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Thread: Mt. Jefferson on a perfect winter day

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    Mt. Jefferson on a perfect winter day

    These are the days you can hardly plan for. But Jefferson was the plan, and we lucked out with one of the best weather days in recent memory above treeline on the Presidential range. Every summit lay waiting in the clear for driven hikers like us to venture up and dance among the frosted alpine vegetation; sponge into snow drifts; and bask in the rare, gone-too-fast alpenglow at dusk. Every hike is a good hike, but this one was stunning and massively invigorating.

    ​Route
    • Jewell Trail, from Marshfield Station / Cog Railway parking lot (3.7mi)
    • Gulfside Trail north, down into and out of Sphinx Col to Monticello Lawn (1.5mi)
    • Mt. Jefferson Loop to summit (0.3mi)
    • return via same trails to Marshfield Station, for total of 9.5mi, ~4150' elevation gain


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    GPS Track: https://www.strava.com/activities/821562057

    Mt. Jefferson (5,716') was the highest of the nine remaining NH 48 peaks I had left to summit in calendar winter. I'd been on its summit twice: once in my mid-20s in summer, the other time just a year ago in mid-December, so neither counted. Jefferson is one of the tougher peaks to get to among the 48 in winter, mostly due to its distance from any open road (Jefferson Notch Road is closed in winter), and of course the usually rough and sometimes unpredictable weather above treeline.

    I'd hiked many peaks in winter alone, but for this one I preferred to have company along for a couple reasons. First, while it wouldn't be a particularly long hike, exposure above treeline would be, at about 3.7 miles total. And second, with the news that a solo hiker died from hypothermia on Bondcliff just a week earlier, I still felt the loss deeply and wasn't uncomfortable venturing out alone on such an exposed hike. Even with the good forecast, one doesn't know what could happen, and it'd be safer to have company.

    So I put the word out, and heard from my good friend Matt, who'd joined me many times -- most recently on the four-day trek to bag the Rangeley High Peaks in Maine a couple months earlier. He brought along his longtime friend Dirk, who also brought along two other friends, Kayla and Kaleigh. Dirk had some winter hiking experience, but Kayla had only done the Franconia Ridge in winter, and Kaleigh hadn't hiked in winter at all yet. This gave me pause, but I was told they had appropriate gear, and there was an understanding that turning around was a real option. As we gathered and prepared to head out, it became obvious they had geared up nicely, with new, quality backpacks, snowshoes, spikes, crampons, and multiple layers. They also showed the determination -- and reverence -- needed to hike in winter.

    We started from the Cog Railway lot a bit after 9:30am, up the road just past the main Cog building. A sign across the road from the building to the north (left) invited us into the woods via the Jewell Trail. This 3.7-mile trail is the easiest, most gradual way up to the Presidential Ridge in this area, and drops you right below the summit of Mt. Clay, the minor summit between Washington to the south, and Jefferson to the north.

    The trail was well broken-out -- something I'd been pretty sure of, given a trail conditions report posted just a day or so earlier. This made the going pretty easy, though I encouraged us all to switch to showshoes right away since the trail was still somewhat soft. We progressed at a measured pace; not real fast, but steady. This was the first time Kayla and Kaleigh wore snowshoes -- both had brand new pairs of MSR Lightnings. We did have to stop a couple times to adjust, but they were getting used to them well, if somewhat clumsily (aren't we all at first?!).

    We were treated to our first view as we passed a blowdown and traveled along the top of Burt Ravine, which afforded us some nice views up to Washington, and south toward Monroe and the tiny-looking Lakes of the Clouds hut. The sun was warm at this point, peeking through a sky of quilted clouds, a beautiful sight. This reinvigorated the group, as we knew today would be incredible above treeline.

    As we turned the corner before the final 50-foot stretch that brought us above treeline proper, I was reminded this was the very place I had brought my wife to, some 22 or so years earlier. We were staying at the Mount Washington Hotel at the time, as members of a small Renaissance madrigal group that provided entertainment to guests that weekend. Several of us headed up the mountain, but she was afraid of heights and couldn't continue beyond this point. I felt bad, but am still thankful to this day for our friend Mike, who volunteered to walk down with her so I could summit. (Mike's sister and brother-in-law were owners of the Hotel before Omni Resorts bought it a decade or so ago, so he was the connection in getting us that great gig! Many thanks for that as well, Mike!)

    As we made it up the low scrub, we saw a couple hikers ahead of us, who seemed to have helped break some trail above treeline. We found ourselves veering off-trail at times due to drifts and difficult-to-spot cairns, but with clear skies we were able to find our way back for the most part. As we approached the ridge proper, where the Gulfside Trail would take us north toward Jefferson, a group of four was coming down Jewell from Washington; they must have had a nice, early start!

    The going above treeline was a little slower than I hoped, as the group struggled a little to navigate the drifts and rocks, initially with snowshoes, but eventually switching to microspikes. We hadn't all done this switch at once, either, so we did end up wasting some precious time waiting for each other. At the time, the sun was mostly out so temperatures weren't terribly cold, but in retrospect I think it would have been prudent for me to encourage us to stick closer together, and coordinate traction changes. In any case, once we were on the ridge and we had the traction we wanted, we moved more quickly.



    As we got moving north along the ridge, I started calculating our general pace and figuring out how much time we might have before we'd lose daylight. I wanted to avoid hiking above treeline in the dark, since this would be a challenge even with clear skies. The moon wasn't anywhere near full, so we couldn't depend on that to help light our way, and headlamps can do only so much good in the wide open alpine zone. I was thinking of the less-experienced in the group as well, knowing they weren't going to want to

    As we approached Sphinx Col, we stopped and assessed where we were. I let the group know I was concerned that our pace would likely not get us to the summit and back to treeline by dark. During our discussion, the first of a group of about six returning from Jefferson, crossed our paths. I spoke with one of them, and mentioned we were heading toward Jefferson, but thinking not all of us would continue. By now, Matt and Kaleigh decided they would turn around and head down together, so the other group welcomed them into their group; this made me much more comfortable with splitting the group. I had confidence in the two, but knowing they were with a larger group, made me feel even better. I could tell the group was very seasoned -- it turns out at least a couple of them were very much so, and included grid finishers Bill Cronin and Jeb Bradley (current Majority Leader of the NH Senate).

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    Last edited by hikersinger; 01-07-2017 at 08:51 PM.
    _______________

    New England 100 Highest: 1st round (all-season) Sept. 2017; 2nd round (Winter) March 2019
    Mt. Adams (12,276', Washington state), Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503'), Helvellyn (England)

    AMC Trails Co-Adopter, Zeacliff Trail[/B]
    Co-founder + Administrator, Hike the 4000 Footers of NH! Facebook group

  2. #2
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    ... continued from above ...

    With the group moved on south along the ridge, joined by Matt and Kaleigh, the remaining three of us (myself, Dirk, and Kayla) regrouped. I asked them, "Are we ready to kill it?" They answered emphatically, yes, and we continued on, knowing we'd need to maintain a good pace in order to summit Jefferson and ideally return to treeline before nightfall. Our pace was quick and easy and we felt nimble as we dropped down into the col. Kayla and I decided to switch to microspikes -- something Dirk had already done. While making the switch, a group of four 20-something guys passed us, making their way back to Gray Knob for the night. They remarked there was a full house the previous night - not surprising for the holiday week, especially since the cabin is heated and is the perfect basecamp for hiking and even skiing the northern Presidentials. Kayla lightheartedly joked with them about their hair -- they all had full, bushy manes, reminiscent of ski bums you'd see around the resorts. They were a friendly group, and we all wished each other well.



    Once up and out of Sphinx Col, we entered the gently sloping area called Monticello Lawn, with the Jefferson summit in our sight off to the left. The scenes along the ridge were stark and beautiful, everything covered in a crystal white crust, and rime ice built up everywhere -- especially off the trail signs. The entire ridge was in the clear and the sun's rays were finding their way past the high, wispy clouds to shine down on us. Winds were very calm to non-existent; another rarity up on the Presidential range. This was pure heaven to me.

    We made good time up the 500 vertical feet of the southern half of the Jefferson Loop trail and onto the summit, where a slightly stronger wind was blowing up from the west. We spent 5-10 minutes basking and taking photos and panoramas, then started our way back. I had figured we would need about 1.5 hours of pure hiking time to reach treeline; we had about two hours left, so I estimated we'd be just fine.



    As is often the case with return trips, we moved quickly and in a "zone-like" state, making quick work of the various trail conditions: packed snow, occasional drifts, ice patches, and rime-covered rocks. This time, as we headed south/southwest, we headed pretty much directly toward the sun, so I regularly looked up to keep a close eye as it neared the mountain horizon. In this case, it would dip down behind the Southern Presidential and Tom/Field/Willey ranges.

    As the sun neared and met the horizon, we were enveloped in a sublime, magical Alpenglow. The scene was breathtaking, something I'd never experienced before above treeline. What had been a stark, bright white landscape everywhere, was now painted a soft, golden yellow-orange. We couldn't help but stop several times to take it in; the cameras got quite a lot of use! Every challenge, from the early rising to the challenge of the ascent, through to this point, made it worth all the effort. Experiences like these make for a fulfilling life, and I was thankful.





    Our timing was just right as we reached treeline at almost exactly 4:30, just after the sun dipped down behind the horizon. We would have been fine for a good 15-20 minutes more if needed, but by now we had put our snowshoes back on, and the three of us sailed smoothly down the gradual grade of the Jewell Trail. In just one hour we traveled the three miles from treeline down to Marshfield Station and the base of the Cog Railway, where Matt and Kaleigh were already enjoying warm tea. Our cars were the last in the lot to leave that day.
    Last edited by hikersinger; 01-07-2017 at 08:53 PM.
    _______________

    New England 100 Highest: 1st round (all-season) Sept. 2017; 2nd round (Winter) March 2019
    Mt. Adams (12,276', Washington state), Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503'), Helvellyn (England)

    AMC Trails Co-Adopter, Zeacliff Trail[/B]
    Co-founder + Administrator, Hike the 4000 Footers of NH! Facebook group

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by hikersinger View Post
    During our discussion, the first of a group of about six returning from Jefferson, crossed our paths. I spoke with one of them, and mentioned we were heading toward Jefferson, but thinking not all of us would continue. By now, Matt and Kaleigh decided they would turn around and head down together, so the other group welcomed them into their group; this made me much more comfortable with splitting the group. I had confidence in the two, but knowing they were with a larger group, made me feel even better. I could tell the group was very seasoned -- it turns out at least a couple of them were very much so, and included grid finishers Bill Cronin and Jeb Bradley (current Majority Leader of the NH Senate).
    Actually all six of us were grid finishers (Guy, June, Gary, Jeb, Bill) and myself, John (a two time grid finisher). . It was great to have Matt and Kaleigh join us. We had some nice conversation on the way down and they got to share our delicious treats before we all left treeline and headed into the woods. Twas another great day in the mountains.
    Last edited by J&J; 01-08-2017 at 03:31 PM.
    J&J

  4. #4
    Member hikersinger's Avatar
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    Thank you again, J&J! Matt mentioned there might be a need for some assistance with an email list of some sort? I'd be happy to hear more, as I've worked in the email delivery industry for several years now, and also do website development on the side. Feel free to DM me.
    _______________

    New England 100 Highest: 1st round (all-season) Sept. 2017; 2nd round (Winter) March 2019
    Mt. Adams (12,276', Washington state), Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503'), Helvellyn (England)

    AMC Trails Co-Adopter, Zeacliff Trail[/B]
    Co-founder + Administrator, Hike the 4000 Footers of NH! Facebook group

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