new hampshire reunion

Coming back to New Hampshire felt like a homecoming for me. I lived in Manchester for four years while I attended the undergraduate program at The New Hampshire Institute of Art, now called The New England College of Art and Design. The name change stems from NHIA (founded in 1898) almost dissolving after going bankrupt due to some poor real estate investments. This ultimately led to being purchased by The New England College a few years ago. While I appreciate that my Alma Mater continues to live on in some way, the connection is lost, I never bother reading any of the alumni mail they send me anymore.

alex and tony

We are driving up for my friends’ Alex and Tony’s wedding party. They eloped where they live in Colorado last week and they wanted a party back home to celebrate with everyone, and I’m so thrilled to have been invited. They met each other in college, in our freshman year. I remember one night early on in our first year I found myself on the top floor of the parking garage, where we would usually drink and party off campus before we got apartments. I found Tony and Alex up there together just hanging out and talking so I made my way over to them thinking they were just chilling waiting for others until I realized I was about to third wheel a special moment and made a swift exit back into the dark night of Manchvegas. They spent the rest of college together and moved out to the mountains of Colorado as soon as we all graduated in 2015. While I have seen them on two separate occasions since graduating, including one time in Philly with Alex’s brother and his wife, their own homecoming was much anticipated. Finally the motivation I needed to make the 6 hour drive back up to the Granite State.

We make our way to the party from the Monadnock Inn, a small rustic woodland style hotel nestled in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, at the base of Mount Monadnock. We pass the mountain on our way and I have a chance to admire its gentle slopes covered in a blanket of green and its bald rocky peak Amanda and I plan to hike tomorrow Sunset in New Hampshire over the silhouettes of trees

Much of the night included long walks down memory lane with Tony, Alex, Tim, and Brooke where we reminisce about our drunken art school shenanigans from what is now nearly a decade ago. As we sit in the shadow of Mount Monadnock the drinks keep flowing and our laughter keeps bellowing across the backyard. My face becomes sore from smiling so much and the sun descends below the mountain. We set our sights on our next hike.

Amanda and I in fuji

The party was an intimate gathering of family and friends filled with outdoor games, drinking and food. Tony’s dad shared some of his own freshly killed and cooked venison. Alex’s dad brags about how good his homemade maple syrup is. There was the inevitable shipping pallet bonfire. Everything I think of when I think of New Hampshire. Though, it’s not like bonfires, syrup, and venison are rare to my area around Pennsylvania. In fact I’m sure any rural community would take issue with me for insinuating these are New Hampshire things, but states like Pennsylvania and New York and New Jersey are a varied people. You have the city folk and the country folk and many live their entire lives not experiencing what the other has to offer. In New Hampshire and much of New England in general, the people, such as those living in urban areas like downtown Manchester, and even the suburbs of Boston, seem to understand and know how to live off the land they live on in a deeper sense than us city folk along the coastal region in the mid-Atlantic states do.


My latest obsession is hiking and of course has resulted in a fascination with the Appalachian trail. Unable to make the trip up to the White Mountains and hike anything notable up there, Mount Monadnock; the second most hiked mountain in America, is our next best option, and probably the safer one for my still only slightly above average experience level. While known for its rocks, Pennsylvania’s terrain still leaves much to be desired at times. We make our way to the hotel after a nerve-wracking, but ultimately uneventful late night police stop (live free or die baby) and go to bed only to wake up later than planned and hungover the next morning.

The weather calls for afternoon rain. Hoping it holds off we drink the mediocre but nourishing hotel coffee as a hangover remedy and quickly get dressed in our polyester hiking clothes, check out, and make our way to the trail. We are planning to hike the white dot trail, the shortest, but steepest route to the 3,165 foot summit starting from the Monadnock State Park Headquarters. Nothing crazy for the average New Hampshire hiker, but our first actual mountain summit hike, and one of the steepest, rockiest hikes we’ve done yet. We have about 1800 feet of elevation gain in less than 2 miles ahead of us so we get our boots on and choke down some chocolate brownie flavored clif bars for a balanced breakfast and get started after some light stretching.

The first part of the hike is a relatively easy incline, mostly packed dirt free of any overly large rocks. This quickly changes after we pass the white cross intersection, the trail gradually turns into a rock scramble that will last most of the hike, and found that points of it got steeper than anticipated. Amanda takes her time, but crushes every obstacle the trail throws her way. We’re both pretty short so we have extra steps to take, but we still manage to keep time with the average pace.

view from halfway up Monadnock


white cross trail

As we get higher, at around 2000 feet, we start to lose foliage cover and the boulders turn into larger rock faces, and we watch the geologic history of the mountain and the Earth unfold before us as we continue to navigate its 400-million-year-old schist and quartzite rock formations. Some of the crowd starts to slow down but everyone still seems happy. Morale is high, even if they find it physically challenging. Until we pass two women making their way up. One of them is struggling, her morale isn’t doing so well. In trying to help, Amanda and I mention how challenging we’re finding it, and our dread for coming back down this way. Her friend recommends taking the white cross path down, and we thank her for the advice. We make it to one of the few level sections on the trail as the September sun beats down on us on top of the bald rock like a lamp in a reptile cage. We can see our last big push to the top. This part of the trail is marked with cairns for easier navigation. We walk past a ranger tying sticks together in a small clearing and take note of the sign denoting the intersection of the white cross trailhead, with text letting us know it’s a less steep descent that way. The ranger reaffirms what the sign and woman on the trail said, and wishes us a good hike.

park ranger making sign

Amanda and I at summit

The last incline to the summit was made of a few rock scrambles and a steep walk up a ~45 degree rock face. Falling behind his wife and kids and slowly working his way up this rock, a man in an Air Force Reserves shirt tells Amanda and I to go ahead of him on the last narrow passage. The summit was crowded, it’s the peak of the day and the top of the mountain marks a confluence of a number of trails that lead to the summit. We admire the billowing clouds over the endless rolling hills of New Hampshire and people-watch as we enjoy our salty pretzel peanut butter nuggets. We take the obligatory selfie and pictures of another couple after my photography skills were solicited. We notice the man in the Air Force Reserves shirt made it up, and decide to make our way back down once we decide we got enough pictures.

child climbing side of mountain

man climbing alone

We arrive at the white cross intersection pretty quickly and bear right down some natural stone steps. Soon we pass the two women from before, one of them is still struggling. They must have made it up to the intersection and then turned back down on the white cross section without hitting the summit. I feel bad, even the most popular trails can be tough up here. Just last week I bailed on a trail because my ankle felt weird and with the terrain being rocky I didn’t want to take the chance. I want to tell her she’s crushing it and doing great, but I also don’t want to bring attention to it. We move on but slow down. My knees and ankles are starting to hurt with each step. This section of trail is much less traveled, only passing two other groups the whole way down.

I find the relief of getting to level ground at the end of the trail more rewarding than the sites at the top. We use the incredibly well maintained bathrooms at the state park headquarters and I rest to wait for Amanda. As I partake in one of my favorite pastimes, people-watching, I see a familiar face. Alex’s brother whose house the party was at the night before. He comes around the corner from the information board with Tony who has his DSLR strapped around his torso. We exchange surprised greetings and Alex and Amanda both find their way over to join the reunion. They’re about to start their hike. We laugh about the previous night’s debauchery, congratulate them on their marriage, and thank them for their invite before taking a picture together. We jokingly consider doing the hike again, if my knees didn’t hurt so much I might have. With some difficulty, we part ways, unsure of the next time we’ll see each other again. I know people most often consider trail magic to be food or supplies someone gives you on a thru-hike. I’ve found the real trail magic to be the moments of remarkable coincidence happening on the trail with such unlikely odds happening that the only reasonable option to consider is magic. Like finding the perfect camp spot, a dry pair of socks when the rest of your bag got soaked, or running into a good friend on the trail at the perfect time. That’s why I keep coming back.

friends and I

phil cifone

is a photographer and Linux enthusiast focused on digital archival storage. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.