A remarkably quiet day climbing Madison


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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
I hadn't made plans for the weekend hike and was contacted by a long time VFTT member if I was interesting in climbing Madison by Howker Ridge trail. Despite it being the primary view out my office window, its been years since I did this hike and the last time I did it there was it there were no views. We spotted a car at Appalachia a little before 8 AM and I snagged one of the last spots. There was signs of big crowd there yesterday with cars parked along RT 2 well east of the lot. We headed over the Randolph East Trailhead and headed up. I had forgotten the very nice stretch of the trail that runs along Bumpus Brook, it rivals the far more popular stretch of Snyder Brook that runs along the side of the Valley Way. The gorge is deeper and there are some nice falls and drops. We crossed the brook and after the obligatory quick stop at the Bear Pit we headed up. Howker Ridge trail is definitely a nice trail for hot day as it faces north and stays in the trees until the junction with the lower Pine Link. Views are fleeting but given the high pressure coming in from the north the views were 100 mile plus. The trade off for the high pressure moving in was a stiff wind and low temps, we actually geared up as it was chilly. After the last stretch of woods to just past the upper Pine Link Junction the winds were blocked by Gordon Ridge and it got downright warm. We also encountered the first person of the day after we had turned off Bumpus Brook . It was a trail runner and it took me minute to recognize Larisa Dannis (LRiz on VFTT) as I didn't see her trusty canine companion running along with her. I called her name and asked about the dog and as she ran along she said the dog was retired and no longer was running with her. Pretty surprising that we hadn't encountered anyone for much of the hike and the first person we encountered was Larisa. Soon after we did meet a few more folks heading down and after a steep climb the Osgood Trail popped into view. We quickly did the last stretch and was at the summit. It was decidedly windy at the summit but just stepping off and finding a south facing ledge just below the ridge line it was close to calm and warm. We took a long break enjoying the view before heading down Watson Path.

Watson Path has a decidedly mixed reputation in hikers circles. Its follows Gordon Ridge maximizing above treeline exposure. It was quite windy as we walked down almost directly into the wind. Its well cairned but the cairns are not huge and on occasion its easy to be concentrating on the footing and get off the route. Eventually it drops in the woods. This is the section that seems to get the most commentary. Despite RMC efforts over the years, this route is relentlessly steep and the trail bed rough. There has been rock work put in place but over the years, but erosion had worn away some of the work. Eventually we dropped out at a set of falls on Snyder Brook and after a bit of discussion we elected to head up to Valley Way. From there it was the typical Valley Way summer grind back to the car. I rarely take the Valley way in summer conditions and decidedly prefer the wintertime sidewalk to the rock hardened trailbed. It was getting later in the afternoon and we passed many folks heading up to Madison Hut and I expect more than a few folks heading to the Valley Way tentsite. I expect the Valley Way tentsite is one of the bigger sources of disappointment for backpackers as it only has two tent platforms and I expect far more folks head to it routinely than possibly can fit in it. We got down to Appalachia and there were plenty of parking spaces. It looked to me like cars were parked farther east along RT2 than the morning which indicated a busy Sunday.

I expect there are a lot of practical reasons to skip Howker Ridge trail as its starts at the lowest elevation for the Northern Presidentials ,around 1240 feet, leading to little over 4000 feet of elevation gain. It also has some bonus elevation gain as there are a couple saddles between the Howks. It lacks the early views that Pine Link has. The big benefit is far more wild feeling trail. The trail bed is narrower and somewhat softer. It does have good shelter for most of its course form west and NW winds but there is stretch where it is exposed until Gordon Ridges influence kicks in.

Maintenance wise Howker Ridge Trail is in excellent shape. On the shared section of Pine Link and Howker Ridge there is some areas in major need of trimming back as the trailbed is almost entirely grown in from the sides. Watson Path from below treeline to the falls is definitely showing its age in spots. Barring a full "staircase treatment" or a major reroute, I expect it is what it is and all that can be done is patch work.
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Sounds awesome. When I went up last weekend I had planned to come down Watson but ran out of water so I stopped at the hut. I bet the views with the low humidity were awesome! Skipping Brookside was probably a nice timesaver. :)
We were debating Brookside but a much longer stop at the summit meant we probably needed to stake the Valley Way. Brookside is generally done on hot day instead of doing a summit. Incidentally Brookside was the Watson Path at one point.
We were debating Brookside but a much longer stop at the summit meant we probably needed to stake the Valley Way. Brookside is generally done on hot day instead of doing a summit. Incidentally Brookside was the Watson Path at one point.

That makes sense to me. The lower vs upper Brookside are two different trails, despite both being by the brook's side.

That lower stretch of Howker by Bumpus must be spectacular in high water.

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