Let’s go back five hours. I’m leaving my house in Somerville, 12 feet above sea level, and I step off the front walk onto an ice-slick flagstone – whoosh, yikes, my limbs go spastic. Somehow, I recover before falling. At least I didn’t snap or tear anything. So I get in the car, not realizing that I’ve forgotten my camera, and my wife comes out to wave me away, as is our custom; whoever leaves first in the morning gets a big porch wave from the remaining spouse, regardless of the weather outside or inside the house. Today she wears her supportive, worried expression.
Today my weather app calls for sun, but everything’s socked in. Mount Monadnock hides in grayish clouds with a yellow, sulfurous tinge from wood stoves cranking since dawn. Six cars dot the parking lot. By 10:40 I’m geared up and going up, too.
The ice on the trail is thicker than last month, a translucent seal. Underfoot, black boulders appear like surfacing turtles, like sea monsters frozen in mid-escape. When I stop to rest and hydrate at the Cascade Link turnoff, a young woman skitters by. She's stripped down to a sleeveless t-shirt; I’m wearing three layers plus coat, wool hat and fleece gloves over a new pair of runner’s gloves with metal-fiber fingertips for fine-motor activities like tapping cell phone buttons or unwrapping the short sleeve of Nutter Butters in my pack. I wave to her, unzip my coat a bit.
With a temperature of 33 degrees at the base, and no storms forecast, this won’t be a day for perishing on the mountain. Only one hiker has died of hypothermia here, according to Monadnock: More than a Mountain. That poor soul was Charles MacVeagh, Jr., a 23-year old Harvard College graduate whose family owned a house in nearby Dublin. MacVeagh had climbed Monadnock hundreds of times, and so there was nothing unusual on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, 1920, when he and friend Charlton Reynders took the Dublin Trail toward the peak. The sky was sunny and blue-jay blue, in the 50s, so they left behind their fur-lined coats and gloves. Just a February lark and back for supper! Then a freak blizzard arose and a tragic series of events followed. Poor Reynders saved himself by firing his revolver into the air, attracting the attention of Frederick Nettleton, the caretaker of the MacVeagh house, who had set out after dark to find them.