June 14-15, 2014
Mount Madison / Mount Washington
Old Jackson Road Trail / Madison Gulf Trail / Osgood Cut-off / Osgood Trail / Gulfside Trail / Trinity Heights Connector / Tuckerman Ravine Trail / Lion Head Trail (Summer Route) / Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Wild Weather in the Northern Presidentials
Had a great weekend in the mountains with a chunk of the Great Gulf Wilderness and a trek on the AT above tree line. Once my son got out of work Saturday afternoon, we made our way up north around 4pm. The plan was to leave the car at Pinkham Notch, camp near an approach trail to Mount Madison in the Great Gulf Wilderness, then bag the Northern Presidentials on Sunday.
I have been on a turkey/beef jerky mission lately, so we stopped at a couple of general stores along the way, looking for new brands and varieties. Still loving the Snackmasters jerky out of California, but can't pick it up out here. Unless I find something better, it'll be online ordering soon.
We rolled into Pinkham Notch around 7pm and quickly geared up under cloudy skies. With one week to go before the summer solstice, we had plenty of light as we linked up with the Appalachian Trail via the Old Jackson Road Trail headed to the Great Gulf Wilderness. We passed several small groups of hikers making their way back to Pinkham Notch. We were making good time gaining a lot of elevation in relatively cool conditions, however the trade off was lots of sweat near the end of the day.
The trail brought us to the Auto Road, which was quiet and shut down for the night. We continued on the Madison Gulf Trail with some miles to go before we reached some designated campsites. Another trek of gaining elevation from the auto road to Lowe's Bald Spot before we began our descent headed for the junction with the Great Gulf Trail and the suspension bridge crossing the Peabody River. We made it to the bridge, still good without headlamps and evaluated our plans for setting up camp. Before we decided, we came across a group of 3 hikers looking at a map near the junction of Great Gulf and Madison Gulf. They were trying to figure out the shortest way to get back to Route 16 as their day hike took much longer than anticipated and they only had one headlamp between the 3 of them. I sensed they were on the fringes of a mild panic, so we spent some time discussing their options and talking about their hike to calm them down a bit. One of the hikers had left the party of 3 to forge ahead to get the car, so they did not have to go back to Pinkham Notch. After deciding they wanted to hike out via Great Gulf, I pointed them in the right direction and escorted them down to the next water crossing. I told them about the quirks of the trail on the way to Route 16. After reminding them that the trail will not be blazed or marked, but would be fairly easy to follow, they went on their way. If I thought they wouldn't be able to handle it, I would have escorted them further, but the hiker with the headlamp seemed competent.
In the meantime, my son had scoped out a nearby campsite which was free. With daylight falling and clouds above, we decided to set up camp for the night. The great thing about the designated campsites is the bear boxes, however this one was filled with a white plastic garbage bag of empty cans and wine bottles. There were also two stuff sacks filled with food. Hopefully, the people who decided to have their own personal storage/garbage site came back to clean it out. No fires allowed in the Great Gulf, so we huddled around our food stash and chowed down. We decided to try the freeze dried mashed potatoes/ cheddar / bacon. It was ok and warmed up the belly, but not my favorite. After downing some steak burritos, jerky and dessert, we called it a night under a mostly cloudy sky.
Sunday morning started with evidence of a light rain on the rainfall of the tent. After firing up a cup of coffee and breaking down camp, we were on our way around 6am. Because of the rain from last night, we decided to take Osgood instead of Madison Gulf. After hooking around the Osgood Cut-off, and passing the Tentsite, we made our way up Osgood Trail. Remnants of last nights rain was evident in the forest. The steep, steady climb up the ridge eventually led to a flat section with a campsite hidden behind a narrow herd path between a grove of trees. The trees continued to get smaller and sparser as bare rock and false summits lay ahead. A thick soupy layer lowered visibility to about 30 feet as the temperatures lowered with the winds whipping about. It was time to throw on my trusty Patagonia Torrent Shell and a bandanna to keep from getting burnt by the rays poking through the fog.
I caught up to my son who had been waiting for me at the junction with the Parapet trail, he had also layered up for the cooler than normal conditions, caused by the cloud cover and the moderate winds. As we passed the junction with Howker Ridge Trail, we had a group of 4 trail runners go by. This exposed section of ridge line really had us fighting through the winds and it was pretty exhilarating for everyone. Even the trail runners stopped to layer up. The summit of Mount Madison was souped in with no views to be had. Heading down the other side of the summit, we made out way to Madison Hut. We passed a bunch of folks heading up and down, most of them likely had stayed at the hut the prior evening.
We arrived at the Hut and warmed up with fresh baked hut treats and hot coffee. At this point we decided to change our original plans as the forecast called for possible clearing later in the afternoon. We decided to take Gulfside Trail and if the weather looked like some views were possible, we would summit Adams, Jefferson and/or Clay, but no matter what we would hit Washington (unless the winds got really crazy).
We left the comforts of the Hut and hit Gulfside. At the intersection with Airline, we continued around Adams and bypassed the summit. A quick glimpse of King Ravine could be had before the clouds rolled back in behind the steady wind gusts. Visibility remained fairly low with patches of blue sky opening up for a few seconds. As we approached Edmands Col, conditions above us still looked pretty sketchy. At the junction with Jefferson Loop, we decided to bypass the summit as we were getting hit with a decent blast of wind and the summit was souped in. We saw very few people on our Gulfside journey, but I knew as we got closer to Mount Washington, we would likely start to see more groups.
We bypassed the Clay Loop and continued on Gulfside with Mount Washington set as our goal. For most of the journey views of the Great Gulf down below were not to be had. Passing the junction with Jewell Trail, the summit cone of Washington was visible in the distance as the skies opened up a bit. With a half mile to go to the summit and the sun shining down we kept climbing up to intersect with the Cog Railway tracks. The wind was particularly strong through this section, just below having enough strength to push you off your feet. The views of the clouds zipping across the valley below was mesmerizing to behold. What a sight! We watched two trains head down the mountain as we continued our trek up. The final push up the Trinity Heights Connector was a fight against the wind.
We reached the summit in between train drop offs, so we didn't have to wait long for the obligatory summit photos before scooting into the Visitor Center to warm up and refuel after our trek. It's hard to really describe until you do it, but the food and beverages just taste so much better when you are a little cold or wet after a long hike. The weather at the summit was 45mph winds with a temperature of about 35 degrees. The pizza and 2 cups of hot chocolate was just as satisfying, if not more than a steak dinner with all of the fixings. We spent about 45 minutes relaxing and watching all of the tourists and a few hikers come and go. Right as we were ready to leave, we saw our 4 trail runners from Madison enter.
We took the "short" route down, Tuckerman Ravine to Lion Head. There were still a bunch of folks heading up Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit and the further we got from the summit, the more concerned I got about some groups that seemed to be going at a pace that would lead to a long night. Hopefully, they were prepared. As we linked up with Lion Head Trail, I spotted one person coming up the ravine, even though that section of trail is still closed due to falling ice and safety concerns. Lucky for him , he was almost out of the ravine.
As we made our descent down the summer route of Lion Head, another hiker had spotted a cool feature. One of the larger boulders on the trail was acting as a mini spigot, squirting out a steady stream of water from a tiny hole in the rock. There must have been some intense pressure bubbling inside inside of this boulder. I took a quick drink from the "magic" rock and we took our last break at the junction of Tuckerman Ravine Trail to delayer and head back to Pinkham Notch. During our last section, two of our trail runners from Madison flew by with friendly greetings.
Just an amazing time in the Northern Presidential Range!
|Auto Road - closed for the night|
|Osgood Trail - Conditions headed to Mount Madison|
|Mount Madison Summit|
|Osgood Trail - headed down Mount Madison|
|Gulfside Trail- patch of blue sky|
|Gulfside Trail - bypassing Mount Adams|
|Gulfside Trail - still low visibility|
|Gulfside Trail- wind clearing out the clouds|
|Gulfside Trail- clouds flying by|
|Gulfside Trail - Cog Railroad Tracks in view|
|Gulfside Trail- first view of Mount Washington Summit|
|Gulfside Trail - headed to Mount Washington|
|Gulfside Trail- above the cloud ceiling|
|Gulfside Trail - final push to summit|
|Mount Washington Summit (very windy!)|
|Mount Washington Summit|
|Conditions at the summit- 50 mph avg winds|
|Lion Head Trail|
|Lion Head Trail - snow in Tuckerman Ravine|
|Lion Head Trail - Lion Head|
|Close up of Tuckerman Ravine with two waterfalls|
|Close up of Tuckerman Ravine with two waterfalls|
|Lion Head Trail - last view of snow in the ravine|
|Lion Head Trail|
|Lion Head Trail - Wildcat Mountain to the left|
|Lion Head Trail- looking across Route 16|
Osgood Trail to Mount Madison
Gulfside Trail to Mount Washington