While I could dubiously call this a backpack, I'll refrain. It's not that I didn't have to carry all my stuff, it's that I didn't have to carry it for two of the four days. I had some redlining goals in mind, and also wanted to take my time and really soak in all the Northern Presidentials have to offer.
Day 1: The Approach
Trails: Randolph Path, Lowe's Path, Quay Path, Gray Knob Trail
Mileage/time: 4.4 miles, 3230 feet of gain, book time of 3:49, actual time of ~3:00
Planning is my strong suite, and yet at the same time, my achilles heel. I'll get easily sidetracked, and then end up starting later than I plan. This day was no exception. Not wanting to forget anything, I tried to be methodical about what I was doing, and had no success. Being on trail by 1 pm just wasn't going to happen, so after some things and stuff, I managed to get on trail a little after 2:30 pm. I couldn't figure out how to attach my camera to my big pack, so it hung in an unreachable position for the entire ascent. I'm unsure how well things would have come out, as the sun was in my face for the most part, as I was heading due west for nearly my entire hike.
Randolph Path is an amazing piece of work, that we can thank trail-builder J. Rayner Edmands for. It holds to steady grades as it winds its way over swells, and follows on contour, all the way up to Edmands Col, north of Mt. Jefferson, 6 miles from the trailhead.
Piles of downed leaves rasped, obscuring my feet, and that of potential obstacles, as I climbed. The weight of my pack was instantly felt, as was the fatigue from running the 3.5 mile Baxter Boulevard, with my co-workers that morning. Neither of these things prevented me from rolling along, and making good time. Though I thought I was really dragging. I poured sweat, and really grunted up some of the steeper sections. I ran into a nice older gentleman at the junction of Spur Trail, he was headed up to Crag Camp for the night. After what seemed like forever, I came to Lowe's Path. Originally, I had planned to take Randolph Path to the Perch Path, to get to Gray Knob, but the way I felt, I thought it would be best to take a more direct route.
The section of Lowe's up to the Quay was steep, and I can't say I didn't curse a bit, but I soon popped out to the viewpoint, and all was forgotten. I met a guy named Scott here, who was also staying at Crag Camp, and wished him well, as I went to drop my pack at Gray Knob. I set myself up, changed clothes, and went back out to the Quay for the sunset. Scott was still there, and while we were watching the dropping sun, the Gray Knob caretaker Mike came ambling over. He joined us for a while, before his dinner beckoned. This was one of the best sunsets I've ever seen, and I'll not soon forget it.
Getting chilled, I again wished Scott well, and headed over to Gray Knob, my home for the next three nights. To say I needed a few days away, would be a gross understatement. I cooked dinner, and chatted with Mike for quite a while. A couple came over well after dark, and come to find out it was the President of the RMC, John Scarinza, and his new wife Jen, on their honeymoon. It was a pleasure to meet you guys! I soon retired, in preparation for the following day.
New redlining for the day: ~3.7 miles
Day 2: Mt. Jefferson and some wandering
Peak: Mt. Jefferson
Trails: Gray Knob Trail, Randolph Path, The Cornice, Gulfside, Jefferson Loop, Perch Path
Mileage/time: 8 miles, 2641 feet of gain, book time of 5:21, actual time of "I wasn't paying attention"
I set an alarm, but was up before it went off. Mike milled around downstairs for a bit, and then got his 7 am weather call on the radio, during which I got up and started my breakfast. Oatmeal was the name of the game, that and some green tea. They were nice and warm in the morning chill of the cabin. Mike set out for his day, and I was out the door shortly thereafter. Hiking out to the Quay, I took in the views before heading upwards.
I had one goal for the day, redline The Cornice, one of the more gnarly trail sections on the northern peaks. There would also be an opportunity to meet up with my friend Jake, who was going to be coming up the Six Husbands Trail. Even with my lighter daypack, I struggled a bit, as my legs complained of being tired from the climb yesterday. The Gray Knob Trail didn't help matters, going up and over big boulders, slicing through the scrub, high above Cascade Ravine. There was some nice fall color on some small saplings along the trail.
Reaching the junction with Randolph Path, I moved on, ever higher, towards Edmands Col. The views down into Castle Ravine from the trail were excellent, and I remember well, my hike through there last year.
Not going all the way to the col, I started The Cornice, which would loop me around to the south side of the Jefferson summit. As if I didn't have enough sidehill to contend with the day before, here was another 1.8 miles of it, and all on rough, angular, Northern Presidential rock.
The trail wasn't easy, by any stretch of the imagination. It flirts with the 5000 foot contour, as it winds its way around the summit. The northern stretch, mostly between Randolph Path, and Caps Ridge Trail, was the roughest, with the boulders moving beneath my feet. Even the big ones I thought would be stable were loose! I finally came out on Gulfside, and figured that I had missed Jake, but went for the summit anyway... it was only right there!
I spent a solid 45 minutes on Jefferson, which would prove to be my longest summit stay of the trip. The strangest thing was the wind, or lack thereof. It was eerie, with only the occasional puff of a breeze, and the sound of the Cog working its way up and down Washington. Four other gentlemen (of varying ages) joined me during my summit stay, all four of them solo, one coming from the north, another from the south, and two others up Caps Ridge. Pretty cool. The Cornice really made me feel it, so I dropped my plan to descend Castle Trail and hit the sections of The Link over to Lowe's Path, and decided to head back to Gray Knob. Upon coming home, I found that I had missed not only Jake, but Mike and Stefanie, by a mere 30 minutes. Next time!
In descending to Edmands Col, I took a misstep, and tweaked my right ankle, which up to that point had been behaving. A bunch of pain ensued, and I sat right where I landed for a good 10 minutes, before I got up and carried on. From my perch, there was a nice view down into the trackless Jefferson Ravine.
Shockingly, once I stood up, there was no pain, but I still gingerly made my way down to the col, and headed down Randolph Path. I say down, but really, it undulates quite a bit, with minor uphill sections, as it comes over the top of Castle and Cascade ravines. Crossing Israel Ridge Path, the next half mile section was very nice, wide and much less rough. I could have redlined out the rest of Randolph Path at this point, but in the interest of staying high (more on this later), I decided to redline out the Perch Path, and head back.
The Perch (one of the four RMC shelters) was deserted when I arrived, with only one of the four tent platforms occupied. I went out to the Israel Ridge Path, then turned around, and climbed back up to Gray Knob Trail where I again ran into John and Jen. Again, nice to see you guys! Back to the cabin I went, and heard Mike out back, breaking up pallets. I took a break for a while, ate lunch, and read the worn copy of Forest and Crag that was on the bookshelf. Must, get, myself, a, copy. A particular quote stuck out to me as I was leafing through it.
"For free as an eagle,
These rocks were his eyrie;
For free as an eagle,
His spirit shall soar."
~ from a Scottish Lament
After a fashion, I decided to head over to Crag Camp, and redline out that last section of Gray Knob Trail. There were a bunch of people around, in stark contrast to Gray Knob, and I sat on the edge of King Ravine for a while, taking in the ravine, and the views out to the Mahoosucs.
Along the way back, I filtered water, and ran back into Mike, who was out on his rounds. I got back to the cabin, and continued reading, when a couple came through the door, asking if I was the caretaker. I told them that he'd be back shortly, and they proceeded to settle in. It would be the four of us that night. Both of them (Maria and Josh) are from Maine, one of them even lives in Portland, and the other is moving to Portland soon. Once Mike got back, I went out to check out the sunset from the Quay, and it was quite different from the previous night. The way of the mountains.
Returning to the cabin, we all cooked our dinners, and settled in for the night. Rum and bourbon were shared (as it was Maria's birthday!), and we had a great evening together. It's always nice to hang out with like minded individuals. One acronym that I remember well, came out of the night, and it is FOMO (Feeling of Missing Out)... an instant classic.
New redlining for the day: ~5 miles
Day 3: Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison
Peaks: Mt. Adams, Mt. Madison
Trails: Gray Knob Trail, Lowe's Path, Star Lake Trail, Parapet Trail, Osgood Trail, Gulfside, Spur Trail
Mileage/time: 7 miles, 3276 feet of gain, book time of 5:10, actual time of "I couldn't care less"
The day dawned, and without an alarm, I was awake at around 6:30. It helped that my phone had died the day before... and I didn't care. I came down during the weather call, and made breakfast. We had chatted the night before, and Maria and Josh had said they wanted to get up and do some sort of ridgeline hike. I told them my plan, and Mike even said he might join us for some or all of it. A plan morphed while breakfast was eaten, and packs readied. In the end, the three of them decided to come with, and the day took an epic turn, right out of the gate.
Ascending Adams via Lowe's Path... that's something I've never done. Granted, I still have a fair amount of the trail left to do, but the above treeline portion was great. Mike told me that Jefferson was in the clear when he had gone out to the Quay that morning, but when we got above the trees, the higher summits were socked in. Just being on the ridge is enough for me.
Along the way to Adams, and perhaps even on the summit, a plan was hatched by Maria to start a new mountain club, calling it the UMC (the Upbeet Mountain Club). Membership dues can be anything from a few Combo's to beers... the possibilities are endless. We chose, or were given names, Maria is Sugar Beet (pretty sure that's what she finally decided on), Josh is the Golden Beet, Mike is Black Eye Beet, and myself... I'm Beetbox Bill. This would prove to be the first outing for our fledgling mountain club.
We tagged the summit of Abigail Adams, and continued on through Thunderstorm Junction to Adams proper. It was a bit windy, and there were no views. We huddled behind some rocks, and took a short break. Then descending, we took Star Lake Trail, and got out of the wind, but we were never quite free of the clouds.
A little backstory now. The previous night, I noticed the plate that Maria had, and when it was clean she showed it to me. It had the word up, and then what looked to me like a cartoon beet on it... so Up, Beet... Upbeet. It was pretty amusing that morning, when Josh asked for the beet up plate. Hence the naming of the UMC.
We fairly quickly reached Star Lake itself, and once reaching its northern end, turned onto the Parapet Trail.
Upon coming to the Parapet, a rock ledge with a commanding view of the Great Gulf and the Carter/Moriah Range, we were just below the cloud deck. Interesting photo opportunities presented themselves.
Our stroll along the Parapet Trail then commenced. I found the trail to be awesome, and vulgar. It sticks to the 4900 foot contour pretty much the whole way across to Osgood Junction, and is a scramble over large boulders, on a sidehill of course. I seem to be picking the trails that do that this time around! Needless to say, it was great fun, and would have been made better if there had been substantial views.
While at Osgood Junction, Maria shared with us that it was also her "re-birthday". A year ago, she was rock climbing and took a fall. She fell 65 feet and "hit the deck". All I know is that it's been a long hard road for her to get to where she is, and I'm impressed with how she moved on these rough northern peaks. I can't help but be inspired by her story, and perseverance.
Now it was climbing time, up the steep 0.5 miles of rock to the summit of Madison. It didn't disappoint either, as we scrambled up next to some impressive crags, looming out of the fog.
Beyond the crags, the summit was wrapped in fog. That makes three summits this year of Madison, three times with no view. As I said earlier, just being here is enough. We then descended to the hut. Mike and I practiced what he refers to as "staying high", which is basically rock hopping, but sticking to the tops and edges of rocks as you descend or ascend. I definitely do this, but I never had a name for it! Once at the hut, we broke out lunch, and chatted with a father and his two sons for a while, telling them all about the UMC.
We were out of the clouds here, and the cloud deck was doing some cool stuff off to the northwest.
The hike from here was pretty much in the bag. We decided to descend Spur Trail to Crag Camp, then back to Gray Knob, truly making it a loop. I had been on the lookout for my friend Brenda, but ended up running into my friend Heather instead! Her and her friend Jess, who had come over from Caps Ridge Trail. Wishing them well, we headed back to Thunderstorm Junction, over a section of Gulfside that's particularly notable. It was constructed beginning in 1892, by the legendary White Mountain trailbuilder J. Rayner Edmands, and its carefully placed stones form a sidewalk of sorts, with exceptionally easy walking. Gulfside skirts along the top of King Ravine for a bit, before turning away and ascending toward the junction.
In the fog, we decided to make an actual loop out of our day, and descend the Spur Trail to Crag Camp. It was just as steep as I remember, and no easier on the knees. Thankfully, the grade eased a bit, and we availed ourselves of the break a stop at Knight's Castle provided.
Descending further, we stopped by Crag Camp, before making the 0.4 mile trek back over to Gray Knob, closing the loop. The cabin was just as empty as when we'd left it this morning, though that would soon change. A couple groups showed up before it got dark, and we sat around chatting about the day, and drinking more of the rum, which I left the remainder of with Mike when I left.
Josh, Maria, and I ventured out to the Quay as it got closer to sunset, but the clouds hung low to the west, and there wouldn't have been much of a show.
Bed came relatively early, though I'd be hard pressed to know what time it was... all I know is that I was the last one to crawl into my sleeping bag.
New redlining miles for the day: 3.3
Day 4: Exit
Trails: Hincks Trail, Spur Trail, Randolph Path, Cliffway, Along The Brink, The Link, Sylvan Way
Mileage/time: 7.1 miles, 495 feet of gain, book time of 3:50, actual time of "I got back to my car"
The chorus of breathing, then snoring, dudes made sleep a bit difficult. The groups got up fairly early, and were mostly out the door by the time the 7 am weather call came through. Mike, Josh, Maria and I enjoyed a brief breakfast, and then packed our stuff up for our respective hikes down. I got to laughing, because I was looking at my notebook, where I had written down my planned itinerary for the past few days. It was then that I realized that I'd deviated from my plan on all three of the previous days! Not today. I bid farewell, and exchanged contact information with my three new friends, and took off down the Hincks Trail. It was steep, as advertised, but it was a bit of a relief to be heading down.
I realized part way down that I was hot, and stopped at the junction of Spur Trail to take off my long sleeve shirt. It didn't help! On some familiar trails, I turned and checked out the small spur to Chander Fall.
Rejoining Randolph Path, I soon turned off of it, onto Cliffway, another new trail for me. I had intended on redlining the short trails, Monaway and Ladderback, that branch off of Cliffway, but that wasn't in my original plan. So in the interest of not deviating one day out of four, I demurred. The trail soon brought me past the lovely Spur Brook Fall.
Cliffway soon starts climbing, never really steeply, and crosses some wet areas with new bog bridging, courtesy of the RMC Trail Crew. The trail itself is definitely lesser used, as evidenced by the moss on the footbed in places. It passes a couple of viewpoints as it meanders along this low swell of Nowell Ridge, King Cliff is grown in, but Bog Ledge provides a nice perspective into King Ravine.
I soon rounded a corner where the Ladderback and Along The Brink trails come in from the right. Along The Brink is a tiny little trail, that brings you right to the edge of a cliff face, looking out to the north, over Randolph.
With that, the remainder of my hike was a gentle descent. I reached the leaf covered Link, and headed east. The leaves did a lot to mask the obstacles that lay underneath, especially the shin deep mud hole I stepped into. I tripped at one point, and while I caught myself with my hands, the weight of my pack came right over the top of my head, and led to me gracefully face-planting. I met a nice elderly gentleman heading up to a stream somewhere, with his fishing rod and tackle in hand.
I crossed Memorial Bridge, dedicated to all the pioneering trail-builders of the region, and turned onto Sylvan Way, the section I didn't do the other week. Cold Brook Fall was roaring to the right.
The exit hike undulated from here on out, crossing all the familiar trails, Airline, Valley Way, Fallsway. I ended up reaching the trailhead around 11:30, about 30 minutes earlier than I hoped to be out. After changing, I headed back to reality, and a few nights of work.
New redlining for the day: 3.8 miles
This trip was an experience to be sure, and I'm thankful for those who shared a bit of it, and a bit of themselves, with me. Maybe next summer will indeed turn into the summer of backpacking. Until then, the winter of backcountry skiing is nearly at hand. That, and a winter UMC gathering will be in the works soon!
Here are some totals from the trip:
New redlining miles: ~15.8
Elevation gain: 9642 feet