Hiking two trails with a bad rep (that they may not deserve).

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peakbagger

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Mt Jefferson just does not seem to get the respect it deserves. For most folks, they click off the box with a quick hike up and down Caps and call it good. If Jefferson Notch Road is open its easy. The more adventurous stop by on the way by via some side trails off the AT. The summit is a bit underwhelming except tor the location and view. Just a rough pile of boulders a bit higher than a nearby pile of boulders. No USGS disk and Washburn's stainless pin is actually on a nearby lower point. To most folks from down south their views are usually as the north end of the Presidental profile as seen driving into Twin Mountain or views from the SE side from the Great Gulf. It does have extensive areas above treeline from the "lawn" on the SE to the extensive area on the North and west and SW slopes.The northwest side of the mountain is far less known as Jefferson Notch road is not really known for views and Mt Bowman sits in the foreground in the closest approaches on RT 2. Where is really shines is from the top of Mt Weeks or in the drive over from Lancaster especially from the Valley road in Jefferson. In reality Jefferson is the very distinct NW corner of the large mass of mountain that we hikers have individually named that are considered as "Mt Washington" This NW exposure is actually quite steep and home to two of more reviled trails in the whites.

Say one of these trails names three times, and Dave Metsky will probably appear to repeat his strong dislike for these trails ;) . So to tempt fate, I will name them, the upper section of The Link between the Castle trail and Caps Ridge and The Cornice. I have always felt that both do not deserve their bad reputation but IMO at least a portion of the dislike is entirely due to hikers misperceptions. One important disclaimer is both came into existence as hiking trails, not running trails, those who rate a trail on how well them can run it can continue reviling either trail as both of them are definitely not running trails despite what a quick look at a topo map shows. Look at a map, both have a very flat profile almost paralleling contour lines. At first glance they both look to be the path of least resistance to get from point A to Point B, that is definitely far from the truth.

Our hike was not particularly planned on Friday, we agreed to meet at Caps Ridge parking and take it from there. As we stated hiking, we discussed goals for the day and decided a visit to the Link early on might be good as its somewhat sheltered from the predicted N to NW windsin the morning that would be dropping over the course of the day. The Link is actually quite an old fairly long trail that harkens back to days long before the WMNF when trail networks were not heavily interconnected, and most were based from local summer resort areas. (Forest and Crag has a chapter or two on the grand unification of these distinctly separate trail networks) Randolph was a hot bed of hiking and at the footsteps of the northern Presidentials and an easy train ride from Boston via the SLR and the B&M local trains. The year round and summer visitors hiked a lot so a very large and extensive trail network was built in the area radiating out from the place where most seasonal visitors were based out, the Ravine Lodge at the foot of Mt Adamson Durand road (long before RT 2 was moved. There were many trail options to chose from, but one of the issues back them was detailed weather forecasts did not exist, weather was far less predictable. Parties would head out for the day only to get caught in afternoon showers or worse so the Link was created and extended to allow a sheltered "emergency route back to the Ravine Lodge. It rarely was a destination, and trail construction and maintenance was to a low standard, in some ways one step up from a herd path. GIven, the very steep terrain on the NW face of Jefferson, the trail clings to the side of the mountain and is a rock hop from wet and mossy rock to wet and mossy rock and the local fir/spruce woods was prone to blowdowns, so it is a slow trail to hike safely. The only other alternative was a much longer long exposed walk down Caps Ridge to the notch Road, then down the road and then west on the long since abandoned Cold Brook trail that ran from the former Ranger station back to near the base of Castle Ravine trail which probably guaranteed the hiking party would arrive late at Ravine Lodge for supper and the evenings activities.

The big problem with the Link is in addition to being a foul weather route is it connects two very spectacular trails on Jefferson, Castle and Caps Ridge. Most of the maps of the presidential range cover a fairly large area so the trails look short around the summit. For someone with a map and one car, on paper it looks to be a logical way of extending an out and back up to the summit via Caps to a "lollipop" adding in the hike down Castle ridge, past the Castles with their adjacent steep drop and features of Castle Ravine via the upper Link. This is frequently a last minute decision made on the Jefferson Summit and many hikers underestimate their water supply and the added effort. There are zero options for water on either Caps Ridge or the upper Castle and for many the suns orientation and time of day means running out of water and a loss of motivation with the desire to get back to the car being a priority. This is when the Link to the uninitiated starts to rise high on the most hated trails list. Despite recent efforts to keep it far more clear than it used to be, its really difficult to make fast progress on it due to rocky footing with many holes waiting to step onto, Its 98% in the woods and well shaded so the moss grows well and traction can be bad. There used to be zero view but two slides that were mostly grown in were reopened and widened by heavy rain around the time of Hurricane Irene. Both are on a very steep slope and the resulting slide paths opened up some excellent views looking to the Northwest and the rarely visited area to the North of the Dartmouth and Deception Range. We were in no rush and took our time over to Castle Trail.

We then headed up to the Castle Trail and enjoyed the views from the tops of the Castles. There was almost zero wind and full sun ad we could see up to the headwaters of Nash Stream past the Percys. We were considering heading up to the Mt Jefferson summit but as we approached the Cornice junction, we decided to take the Cornice back to Caps ridge as my friend had not hiked the "trail". The entire Cornice on paper is a tempting concept to allow a way around the summit of Jeferson with little or no elevation gain from Edmonds Col. The reality in the field for both the east and the west sections of the Cornice are not going to save any time than heading up and over. I used the quotation marks around "trail" on the westerly section as I expect the comment is "that it is more of suggestion than a trail" applies. For the vast majority of its length, it cuts across boulder fields so 95% of the trail is boulder hopping. The view is hard to beat to the west and NW but it is completely and totally exposed to the typical prevailing weather direction. Moisture in the air at lower altitudes from the west run into Mt Jefferson and they rise up cool down and squeeze out rain. The weather can come in very quickly and when it does there is nowhere to hide. The trail is very well marked with large cairns but they do tend to blend into the background terrain, The Cornice also approaches the Caps Ridge at a very gradual angle and its easy to lose the trail and easy to take an inadvertent detour over alpine plants and growth to the much more established Cap Ridge trail. The key with Cornice is there is no trail bed and the use is so low that even finding a trace of prior passage is tough in spots so its cairn to cairn hiking and the boulders in the area are extremely sharp with many exposed jagged edges and on occasion shards. Brush up many a boulder and blood will be drawn. Definitely not a hike to do with a dog unless the dog is small enough to ride in the pack. Boulders sometimes move so its slow going and the trail is bone dry in full sun. In late afternoon on a sunny day is can really dry someone out. If someone wants to get a flavor of hiking at BSP on north end of Mt Katahdin its a great introduction. The views are continuous and hard to beat as the next nearest moutains are far lower and the ancient lake Coos valley opens up views to the NW and up the Connecticut River valley.

On a sunny Friday before a holiday weekend we encountered zero people on the Cornice, and one couple heading back to Caps Ridge on the Link. We saw a few more on Castle and Caps ridge but in general not a lot of people on the trails we were on. I expect for most both will be checkmark on WMG list of trails but to those who want to get away from the crowds on a day with good forecast I can recomend both but, dont say I didnt warn you;)
 
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Thanks for your essay here. I would also guess that the The Link is nowadays mostly an objective for redliners. I've not hiked it yet, but when I went past it on Caps Ridge in summer a couple of years ago, the first bit of The Link looked miserably overgrown, like you'd want your rain pants on a dewey morning.

Regarding Jefferson not getting respect it deserves, I love it! When I had my choice of a half dozen peaks on which to finish my first round of the 48, I picked Jefferson for the conclusion. I knew it would have better views than Whiteface and Passaconoway, and indeed it was a very special place for that moment.
 
We found the Cornice to be very tedious. Even though it is level, we were always going up or down. The only trail that is close to it was the Parapet trail around the Madison cone. I would rather go up or down a talus field as opposed to across it.
 
Thanks for your essay here. I would also guess that the The Link is nowadays mostly an objective for redliners. I've not hiked it yet, but when I went past it on Caps Ridge in summer a couple of years ago, the first bit of The Link looked miserably overgrown, like you'd want your rain pants on a dewey morning.

Regarding Jefferson not getting respect it deserves, I love it! When I had my choice of a half dozen peaks on which to finish my first round of the 48, I picked Jefferson for the conclusion. I knew it would have better views than Whiteface and Passaconoway, and indeed it was a very special place for that moment.
FYI, Caps ridge right up from the parking lot used to be solid spruce fir stands with tight closed in canopy and zero view except the boulder with the glacial potholes. About 20 years ago, the "fir waves" started making large patches of blowdown and a few years after the undergrowth took over. This hit particularly hard at the junction of the Link and Caps Ridge trail as blowdowns frequently start at locations with trails running through them as the underlying trees on either side of the trail usually have root damage from the trail. This is just enough of foothold for high winds to penetrate the canopy and start a blow down patch. This is even more likely at a T junction. At most the first 100 feet of the Link is in that jungle before transitioning into the spruce fir woods.
 
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I LOVE that loop you described and usually do some variation of it every year, preferably in the Fall when it is cooler and timed to catch a sunset on the Caps. My favorite of the options is Caps Ridge > Link > Castle > Cornice > Edmands Col Cut Off (I love/hate this trail) > Sphinx > Gulfside > Cornice > Caps Ridge. That scramble on the Link about a 1/4 mile Castle Trail can be a tricky one!

I ran into the volunteer who maintains the Castle Trail on SAT afternoon and we got to talking about a lot of the trails in the area and I was ranting and raving about how many awesome sections of the Link there are and the fact that no one seems to ever mention it. We were both out doing unusual trails and commenting on the number of people on them. I did an overnight loop of Great Gulf > Wamsutta > Alpine Garden > Lion's Head > Raymond Path > Madison Gulf > Great Gulf. He was doing a similar day hike but going back via Chandler Brook. I was pretty surprised at number of people I saw. I'd never seen anyone on Wamsutta before and saw 4 people. I've done the section of Madison Gulf 3-4 times before and had never seen a single person. I saw over 30 people SUN. Ton of through hikers but also many day hikers. I'm guessing this was a big year for AT hikers. I've seen way, way more through hikers than I ever have this year, like probably by a factor of 10. Saw a lot of trail runners deep into the Great Gulf as well, many with no pack at all. Just a water bottle. That's a pretty remote area for a mishap.

Many of the hikers I passed on the Great Gulf Trail had the very strong smells of perfume and cologne. I took that as the "amateurs" are beginning to go out beyond the trails "everybody does". I sincerely hope nobody comes up with a Wilderness Area list......
 
We found the Cornice to be very tedious. Even though it is level, we were always going up or down. The only trail that is close to it was the Parapet trail around the Madison cone. I would rather go up or down a talus field as opposed to across it.
Check out the Edmands Col Cutoff Trail one day when you want to frustrate yourself. That might be the most miserable "flat" trail in NH. It has some really unique views and areas though and makes it tolerable every few years.... :)

As I recall, there are sections of the Pine Link Trail around Madison that are similarly as irritating as the Parapet. I think it is indeed easier in many cases to simply go over the summits of Madison and Jefferson versus the taking these "easier" alternatives.
 
Unless it has been improved, Pine Link not related to the Link does have gnarly foul weather bypass around Madison. Nothing good to be said about this section except that it is out of the wind but the footing and general tediousness makes up for it.
 
I think it is indeed easier in many cases to simply go over the summits of Madison and Jefferson versus the taking these "easier" alternatives.
The WMG agrees with you regarding the Parapet Trail unless you are trying to avoid the wind
 
I had forgotten about Pine Link from the hut to Watson Path, not a lot of fun. We took Edmunds Col Cutoff from Six Husbands up to Gulfside. It was more of an adventure trying to find the trail as it passed through scrub patches.
 
I had forgotten about Pine Link from the hut to Watson Path, not a lot of fun. We took Edmunds Col Cutoff from Six Husbands up to Gulfside. It was more of an adventure trying to find the trail as it passed through scrub patches.
Yup. That actual slide area can be hard to follow. If there are cairns they don't last long. And those rocks are pretty "lively" when you get off the official tread (which is not all that great either though). My last trip through in OCT of last year I went from Gulfside toward Six Husbands and the end definitely needed some major brushing.
 
Ever see a short person go up the Castle Trail? Some of them were too high for me (I did make it, got very creative but I wasn't making our turn around time) and that was several years ago before I shrunk an inch or two. I am thinking of up the Caps (enjoyed the Caps years ago) and down the Castles. I will gentle slide down the ones I had a hard time ascending. Planning on a very early start so slow ol' me won't be on the Link after dark. A great big thanks to Amy and her crew for their work on the Link.
 
I'm 5' 5", and I enjoy the Castle Trail, but one or two of the scrambles take me by surprise every time I go up.
 
I'm 6'3" and there is that one scramble I think between the 1st and 2nd Castle that I find awkward. It has a steep climb to a "shelf" that is shoulder high on me and it's hard to get the right amount of leverage (at least for a middle aged, overweight, non rock climber such as myself) to get up. I always find that one uncomfortable descending because it feels like it pushes your center of gravity forward as you lower yourself.
 
Mt Jefferson just does not seem to get the respect it deserves. For most folks, they click off the box with a quick hike up and down Caps and call it good. If Jefferson Notch Road is open its easy. The more adventurous stop by on the way by via some side trails off the AT. The summit is a bit underwhelming except tor the location and view. Just a rough pile of boulders a bit higher than a nearby pile of boulders. No USGS disk and Washburn's stainless pin is actually on a nearby lower point. To most folks from down south their views are usually as the north end of the Presidental profile as seen driving into Twin Mountain or views from the SE side from the Great Gulf. It does have extensive areas above treeline from the "lawn" on the SE to the extensive area on the North and west and SW slopes.The northwest side of the mountain is far less known as Jefferson Notch road is not really known for views and Mt Bowman sits in the foreground in the closest approaches on RT 2. Where is really shines is from the top of Mt Weeks or in the drive over from Lancaster especially from the Valley road in Jefferson. In reality Jefferson is the very distinct NW corner of the large mass of mountain that we hikers have individually named that are considered as "Mt Washington" This NW exposure is actually quite steep and home to two of more reviled trails in the whites.

Say one of these trails names three times, and Dave Metsky will probably appear to repeat his strong dislike for these trails ;) . So to tempt fate, I will name them, the upper section of The Link between the Castle trail and Caps Ridge and The Cornice. I have always felt that both do not deserve their bad reputation but IMO at least a portion of the dislike is entirely due to hikers misperceptions. One important disclaimer is both came into existence as hiking trails, not running trails, those who rate a trail on how well them can run it can continue reviling either trail as both of them are definitely not running trails despite what a quick look at a topo map shows. Look at a map, both have a very flat profile almost paralleling contour lines. At first glance they both look to be the path of least resistance to get from point A to Point B, that is definitely far from the truth.

Our hike was not particularly planned on Friday, we agreed to meet at Caps Ridge parking and take it from there. As we stated hiking, we discussed goals for the day and decided a visit to the Link early on might be good as its somewhat sheltered from the predicted N to NW windsin the morning that would be dropping over the course of the day. The Link is actually quite an old fairly long trail that harkens back to days long before the WMNF when trail networks were not heavily interconnected, and most were based from local summer resort areas. (Forest and Crag has a chapter or two on the grand unification of these distinctly separate trail networks) Randolph was a hot bed of hiking and at the footsteps of the northern Presidentials and an easy train ride from Boston via the SLR and the B&M local trains. The year round and summer visitors hiked a lot so a very large and extensive trail network was built in the area radiating out from the place where most seasonal visitors were based out, the Ravine Lodge at the foot of Mt Adamson Durand road (long before RT 2 was moved. There were many trail options to chose from, but one of the issues back them was detailed weather forecasts did not exist, weather was far less predictable. Parties would head out for the day only to get caught in afternoon showers or worse so the Link was created and extended to allow a sheltered "emergency route back to the Ravine Lodge. It rarely was a destination, and trail construction and maintenance was to a low standard, in some ways one step up from a herd path. GIven, the very steep terrain on the NW face of Jefferson, the trail clings to the side of the mountain and is a rock hop from wet and mossy rock to wet and mossy rock and the local fir/spruce woods was prone to blowdowns, so it is a slow trail to hike safely. The only other alternative was a much longer long exposed walk down Caps Ridge to the notch Road, then down the road and then west on the long since abandoned Cold Brook trail that ran from the former Ranger station back to near the base of Castle Ravine trail which probably guaranteed the hiking party would arrive late at Ravine Lodge for supper and the evenings activities.

The big problem with the Link is in addition to being a foul weather route is it connects two very spectacular trails on Jefferson, Castle and Caps Ridge. Most of the maps of the presidential range cover a fairly large area so the trails look short around the summit. For someone with a map and one car, on paper it looks to be a logical way of extending an out and back up to the summit via Caps to a "lollipop" adding in the hike down Castle ridge, past the Castles with their adjacent steep drop and features of Castle Ravine via the upper Link. This is frequently a last minute decision made on the Jefferson Summit and many hikers underestimate their water supply and the added effort. There are zero options for water on either Caps Ridge or the upper Castle and for many the suns orientation and time of day means running out of water and a loss of motivation with the desire to get back to the car being a priority. This is when the Link to the uninitiated starts to rise high on the most hated trails list. Despite recent efforts to keep it far more clear than it used to be, its really difficult to make fast progress on it due to rocky footing with many holes waiting to step onto, Its 98% in the woods and well shaded so the moss grows well and traction can be bad. There used to be zero view but two slides that were mostly grown in were reopened and widened by heavy rain around the time of Hurricane Irene. Both are on a very steep slope and the resulting slide paths opened up some excellent views looking to the Northwest and the rarely visited area to the North of the Dartmouth and Deception Range. We were in no rush and took our time over to Castle Trail.

We then headed up to the Castle Trail and enjoyed the views from the tops of the Castles. There was almost zero wind and full sun ad we could see up to the headwaters of Nash Stream past the Percys. We were considering heading up to the Mt Jefferson summit but as we approached the Cornice junction, we decided to take the Cornice back to Caps ridge as my friend had not hiked the "trail". The entire Cornice on paper is a tempting concept to allow a way around the summit of Jeferson with little or no elevation gain from Edmonds Col. The reality in the field for both the east and the west sections of the Cornice are not going to save any time than heading up and over. I used the quotation marks around "trail" on the westerly section as I expect the comment is "that it is more of suggestion than a trail" applies. For the vast majority of its length, it cuts across boulder fields so 95% of the trail is boulder hopping. The view is hard to beat to the west and NW but it is completely and totally exposed to the typical prevailing weather direction. Moisture in the air at lower altitudes from the west run into Mt Jefferson and they rise up cool down and squeeze out rain. The weather can come in very quickly and when it does there is nowhere to hide. The trail is very well marked with large cairns but they do tend to blend into the background terrain, The Cornice also approaches the Caps Ridge at a very gradual angle and its easy to lose the trail and easy to take an inadvertent detour over alpine plants and growth to the much more established Cap Ridge trail. The key with Cornice is there is no trail bed and the use is so low that even finding a trace of prior passage is tough in spots so its cairn to cairn hiking and the boulders in the area are extremely sharp with many exposed jagged edges and on occasion shards. Brush up many a boulder and blood will be drawn. Definitely not a hike to do with a dog unless the dog is small enough to ride in the pack. Boulders sometimes move so its slow going and the trail is bone dry in full sun. In late afternoon on a sunny day is can really dry someone out. If someone wants to get a flavor of hiking at BSP on north end of Mt Katahdin its a great introduction. The views are continuous and hard to beat as the next nearest moutains are far lower and the ancient lake Coos valley opens up views to the NW and up the Connecticut River valley.

On a sunny Friday before a holiday weekend we encountered zero people on the Cornice, and one couple heading back to Caps Ridge on the Link. We saw a few more on Castle and Caps ridge but in general not a lot of people on the trails we were on. I expect for most both will be checkmark on WMG list of trails but to those who want to get away from the crowds on a day with good forecast I can recomend both but, dont say I didnt warn you;)
For someone with a map and one car, on paper it looks to be a logical way of extending an out and back up to the summit via Caps to a "lollipop" adding in the hike down Castle ridge, past the Castles with their adjacent steep drop and features of Cast
"For someone with a map and one car, on paper it looks to be a logical way of extending an out and back up to the summit via Caps to a "lollipop" adding in the hike down Castle ridge, past the Castles with their adjacent steep drop and features of Castle Ravine via the upper Link. This is frequently a last minute decision made on the Jefferson Summit". This describes us a few years ago basking in the Sun atop Jefferson with a map and thinking, look at that link trail, let's do it. Yes, the result was the link made our list of trails we will not do a second time. Thanks for this, hopefully others will take heed and be forewarned.
 
FYI, Caps ridge right up from the parking lot used to be solid spruce fir stands with tight closed in canopy and zero view except the boulder with the glacial potholes. About 20 years ago, the "fir waves" started making large patches of blowdown and a few years after the undergrowth took over. This hit particularly hard at the junction of the Link and Caps Ridge trail as blowdowns frequently start at locations with trails running through them as the underlying trees on either side of the trail usually have root damage from the trail. This is just enough of foothold for high winds to penetrate the canopy and start a blow down patch. This is even more likely at a T junction. At most the first 100 feet of the Link is in that jungle before transitioning into the spruce fir woods.
Missed this when you posted last month - thanks for the reply, and I'll keep an eye out for such blowdown areas.
 
Recently discovered Israel Ridge path and liked it, but you need to do the same first crossing as Castle/Castle ravine. I don't like Jefferson when Jefferson notch road is open, it's too crowded ;)
 
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