Friday, February 21, 2014

Freight Trains on the Heights 2/20/14

Working title: The third time IS the charm

Peaks: Mt. Jefferson, Adams 5, Mt. Adams

Trails: Lowe's Path, Randolph Path, The Cornice, Jefferson Loop, Gulfside, Israel Ridge Path, bushwhacks

Mileage/time: ~12.3 miles, ~5470' of gain, book time of 8:56, actual time of 11:14

Some busy weeks have come and gone, and the present rain is putting a wet damper on future winter activities. Such is the fickleness of life as we know it. The push to finish the Winter 48 has continued, with success and disappointment, in equal parts. I hit Mt. Garfield after a storm with an AMC group on 2/6, and had an exciting, but hard fought battle with King Ravine (in an attempt for these same peaks) on 2/12. This day, the weather wasn't exactly on our side (maybe, depending on which side was facing the wind), but we stuck it out and had an epic time.

After biting off more than we could chew with our King Ravine trip last week, Mike and I decided to get these peaks done. The forecast wasn't looking great, high winds (100+ mph) early, then slackening and shifting, but with some clearing and rebounding temperatures. Why not?! During our drive, we saw clouds absolutely blasting over Madison, and I half-jokingly asked, "we're really going up there?". Sure enough, we were.

Who ever said beauty couldn't be found in a gas station parking lot...

We parked at Lowe's Store, geared up, and set off up Lowe's Path just before 8, snowshoes squeaking in the inch or so of fresh on the broken trail. It was fairly warm, and we soon were down to base layers. After a stop at the RMC Log Cabin, we ran into a family of four, coming down from Gray Knob, then began our work for the day. Randolph Path had been broken from its junction with Lowe's Path since the last storm, and we gladly trudged upward in the trough. This, however, ended about a mile later, when we intersected Perch Path. Before us lay unbroken, drifted in trail, and roaring above.

Jackets went back on, and the trail breaking began. I can't say we really "broke" the trail, as there were only two of us, but we tracked it out. Views began to open up as we climbed, and the clouds above us raced by, propelled by unseen, but not unheard power. It was one of the most gorgeous, exciting, and terrifying things I've ever witnessed. The knowing, that you're about to enter the maelstrom, is sobering.

Reaching treeline on Randolph Path, we came to the Gray Knob junction, where there was a bit of snow. The summit of Jefferson, and that of Abigail Adams behind us, were cloud raked. Edmands Col sat before us, at roughly our elevation, one of the scariest places in the Presidential Range in winter, which we would have to cross twice. There was incredible snow sculpting everywhere, a smorgasbord for the senses.

Smiles on our faces, we pushed toward the venturi. Far and away, these were the strongest winds I have ever been in. During the time of our crossing, winds on Washington were sustained over 80 mph, and gusting over 90! Reaching the north end of the col, the wind funneling through, we crossed the ice field to the other side. I stood in the middle for a moment, leaning back into the wind, being buffeted by it.

Jefferson clears!

Edmands Col
Snowshoes on ice are fun! Skittering to the other side, we were somewhat protected from the wind, and layered up for the summit assault. We decided to try and stick to the snowfields, and only ran into some sections of rock. There was a mix of snow conditions, and the sculpting continued to be amazing. Topping out on Jefferson, the winds were intense, peaks were in the clear, and another winter peak was under our feet.

Our summit stay was brief, enough to touch the pin, get pictures, and retreat. Now on the trail, we worked our way back down to Edmands Col, somewhat more protected on the lee side of the ridge. Up and over the Jefferson snowfield, which looked daunting from above... and skiable in the right conditions. The winds weren't as bad on our second transit, and we began the climb towards Adams, looking for a spot out of the wind to take a break. High clouds rolled in, obscuring the sun, and Mike pointed out Adams V to me... and I "need" it... so we went to check it out!

Rime below Jefferson

Jefferson and Clay from Adams V
Reaching a point near Thunderstorm Junction, snow became less, rime and rock became the rule. Challenging conditions for sure, but the wind was at least at our backs. Once reaching the rime-encrusted summit sign, the wind surged, as it passed over the top of the peak. All but one of my summit photos was noticeably blurred, since I couldn't keep myself still in the winds, and the lighting was less than ideal. The summit stay on Adams was shorter than the Jefferson one! Touch the pin, and go!

Near Thunderstorm Junction

Madison and Star Lake from Adams
We picked our way down to Thunderstorm Junction, and on down Lowe's, sticking to snowfields as much as possible, reaching treeline around 4:30. I saw ski tracks, which we followed to Gray Knob, where we found the caretaker Adam in residence. I'd hoped to find the other caretaker Mike, but he was on his off days. The skis belonged to Adam, and I chatted with him about things for a bit, while we warmed up and ate. Bidding him and a group of three who had arrived good evening, we set off down Lowe's. My snowshoes and boots began to bother me, especially on the steeps, and we soon required headlamps, as we neared the Log Cabin, where we took another short break.

The remaining 1.7 to the road went quickly, on the easier terrain of the lower section, and when we reached the road, the snow was soft, and the temperatures in the upper 30's. What a difference 4000+ feet of elevation makes! We then rode back to Conway, and got some Italian food which was delicious. I didn't end up getting home until almost 11:30! It was a long day in the mountains, but one that I won't soon forget.Thanks to Mike for another memorable one.

That's two more off the winter list, leaving just Monroe and Isolation dangling. I'm going to hit Monroe soon, and finish with Mike and Steff (perhaps on skis!) on Isolation, in early March. It's been a long time in coming.


  1. You are doing an awesome job on these hikes. I've met Mike on my Owls Head hike while working on my 4000ft (in good weather). Sending good vibes as you finish your winter hikes. I enjoyed your trip report and pictures. Happy hiking.

  2. Bill, what a remarkably impressive adventure! And equally impressive is the writing expertise you've demonstrated in chronicling the details of this trek in a very engaging manner.