed the wine Spoon had packed in, and then went to bed.  Tent sleeping again, damn bugs, and not many level places to choose from.  I did a much better job picking out a spot than the first night though.

Sunday was sunny and fairly clear.  It took several miles to gradually climb but we made it up to the Sunapee Ridge and had lots of views along the way as we stayed high the rest of the day.

We finally started seeing hikers again at Lake Solitude, barely more than a mile from the end of the trail.  I dipped my shirt in the lake to cool off, it was so muggy.  We tried to hang out at the lake but the black flies were too bad.  We tried to hang out at White Ledges overlooking the lake and the black flies were too bad.  We kept walking.

Mount Sunapee is a ski resort and the MSG ends on top of it.  There was also a wedding about to start on top of it when we got there.  The guests were all coming off the chair lift, completely unprepared for the black fly hell happening up top.  We felt bad for them, especially the women, who had more bare skin than the men.

We knew the trail down the mountain was steep and rocky and, frankly, didn’t count, so we decided to loiter and see if we couldn’t finagle a ride down on the chair lift.  We retreated a little bit so we wouldn’t be in the background of their pictures so that also meant we got to see the bridal party arrive.  At least the bride had a veil, a fancy head net.

After everyone was down off the chair lift, we sidled over to ask the resort employees if we could hitch a ride down.  They said the lift was shut down during the ceremony due to noise but once it started up again, we could certainly ride down.

Perfect end to a thru hike: 10.7-mile day and a trail magic chair lift ride!  We giggled with the thrill of our luck the whole way down.

1 Comment

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  1. Beth "Neon" Erviti June 30, 2020 — 9:39 am

    Love your description of this nice little trail. It’s different this year (2020) thanks to CoVid, but still wonderful.

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