March 17, 2012. Big plans for today, Mt Washington, Agiocochook - Home of the Great Spirit. All reports look favorable and the weather has been decent all week so now is as good as it gets. I also plan to hit Monroe and Eisenhower adding a road walk in at the end for one my loop hikes. The plan is to park at Marshfield Station at the base of the Cog Railway and take Jewell Trail up. A bit of an issue is a bridge at the beginning of Jewell Trail from the cog approach is closed.
Up at 4:00 am this morning and out on the road by 5:30. A little nervous and excited about this one. One just never knows what to expect when going to Mt Washington. It is almost always windy up there and the weather can change at any point. I remember running up the auto road in a race back in the seventies in June and it was sunny and warm at the base but very windy when I reached the top. Even the few times I have done the tourist drive up it has been incredibly windy. The only positive I have to go on is the previous day's MWO weather report:
An area of low pressure will swing a warm front through this morning followed by a weak cold front this afternoon. With temperatures already above freezing above 4000 feet this morning, the higher summits will continue to see only rain with this system. Lower elevations however, may see a bit of freezing rain before the rain as our mesonet is showing areas still below freezing below us that the rain is falling into. Precipitation will also start out showery this morning before becoming steadier heading into the afternoon as the frontal band approaches. The afternoon cold front has been bringing some thunderstorms to our west yesterday and last night and there is some indication for some instability in model soundings this morning. Therefore, there may be a slight chance for a thunderstorm or two as the front passes through this afternoon. Precipitation will taper quickly behind the front this evening and a clearing pattern will start as a ridge of high pressure begins building in from the west. Temperatures will likely drop to just below freezing overnight behind the frontal passage but as the high crests in, temperatures will once again be on the increase for Saturday. The cresting high will also dampen winds and allow for sunny skies above, allowing for a fair, spring-like day on the summits and around the state. While it will continue to be warm and well above normal by some 10-20F degrees over the forecast period, no records are poised to be broken. Sunday, however is a whole other story; but more on that in tomorrow mornings forecast...
According to that forecast, which was Friday morning, all should be good. Well I arrive at Marshfield at 7:35 and a short ten minutes later start up the road and pass the Base Station and the antique rail engines. As the picture shows it is quite foggy.
As I said earlier the bridge at this location is closed and I have read that you follow the rail up and shortly there is a yellow flag on a tree branch where you turn left to get onto Jewell Trail bypassing the bridge. Never saw the flag, EVER. At about 3000' I head across the tracks to my left and head into the woods to intersect with the trail. Fortunately, the bushwhack isn't too overgrown or thick that it slows me down too much. Thirty minutes from leaving the tracks and I am on Jewell Trail. The trail is well packed and with the wet weather and freezing temps from last night it is time to put the spikes on.
A little over an hour into the hike and around 3500' I get a shot of hopefully the day going to clear up. I look to my left and the skies are clear but to my right it is still socked in.
A few minutes later I catch up to a couple of guys who for some strange reasons are heading up the trail on skis. They had stopped because this section of trail was starting to have more exposed rocks and they were taking the skis off. Leaving them behind I continue on and a few minutes later the trail starts to change getting more closed in and looking more like...damn I'm on some sort of herd path/bushwhack! Climbing with head down strikes again! I've wandered ahead a couple of hundred feet I guess. Damn thing is other people have been on this "trail" before me, wonder where it leads to? Rather than turn back I look at my GPS and figure I can climb up the hill diagonally and meet up with the trail. After going a ways it gets thicker and steeper so I abandon that idea and start heading down diagonally looking for the path I mistook. Finally I make it back and it is at the turn I missed. The trail takes a sharp left and the old head down forge ahead hiker missed it. Worse is the two hikers/skiers I passed right before didn't say a word to me. So back on track and a little after 9:30 I break out of the trees and rewarded with one of the most outstanding views I have seen to date. First a glimpse and then four minutes later the whole shebang.
It is truly amazing! I am above the clouds and everything under 3500' is buried by clouds. It looks like the ocean with the mountains the islands. It is the most incredible sight with everything down in the valleys gone - disappeared. Like something out of a Stephen King novel.
It is also at this spot that I rerun into the two guys I passed earlier. I give them some crap (jokingly) telling them I was never going to talk to them again for not saying something to me when I kept going straight instead of making that hard left. They said they figured I knew where I was going, off to look at a viewpoint or something. Didn't know there was a viewpoint near that spot but that trail must go somewhere. I finished up with my pictures and up I continued. Just before 10:30 I reach the Gulfside Trail junction and on another section of the AT. About ten minutes later I get a shot of Moosilauke way on the other side of the White Mountains. On that mountain is my brother hiking also. This is the second time he has been opposite of me with the last time when I was on the Carters and he was across the valley doing Adams and Madison.
On the other side of me is the Great Gulf, the valley between Washington and Adams and Madison. it is impressive as well.
A few minutes before 11 and I reach the cog rail tracks and get a shot up and down of them.
Then at 11:30 I am there, at the top of New Hampshire, Mt Washington! What an absolutely fantastic day this is. The temp is near 40° and there is absolutely no wind, an unheard of experience. The views are fabulous and clear. I spend almost half an hour at the top enjoying the weather,the views and taking pictures.
It is time to leave and down the Crawford Path heading towards Lakes of the Clouds Hut and then up to Monroe. The trip to the hut is about 1.5 miles and takes about fifty minutes to get there stopping quite a few times to talk to hikers heading up to Washington. I reach the hut and sit down to have some snacks to refuel for the rest of the trip. A short time later and it is time to make the quick trip up to Monroe in the slushy snow still wearing only spikes. I make it at 1:10 and some more pictures and off to Eisenhower I go, the final destination on this wondrous day. On the way I come across two cool sights, one manmade and one nature made.
I make it to Franklin in 30 minutes and as I am heading down off towards my final peak I get a great shot of Eisenhower and both the trail leading up the mountain and the trail leading down, Edmunds Path (it is the trail in the picture that goes horizontally from left to right below the peak), the way I am going to get to Clinton Road.
It is still at least another mile from Franklin to Eisenhower and seems like forever getting there. In realty it only takes about thirty-five minutes but being the last mountain and getting tired makes it feel longer. At 2:50 I am there on top of the third 4000 footer for the day. I feel elated that I made all three and did not have to bail out for any reason. The truth is after Monroe there was no bail out option so it was Eisenhower or bust. The views are just as good here and I get one last shot of Washington before heading down.
I make it to Edmunds Path and the fun begins. There has not been much traffic on this path over the winter so the trail is not as packed as most are. Take a few steps and then sink in up to your hip. Take a few steps and sink up to your hip. Shampoo, rinse and repeat. I was not planning on this after coming all these miles with no issues at all and just wearing spikes. So a couple hundred yards of this, a few curse words, and enough is enough. On with the snowshoes, so glad I brought them along for the ride. It helps some but there is still sinking just not as deep. I'm sure this trail is completely different and quite nice under other circumstances but today I am cursing it most of the way down. Two hours and ten minutes later I finally make it down the 2.9 mile trail to Clinton Road. It is now 5:00 and time for the lengthy, boring and mostly uphill road walk back to the rail station. The good thing is the snowshoes come off at the road and even though it is still closed to vehicles there is very little snow on Clinton Road. It is a little under three miles to get back to the car. I would meet only one other hiker heading down from Marshfield Station to her car parked at the junction of Base Road and Clinton Road. We both make the comment to each other about the road walk and what a great way to finish a hike. I make the comment that that is the price we solo hikers pay for not being able to spot a car to avoid that road walk. At least she is going downhill because my walk is an unrelenting uphill climb. Flashbacks of Tecumseh and the road walk back on Tripoli Road. I eventually make it back to the car at 6:10 and take the one last shot (yeah the one on Eisenhower was supposed to be the last shot, I couldn't resist) of George.
There would be no chinese tonight as it will be late by the time I get home so a quick stop in Lincoln and nothing like some fresh McDonald's french fries. Three more peaks down and one glorious unforgettable day in the mountains. This is by far my most favorite and memorable day in the White Mountains. It will be hard to top this one.
Final numbers: 15.2 miles, 10 hours and 25 minutes, 3 peaks, # of peaks to date - 37.