What can I say about Crotched Mountain? My initial research a few weeks in advance had told me it wasn’t too far of a drive, and that the Shannon trail was the most difficult path. That was all I needed to know. A trail with the same name as me that was known as being difficult? I was sold.
(All of the directions to the trailhead were horrible. To make it simple – navigate to the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, but don’t pull down that road. Stay on 31, also known as Crotched Mountain Road. The rehab center sign in on the right. The parking for the trailhead is on the left, not far past the sign to the rehab center. You will see a sandy lot to park in.)
Renovations have been performed on this trail since most of the trail descriptions were posted. The Greg Trail now leads from the little fenced in area behind the mail box (you can pick up the Shannon trail later). The first 8th mile has been made wheelchair accessible. A series of graded switchbacks leads up to a platform with a nice panorama view of Monadnock and Gap Mountains, among others. On the way to the platform, a tiny trail snakes off to the right. Welcome to the Shannon trail. This very narrow path leads across a couple of wide open plains through wild blueberry and blackberry brambles. You have to place close attention, as the trail isn’t marked until you enter the tree line.
Most of the hike is flat, which means you get to make up for the lack of incline in one long stretch leading to the top of the first peak. Once you make it, though, you’re rewarded with a picnic bench to rest on while you catch your breath and enjoy your well deserved view.
The map shows that you can take an upper link trail along the top to reach other peaks, eventually leading to the summit trail which you can take back down, using the lower link to cross back over to the Shannon trail in one big loop. We couldn’t, however, find this upper link trail, unless it was the trail which bore the warning that it would not lead back to the parking area.
Our courageous attempt to discover the hidden pass resulted in circle after circle across the top of the mountain, with us lost and just relying on sense of direction to get us back to the picnic bench, which, being the last place where we knew where we were, was the spot we sought time and time again. When the phrase “Blair Witch” popped up in the discussion, we decided that we better settle with the one peak we did conquer in order to get back to the car before dark.
Which led to us once again circling across the top of the mountain, again (luckily) finding our way back to the picnic bench, where we discovered that we had mistakenly chosen a side path that conveniently began next to the picnic bench; however, we had reached the picnic bench from below. A memory of the picnic bench appearing from above, a harbinger of a journey’s end like a light tower through the fog of a misty sea made us realize our error and set us on the right path back home.
On the way back, trying to stretch the journey out a little longer in hopes of glimpsing the sunset, I tried my first wild blueberry, and decided to pick some to make blueberry pancakes the next morning in honor of my dad, who was sick. Blueberry pancakes were one of his favorites, and I couldn’t remember ever trying any myself. The idea struck me out of the blue, so I went with it.
I received the call that he had passed at 10 that night. To be honest, I knew he was dying. I knew the last time I told him good bye that it would be the last chance I got. That’s why I made the climb that day. I woke up feeling horrible. By the time I made my way back to the car, I had a full on head cold. I did it for him. Because he couldn’t. His passing was not a sad thing, but a blessing that his suffering, so sudden, had ended.
I take comfort in knowing that he’ll be with me every mountain I climb and adventure I have. Although Crotched Mountain wasn’t the most challenging climb, the most fun or the most boast worthy, it will always be a special memory. And the pancakes were delicious.