On Saturday, 10/10/2015, Rich and I drove north to the Presidential Range to hike 5,712′ Mt. Jefferson – his 48th and final New Hampshire 4000 footer. I had only been on top of Jefferson once before, back in the summer of 2011, so this was a fresh hike for us both.
Lowes Path, on which we began our hike, begins a bit west down the road from Lowes Store on Rt. 2. Parking at the store (on the gravel lot, away from the gas pumps) costs $1 per day. Wow.
This trail was covered in newly fallen leaves. Pretty. They were wet. Slippery.
This part of the hike isn’t steep, but the footing is rough, and the rocks and roots that make it rough were tough to see through the leaves. I’ve never noticed this so much on a hike in the Whites. I won’t keep writing about it, but the footing on this entire hike (Lowes Path, Randolph Path, Gulfside Trail, Jefferson Loop Trail) was some of the bumpiest and most unstable I’ve been on. It was fun, but made for slow going.
Be warned – this route is a LONG 11 miles. 11 isn’t very high mileage for me, but this was one of those days where by the end, it felt like you did 20.
Other than a reminder to head east after Edmand’s Col (not southwest, which is easy to do when you’ve got your eyes on the ground) to reach the Jefferson Loop Trail and the summit, I’ll mostly stop with the trail details now, which are well covered in so many other places.
This had been a long time coming. While hiking to cross mountains off a list is pretty silly and can really cause you to miss or lose track of some of the best things about hiking and being in these mountains, when you or a friend happens to be very close to finishing, it’s exciting. Rich had summited his 47th NH 4000 footer (Mt. Cabot) in January of 2015. Somehow he managed to go 9 months like he wasn’t one beautiful day away from joining a pretty cool club and lived a normal life, doing all the other interesting stuff that he does, including some repeat hikes very close to Jefferson. And it was my idea to head up there that day and finish them off!
For me, this was my first hike in the Whites since February (remember the paragraph about the rough footing? I wasn’t even in hiking shape for this!), as I had spent the spring and summer sailing, maintaining, cursing, apologizing to, and generally throwing money at my beloved Dira. Truthfully, I don’t get the hiking itch in the summer the way I used to. I like it cold, and I like the scenery, the isolation and the challenge that comes with that.
Again – this hike of Mt. Jefferson had been a long time coming for both of us.
When we popped out of the trees and saw the rime ice on the boulders, I felt like I was home. It’s one of my favorite things in the world – I could stare at a single rime covered boulder all day, especially under a blue sky.
I also felt like we were a long way from the summit. And we were – technically on the north side of Edmand’s Col, we were still on Mt. Adams at this point. We needed to move as quickly as possible while still moving safely. I did not want to be above treeline on the northern Presi’s in the dark this day.
As soon as I had this thought, we ran into the only other people we’d see on the trail that day, my buddy Pete Osler who I met at the AMC Leadership Program in 2013 and hadn’t seen since, and his friend. I was happy to stop and catch up, but there went another 15 minutes of daylight.
After dropping into the ever windy Edmand’s col, we pushed up the other side onto Jefferson, and proceeded to head in the wrong direction for 5 minutes (hence my reminder above) until luckily, something didn’t feel right, and we decided to head back to the col to get our bearings.
This is when I realized that the map was sitting on the dash, back in my car. Here were 2 guys who had hiked in the Whites in all seasons and conditions for 7 years, one of them planning on completing a major hiking milestone that very day, and we left the map in the car. Embarrassing. I’ll take the blame for this one – Rich embarrasses himself later. Anyway, another 20 minutes lost to me piecing the map together from memory (but I did it!).
From the north, Jefferson presents several false summits as you climb, each one sucking away some mental energy, along with the physical. No problem when you’re on schedule, but we were at this point later than I wanted to be. To be clear – I did not consider this to be dangerous. Despite what you’ve read so far, we did have what we needed to stay safe at night. I was more concerned with staying comfortable, stress free, and getting home at a reasonable hour.
We were both running out of steam. I was thinking about calling it. I could tell Rich wouldn’t object. I thought it would be worth it to run a bit ahead and see if I could get a distance on the true summit, and somehow I was able to do it. When I looked back and gave Rich the thumbs up, he immediately got some noticeable energy back in his steps, and soon we were popping champagne on the summit, both members of the AMC NH 4000 Footers club.
A family came up from the east just in time to take some photos for us, and to look sad for us when we told them we were heading down the same long way we had come up.
Here’s some advice that’s applicable anywhere: When you need a stranger to take a picture that you hope comes out well, especially with a phone, give it to a kid. Thanks little girl!
What follows is a little summary of all the fun on the hike down. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that we wouldn’t be above treeline when it got dark, thanks to the trail following the west side of the range and some pretty fast moving on our part back down to the col. However, once our bodies burned up the champagne super-fuel, things slowed down.
The snow and ice that had melted throughout the day had made the trail even more slick, and hiking down on this stuff is more difficult and strenuous than hiking up it.
When it did get dark, we were in the wettest of the wet and back in the leaves. We threw on our headlamps, and here is where Rich embarrasses himself – he found his lamp batteries were dead, and admitted he hadn’t tested it before he left home. Then we mutually embarrassed ourselves when neither one of us had spares.
We walked out with me in front, headlamp on the right side of my head, Rich following close behind. At the many, many tricky spots or log bridges, I’d go ahead 10 feet or so and then shine back. Very slow going. We were doing about a quarter of a mile an hour for several hours, the only conversation pertaining to how endless this process felt – a good lesson.
11 hours after we left the car, we returned, nice and tired for the 3 hour ride home.
In the end, since everything turned out alright, even though we made a few dangerous beginner mistakes, it almost seems like it enhanced the trip. We surely wouldn’t call it uneventful, definitely wouldn’t forget it, and certainly felt like we worked for the summit, the return to the car and Rich’s final NH 4000 footer.