November 4, 2013.
What's better than hiking in the woods on a beautiful sunny day? Going hiking in the woods on a beautiful day and looking for a hidden gem, Pumpelly Cave or Megalithia as it was originally known. Around 1902, two youngsters decided to build a hang-out on the cliffs of Mt Monadnock. Incredibly they hauled metal sheets for the roof and bags of concrete to help hold the walls of stone together. Believe it or not over a hundred years later and this man built shelter/cave still exists. The whereabouts is a whole other story. It is not on a map anywhere and a search on the Internet will give you hardly any clues to its location. So after doing some reconnaissance back in May I have a pretty good idea as to where it might be. I discovered a bonus clue, which will remain secret, right after that hike while looking at ...... sorry can't tell.
Since I didn't feel like paying the $5 fee to hike today, plus I've seen enough of White Dot Trail, I decided to try a different approach via Birchtoft Trail. Typically there would be a fee at this location but the campground is closed and the guard shack unmanned. Also this gives me an opportunity to hit some different trails to red-line this mountain, the theme this year is red-lining! First stop is at Gilson Pond located just after the beginning of Birchtoft Trail.
If you look real hard in the right spot Pumpelly Cave is there, seriously it's right there! Try this view then.
Still can't see it? Then you'll just have to believe, kind of like Area 51, Sasquatch and UFO's (oh yeah and Elvis and Andy Kaufman are alive also). Bunch of non-believers! I tell you it's there! So the mission continues and up the trail I go and didn't I say it was a b-e-a-u-tiful (credit goes to Bruce Nolan AKA Bruce Almighty)(Back to you fuckers!) day?
The trail follows some great New England stone walls for awhile and nothing better than leafless trees to let the sun in.
Along this section of trail I get my first sighting of a male Downey Woodpecker distinguished by the red band on his head.
Birchtoft Trail for the most part is a gradual approach until just below reaching the junction with Cascade Link Trail.
Even Cascade Link Trail is not that difficult although it is rockier and then slabby as you approach Pumpelly Trail. To my left are the cliffs below Town Line Peak.
Poking around near the junction and I was hoping to find another gem located on Monadnock, The Imp. An outcropping of rock that has the profile of an imp face. Heading back down Cascade Link Trail and for whatever reason I veer off trail and through some woods out onto a talus pile and there it is, bonus #1 for the day, The Imp.
We may have lost our Old Man of the Mountain but we still have cool formations such as this. Back to the trail (ah...which trail though?) and the rest is indescribable due to it's secrecy, so to speak. Let's just say that as I was poking around the area that I thought the cave was in that by just shear luck I stumbled upon it. All of a sudden it was right there in front of me, the grand prize for the day, Pumpelly Cave!
The roof and the inside.
Inside is a logbook and looking through it I no longer felt so special about finding this gem as it seems like it gets quite a few visitors. For something that has very and I do mean very little info as to its whereabouts it does get quite a bit of traffic. Surprisingly there is no distinct path leading to this spot. All in all I do feel quite elated at finding it on my first "real" attempt. Heading out and I eventually end up on Pumpelly Trail and have thoughts of hitting the summit as it should be quiet up there on a weekday. Making my way over the ledges of Pumpelly Trail and it does look desolate up on top.
Coming to the junction with Spellman Trail and it is a little before three in the afternoon. I make the decision to not head up due to the time restraints, sun set is about five o'clock and there is no way I want to chance it. I went out with no pack, water or headlamp for this expedition. Sometimes freedom has it's drawbacks but I was more than OK with my decision. I had gotten two items off my bucket list and anything else would be a bonus. Heading down Spellman to meet back up with Cascade Link Trail is new territory for me. I have read about this trail being a little challenging and was hoping it wouldn't be too bad seeing how much daylight I had. The beginning wasn't too bad.
Then I hit the cliffs and the ramparts. Steep and a big jumble of boulders. Good thing there was no ice yet down through this section of trail.
Slowly and carefully picking my way down eventually making it off the cliff and the trail returns to "normal".
Reaching the junction with Cascade Link Trail and as the infomercials go "But wait there's more!" I get my 2nd bonus for the day and it is a good one. Off to my right I hear some rustling in the leaves and usually it is chipmunks or squirrels. Not expecting anything and as I turned my head I froze. There it was, the Holy Grail of most hikers dreams, ("What do you mean? An African or a European swallow?") nope not a swallow.
A deer! Seen them running when they see or hear me but never fifteen in front of me and no care in the world that I was right there. For a good fifteen minutes I stood there watching her and taking pictures. I even started walking towards her to see how close I could get and she just casually walked away and into the woods. As I turned onto Cascade Link Trail she was still nearby and I got one last parting shot.
Now I just need to see a moose on the trail, the one I saw on the side of the road after hiking Tom, Field and Willey two years ago does not count in my book. Heading down Cascade Link Trail all the way to White Dot Trail to complete this section of trail. Just before White Dot and I pass through a blowdown section of birches and then a massive forest of pine trees.
Okay so at one time they used to be huge. Shining Clubmoss today only grows about six inches tall but 300 million years ago they grew almost 100 feet tall. The spores ignite explosively and can be used in fireworks! Across from the junction with White Dot is Falcon Spring, fresh groundwater. A good spot to wet the whistle since I didn't have any water.
Back up Cascade Link Trail and at the next junction a right turn down on Harling Trail which pretty much parallels Birchtoft Trail. This is a great trail through open woods gradually descending down.
At the next junction with Hinkley Trail I had to make a decision, to head over on the section that went to Poole Rd and back or to just head back to the parking lot and call it a day. From here it's 1.6 miles to the parking lot and if I do the out and back to Poole Rd that would be an additional 1.2 miles. Being four o'clock I knew it was going to be close with the sun setting especially with the sun being behind Monadnock. I took a gamble and figured I could pull it off and headed out towards Poole Road on Hinkley Trail. Thankfully it is all flat between the road and Harling Trail as it only took fifteen minutes to get to the road.
Another 45 minutes to get back to Gilson Pond and a sunset picture on the pond and Monadnock.
The last couple tenths of a mile were just on the cusp of being difficult with the fading light but I made it back pushing the edge of darkness. A great hiking day with the weather and a fantastic day with three awesome finds! And for anyone who doesn't believe in Sasquatch, Elvis, UFO's; for all the doubters I can confirm I was at the cave!
Final numbers: 7.9 miles, 5 hours and 15 minutes.