Mount Monadnock

Mount Monadnock, located in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, has an elevation of 3,166 feet (965 m). Native Americans called the mountain Monadnock, its name meaning “mountain that stands alone”. Thoreau made four trips to Monadnock during his lifetime. His first was in July 1844 and marked the starting point of his solo journey through the Berkshires before ending with his hike up Mount Greylock in Adams, Massachusetts. William Ellery Channing Jr., accompanied Thoreau on his 1852 and 1860 trips to Monadnock and in 1858 Harrison Gray Otis Blake served as Thoreau’s companion. Shortly after his return from Monadnock in 1860 Thoreau developed a cold, which may have been an early sign of tuberculosis. His 1860 trip to Monadnock would be the last time he journeyed to the mountains.

View from the top of Monadnock. Photographer: Haley Quinn.

There is no surviving record of Thoreau’s first trip to Monadnock. He did however write extensively about his subsequent three trips in his journal—detailing the mountain’s geography and its flora and fauna.

Mount Monadnock.Photographer: Herbert Gleason (1855-1937).

Thoreau writes about his second trip to Monadnock in his journal:

    A man in Peterboro told me that his father told him that Monadnock used to be covered with forest, that fires ran through it and killed the turf; then the trees were blown down, and their roots turned up and formed a dense and impenetrable thicket in which the wolves abounded. They came down at night, killed sheep, etc., and returned to their dens, whither they could not be pursued, before morning; till finally they set fire to this thicket, and it made the greatest fire they had ever had in the county, and drove out all the wolves. . .

(Journal, 4:345).

Thoreau writes about his third trip to Monadnock in his journal:

8.30 A. M.—Start for Monadnock.
Between Shirley Village and Lunenburg, I notice, in a meadow on the right hand, close to the railroad, the Kalmia glauca in bloom, as we are whirled past. The conductor says that he has it growing in his garden. Blake joins me at Fitchburg. Between Fitchburg and Troy saw an abundance of wild red cherry. . .
Almost without interruptions we had the mountain in sight before us,—its sublime gray mass—that antique, brownish-gray, Ararat color. Probably these crests of the earth are for the most part of one color in all lands, that gray color of antiquity, which nature loves. . .

(Journal, 11:452-3).

Thoreau writes about his fourth and final trip to Monadnock in his journal:

. . .we emerged into the lighter cloud about 3 P. M., and proceeded to construct our camp, in the cloud occasionally amounting to rain, where I camped some two years ago.
Choosing a place where the spruce was thick in this sunken rock yard, I cut out with a little hatchet a space for a camp in their midst. . .

(Journal, 14:10).

Thoreau writes to Blake on 4 November 1860 describing his August trip to Monadnock:

Mr Blake,
I am glad to hear any particulars of your excursion. As for myself, I looked out for you somewhat on that Monday, when, it appears, you passed Monadnock—turned my glass upon several parties that were ascending the mountain half a mile on one side of us. In short, I came as near to seeing you as you to seeing me. I have no doubt that we should have had a good time if you had come, for I had, all ready, two good spruce houses, in which you could stand up, complete in all respects, half a mile apart, and you & B[rown] could have lodged by yourselves in one, if not with us.
We made an excellent beginning of our mt life. You may remember that the Saturday previous was a stormy day. Well, we went up in the rain—wet through, and found ourselves in a cloud there at mid pm. in no situation to look about for the best place for a camp. So I proceed at once, through the cloud, to that memorable stone “chunk yard,” in which we made our humble camp once, and there, after putting our packs under a rock, having a good hatched, I proceeded to build a substantial house, which C[hanning] declared the handsomest he ever saw. (He never camped out before, and was, no doubt, prejudiced in its favor.) This was done about dark, and by that time we were nearly as wet as if we had stood in a hogshead of water. We then built a fire before the door, directly on the site of our little camp of two years ago. . .

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 595-8).

Thoreau writes about Monadnock for the final time in one of his last journal entries:

“Young Macey, who has been camping on Monadnock this summer, tells me that he found one of my spruce huts made last year in August, and that as many as eighteen, reshingling it, had camped in it while he was there” (Journal, 14:344).

View from Mount Monadnock. Photographer: Herbert Gleason (1855-1937).