Monday, June 10, 2013

Monadnock Sunapee Greenway in a Day - 6/9/2013

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway is a 48 mile long hiking trail that winds its way over a string of mountains and hills in western New Hampshire on technical singletrack, old woods roads, over open ledges and through overgrown fields. Along the way it passes several backpacking shelters, many ponds and streams, numerous old stone walls and foundations, and the squares of bucolic little towns like Nelson and Washington that have yet to suffer the developmental vulgarities of so many other places.

While popular for short day hikes and long-weekend backpacking trips, the Greenway is also an appealing trail to run in a day. The summit-to-summit layout makes it possible to see the entire route stretching out to the horizon and you can watch your destination on Mount Monadnock grow closer at every view point. There are several places to cache water and supplies along the route and the trail is well-marked and easy to follow.

While preparing one such water cache, I suffered a short delay.

After some tense negotiations, safe passage was granted.

I've wanted to run the Greenway from end to end in a day for a couple years now, but health, weather, and races always conspired to make me save it for another day. Well, that day finally came last Sunday when I departed from the ski lodge deck on the summit of Mount Sunapee at six in the morning. Unfortunately, it was rather foggy and damp, making for a wet trail to start and precluding any view toward Mount Monadnock.

The Sunapee ridge is one of my favorite sections of trail to run anywhere. It has a very secluded feel and the exposed ribs of bedrock are great fun to hop across.

A little less fun was how soggy everything was after several days of rain. It was useless to try keeping my feet dry and the underbrush quickly soaked me from head to toe.

At around mile 15 and 2:54:30, I popped out into bustling downtown Washington. This would make a great place to stop and grab some ice cream or other refreshments at the general store.

Shortly after Washington I went up to the open summit of Oak Hill. You can see Mount Monadnock way off on the horizon.

Looking back North from Pitcher Mountain, Lovewell Mountain (which the trail goes over) sits right of center and Sunapee sits a bit to the left, with a couple wind turbines on the hill at far left.

And ahead to Monadnock, a little closer but still distant.

At the base of Pitcher Mountain I crossed Route 125 at mile 25.1 with 4:51:28 and followed a series of woods roads and singletrack trail to my second water cache at the Route 9 crossing around mile 33.3 with 5:57:33 elapsed.

The center of the town of Nelson, NH.

From this section on, I had anticipated that the trail would be mostly road or easy trail and that I'd be able to bank some significant time but the temperatures had begun to pick up and I was slowing down with my usual noon-time bonk. Until I ran into a familiar face...

Let's just say I'm not nearly as brave when I'm on foot as when I'm in a 3,500 pound Subaru and I high tailed it out of there.

There were several long stretch of dirt roads on this section that reminded me very much of the Vermont 100, which is to say: steep and hot. With little traffic, I kept switching sides - trying to stay in the shade as much as possible.

There were a couple glimpses of my destination through the trees, but nothing really photogenic. There was this cool dam, though.

Getting closer to Route 101 (41.2 miles, 7:53:46), I crossed through the Eliza Adams Gorge, which was running a bit high. I wouldn't have wanted to fall off those bridges.

The homestretch up Monadnock was quite a bit harder than I anticipated. Suffering from muscle spasms in my calves, my pace slowed drastically and I watched my goal time of 9 hours slip away. Amidst the crowd at the top, I was just another worn out hiker (though I think I smelled the worst of anybody up there).

And... done in 9:18:43.

I found a secluded place just away from the maddening crowd to linger and nap for a while until my wife arrived. My whole day stretches away to the horizon.

And the requisite finishing portrait (with dirty socks in the foreground).

Once again I'm surprised by the adventures that are available in my own backyard. The Greenway was a blast to run and still within an hour of home. I don't do a whole lot of backpacking, but when my daughter is old enough I look forward to bringing her camping at some of the shelters on this easily accessible gem. We'll know just where to go now that daddy has scouted out the whole thing.

And along those lines, I want to add a short note about long distance trail running. There seems to be a fairly prevalent opinion that someone like myself can't possible appreciate the true beauty of a particular area. Running is certainly a different flavor of the natural world that I very much enjoy; the sense of flow and feeling like a deer at home running through the forest doesn't come to me by any other means. But this does not mean that I have to sacrifice other slower, more patient forms of enjoying the woods. Speed and enjoyment in all its forms are not mutually exclusive. There will be (and are, and have been) days when I've spent hours just micro-contemplating a single spot, whether that be a secluded bit of woods or an open summit. Having different styles to choose from gives a broader experience that those who criticize might do well to experience for themselves.

GPS track for the day:


  1. Hi Adam,

    I've been subscribed to your blog for maybe 6-9 months, but this is the first post I felt like commenting...

    First of all, let me just say that I would love to be able to do what you do, and some day I believe I will. But mainly...

    I believe different rates of traversing the ground provide different experiences. Take my neck of the woods, the Blue Ridge Parkway, as an example. I have driven, ridden on a bike, ran, and hiked sections of that road, and I can say for sure that I've had a moments each time that where amazing in their own right. It's a quantum superpositioning of experience, really. You don't get to say what experience you get until you are actually experiencing it.

    One last thing, I have a 6 and a 7 year olds, and I took them backpacking with me (son last year, daughter this year) on an overnighter in Virginia's Grayson Highlands. We had a blast both times. It is super rewarding to share the outdoors with them and to see just how receptive they are to being out there.

    Take care!

  2. Adam, congrats on the fkt! It was neat to read about your experience on the MSG. I love the pictures also. It brought back memories from when Josh and I ran it in 2008. I remember getting to Pitcher and being shocked at how far away Monadnock looked. I also thought Lovewell Mtn was brutal. Josh and I aren't really ultra
    runners so we were blown away by the epicness of the run. You sound so nonchalant, like no big deal, just another training run! Awesome stuff. Good luck in any upcoming races.

    -Greg Hammett

  3. Victor - Thanks for following along. :) Hostility is a fairly uncommon and I usually try to ignore it, but I felt like putting some of my own thoughts out there.

    Greg - Thanks, man. I was hoping to give you a little courtesy email before the run but I didn't find your contact info. Much respect for what you guys did (and continue to do).

  4. Well done Adam! I too have explored the outdoors with my little people lately. It is a joy to show them all the things we see, just a wee bit slower!!

  5. An inspiration for sure - checking in with you is like finding a list of all the cool things I want to do! Nice run.

  6. Adam, one of my favorite trails for sure. Deb and I have done this several times and have even gone back to do an out and back from Washington to Sunapee several times. The remoteness of this trail was what kept calling us back.
    One year we did this with Sue Johnston and Greg Loomis and we still call it the death run.
    We started at Monadnock this time and by the time we left Washington, it was freezing rain. Several miles later, we were crawling along rocks that were covered in sheets of ice. Barely making it to Sunapee in daylight (we didn't), we were in a white out blizzard on the summit and couldn't find the trail down. We took a guess and made the right was awesome running across the parking lot towards Sue's Golf screaming like little kids :-)

  7. Nice job on the FKT! That looks like a great trail, I'd like to run it someday. Great photos and recap.

  8. Good stuff right there. Ive run the lower part of the trail from Pitcher Mt south and its a great time. Im thinking running the whole thing will be in my not so distant future!

  9. Very cool write-up! Just curious, how'd you you get to the top of the chairlift at Sunapee? Straight up a ski trail?

    Another question: what are the 14 or so miles like between Lake Solitude and Washington?

    Last question: Any thoughts on which direction would make the most fun run of this trail, north-to-south or south-to-north?

    Also, nicely worded aside about scales of appreciation and the absurdity of assuming that one person can't manage both. I usually just roll my eyes and assume they mean well but aren't thinking outside a narrow little box at the moment. I get it sometimes when trail running, but mostly when I'm out somewhere cool taking photos.

    An apropos XKCD cartoon:

    1. Thanks, Ben. I walked up a service road for the ski area. You can drive about halfway up, where there's a campground.

      Solitude to Sunapee is probably the best, most fun section. It's technical, but not as rough as the Whites. There's nice open ledges on the Sunapee ridge and some rocky little ravines that you go through, as well as fast singletrack in open hardwoods. A few sections can be wet. should be no trouble following it.

      I like the Southbound direction because Monadnock sticks out much more prominently on the horizon, so you can see where you're going. There's also slightly less cumulative elevation gain that way.

      And yeah... running to me is like taking a different route up a mountain. It's a different experience. Does taking Huntington Ravine up Mount Washington deprive you of experiencing the Crawford Path? In a way, yes, but I plan to keep coming back for a very long time.