Mount Monadnock

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Mount Monadnock
Grand Monadnock
Mount Monadnock as seen from Bald Rock.jpg
The summit of Mount Monadnock
Highest point
Elevation 3,165 ft (965 m)  [1]
Prominence 2,150 ft (660 m)  [2]
Listing #33 New England Fifty Finest
Coordinates 42°51′39″N 72°6′29″W / 42.86083°N 72.10806°W / 42.86083; -72.10806
MOUNT MONADNOCK Latitude and Longitude:

42°51′39″N 72°6′29″W / 42.86083°N 72.10806°W / 42.86083; -72.10806
Location Jaffrey / Dublin, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, United States
Age of rock 400 million years
Mountain type Monadnock
Type of rock Littleton formation
schist/ quartzite
First ascent 1725 by Captain Samuel Willard
Easiest route White Arrow Trail, 2.3 mi (3.7 km)
Designated 1987

Mount Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, is a mountain in the New England state of New Hampshire, known for its presence in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. It is the most prominent mountain peak in southern New Hampshire and is the highest point in Cheshire County. It is located 62 miles (100 km) northwest of Boston and 38 miles (61 km) southwest of Concord, within the towns of Jaffrey and Dublin, New Hampshire. [3] At 3,165 feet (965 m), Mount Monadnock is nearly 1,000 feet (305 m) higher than any other mountain peak within 30 miles (48 km) and rises 2,000 feet (610 m) above the surrounding landscape.

It has long been cited as one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. [4] Monadnock's bare, isolated, and rocky summit provides expansive views. A number of hiking trails ascend the mountain, including the 110-mile (180 km) Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and the 50-mile (80 km) Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway. [3] The summit is barren largely because of fires set by early settlers. The first major fire, set in 1800 to clear the lower slopes for pasture, swept through the stands of virgin red spruce on the summit and flanks of the mountain. Between 1810 and 1820, local farmers, who believed that wolves were denning in the blowdowns, set fire to the mountain again. The conflagration raged for weeks, destroying the topsoil and denuding the mountain above 2,000 feet (610 m). [5]

The term " monadnock" has come to be used by American geologists to describe any isolated mountain formed from the exposure of a harder rock as a result of the erosion of a softer rock that once surrounded it (a landform termed "inselberg" ["island-peak"] elsewhere in the world).


The word "monadnock" is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means "mountain that stands alone", [6] although the exact meaning of the word is uncertain. The term was adopted by early settlers of southern New Hampshire and later by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg or isolated mountain. Mount Monadnock is often called Grand Monadnock, to differentiate it from other Vermont and New Hampshire peaks with "Monadnock" in their names. [5]

Its official name on federal maps is "Monadnock Mountain". [7]


The transcendentalists

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller visited the mountain and wrote fondly of it. Emerson was a frequent visitor, and made the mountain the subject of "Monadnoc", [8] one of his most famous poems. Thoreau visited the mountain four times between 1844 and 1860 and spent a great deal of time observing and cataloging natural phenomena. He is regarded as having written one of the first serious naturalist inventories of the mountain. A bog near the summit of Mount Monadnock and a rocky lookout off the Cliff Walk trail are named after him; another lookout is named after Emerson. [5]

The Halfway House and other structures

In 1858, Moses Cudworth of Rindge opened the "Halfway House" hotel on the south side of the mountain, roughly halfway from the base to the summit. The "Toll Road" was built to service it. By that time the popularity of the mountain was booming, and it was not long before Cudworth enlarged the hotel to accommodate 100 guests. On busy summer days, the stables at the Halfway House held as many as 75 horses. The Halfway House became public property when hundreds of residents of the nearby towns formed a coalition to buy the Toll Road and hotel and prevent a radio tower from being constructed on the summit. After the hotel burned down in 1954, a concession stand operated at the site until 1969 when it and the toll road were both closed to public vehicles. Moses Spring, with its source in a hole drilled through a rock behind the site, is one of the few remaining artifacts of the hotel years. The foundations of two water tanks, and the nearby reservoir that fed them, are extant on the hillside above the Old Halfway House. [5]

A small firewarden's hut was located on the summit of Mount Monadnock and operated from 1911 to 1948, when it was decommissioned with the advent of modern means of detecting forest fires. The hut remained as a snack bar and hikers' shelter until 1969 and was removed in 1972. A small cabin, located farther down the mountain, served as the fire lookout's residence. It, too, is gone. [5]

A private dwelling, 400 feet (120 m) south of the site of the former Halfway House, is the last remaining inholding on the mountain above 1,000 feet (300 m).

Hiking history

Typical crowded summit of Mt. Monadnock on a sunny autumn day

The earliest recorded ascent of Mount Monadnock took place in 1725 by Captain Samuel Willard and fourteen rangers under his command who camped at the top and used the summit as a lookout while patrolling for Native Americans. Before the practice came to be frowned upon, many early hikers carved their names in the summit; the earliest such engraving reads "S. Dakin, 1801" and is attributed to a local town clerk. [5]

Notable "power hiking" records associated with the mountain include that of Garry Harrington, who hiked to the summit 16 times in a 24-hour period, and Larry Davis, who claimed to have hiked to the summit daily for 2,850 consecutive days (7.8 years). [9] [10]

Monadnock is often claimed to be the second-most frequently climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan. [11] [12] Monadnock is climbed by 125,000 hikers yearly, [5] while Mount Fuji sees 200,000-300,000 hikers yearly. [13] However, according to UNESCO, neither mountain comes close in climbing popularity to Tai Shan in China, with more than 2 million visitors a year. [14]

Biogeography, ecology, and geology

The mountain cranberry thrives on Mount Monadnock.

Due to fires in the early 19th century which burned a majority of the top 300 feet (90 m) around the summit, there is little soil cover on the peak and surrounding uplands. Although the mountain has recovered to the degree that its landscape appears natural, Mount Monadnock is an example of a mountain which has an artificial tree line, occurring well below the climatic tree line of similar mountains in the region. [15]

From the base to the summit, floral species diminish with increasingly shallow soil levels. The summit is home to many different specialized sub-alpine species which can retain moisture for long periods of time. Alpine and sub-alpine species include mountain ash, cotton grass, sheep laurel, mountain sandwort, and the mountain cranberry. Krummholz, trees stunted by harsh weather, are found on Mount Monadnock, as are several alpine bogs. Lower elevations on Mount Monadnock are clad in northern hardwood forest species; middle elevations support stands of red spruce. Before the fires, Mount Monadnock was totally covered in a red spruce forest. Since the summit has been barren of soil cover, red spruce have been slowly ascending back towards the top in a process known as ecological succession. [5]

The mountain is largely composed of highly metamorphosed 400-million-year-old schist and quartzite rock primarily associated with the Devonian Littleton Formation, a stratum that extends south into Massachusetts and north into the White Mountains. [16] At lower elevations on the mountain, and stratigraphically below the Littleton Formation, the bedrock is from the Silurian period, consisting of Rangeley Formation schists, Perry Mountain Formation quartzites, the Francestown Formation granulite, and the Warner Formation granulite. Structurally, the mountain is part of an overturned syncline – called a fold nappe – that was caused by the compressional forces of the Acadian orogeny. Dramatic small- to medium-scale metamorphic folds are visible on many of the rock faces of the mountain, including the famous Billings Fold (a recumbent syncline found about 450 feet (140 m) west of the summit), shown in the 1942 edition of Marland P. Billings' Structural Geology. [17] In addition to impressive folds, the Devonian Littleton Formation also shows large pseudomorphs of sillimanite after andalusite. These sillimanite crystals, normally needle thin, occur as 4-inch-long (102 mm) "turkey tracks" on Mount Monadnock and were formed during prograde metamorphism. [5]

USGS reference mark on the summit


Mount Monadnock lies on the divide between the Connecticut River and Merrimack River watersheds. The northern slopes of the mountain drain to Howe Reservoir, then via Minnewawa Brook to the Ashuelot River, the Connecticut River, and ultimately Long Island Sound. Gleason Brook and Mountain Brook flow off the western slopes, then via Shaker Brook to the South Branch of the Ashuelot River. The southwestern slopes of the mountain drain to Fassett Brook, then Quarry Brook, before reaching the South Branch of the Ashuelot.

To the southeast of the mountain, Mead Brook and Stony Brook flow to Mountain Brook, a tributary of the Contoocook River, which flows north to the Merrimack River and ultimately the Gulf of Maine. The eastern slopes of the mountain drain to Thorndike Pond, the outlet of which (Stanley Brook) flows northeast to Nubanusit Brook, then into the Contoocook and the Merrimack. [18]


Stereoscopic image of visitors to Mount Monadnock in the 19th century

Mount Monadnock is open to hiking, backpacking, picnicking, and snowshoeing. Backcountry skiing is possible on some of the lower trails. A seasonal campground east of the mountain is maintained by the state of New Hampshire, but camping is not allowed anywhere else on the mountain. A per-person fee is charged (in season) to park at the Old Toll Road and State Park Headquarters trailheads. There are no roads to the summit, and the Old Toll Road, which leads to the Halfway House site, is closed to vehicles. ATVs are not allowed on the mountain. [19] Good views of the mountain can be had from a number of regional roads and highways, especially from New Hampshire Route 124.


Near the head of the White Dot Trail

Mount Monadnock is criss-crossed by many miles of well-maintained hiking trails. The most popular trails are the White Dot Trail, 2.2 miles (3.5 km), the shortest but steepest ascent to summit, accessible from the Monadnock State Park headquarters and campground on the southeast side of the mountain; and the White Arrow Trail, 2.3 miles (3.7 km) to summit, considered the easiest ascent, via the Old Toll Road (Halfway House) trailhead on the south side of the mountain. Other major trails include:

  • The Marlboro Trail, on the west side of the mountain, 2.2 miles (3.5 km) to summit
  • The Dublin Path, also part of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, on the north side 2.4 miles (3.9 km) to summit
  • The Pumpelly Trail, on the northeast side, the longest ascent, 4.4 miles (7.1 km) to summit
  • Access from the east side of the mountain is provided by the Birchtoft Trail (Gilson Pond trailhead) and several connecting trails to the summit.
Mount Monadnock from Franklin Pierce University

Other important trails include the White Cross Trail, an alternative parallel to the White Dot Trail, and the Cliff Walk, a scenic detour that shadows a ledge to the east of the White Arrow Trail. [5]

Mount Monadnock is the northern terminus of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (also known as the "M&M Trail"), a 110-mile-long (180 km) hiking trail stretching south through Massachusetts to the Connecticut border. [20] The trail ascends the mountain from the southwest; however, there is no trailhead where that trail crosses Route 124 at the foot of the mountain, and the highway there is marked with "no parking" signs. [21] The closest trailhead southbound on the M&M Trail is on Bullard Road, which leads south from Route 124 half a mile west of the M&M Trail's crossing of the state highway.

The mountain is also the southern terminus of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, a 50-mile (80 km) highland trail connecting Mount Monadnock and Mount Sunapee. [5] A third long-distance trail project, the Wantastiquet-Monadnock Greenway, aims at linking Mount Monadnock with Pisgah State Park and Wantastiquet Mountain, a prominent peak in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, overlooking the town of Brattleboro, Vermont, and the Connecticut River. [22]

Hiking the mountain

One mile from the summit on the White Dot Trail

The four-hour round trip to the summit and back via one of the shorter trails is considered moderately challenging for the average hiker but requires no technical skills during the late spring to early fall season. Wind and weather on the exposed, rocky summit is usually harsher than below, year round. Winter storms and summer thunderstorms can be life-threatening.

Winter snow and ice can linger on the trails well into May, making hiking hazardous or impossible without special equipment. The compacting of snow due to winter recreation on the more frequently used trails tends to lengthen the time it takes for the snow and ice to melt off. Stabilizers, crampons, ice axes, ski poles, and snowshoes may be helpful or necessary for winter and early spring ascents depending on ice and snow cover.

Fall hiking generally requires warmer clothing, an awareness of weather conditions, and earlier ascent times. As there are few reliable water sources on the mountain and little shelter from the sun above 2,000 feet (610 m), dehydration and heat stroke are potential hazards.

Poison ivy does not grow on Mount Monadnock, and venomous snakes do not inhabit it. The mountain and surrounding area are black bear habitat, although problem encounters with bears are rare. [5] [23]

Advice on hiking can be solicited in-season (Memorial Day through Columbus Day and select off-season weekends) at the park headquarters on the southeast side of the mountain. Trail descriptions and maps of Mount Monadnock are published by a variety of commercial and non-commercial sources. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests prints a complete guidebook with maps, trail descriptions, history, geology, ecology, and other trivia on the mountain. [5]

A 360° view from the top of Mount Monadnock


Most of the mountain has been protected and is not subject to development. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the major landowner, holding over 4,000 acres (16 km2) in its Monadnock Reservation. [24] [25] Lands on Monadnock are leased to the state for management purposes. An additional 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) on the mountain are owned directly by the state of New Hampshire as Monadnock State Park. The town of Jaffrey also owns portions of the mountain. [26]

In 2000, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail was included in a study by the National Park Service for possible inclusion in a new National Scenic Trail, now tentatively called the New England National Scenic Trail, which would also include the Mattabesett and Metacomet trails in Connecticut, giving it some of the status accorded to the Appalachian Trail. However, there seems to be some uncertainty whether or not the New Hampshire section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail will be included in the final NST designation. [27]

Artistic tributes

Mount Monadnock as painted by Richard Whitney in the painting Monadnock Orchard
Abbott Handerson Thayer, Monadnock, Winter Sunrise, 1919, Princeton University Art Museum

Beside Emerson and Thoreau, other artists and writers have been inspired by Mount Monadnock, including:

Other nearby peaks named Monadnock


Mount ... Monadnock ...



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