A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Rhythm of the Trail

Summers are Short, Life is Sweet: Time to Hike the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway

By Eric Aldrich

Starting our hike on the MS Greenway in Dublin.
Like a shooting star flying through the night sky, summer comes and goes.
It’s the same way with kids. They grow up so fast.
With that in mind, I knew back in May that I needed to plan a summer adventure with my 10 year-old son, Ian. We wanted it to be outdoors, multi-day and challenging. A backpacking trip would be the perfect adventure.
We first considered a hut-to-hut trip in New Hampshire’s Presidentials, and even planned a few options for a two- or three-night journey.
Then we quickly settled on something nearby and familiar like an old friend: the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail. I had hiked the trail many times before -- in sections and through-hikes -- but not for a few years. So, not only would this be a good place for our adventure, it would also be a nice chance to get reacquainted and introduce the Greenway to the next generation.
We started planning. We picked up the new edition of the Greenway Trail Guide and pored over the maps.
The Greenway is a fabulous local treasure, running 50 miles between the summits of Mount Monadnock to Mount Sunapee. Along the way it climbs many hills, passes old stone walls and cellar holes, ponds, streams and one-time pastures, now loaded with blueberry bushes.
It generally follows the high ground between the Connecticut River watershed on the west and the Merrimack River watershed on the east. This divide is pretty well-defined on Mount Sunapee’s long, rocky spine, where you can straddle the two watersheds with both feet.

A Greenway Vision

The trail was first suggested in 1919 by Allen Chamberlain, then president of the Appalachian Mountain Club. By 1921, the trail was laid out by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which saw it as a way to build public support for conserving not only the two book-end peaks, but also a corridor between them.
Back then, the landscape was full of open meadows and active pastures and farms. While some of the trail followed old roads, other stretches went through these pastures with landowners’ approval.
After World War II, the trail fell into disrepair and its path faded into the woods. By 1974, however, the Forest Society saw the public’s growing interest in backpacking and revived the trail with the help of the AMC. Much of the trail follows this 1974 route, passing through state parks, state forests, lands owned by conservation organizations and many private lands -- some conserved and some not.
The key to keeping the trail on these private lands is ensuring hikers follow a few simple rules, like having no fires, camping in designated sites and being courteous to landowners and other hikers.
Aside from landowners, the trail’s true heroes are the hardworking volunteers of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail Club. They clear blowdowns, install waterbars and bridges and maintain the trail in many ways. They also produce the handy trail guide.

Four Nights and Five Senses

    While you can through-hike the Greenway in four days or so, my son and I faced the constraints of busy work, school and camp schedules. So we did it in four sections, spending four nights on the trail (shelters and tent platforms) and hiking the Lovewell Mountain stretch in Washington as a day-hike. We started by heading north from Mount Monadnock on Father’s Day weekend and wrapped up the Mount Sunapee end on August 1, hot, sweaty and satisfied.
    It was a journey for the senses. We savored strawberries on our first day and gobbled blueberries near the end on Sunapee’s ridge. We enjoyed chicken terriyaki, scrambled eggs and even ice-cream sandwiches, all thanks to freeze-dried technology and Eastern Mountain Sports!
    We heard vireos, warblers, babbling brooks, crickets and wind whistling through the pines.
    We touched smooth beeches scratched by black bears and splashed our sweaty faces with cool brook water.
    We smelled lichens roasting on the rocks, spruce-fir forests and instant coffee in the morning.
    And we saw old graveyards, beaver dams, distant windmills in Lempster, coyote scat, friends in Nelson and my old school in Washington.

Have an Adventure

    This is just one father/son summer adventure. There’ll be more backpacking trips, more trails and more seasons … but it’s funny how time flies.
    Seems like yesterday my hiking partner was riding on my back in a baby carrier. And there were times when summers seemed to last forever. Kids grow up. Lives get busy. Knees go bad. And summer fades into fall. All of which is fine. It’s the rhythm of life, the rhythm of the trail.
    So pick a trail, any trail -- no matter how old your kids are, no matter the season -- and go out and share it with them. Life is sweet, like a mouthful of blueberries. Have an adventure. Hit the trail and have fun.

For more information about the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail, visit

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.