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  July/August 2006
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Sierra Magazine
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Good Going
Mt. Monadnock, New Hampshire

"And comest thou
To see strange forests
and new snow,
And tread uplifted land?
And leavest thou thy
lowland race,
Here amid clouds to stand?"

--Ralph Waldo Emerson,
"Monadnoc," 1847

GREAT MEN AND WOMEN may be immortalized by having places named for them.

A natural landmark occasionally gets the rarer distinction of becoming a common noun. Any isolated mountain that rises above a low plain flattened by erosion is, to geologists, a monadnock. The original Mt. Monadnock in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, derives its name from an Abenaki Indian word believed to mean "mountain that stands alone." It's a heap of schist with one long literary pedigree.

Ralph Waldo Emerson spelled it without a k. Henry David Thoreau spent many nights camped on its slopes and, according to his journals, preferred it to any other mountain. Mark Twain summered at its feet. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous with it framed in the study window at Naulakha, his home in Dummerston, Vermont. Willa Cather looked out on it from her regular attic room at a nearby inn or, when crowds thickened, from a tent with a writing table and a view of the peak.

About 400 million years ago, Monadnock was the bottom of an ocean floor. Today the mountain lords over southwestern New Hampshire, its densely forested shoulders crowned with a bald stone peak. Ringed by backroads, Monadnock is approachable from many angles, encouraging repeat climbs with varied views. Trails ascend through lush woods of spruce and maple that blaze with color in fall; come spring, streams cascade down its slopes. Once above the treeline, the walk becomes a clamber over bare rock ledges. Church spires and glassy lakes dot the rolling hills below, and on clear days all six New England states are visible from the top, from Mt. Agamenticus in Maine to the skyscrapers of Boston.

At 3,165 feet, the summit is imposing but not impossible. All it takes is a map, a good pair of shoes, the $3 trail fee, stamina, and a desire to stand, like Emerson, amid clouds.--Sam Hooper Samuels


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