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A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Climbing Mt. Monadnock in Early Spring

Raam Dev / flickr
Standing on the summit of Mt. Monadnock.

Last week, on my way home from visiting friends in Vermont, I stopped in southern New Hampshire to climb Mt. Monadnock. It is one of those mountains that is not very impressive from a distance, but magnificent from close up. There was still a light covering of snow on its flanks, and a veil of cloud lifted briefly from the summit, tempting me on.

A crude lettered sign at the head of the trail warned me that “the summit has very severe...” but the rest of the sign had been obliterated. It reminded me of those National Seashore signs one occasionally finds at the bottom of the cliffs on the outer beach that say, “Do Not Throw Anything Over This Cliff”.

The first half of the climb follows an old toll road up to the burnt remains of the old Halfway House Hotel. Once again I was impressed, not only by the size of the trees in these northern New England woods, but by their variety compared to the Cape’s forests. There was white pine, balsam fir, black spruce, dark feathered hemlocks, paper birch, yellow birch, oak, elm, red maple, sugar maple – and those were just the ones I could easily identify.

The middle part of the climb, up to the rock line, was both icy and steamy, like climbing through an open refrigerator. The trail followed, and at times actually became, a rushing mountain stream that was carrying away the remnants of winter in manifold, marvelous ways. Pockets of air wriggled like polliwogs in the water that flowed out from under ice sheets on the rocks. A small waterfall created its own house of ice around itself and gushed out through a white wall of snow. The very woods steamed up to the tree canopy, shedding its winter coat.

At last I emerged at the rock line. One cannot call it a tree line, really, for it starts at an elevation of only two thousand six hundred feet. This is far below the true tree line on most New England peaks. Trees would grow at this elevation on Monadnock if they could gain a foothold, but numerous fires on the mountain’s summit have burned off the last vestiges of soil. Here the mountain suddenly speaks in vast, stone phrases, refusing to yield an inch of its rocky crown.

As I emerged onto the lower stone ledges, the clouds piled thick around me and I stood wrapped in a dimensionless mist, sensing rather than seeing the depth before me. It looked as if the mountain had chosen to keep its own secrets and counsels that day. Nonetheless, I followed the White Arrow Trail to the summit, and there, as though to prove or say its name to me, the sun burnt off the mist at the top and Monadnock - or “Isolated Mountain“ - spread out before me, swathed in a low sea of clouds, like a stony island, entire to itself.

I was hard put to find a chip of the summit to take down with me. Countless climbers before me had removed any loose stones. Still, despite the crowds of hikers that ascend it in summer and fall, the summit itself was remarkably clean.  The peak still seemed admirably primitive. I felt I stood on an original piece of ground. This mountain had roots deep in the earth and would not fail. Here was where the butterfly of eternity brushed its wings.

Robert Finch is a nature writer living in Wellfleet. 'A Cape Cod Notebook' won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.