Last Saturday was the kind of chilly, drizzly autumn day in New Hampshire that makes you want to sleep in and lounge around in your pajamas. Who would want to climb a mountain in weather like that, for fun, on his birthday? Glop, of course.
Glop’s birthday wish was to climb Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, NH, just under an hour from our house. Elevation: 3,166 ft. According to the NH State Parks website, it is “said to be the world’s third most climbed mountain, following Japan’s Mount Fuji and China’s Mount Tai.”
It’s not like Glop wanted a new car or even a new grill. I’m a good sport, so I agreed to go with him. I was also interested in seeing whether or not mountain climbing was for me. So we rose early, got the kids situated with the in-laws, packed up some food, and hit the road.
I thought I was just in for a long, rocky hike. After all, Glop had taken S. and A. camping and hiking on Monadnock when A. was just three, and she’d made it three quarters of the way up the mountain. If a three-year-old could almost make the summit, certainly I could, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The weather should have been my first clue that I might not meet with success on Mount Monadnock. My total lack of appropriate gear, and experience, should also have tipped me off.
I was nervous as we drove the winding road leading to Monadnock State Park. The leaves were peeking in fiery orange and red glory, but dark gray clouds lurked low over the landscape. The air was thick with white mist. Foreboding.
I mentioned to Glop that it might not be the best day for a hike. He assured me would be fine, that the weather would clear and we’d be treated to a fabulous view from the mountain top. I was less than convinced, and requested we turn back if no one else was climbing that day. I had visions of being stranded on the mountain with nary a soul in sight, the rangers unable to find us in the fog.
Well, I hardly had to worry about being alone. We waited on line to enter the parking lot, which was already filled with about three hundred cars. It was Columbus Day weekend in New England and every man, woman, and child in the area was hoping for a view of the fall colors from on high. I’ll be lucky if I can elbow my way to the top, I thought.
Glop was, of course, dismayed that so many others were there. But such is life. Fall is to New England what summer is to the Jersey Shore: Crowded.
We checked our gear, if you could call it that, in the parking lot. We had one pair of Keenes and one lightweight Columbia rain jacket between us. The Keenes weren’t mine. We had power bars, waters, trail mix, apples and matches (just in case). I had stuffed everything into one of the girls’ old flower-power backpacks. Glop had an old computer bag. Stylin’.
The temperature was in the mid-fifties when we took to the White Dot Trail. The start was deceptively benign, through a flat stretch of woods at the base of the mountain. Then we started to climb. And climb. And climb. Pretty soon we were scrambling over rocks and hopping up felled logs. I felt like Spiderman. I could see why the girls had liked this hike. So far.
Then the route became more vertical, the rocks slicker. My sneakers quickly became wet and lost their grip. I was sweating one minute, from all the effort, and freezing cold the next, as the wind picked up. The knees of my jeans were soaked through from crawling on all fours (mostly out of fear). I was absurdly afraid of tumbling off the mountain, like a cartoon character. At one point, Glop had to push me up a steep rock face because I froze like a deer in the headlights. (Just want to say I was not the only one, people!) What kept me going was the thought that we’d be taking the easier way down, and I definitely didn’t want to retrace my steps.
All the while we were hiking, I wondered “How did S. and A. ever do this?” I consoled myself with the thought that children so little probably didn’t even know to be afraid, or realize how high up they were. This was probably no more than a day at the playground to them. I felt wimpy and a little weepy. All thoughts of being a mountaineer were evaporating.
Eventually, after about two hours of following white dots here and there, we reached what I thought was the summit of Mount Monadnock. We were above the tree line and there was fog, fog, everywhere. I was cold, wet through, and uncomfortable. The promised clearing had not happened. There was no view. I posed for a picture and thought, well, that’s that. Time to go down the mountain.
Then Glop spotted another white dot leading off up into the distance. “We’re not at the summit yet!” he exclaimed, a little too gleefully.
I started to whine, “Do we really have to…”
“Yes, of course,” Glop said.
Not what I wanted to hear. I couldn’t even see ten feet in front of my face. I could only wonder what lay ahead. I downed some water and trail mix. I asked another hiker coming down how far we had to go. “Uh,” he said, looking doubtfully at my gear. “Probably another fifteen minutes.” Fifteen minutes! Thirty there and back! My quads were killing me, and I knew I had to get down the mountain, too.
Team player that I am, I hiked on for five more minutes, until we got to yet another bed of slippery granite. I had noticed that even the more experienced hikers around us were complaining about conditions on the summit. Glop stayed with me while I surveyed the situation.
I really wanted to be tough and stick it out. It would be great to say I had made it to the summit of Mount Monadnock. If I didn’t do it, would it prove I had no mettle? What if I did it and I fell, or worse? I waffled back and forth before finally deciding I just couldn’t do it. As usual, my imagination got the best of me. I didn’t want to risk breaking anything, like my head. I thought I could probably make the summit but maybe lose it, mentally and/or physically, on the way down, and so I called it quits. We did what you’re not supposed to do, which is separate, and Glop continued up. With so many people around we felt it was an acceptable option.
As I waited for Glop to finish the ascent and return to the wet rock where I sat, my legs stiffened and I started to shiver. What they say about weather changing quickly in the mountains is so true. At that point, I wanted a winter coat, a hat, and gloves. And a nice warm fire.
I stared into the mist where Glop had just disappeared, and I felt in my gut that I’d done the right thing for me. That feeling was validated just a few minutes later, when the rangers decided to close the summit just after Glop came down. The wind was blowing forty miles per hour at the top, the going was treacherous, and it was crowded with people trying to see a whole lot of nothing.
I had started the hike up Mount Monadnock hoping for a magical adventure, a transforming event that would lead to…what…a new passion? A great story? A great picture? Romance? Ha. Nothing really happened, when all was said and done. A mom and dad in their mid-thirties hiked up a mountain and came down again (that last part, my friends, is another story). And, of course, I helped Glop fulfill a birthday wish. That’s what we supportive spouses do, right? When it’s my birthday, maybe he’ll come purse shopping with me.