After my Los Angeles trip + Gus’ Vegas bachelor party last week I was chomping at the bit for some Nature re-tuning. Gus and I had talked about the Northern Presidentials while drinking in the pool at Mandalay Bay so that was on the menu for this weekend.
Friday Night 6/21/13:
4.8 Miles & +1413 Vert/-922 Vert
Heading to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center we arrived at 10:30 and hit the trail at 10:50 after throwing rocks at the aggressive resident fox looking for handouts and weighing our overnight packs (~23lbs).
The Old Jackson Road Trail is a part of the AT and we followed that the whole way to Osgood Tent Site crossing about 25 small and large streams. The trail was rocky and more difficult than the flat waltz I expected and late night starts without snow definitely need the mileage trimmed down for the future. We arrived to a full Osgood Tent Site at 1:15 am, forcing us to desperately stealth camp in a shitty uneven site far too close to the trail. After setting up and killing a Moat’s Iron Mike Pale Ale while saying hi to some 2 am Hut to Hut Traverse hikers, we passed out at 3 am.
14.2 Miles & +5690 Vert/-6180 Vert
Waking up at 9am after a night of sliding downhill in the tent, we boiled water and made some instant Starbucks coffee. Starting up the Osgood Trail, we made steady progress taking a short break at treeline to soak in some views of the Great Gulf Wilderness and the peaks ahead of us that loomed above like angry Gods.
Around treeline, the hike transitions from woods to ridge and the trail turns to steep fields of jagged lichen covered rocks. After a few junctions, the final rocky climb to Madison was a welcome site and we zipped up to a gang of Frenchies descending past us. Frenchies aren’t very friendly and get annoying with their non stop “Ehhh where eez zee trail down? How far to zee peak? What time eez eet?” questions. The coffee definitely helped the 2800 foot ascent on a night of shitty sleep and the usual tea is officially getting ditched.
After enjoying the Frenchie-free summit, we dropped down the half mile and 600 feet to the Madison Hut where a mean looking fellow was ironically smoking a cigarette after his hard climb to the summit. We grabbed a bowl of bland hot pea soup, chocolate chip bars and some fresh water taking a long break. Setting off from the hut around 2 pm, it began raining lightly as we set off for the 1 mile 1000 foot climb of Mt. Adams (5799 feet) on the Star Lake Trail.
About 2/3rds of the way up, the rain quickened and we ducked into a rocky overhang to wait it out. While discussing plans to bail out due to some forecasted thunder storms, a group ascended to us, deciding to bag the summit then haul ass back to the hut. Sounding like a better plan then heading back down, we blasted past them to the summit where the sun magically melted the clouds away and gave us some great views of Washington and Jefferson.
As the rain slowed to a drizzle and weather cleared, the allure of Jefferson was too strong to deny and we set off down Lowe’s Path to the Gulfside Trail (AT) and Mt. Jefferson Loop to the summit. This 2 mile section of trail like nothing I’ve ever seen, beautiful and serenely remote; the denseness of the forest trying to creep its small plants and trees into the rocky moonlike landscape of the ridge. The ravines and ridges of the northern side of this range also impressed me as I have never seen them up close before.
This was thankfully mildly downhill to Edmands Col but clouds rolled in as we ascended 700 rocky feet to Mt. Jefferson (5716 feet) We discussed bailing out of bagging Washington and down Six Husbands Trail as the weather worsened and the rain picked up. On the summit of Jefferson, visibility dropped to about 20 feet and we decided not to linger, regretting our lack of views and excited to get a beer and a meal and watch the Bruins Stanley Cup game at 8pm. Seriously, we thought we’d be out by 8pm…
The 5:20 pm descent down the Six Husbands Trail starts off mild, even running along the last few snow patches left in New Hampshire. Standing in Snow a week before July is a strange experience and puts the weather up here into perspective. Around this time the drizzle also mixed with hail. The trail evens out on a ridge called Jefferson’s Knee and has great views of the Great Gulf on all sides. I was fully enjoying this trail until the madness began. Getting to the edge of the ridge is a steep drop off and the trail switchbacks into some dangerous wet rock ledge down-climbs. This is about where we started getting sketched out.
We were warned this trail was steep but hadn’t researched this as a bail out. In rain, this trail is more or less horribly dangerous for inexperienced hikers and climbers. I think the guide book says “Do Not Descend” and that is advice for nice weather. Also extraction from this trail in case of an accident would be obscenely difficult due to its remoteness. Their are some really technical spots that are super tricky in wet conditions. Some really steep parts I had to throw my pack 20 feet down in order to scramble.
A lot of the climbs were really fun and easy, one or two made me worry; wet slick wooden ladders in particular aren’t a good time. The cave section was really unique (besides breaking my Playpus mouthpiece throwing my pack and dumping water on myself) and once down to the Buttress Trail we breathed a sigh of relief. This would be a fun trail going up or in general without an overnight pack or in the rain. Butt sliding down some rocky faces shredded my pole bag strapped to the bottom of my pack and would have shredded my pack. Also forgetting my rain jacket might have helped because that would have gotten shredded as well.
Time Check: The 2 miles of the Six Husband Trail took us over two hours; (now 7:30ish) the climbing was slow due to being extremely careful and physically tiring. Cranking up the pace we dashed off towards the Great Gulf Trail junction as the daylight died and donned headlamps once again.
The darkness, being completely soaked, tired, thirsty, hungry (we hadn’t brought a dinner and lunch was light) and a long drenched slippery trail made for an exhausting and long slog out. This was about a 6 mile hike out just from the junction of Six Husbands and Buttress Trail. We considered both camping again (too wet and no dry gear) and a dash for Rt. 16 along the Great Gulf Trail to hitch a ride back to Pinkham Notch but ultimately decided to get back on Old Jackson Road and go out the way we came in. After another hard 1.7 miles on Great Gulf Trail, we got back on the AT with less than four miles to go at around 10:30pm. I was pushing hard until now but slowed down and a mile before the Auto Road I physically started crashing on the ups and downs. Gus was lagging before this but after discussing plans for dinner and a hotel room he caught his second wind and kept me moving.
I got dizzy, nauseous and was soon mentally defeated and exhausted and after a miserable shit in the rain, I laid down on the Auto Road for a few minutes to get my head together. Sleeping there seemed like a good idea for a bit. The next 1.6 miles was only done because of Gus pushing me hard, I literally wanted to die and swore I would quit hiking forever. I’ve never in my life been exhausted like that and had I been solo I think I’d have been totally screwed and had to camp in a wet tent with no dry clothes or food for the morning. Not a horrible worst case scenario…
Getting back into Pinkham Visitor Center we crushed some sports drinks and sodas and painfully changed our soaked clothes and socks. After a brief recovery we hauled back to Conway and spotted my first moose standing just off the road. After breaking a 12+ year boycott of McDonalds at 12:30 am and eating about 1500 calories, we got the last motel room in Conway and passed out hard.
Overall the hardest and most strenuous technical hike we’ve done. Lot’s of mistakes and lot’s of things learned. The other 4000 footers we’ve done were hardly a warm-up for this hike; the Northern Presidentials are on an entirely different level then most of the Whites in my opinion. Definitely felt like we accomplished more than usual on this trip and pushed ourselves.
The next day, after eating pea soup, trail mix and McDonalds I ate this at my moms BBQ and almost cried tears of joy:
Total: 20.1 Miles and 7806 Feet of Vert
Things I/We Did Right:
– Kept going up Adams in the rain, as it cleared up shortly after about 400 feet from the summit.
– That’s about it…
– Pushed our mental and physical limits to the brink of exhaustion.
– Drove slow for moose! Saw a bull hiding off the road waiting to cross.
Things I/We Did Wrong:
– Didn’t research the bail out route or consider the distance out.
– Got to the tent site way too late and it was full. On the AT and in the Presis in the summer, its way more crowded than we are used to.
– Too much mileage for that late, its easier to do it in the winter on snow.
– Underestimated difficulty of the Northern Presi terrain.
– Brought my 15 degree bag, too hot and too heavy. Would have been clutch if we had camped a second night though.
– Didn’t bring enough food.
– Didn’t take book time seriously, we usually crush and factor our time to be 50-75% of it but this time it kicked our ass.
– Downhill on Six Husbands Trail in the rain… really awful idea. We usually do some tougher trails but this one is just nuts in wet conditions. Star Lake Trail in the rain is crazy too.
– Probably should have bailed after Mt. Adams and taken Buttress Trail all the way down.
– Should have lined our packs with a trash bag to keep everything dry. Pack covers would have gotten shredded on Six Husbands.
– Bed times of 3am and late starts of 11am need to end but probably won’t.
– Threw my pack down a 30 foot cliff and broke my Platypus mouthpiece and lost most of my water. Should have treated a liter on the way out but thought I’d have enough to make it. I think this contributed to me crashing so fast.
– Should have changed into dry socks at some point.
– Didn’t double check TP supply. Almost turned out badly. ><
Total Peaks Bagged: 3 this trip. #33 – 35
Total Miles: 20.1
Total Elevation Gain: 7806 feet
Total Elevation Lost: 7806 feet
Total 4ks: 35/48
Total Backpacked: 32/48
– Gus brought a Vargo Triad Titanium Alcohol Stove that did the trick perfectly.
– Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack kept my bag totally dry when almost everything else was soaked.
– Starbucks Via Instant Coffee. I’m convinced they created this product for backpackers.