Saturday, September 10, 2016

From North Pack Monadnock to Pack Monadnock | New Hampshire

Back in August before our first day of real classes, I went on a hike in New Hampshire with our school's outdoors club. It was my first time seeing the great outdoors of New England, which is basically a jumble of granite, deciduous trees, and Algonquin place names.

Looking out over New Hampshire

This is New Hampshire from the summit of a monadnock, an isolated rock/hill/mountain common around these parts. They come to be when a harder rock endures erosion around it; because this is New Hampshire, these monadnocks are made of granite.

By the way, New Hampshire is called "The Granite State." It also has the most intense state motto ever: "Live Free or Die."

Entering Wapack National Wildlife Reserve

The drive up from Boston was only about an hour, and it amused me to think how quickly we crossed a state line. Because there were so many of us, we got there via yellow school bus, which are required by law to stop and open their doors at every railroad crossing. Incidentally, New Hampshire is full of railroad crossings, and charming images of saltbox houses and meadows and farms right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

We started at the head of Ted's Trail on Old Mountain Road at around 1300 ft above sea level and had a pretty easy stroll through private woods (presumably Ted's) to Wapack National Wildlife Refuge.

These low stone walls are a common sight in New England, and we encountered many during the hike. As I learned in my American Environmental and Cultural History class last year, these stones were uncovered not in the colonial times, but in the 1800s after a period of great deforestation and farm-raising. Previously buried stones surfaced and were made into useful little walls. Read more about them here.

Left: gaining a little altitude
Right: lots of rocks

I tried to identify the trees that I saw, but of course, many of them were unfamiliar to me. There was spruce, hemlock, and pine, but the majority of the trees we saw were deciduous: more birches than I'd ever seen before, and chestnut, ash, elm, and aspen. If some astute New Englander wants to nitpick, then I apologize. I'm from California and am new to this place and your trees.

Oh yes, and huge granite boulders everywhere.

The view from North Pack Monadnock

The trek up North Pack Monadnock was a good one; not strenuous, but enough to work up a sweat. I'll take a moment to brag that I was in the small group that led the pack and was completely stunned by the wide expanse of blue. The visibility was incredible, and the landscape filled with such an impossible variety of green and blue.

We ate lunch at the summit at 2278 ft and welcomed the light drizzle. I had this great buzz of excitement in the back of my head from this scenery: the rolling lowlands, the lush greens and blues, and the great clouds that seemed to pull the landscape ever faster to the horizon.

More landscape

We continued hiking on the Cliffs Trail, which essentially circled around to different vista points before merging with the Wapack Trail. Every turn was a new view, with ominous clouds casting intense shadows on the bucolic New Hampshire countryside, with the occasional white or red barn cutting through the green.

The first of many cairns, but the only one I took a photo of

We encountered some friendly hikers on the trail, reinforcing my impression of New Englanders as being an active, outdoorsy bunch. While I certainly don't think this compares to the truly wild beauty of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe, I needed this hike, and want to see much more of this part of the country.

LL, cairn, clouds, New Hampshire

With all these greens and blues, I do wonder what this place looks like in the autumn. I interviewed in Boston last September before most of the leaves started changing colors, and have yet to see what autumn really looks like around here.

Lots of granite everywhere

The next portion of our hike was on the Wapack Trail in the wildlife reserve. At about this time, I broke off with a few others and charged ahead to leave behind the pack. It sounds harsh, but a large, noisy group is difficult to enjoy the great outdoors with. That's juts my opinion.

One thing that I found interesting was that our hike bounced from private to public, briefly back to private, and then public land. It's a well-traveled route, but still seems unfamiliar. Most of the hiking I've done in California was completely contained on public land.

More walls
Not many photos at all of the hike between the mountains, but it was much the same. I wish I'd taken more photos, but I suppose I just forgot. The weather was pretty fickle, but fortunately not terribly hot. Thankfully, I got at least one spooky forest photo.

Blueberries, road into the state park, shrubbery, and granite

The final ascent up Pack Monadnock was harder than the first peak, and hot and sunny up at the top. Pack Monadnock, at 2290 ft, is at the northern edge of Miller State Park. It amused me that all the hiking we did took us through private property, a reserve, and barely into an official park. Anyhow, there was water at the top, as well as a weather station and fire lookout tower.

The weather station and fire tower

This was the hottest and sunniest part of the day. I had some energy left and went up the tower and around the summit looking for photo-ops (and fires). It looks like rain somewhere in Massachusetts.

The view from the fire tower on Pack Monadnock

Apparently, Boston is visible from here. I'm not too sure about that, but this is indeed looking south.

I forgot to mention that the trail is teeming with wild blueberry bushes. Many families park their cars at the summit of Pack Monadnock and go around with buckets to pick them. They were small, pretty sweet, but I didn't want too eat too many.

My favorite photo of the day. I'm 70% sure this is Mt. Monadnock (a bigger monadnock than either of that day's monadnocks)

I had some great conversation with my classmates on this hike, and am more excited than ever to hike and explore New England. I don't really know what I thought about New Hampshire before this trip, but I do hope to see more of it over the next four years.

Our route
In total, 5 miles and 1500 ft altitude gain (up a peak, back down, and up another). We embarrassingly got lost and looped back to our starting point in the first 1.5 hours of the hike so I'm not too sure about time, but we got in at around 10 AM and left before 4 PM IIRC. The end going up Pack Monadnock is fairly steep, but does not require scrambling.


  1. Wow, that scenery is so beautiful. It looks like an awesome place for a hike. I always think of the cities when I think of the States, I always forget you guys have so much natural beauty as well!

    1. It certainly was a great hike, though it seems like no landscape on the East Coast would measure up to the great American West (Sierra Nevada, Rockies, Tetons, etc). Still, the colors were unreal and I've been starved of great outdoors time since the end of summer

  2. Such beautiful, grand nature!! The clouds <33 After reading Jane's comment, I realise that I do think of nature when I think of the States, because it's definitely a lot more lush than Beijing! I really need to take advantage of the beautiful, fresh, natural landscapes here in the States. -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    1. Indeed. I'm looking at Franconia State Park next, and would like to know where New Englanders go skiing.

  3. Ha, as someone from California, it was always strange to me that one could cross state lines so quickly here. There are even tons of people working in NYC who cross state lines every day for work!

    1. That just sounds nuts to me. I always found it kind of a novelty when seeing CA and NV license plates at Lake Tahoe (and crossing state lines by skiing), as it's something that Californians seldom do.

      I also heard that because of different traffic laws, motorcyclists in NH ride to the state line without helmets and stop to put them on before entering MA.