Mount Monadnock: Winter Ascent via the Spellman Trail

I have always wanted to climb Mount Monadnock via the Spellman Trail. It is one of the steepest and most remote trails on the mountain. We arrived at the trailhead on a 40 degree January day in the aftermath of a rain storm. Despite these odd conditions the ascent was awesome and Spellman is now my favorite route up Mount Monadnock.
Mount Monadnock is famous for short trails with steep pitches that quickly get hikers to an above tree line experience. For these reasons It is no surprise that this is one of the most hiked mountains on Earth. The crowds typically take the White Dot or White Cross trails which provide a steep but not too steep route to the summit.  The Spellman Trail is a much steeper and slightly longer (2.25 miles to the summit) approach to the summit which means few hikers use it; especially in the winter. 
An easy start
We started our hike from the main parking area to find little snow but enough ice to instantly require Microspikes. The initial trail, which provides access to the main summit routes, was well traveled with many footprints. 
We kept going past the junction for the White Cross/ White Dot Trails and instantly noticed less footsteps ahead of us. 
Steep ascents ahead!
We quickly came to the junction for the Cascade Link Trail which leads to the Spellman Trail. Since I was new to this route I was starting to get excited to see just how steep this route would be. 
Shouldn’t there be snow or ice here?
We had to deal with a few decent sized stream crossings which is just plain weird for the middle of winter. 
The unseasonably warm temperatures were causing snow and ice melt all over the trail, it was enough to put a frown on the face of any winter lover. 
Monadnock State Park’s trails are very well marked and my excitement grew when I saw that the Spellman route was just .2 miles away. Then we were there, at the start of the legendary Spellman Trail. Between us and the summit stood 1.3 miles of the most epic ascending that the mountain had to offer. 
Can you guess which one has better traction?
We started the climb with our Microspikes but quickly stopped to put on crampons and to ready our ice axes. 
Steep and icy
The climb up Spellman was exactly what I was looking for. The boulder strewn trail climbed aggressively with thick coatings of ice on everything.  
Can’t do that with Microspikes
We even got to dig in the front points on a few spots. 
The steep ascent combined with the blue skies and high temperatures quickly had us down to our base layers. It felt weird to be climbing with crampons and an ice axe in a T-shirt. 
The view along the route gave us an expansive look at the surrounding region as a reward for the rapid ascent. 
The trail briefly ducked back into the trees but a sign let us know that we had met with the Pumpelly Trail and that the summit was only .7 miles away.
We then emerged onto the base of Monadnock’s summit cone which is what makes this mountain so special. Few New England mountains, of any height, have such a sustained and exposed approach to the summit. When the weather is good the joy of this experience cannot be described.
A crowded summit
We continued ascending and soon had our first views of the true summit. This was the first time we saw other hikers since the trailhead and it looked like a popular day to be on the summit. 
We stopped at the summit to have a snack and down some water. The temperatures were so mild that we did not need gloves or jackets. It felt so wrong to be this warm so deep into winter. It was an especially popular day on the mountain as we learned that a hiking group for hikers over 40 had 50+ people on the mountain along the White Dot and Cross routes. This would certainly make for a descent that was much more crowded than our ascent. 
We descended via the White Dot Trail. By this point in the day the sun had turned parts of the trail into ice covered with slush. I kept my Microspikes on but full crampons would have been better in many spots. We encountered 30+ hikers on the way down and soon found ourselves back at the parking area.
The Spellman trail is a great way to ascend Mount Monadnock that will challenge you and be as crowd free as possible. Due to its steepness I don’t recommend descending it unless you are extremely experienced. All in all it was a great day to hike, even if it was a bit unseasonal.
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9 thoughts on “Mount Monadnock: Winter Ascent via the Spellman Trail

  1. Very cool, Grant! What a bizarre winter, I think we all agree. And I can attest to that unmatched feeling of joy when approaching an exposed summit.
    I've been meaning to make it to Monadnock…hopefully soon. Thanks for sharing! Looks like you're getting some good experience on the crampons.

  2. Great account Grant. I've been wondering what the conditions on Monadnock were like now and you certainly showed me! The Spellman is by far our favorite trail on Monadnock and a great way to avoid the crowds. Not sure that I'm quite ready to tackle it in winter though. Our usual route down is via the White Arrow and a bunch of small segments of the west side trails (which also don't get much traffic). If you haven't tried these yet give them a shot (although I don't think going down the White Arrow in winter would be much better than the Spellman). There are several Monadnock posts on my Ramblings blog that show that route.

    Mark

  3. Owen – weird winter indeed. I imagine it will be hard for you to go to monadnock when there are still 4000 footers to bag. It is great practice for crampons though.
    Mark- ascending the spellman in winter is easier than it seems if you are careful! I have never tried those trails on the west side but will get all the details from your blog!
    Amy- it was my pleasure, thanks for reading!

  4. Constantin, I could not agree with you more. This hike would be fun in summer but it was a lot more exciting in winter. How is the winter out your way? Here we are starved of snow.

  5. I meant to comment on this earlier, but forgot until I saw your post on my blog…

    That “ice climbing” bit is awesome! I've been up the Spellman Trail a few times in summer, and it's basically rock climbing. With ice flows, that is just plain fantastic!

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