and Jefferson from the summit of Mount Adams on a fantastically clear day|
A couple Fridays ago, Dylan, one of the winter caretakers,
stopped by the front desk and asked me if I was interested in doing a hut check
with him. The forecast from the Mount
was calling for a sunny day with moderate winds (by
our mountain standards). “Will I get
paid?” I asked. “Never mind, it doesn't
matter. I’m in.”
Saturday morning, with our bags packed, we picked up our
trail lunches at the Pinkham
Notch Visitor Center
– bagged lunches with hefty sandwiches, granola bars,
trail mix, and a piece of fruit. We
arrived at the Appalachia trailhead half an hour later. Dylan and I greeted a college outing club
group in the parking lot and headed up the Valley Way Trail.
Spring Hut, locked and shuttered until summer|
The Valley Way Trail is one of numerous trails maintained by the AMC, but has junctions with
numerous trails maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club. The RMC
maintains over 100 miles of trail in
the northern Presidential Range and Crescent Range, as well as a handful of
cabins and shelters. The Valley Way
Trail is among the most popular trails in the area, as it is sheltered from the
weather and provides quick access to the northern Presidentials. The trail was easy to follow and
well-traveled – I hiked in bare boots all the way to the hut.
I waited a little too long before pulling off layers, so
I got a little more damp than I wanted on the way up. I find temperature regulation to be the most
difficult aspect of winter hiking, and readily admit that I’m still trying to
get the timing down. The best advice
I've gotten, and which I will pass on, is to stay ahead of the game. Take off layers before you get warm; replace
them before you get cold. Replenish
fluids before you’re thirsty; eat before you’re hungry.
We broke out of treeline and made it to Madison Spring Hut
1:30. A handful of people and another
college group were milling about the hut and snacking, so we talked to them
about conditions and the AMC. Dylan and
I then went into the hut to make sure everything was in a good state inside. With that done, we put on our insulated
jackets to sit outside in the sun to have lunch. Refueled and reenergized, we looked back and
forth between the peaks of Madison and Adams.
With only enough time to hit one summit comfortably, we decided to go
for Mount Adams.
on Mount Madison is very distinctive|
Dylan and I donned our crampons, pulled the mountaineering
axes off our packs, and jumped on the Star Lake Trail. Just a few minutes later, we noticed that the
moon was visible above the lake. We both
pulled out our cameras to take pictures, knowing full well that the pictures
would never capture the magnificence. We
passed the intersection with the Buttress Trail and began climbing. Following in someone’s tracks, we soon
realized that we were well off the trail.
With the opportunity to do some mountaineering though, we decided to
keep following the tracks – even when they stopped. We worked our way upward, fully utilizing our
crampons and axes. When we reached a
ledge, we planted our axes in the snow, anchored our packs, and sat down to
take in a great view of the Great Gulf Wilderness and Carter Notch.
Looking over the Great Gulf Wilderness and through Carter
Notch. Photo: Dylan S.
With another push, we reached the saddle between J.Q.
Adams and Mount Adams. We hiked a little
bit farther north to jump onto the Air Line Trail and continued our climb,
weaving in between rocks and boulders.
The wind became more and more apparent as we climbed toward the
summit. Before long, the weathered
wooden sign came into view and we found ourselves at 5799 feet. Powdered mountaintops for miles, clear skies,
sun shining bright, wind whipping around 30 miles per hour. Beautiful.
was 3:45, so we didn't dawdle. We
reveled briefly, snapped a few pictures, and scampered back down the Air Line
Trail. Back at Madison Spring Hut, we
talked to a couple about camping options in the area and headed back down Valley Way. We reached the parking lot around 6 and went
straight to town for some grub.
Later that evening, we stopped by the front desk to check
in. Becky, another caretaker, was
working that night. She asked if either
of us could do another hut check the next day.
I was tired and sore, so naturally, I said “I’d love to.”
The Ammonoosuc Ravine, on the western side of Mount
Washington. The Cog Railway climbs up
the spine of the nearest ridge.
The next morning, Becky and I picked up trail lunches and
drove over to the parking lot near the Mount
Washington Cog Railroad
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail starts near the end of the road and follows the
Ammonoosuc River up to Lakes of the Clouds Hut.
We hopped on the trail and headed up.
This trail also gets a large amount of use as it is the quickest route
to the hut, and the shortest path to the summit from the west side. Ditching layers early, we also decided to
strap on our crampons.
After a couple miles, we passed Gem Pool. The White
describes it as a “beautiful emerald pool at the foot of a
cascade,” which unfortunately isn't the case in the winter. We saw a clean white patch below what might
have been a cascade if it weren't frozen and covered with snow. It still served as a landmark though, and as
promised, the trail got steep immediately afterward. We climbed and climbed, passing the stream
crossing and breaking into the alpine zone. The towers on the summit of Mount Washington
were clearly visible, but clouds were starting to creep toward the summit.
back side of Lakes of the Clouds Hut and Mount Monroe|
Before long, we had reached to the saddle and the back
side of Lakes of the Clouds. Becky and I
talked with a few people who were around the hut, taking shelter from the wind,
and then looked to the summit of Mount Washington again. Still looked about the same. We talked it over and agreed on a handful of
decisions: we both wanted to try reaching the summit, we’d be better off making
the attempt as soon as possible due to the incoming weather, it would probably
take an hour and a half to get to the summit and slightly faster to get back to
the hut, lunch and the hut check could wait until we got back.
Both on the same page, Becky and I began our bid for the
summit. Crampons on and mountaineering
axes at the ready, we jumped on the Crawford Path at 12:45. It was slightly unnerving at times, as the
trail slowly climbed along the side of the ridge, with long blank slopes above
and below us. We climbed at this
moderate grade until we got to the junction with the Davis Path and Westside
Trail. Continuing on the Crawford Path,
the trail became steeper as we ascended the summit cone. We passed a few groups of people who were
headed down. They all said it was a
great day, but too windy to linger at the summit. We wished them well and pushed on. We followed the cairns upward and took the
sharp turn at the junction with the Gulfside Trail. We made one last push, passed the Yankee
Building and Tip Top House, and found the sign at the summit. We made it.
visibility, snowing, winds above 30 miles per hour…relatively decent weather.|
Sure enough, everyone was right. Not a good day to hang around the
summit. We took the typical summit
pictures, turned tail, and scampered back down the trail. On the way down, the day had turned
overcast. We turned back to look at the
summit. The clouds had surrounded the
cone and the towers had disappeared. Ahead
of us, a ray of sun had broken through the clouds, shining a spotlight directly
on Mount Eisenhower. It was a magical
sight. We continued our descent toward
the hut, and more importantly, lunch.
We got back to Lakes of the Clouds Hut at 3:15. Nobody was around to chat, so we unlocked the
building and peeked inside. Becky and I
walked through the hut to confirm that all was well inside, then opened our
trail lunch bags and feasted on the fantastic sandwiches and snacks. Nothing like a well-earned meal.
After our late lunch, we headed back down the Ammonoosuc
Ravine Trail. I figured it’d be a good
time to practice self-arrest. I slid
down a few times on my back, practicing the motion of flopping over onto the
shaft of the axe, pressing the pick into the slope with my body weight. I tried this with the axe starting in my
right hand, then my left. Then I flung
myself headfirst down a slope, pivoting my body around the pick so I was facing
uphill, and then replanting the pick under my body weight – and getting a bit
of snow down my shirt. I took that as my
cue to stop, and we continued down the mountain the normal way. We said goodbye to the ever-descending clouds
and dropped below treeline.
trekking down the side of the ridge toward the hut|
Becky and I made it back down to the parking lot, and on
the way back to Pinkham Notch, we stopped at the Highland Center
search of food. It was past 6:00 by the
time we arrived, which is when family-style dinners begin, but Kyra and Joey welcomed
us for a splendid and filling dinner of turkey, vegetarian paella, rice pilaf,
and a veggie medley. Thanks again, Kyra
and Joey! Perfect way to finish an
awesome day, and an awesome weekend.
You may have noticed that I didn’t share any pictures
from inside the huts. Curious to see
what they look like? Hop over to the huts webpage
availability and make a reservation for your stay!
Self-arrest is a critical skill for traveling in steep
terrain in the winter. It’s a good idea
to practice often, so the motion occurs intuitively and immediately when
necessary. Check out the introductory
to Use an Ice Axe
in the January/February 2015 issue of AMC Outdoors, the
magazine for AMC members. Join now
to get tips like this
delivered to you every two months, along with great mountain stories and
schedules for AMC adventures, trips, and training!
The AMC also offers classes and chapter trips for ice climbing, skiing, snowshoeing winter mountaineering and avalanche classes. All of our programs for the '14/'15 season can be found on our Activities and Events Page. For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
Happy winter adventuring!
Backcountry Information Specialist
AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Labels: AMC Huts, Highland Center, Mount Washington, Pinkham Notch, White Mountains