Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Romp in the Northern Presidentials - November 17, 2012

The week and a half or so leading up to Thanksgiving this year was dubbed "viewspalooza" by a fellow hiker on Hike-NH. While I had not planned on hiking again until after Thanksgiving following my finish of the single-calendar-year finish of the New Hampshire 4000-footers, seeing the forecast for the following weekend I was drooling. All week. And the forecast didn't budge one bit as the week went on. And so up North I was going to head. With forecasts for both days calling for upper-20s temps on the summits, ~20mph max winds, and clear skies, the only question was where. I had my eyes on a traverse of Franconia Ridge, Greenleaf Trail through Osseo, but I got little interest for Saturday, and only a couple "maybes" for Sunday.

But for Saturday, I was invited to join Iquest and his hiking pooch Marlie in the Northern Presidentials. They were planning to take the Castle Trail up to Jefferson, which would be Marlie's second round finish, and then hit Adams before looping back down. But I conned them into going all the way to Madison and down to Appalachia from there (we had a second car after all). It didn't take much convincing.

We set off around 6:30 from the Castle Trailhead after leaving my car at Appalachia. The sun was just rising and it was still pretty chilly, but we quickly warmed up. Aside from me losing my balance on the only stream crossing on this trail (and not far from the trailhead I might add) and dunking my boot into the rather cold stream, the climb to the castles went smoothly and quickly. Until we hit the first castle I just kept walking in the wet sock and boot (my other foot hadn't landed in as deep of water so it was pretty dry). At that point I decided to put a dry sock on and stick a grocery bag into the boot around the sock to try to keep the foot dry(er) as I was worried about the colder temperatures above treeline. This fix worked beautifully all day. Glad I carry a couple of those bags on each hike!

The section of the Link from the Castle Trail to its Western terminus is said to be pretty rough...hence someone "renamed" it

Castle Ravine

Bretton Woods ski area, Twins/Bonds/Franconias in the distance

Below the first castle
The castles are a couple of fun short scrambles that the trail climbs over and around as it slowly makes its way to the main summit mass of Jefferson. Only the first is of significant prominence, but there are a few trickier scrambles, especially since there was patchy ice here and there (not enough or consistent enough for microspikes though). Marlie had to be boosted up a couple spots as well but we made it up easily enough. From the first castle on up the trail is completely above treeline and exposed to the North and West, but we oddly felt no breeze until nearly to the summit. Above the castles the trail is tricky to follow in spots as the carins blend in with the rest of the rocks and there is no real lined corridor, but we made it up, doing our best to stay off the grasses and the like. One long rock hop. And every time we thought we were near the summit, there would be another rise ahead. But we did eventually make the summit, and under book time no less.

View from the first castle

The first castle from higher up the Castle Trail

Another castle from above

Rock-hopping up the Castle Trail

Southern Presidentials

Washington from Jefferson

Adams from Jefferson

Survey pin on the summit of Jefferson

Jefferson's summit carin, BELOW the summit

Next up, Adams
After a break by the carin just below the summit, we headed off for Adams along the Gulfside Trail. Oddly we had seen no one on this gorgeous weekend day yet. The winds weren't even as high as forecast, with maybe a 15mph wind on the summit, but hardly anything below it.

Looking back to Jefferson from Edmands Col

Adams summit getting closer

Thunderstorm Junction
The Gulfside Trail drops fairly steeply off Jefferson into Edmands Col, then gradually climbs up to a plateau below the summit of Adams. In this stretch we ran into a couple groups of people heading the other way. There were even a couple dogs with one group. None of us could figure out where all the people were, but carried on our respective ways, loving the weather. Near Thunderstorm Junction, a major trail junction below Adams, we took a short stretch of the Israel Ridge Trail to Lowe's Path to the summit. Again, moderate breezes here, but nothing bad at all, and we took a good break out of the wind. Shortly after we got there a couple left via the Star Lake Trail, we would get to Madison Hut shortly before them despite taking a lengthy break and taking the "longer" route via the Airline Trail to the Gulfside.

Carters from Adams

Moriahs from Adams
As we neared the junction with the Gulfside and Airline Trails, we saw a pair of hikers coming up the Airline Trail with helmets on, ice axes in hand, and microspikes on. They had come up King Ravine, though whether with the spikes or real crampons I never heard.

Durand Ridge - Airline Trail comes up this

Madison waits ahead

We carried on, as the day was getting late, and only took a short break at Madison Hut before taking on the last climb of the day to the summit of Madison. I was pretty well spent at this point and took a little longer to get to the top, but got there none the less. From there we didn't stop long, but took the Watson Path down.

Carter Dome and the Wildcats

North, Middle, South Carter

Pine Mountain far below Madison



Crescent Range in front, Kilkenny Range in back left

The Watson Path is a rock-hop for quite a while before it enters the trees and the terrain eases for a while until it nears Valley Way and becomes rough again. Below this stretch it crosses a stream at a nice waterfall, the only other water crossing for this hike. No wet boots this time.

Icy waterfall on Watson Path
We took the Watson Path all the way to its end at the Scar Trail, and took a short stretch of that trail down to Valley Way, and then roughly 2 more miles on Valley Way to the car. This was the last piece of the Scar Loop Trail that IQuest had not hiked (and all of Watson Path and this segment was new to me). Shortly into the Valley Way stretch we pulled out the headlamps and made it back to the car shortly after 5.

While it was a long day, it was completely worth it. Beautiful late-fall weather, good company, and great views. Can't beat it!

Peaks: Jefferson (5716', NH4K), Adams (5799', NH4K), Madison (5366', NH4K)
Trails: Castle Trail, Jefferson Loop Trail, Gulfside Trail, Israel Ridge Path, Lowe's Path, Airline Trail, Osgood Trail, Watson Path, Scar Trail, Valley Way
Mileage: 12.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 6100 feet
Book Time: 9hr 20min

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