Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Northern Presidentials 12/12/12

Working Title: "Howker Ridge can go fuck itself" and/or "Book time is dead to me"

Peaks: Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, Mt. Madison

Trails: Caps Ridge Trail, Jefferson Loop, Gulfside, Israel Ridge Path, Airline, Osgood Trail, Howker Ridge Trail

Mileage/time: 10.4 miles, 4600 feet of gain, book time of 7:33, actual time of 11:10

The turning tail and retreating of last week, turned into another completion and set of check marks today. Mike and I had discussed how we would attack the Northern Presidentials, and initially, a loop was planned. Then the realization set in, that with two cars we didn't need to do a loop, and Jefferson Notch Road was still open. Challenge accepted. We were going to start at Randolph East as it was, so we just switched it around and started from Caps Ridge instead. I had a Plan B in case Howker Ridge was deemed unfit for descent, and I'll admit, it was a ridiculous/self-indulgent redlining extravaganza, but another time.

Our meet time was set for 6am, and Mike and I are finding out that meet times don't mean anything. I pulled into Randolph East at about 5:15, and just as I got my boots on, Mike pulled in, having gone down the road a piece before turning around and finding the lot (which isn't marked). We both suited up, and hopped in Mike's truck to head up to Jefferson Notch. The gate was still open, so up we went. The road is still in halfway decent shape, though there was a dusting of snow above about 2300 feet, making the driving interesting enough that Mike put on his 4WD. I made the comment that this would be interesting in the afternoon, in my front wheel drive car!

So, it came to pass, that at 6:15, we started up Caps Ridge Trail. This was a trail I've long had on my list of trails to come back and conquer, since I turned back on it in October of 2010, under heavy winds and hail. Good thing I started redlining! We started up through the woods, here dominated by thick evergreens, coated in a gossamer thin layer of snow. Every time we'd look around, there would be thousands of pinpoint reflections off of the snow crystals, and in the silence of the early morning, it was pretty magical. Soon we reached the view ledge, and got a glimpse of what we had to climb, a view I'd been witness to before.

The southern Presidential ridge

We spent a few minutes, myself with wonderment, at the outlook, watching the early morning light bleed color into the cold, steel blue surroundings. Then we headed up towards the Caps. The only description I can give for them, is that they're large, rocky, protuberances on the ridge that you have to climb up, over, and around. They were a hell of a lot of fun, with just enough snow and ice to make things interesting, but without the need for spikes or heavier traction. As we climbed, we found that rime ice had formed on the rocks, and the amounts of it increased steadily as we climbed.

Nearing the bottom of the first Cap

Castle Ridge to the right

After clearing the Caps, it was a stiff, but beautiful, climb to the summit. I was surprised that there had been barely any wind up to this point, especially since we were so exposed to the prevailing westerly flow. No sooner did I think that, the wind picked up, not especially strong, but enough to be noticed. We then crested the summit, and took in the views.

Adams from Jefferson

Washington and Clay from Jefferson

West view towards Mt. Dartmouth and Mt. Deception
As we descended towards Edmands Col in the bright sunshine, I realized something. Each of the three times I've ascended Jefferson, there's been snow somewhere along my route, a perhaps unimportant, but interesting tidbit. We ran into the first person of the day just above Edmands Col, he was out doing a solo Presidential Traverse, and we chatted for a minute before continuing on our separate ways. He had told us that a group camped out above treeline the night before, and we'd probably run into them. We decided to take a break on the lee side of the ridge not far from Sphinx Col, somewhat out of the wind.

Mike negotiating the Jefferson snowfield

The trail-less Jefferson Ravine

Looking up towards Adams V near Edmands Col



Some food, and further layering later, we started up towards Adams. We soon ran into a group of five, were these the folks who had camped out last night? We never did find out, as they passed without stopping, the lead guy saying "hey boys" to us on the way by. They all looked to be having a good time. The climb to Adams passed uneventfully, with more feathery, rime covered rocks and things to catch my interest. The summit of Adams presented the strongest winds we'd experienced all day, with Mt. Washington recording gusts to 60 MPH from about 10:30am onward, and we were on Adams at about 11:15.

Madison from Adams

From Adams, our descent became rickety. We both realized early on, after putting on our microspikes, that they were dulled to the point of being nearly useless. This made the descent off the cone of Adams tricky, not to mention the rocks we had to negotiate. We made our way cautiously down to Madison Hut, and took a break in the sun on the east side of the hut, out of the wind. I'll always know where I was at 12:12pm on 12/12/12, at 4800 feet in the Madison/Adams col, hard to forget a setting like that.

Coming down from Adams, I made mentioned to Mike about my backup plan for descent, and how I wasn't sure about Howker Ridge. He left it up to me to decide, he was fine with either. After our break, we layered back up, and tackled Madison. About halfway up, I decided to give Howker Ridge a go, as I didn't feel like descending this portion of Osgood Trail with the ice and snow sitting the way it was. Decisions, decisions. Then we hit Madison, and the views continued to be fantastic.

Mt. Hight, Carter Dome, Carter Notch, and Wildcat A from Madison

The Mahoosuc Range from Madison
Here's where the pace slowed to a crawl. The Howker Ridge Trail follows the crest of (would you believe it?!?) Howker Ridge, passing over several "Howks" along the way. Each of these requires a steep ascent and descent on either side, and each of these ascents and descents were covered in ice. Clinging to trees, and making long reaches with arms and legs became standard practice. I know how Xar felt when her and I did Saddleback last month, I was definitely beyond my comfort level on many occasions, but the only way to go was down, rather than risking going up and over what we'd just come down. Putting crampons on crossed my mind, but that would have only served to slow us up even more, but also would have dulled my crampons with all the rock.

Needless to say, our descent was treacherous at best, and we didn't end up taking off our microspikes until about 3/4 of a mile from the car. We also came out in the dark, such is life this time of year.

Looking down Howker Ridge

Deceptive trail in a col between a couple of the "Howks"

Looking back towards Madison

After retrieving Mike's truck from Jefferson Notch (my car handled the road like a champ), we went looking for food. Cabin Fever was closed for some reason, so we went looking further towards Conway, and ended up at a pizza joint across from Attitash (I can't remember the name), where we gorged ourselves on pizza. A great way to spend the twelfth day of the twelfth month, of the twelfth year.


  1. The icy formations are super cool. Glad you made it down safely...Please get thee some new spikes before you hike again, kthx! So glad you guys got out for what looks like an amazing hike in one of the finest spots on Earth.

  2. Well told, my friend. Well told! What a great hike, despite to pesky Howks (from Dr. Sues, right?).

  3. Nice trip report! I hiked these this past summer which wasn't as eventful! Beautiful pictures too :)