"HIKING THE PRESIDENTIALS" New Hampshire Travelogue by mtncorg
New Hampshire Travel Guide: 1,483 reviews and 4,329 photos
The Appalachian mountains come to their New England apex here in the small Presidential Range - a subsidiary range within the White Mountains. The main Presidential Range centers on the broad massif of Mt Washington, which at 6288 feet, towers high above the rest of the range. Going in a north-south to northeast-southwest direction, the range extends from Mt Madison in the north to Mt Pierce and Crawford Notch in the south - a distance of maybe some 13 miles. The peaks south of Mt Washington are known as the Southern presidentials and are a little lower than their brothers to the north, the Northern Presidentials. Two other long spurs come off Mt Washington's summit and drop to the south - the Rocky Branch and Montalban Ridges, both extending about 15 miles due south.
There is an extensive trail system throughout the area. The Appalachian Trail - known locally by other names: Crawford Path to the south and Gulfside Trail to the north - climbs along most of the range's summit crest with short sidetrails branching off to the peaks encountered en route. Whenever you hike, you won't be alone as thousands come ehre every year to take up the challenge of hiking in and among the highest peaks of New England. One can either do dayhikes into the range or backpack using selected campsites or the three mountain huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) - meals available - Madison, Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah Springs huts. Much of the Presidential crest is above timberline, so weather can be a very critical factor. Good judgement and good weather should bring about conditions for a fine hike.
Living on the Left Coast of the US, New Hampshire is not very accessible to me, but fate had it that I was spending a month in the Boston area during a summer and after picking up a copy of the AMC Guide to Mt Washington and the Presidential Range, I headed north to the Whites for a weekend. A nice comfortable bed and breakfast in Jackson, NH, served as a most acceptable base camp. Jackson is a few miles south of Mt Washington.
With a short time at my disposal, I decided upon a long dayhike to discover a few of the secrets of the Range for myself. A short drive from Jackson to the large parking lot and facilities at the AMC camp at Pinkham Notch and I was off and walking with many other fellow hikers along the path to Tuckerman Ravine. Crystal Cascade - a small waterfall - and Hermit Lake are soon passed with the trail finally changing from a stony roadbed to a stony footpath. Hermit Lake is 2.4 miles out and after passing here the trail gains elevation in earnest. The elevation of the Presidential Range - topping at only 6288 feet - is not that imipressive, but when you start at only 2000 feet - Pinkham Notch - the prospect of gaining over 4000 vertical feet in a day, is definitely sobering. Much of that vertical is gained as I sweated up the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine.
On top of the Ravine, I entered the alpine zone lying atop the Range. No more trees until late in the afternoon. Wandering across the rocks and alpine grasses of Bigelow Lawn - largest of the so-called Presidential 'lawns' - I could see the many trails crisscrossing the plain, identifiable by the large stone cairns placed every few meters to show people the way in poor visibility. It was here that I came across a fellow who was struggling along the trail with a pack the size of a refrigerator. The way he was shuffling, the pack might have been as heavy, as well. Stopping to talk, he related times being up atop the Range when conditions were whiteout with freezing temperatures made even colder by extreme winds. Weather can change when you are out on a hike, but common sense dictates that you check the forecast before setting off. After talking and observing this fellow, I thought that it is no wonder so many people have come to grief in these mountains.
Across the Lawn, I made a short visit to the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut and a scamper up Mt Monroe to the south gave me a grand view over the Southern Presidentials - a hike south towards Crawford Notch looked inviting. The view north from Monroe showed me my next destination, however, the stony antennae-arrayed summit of Mt Washington. A short 1000 feet later, I joined many others on the top - most having driven or taken the little steam train up. After a short visit it was time to head on.
The Great Gulf is a large, wild glacial cirque bordered by Washington's bulk on the south and the Northern Presidentials on the west and north. My path stayed atop the range, encircling the wilderness of the Great Gulf below. Adams, Jefferson and Washington are also used to name grand volcanic peaks back home in the Pacific Northwest. Having been to those peaks, I wanted to walk atop their New England counterparts. While maybe not as wild as the norhtwestern volcanoes, these peaks were still grand, though August humidity reduced long-ranging views somewhat.
One thing that particularly struck me as I hiked in the Presidentials, were the countless stones you walked over. By the end of the day, the feet and legs had certainly had enough! It was atop Washington and the Northern Presidentials that I came across that special brand of hiker - the Thru-Hiker - someone who has taken the better part of a year to hike the 2000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail; from Georgia to Maine. I passed several of these hikers who were trimmed rockhard after months of hiking. One fellow I met time and again as I would take the sidepaths leading up to the various summits while he stayed the course - the Appalachian/Gulfside Trail contouring around the peaks.
Mt Clay, Jefferson and then the long stony ascent of Mt Adams, the range's second highest peak at 5774 feet. From here, the views were wilder tahn Mt Washington since they were shared only with other hikers: the Great Gulf and Mt Washington to the south, the deep King Ravine falling off towards the Moose River in the north. From Adams stony tops - much in contrast to the wide glacial plain lying atop Washington State's volcano of the same Presidential lineage, though a bit higher at 12, 276 feet - it was a short distance to the last AMC mountain hut - Madison Hut - lying at the foot of Mt Madison.
From the Madison Hut, a sharp turn to the south over the Parapet and down the very steep Madison Gulf 'trail' returned me to the world of forests and rambling brooks. Most of the elevation lost in the first miles. I walked the last miles through the forests accompanied by my Thru-Hiker friend as we exchanged observations, melting away the remaining distance back to my car at Pinkham Notch - a +19 mile day for me. My Thru-Hiker companion still had several weeks and the better part of 300 miles before he would stand atop the AT's northern terminus on Mt Katahdin in Maine.
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