New Hampshire had feet of snow in November, but since then, warm rains melted all the snow. Alternating between the rain storms, it’s been cold but dry. New Years Eve started cold and dry, with rain forecast to blow in that night. We left the house shortly after 8AM.
The sun was shining when we left home, but when we caught sight of Monadnock in Jaffrey, a gray cloud devoured the summit. Above the mountain, a film of higher clouds dimmed the sun.
We parked at the halfway house lot and headed up the Old Halfway House Trail. Isaac surprised us with his enthusiasm. He showed off his “normal hiking speed,” which was as fast as an adult, much faster than his typical pace. Amazingly, he kept this speed up all the way to Cart Path. He got distracted once for needle ice in a frost heave and another time to climb a tree with Tyson. Tyson was thrilled we might reach the summit, unlike other recent trips on the Sherburne or Monadnock where we have turned back early. Isaac’s goal for the hike was to explore the caves Tyson knew near the summit.
The footbed changed completely at the White Arrow trail. The White Arrow Trail goes straight up the mountain. It is rutted and eroded from streams running down the trail. In the winter, the streams turn to ice skating rinks, layered formations, and streaked lacquer on vertical rock slabs. We brought our microspikes, but in places, there was only rock and we didn’t want to dull the microspikes. Us adults stuck to the exposed rocks. Isaac had a different idea. He sought out the ice. He inched and balanced and slid. Several small groups crunched past us in crampons while Isaac played. Tyson was about to scream. The summit, which had seemed in reach, was slipping away. Isaac, though, was loving the hike.
After twenty minutes or so, the trail steepened. Isaac slipped and fell enough times that he decided to hike on the rocks too. At the first gap in the trees, Tyson pointed to the visible mist blowing between the hemlock tops. A little ways further, just before the trees end, we stopped at the broad overlook rock . We could see the slope of the mountain below, but to the sides and up, the mountain hid in blowing mist. From this view, the summit looked inhospitable.
Above tree line initially wasn’t too bad. There wind was a mere breeze, enough for the mist to form rime ice on the stunted trees, but not enough to feel cold. The main problem was the barely visible rime ice on the rocks making them slippery. Isaac was again hiking uphill at a good pace and being uncharacteristically cheerful. He found one fifteen foot diameter slab next to the trail with four Isaac sized entrances and a cave underneath
The wind picked up as we climbed. The descending hikers now had wisps of rime ice growing on them. Right before the top, the White Arrow Trail cuts through a corner in a cliff band. The last ten feet up the cliff, the wind doubled. We backed down to the shelter of the cliff and put on all our jackets. Then we climbed up and over into the howling wind
The wind caught my foam pad on my pack and pushed me left and right. I couldn’t hear anything Isaac said. At the top, we stood all together for a summit photo. I worried the wind would blow one of us over and the rest would go like dominos. Obligatory photo done, Tyson led us down the other side to the cave area
Given the weather, Tyson skipped the longer but more technical cave. Instead he found a wide crevice where us adults could shelter from the wind while Isaac climbed in and out
On the way back down, we retraced our route to tree line, then we took the Side Foot Trail. For Tyson’s knees, we hiked out the road, reaching the cars at 3pm. We started and finished early, had fun, and we reached our goal. Next summer, we will come back for the second cave.