Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mt. Monadnock | New Hampshire

I realized that since coming to Boston, I have blogged very little about the city of Boston, ye, the state of Massachusetts. Instead, a good portion of my content has been excursions to Vermont and New Hampshire. Here is another one of those adventures from earlier this month.

Mt. Monadnock is one of the only geological points of interest in New England that I knew about prior to moving to New England. It has featured in the poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and (quite curiously) H.P. Lovecraft. While internet sources disagree about precisely how many people climb Mt. Monadnock each year, it is generally agreed that it is one of the most summited mountains in the world, trailing Mt. Fuji.

We took the White Dot Trail up to the summit. It's a 3.8 mile loop with an elevation gain of 1771 ft, to the summit at 3165 ft. Mt. Monadnock is not a particularly tall mountain, but it is the most distinguished feature of the landscape by far.

I very wisely wore many layers and my fancy hiking boots. The hike begins with very modest uphills, and then very abruptly transitions to some steep scrambling over boulders. We kept a brisk pace because the clouds looked ominous and we definitely did not want to be caught in the rain during the ascent. I personally really enjoy scrambling and thrive on steep, steep uphills...but rain would have made the ascent very precarious. I'd say that this hike is one where good traction and ankle support are especially important.

We hiked up in short, fast bursts on major uphill sections, taking in the rolling New Hampshire valleys under threat of rainfall with each break. Because I use my iPhone for all my pictures and generally go nuts editing on VSCO, I am prone to sort of amateurish landscape photography. I'm also not used to taking pictures under such ominous clouds and mercurial sunshine (or lack thereof), so please forgive the visuals.

The second major snack break

There are two major stretches of steep scrambles, and at the end of the first was where we had a major snack break. This stretch of flat was perfect for boulder hopping, looking at all the trees growing between rocks, and stretching out. We rested a bit and then made our last push to the summit, which was a bit farther than we had initially thought.

Looking for stunted trees at the second major snack break

Lunch at the summit, which was ridiculously crowded but still very enjoyable. I can see why Mt. Monadnock is one of the most-climbed mountains in the world: it's very close to Boston, it's fairly accessible to novice hikers, and they pay-off is wonderful, both in the summit itself and the feeling of digging in to get there. I don't know if any of my photos can express how steep it was in some sections, but it took real effort, perhaps more than any of the hikes I've documented here so far.

Getting ready for the final push to the summit, which was farther than we thought

We didn't spend quite as much time at the summit as I had wanted, but it began to drizzle and we wanted to get some of the steep, scrambly descent behind us before it poured. It never did quite pour but the rocks were at some points completely covered with rain, and some of our party did slip. The descent is more anxiety-inducing, and my joints did take a beating...but luckily, I didn't fall.

Some trees on the way up. I tend to write before I edit photos, and am still not great at spacing things out. Here, the text describes the descent and I haven't even gotten to the summit pictures yet!

All in all, we left Boston at around 9 AM, stopped at McDonald's, got to the mountain and hiked up and down, went to Taco Bell, and returned to Boston at around 5 PM. I chipped in $7 for the rental car, bought hash browns for $1, bought a honeydew for $3 near Taco Bell, and mooched off some of the junk food that someone was too full to finish.

The summit

  • Location: Mt. Monadnock, in Mt. Monadnock State Park in New Hampshire
  • Distance/duration: 3.8 miles loop, about 2 hours to the summit
  • Elevation gain: 1771 ft
  • Difficulty: moderately strenuous thanks to the really steep, really fun scrambles; could be harder in rain or winter or hotter weather
  • Points of interest: that sweet, sweet view
  • Overall: this was a really fun, satisfying hike. The scrambling was tough, but entirely worth the pain. I can see why this place is so popular, but at the same time, the trail and summit are very crowded.

By the time I got around to editing the photos and finishing the honeydew (I froze some of it), I realized that my first year of medical school was just about over. How do I describe this first year? I can't articulate it well in this addendum to a blog post about hiking up a mountain, but here are a few thoughts about this year and the summer to come.

My first year of medical school was a lot of things. It was an affirmation in that I know more than I began that I am where I want to be doing exactly what I want to do. It was a challenge, academically and professionally, but I learn best in challenges and in failure. I made some good friends, and had more fun than I am used to having. I also found mentors: a resident who wants me to succeed, an assistant dean who let me cry in her office twice and then helped me find my courage again, a preceptor and role model who taught me not just about surgery and how to care for patients, but how to be more confident and capable.

I think I always had an impression of Boston being some kind of intellectual ivory tower of medicine, and it kind of is. However, our hospital is decidedly blue collar, safety net, and deeply concerned with the intersection of medicine and social good. I was lucky to have found and stayed on the same research project since the autumn, and will work harder at it this summer. It's about both medicine and social justice; orthopedic surgery and opioids. The opioid epidemic in New England (and the Rust Belt and Appalachia and small town America) runs deep. It's systemic and demands policy at all levels of government. It's a fight I have been waiting to enter.

As far as Lord of Three Realms goes, I have a few posts waiting in the wings. I also realized that I have half of my Germany posts from last summer yet to be written. I hadn't expected my blog to turn into New England day hike report central when I first started medical school, but I do have some hiking planned this summer, and I will take pictures and write about them. More recreational reading, and more excursions out of my culinary comfort zone (I have recipes to try).

Last thing: I'm thinking about working on the blog actually adding headings and categorizing things reasonably.

And that's it.


  1. Should I be surprised that such a strenuous hike was so popular? I'm not much of a hiker myself, so I guess that's why I'm surprised, but the view is beautiful, so I can see why it's so popular, and especially so for more seasoned hikers. Excited for the things you have planned for your blog! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    1. I think it's actually pretty accessible to beginning hikers as well. There are lots of places to rest, and the views are great the entire way up so you don't -have to- commit to the whole thing. Lots of people who looked like beginners, and some young kids as well. As long as you have sturdy shoes and enough water/food, I think all the hikes I've written about can be done by a beginner.

  2. Gorgeous! I have never bee hiking in New England!

    7% Solution

    1. If you have the chance, go and do it! Great trails out here

  3. Congratulations on being done with your first year of medical school! I'm not at all an outdoorsy person myself, but it's always really cool to see your photos and read about your adventures.

    In my job now, I also see some of the effects of the opioid epidemic (the cases that result in federal prosecution in front of one judge in one jurisdiction provide a narrow cross section of how things are in the jurisdiction). We hear a fair bit from both defendants and victims, and it's very sad.

    1. Thank you very much, Xin! Never too late to get outside and enjoy fresh air.

      The downstream effects of opioid abuse and addiction are something that I am relatively shielded from, but I can imagine that the legal consequences can awful. Medical professionals are absolutely complicit, and at our hospital (and the profession at large) seem to be taking more and more responsibility.