King Ravine and a mini RMC Cabin Tour

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Feb 28, 2012
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New Boston, NH
  • Lowe's Path trailhead - start (9:00am)
  • reached King Ravine Trail junction (9:55am)
  • King Ravine Trail, reached Subway junction (11:40am)
  • took Subway path, re-joined elevated path on King Ravine Trail (12:20pm)
  • King Ravine Trail, quick lunch about half way up headwall (1:04pm)
  • crested top of King Ravine headwall, at junction with Airline and Gulfside trails (1:40pm)
  • Gulfside Trail south, at Great Gully junction (2:00pm)
  • Gulfside Trail, reached Thunderstorm Junction / Lowe's Path junction (2:05pm)
  • along Lowe's Path, took spur path and reached Crag Camp (3:00pm)
  • break at Crag, then took spur path and reached Gray Knob (3:35pm)
  • took Spur Trail down, reached junction with King Ravine Trail (4:20pm)
  • King Ravine Trail, back to trailhead (~5:30pm)

Photo Library:

GPS track (Strava):

Having done perhaps the toughest of the ravines in the Whites a few weeks earlier, I felt on a small roll and decided for King Ravine, on the other side of the Northern Presidential range. This one featured some very cool cave scrambling, and was smack dab in the middle of Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) country -- an area I'd too-long ignored (though not on purpose).

King Ravine is a rock glacier, reportedly the only one of its kind in New England, and apparently the only north-facing glacial cirque in the area, according to Carl Lenz, RMC Board Member and cabin caretaker, whom we met on our visit to the Gray Knob cabin. It's floor is a jumbled mass of large boulders that fell from above, and under which caves and even some ice can be found year-round. I couldn't ignore such a rugged area any longer!

We parked across the street from the Lowe's Path trailhead, at Lowe's Store in Randolph (formerly known as Durand). A kind gentlemen runs the store, and charges just $1 for the parking privilege; do be sure to pay! We got under way at 9:00 sharp.

Much of the first mile or so of the trail climbs only very slightly. You soon cross an open, wide snowmobile path which features ancient-looking signs marking the junction, and soon another, more narrow but formally-defined, graded with a special black gravel mix, even. These trails run along Route 2 and surely connect with the hundreds of miles of snowmobile and cross-country trails that are so popular in winter.


Before long, we reached the King Ravine Trail junction, and headed up that way. This trail would take us to the top of the headwall, where we'd meet the Airline Trail and start our travel along the ridge. We did not necessarily expect to reach that point, as the weather forecast was iffy and called for a chance of thunderstorms. Skies were cloudy, and the ridge remained in clouds or fog at this point.

RMC very aptly maintains a dense network of trails that cover the north/west side of the Northern Presidential Range (Madison, the four Adams peaks, and Jefferson). It's a hoot to run into so many trail junctions along the way; trails criss-cross at 90-degree and diagonal angles in all directions. Redlining this area takes some real exploration!

We saw the first people, an older couple visiting from Philadelphia, at the Great Gully trail junction. They, like us, were looking to decide how to approach (or not) the ravine, based on the weather forecast and conditions to this point. We still hadn't experience any rain, and could even see a bit of sun trying to peak through at times, mostly down away from the ravine.

We decided to continue on; there was simply no indication that we shouldn't continue, and we still had a ways before we'd be exposed with no quick escape down under treeline.

I had entertained the idea of going up via the Chemin Des Dames trail (another on the Terrifying 25 List), as it features some cool rock formations and caves, but today we'd continue up the headwall. We reached the point along the ravine floor, strewn with very large boulders, at which the trail has two options: a "high" trail that skips along the top of it; or "The Subway", which brings you down and under/around those boulders. Couldn't not go low, so we started in.

The way along the subway wasn't real clear at times, and we did drift off a little to the right as we went along. But we found our way easy enough, meandering under large boulders and through darker spaces that blew very cool air up and over us. It was pretty surreal. We knew there was ice to be seen somewhere down under, but learned later from an RMC caretaker that some of that ice is as old as the the glacier that formed this ravine. Crazy stuff. At a few points, we had to take off our packs to fit through spaces; this was not unlike the commercialized Polar Caves, but with no admission fee!


The experience of traveling the Subway already made the day worth it, but we had just as exciting a stretch ahead of us - the headwall. We decided to bypass the Ice Caves, another side path that would take you down into even more dark, cool spaces. We weren't quite care-free, knowing the weather could turn at any moment, as it often does in the Whites, and especially along the Presidential ridge.

The going up the headwall was really pretty straightforward. From the Subway exit and around the Ice Caves path, and a little ways beyond, the trail remained sheltered and provided a good many crevices and shelter-friendly spots. Soon enough, we came up and out of the growth and only the larger talus slide that led us straight up the headwall. The footholds were largely very good, even with the dampness of the air dumping some coating on the rocks. Because the rocks were big and secure enough, we found the going relatively quick.

Rising up the headwall, we could see the very flat slabs along the right, and some great cliffs on the left. Cloud cover reliably dipped perhaps 150-200 feet below the top of the headwall all day, and didn't subside by the time we reached the top at the junction of the Airline Trail.

continued below...


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... continued from above...

We felt good at this point. We were in the clouds and there was some wind, but with no real visibility to head over to Madison or up to Adams, and still the threat of thunderstorms, we decided to head along the Gulfside Trail and down Lowe's Path to get back under treeline. The summits (and hut) would have to wait to a better-weather day. It was pretty magical up there, though, even in the clouds; visibility was just 50-100 feet at most, and the damp air stuck to everything and dripped water down off our hair. Cool stuff!

Along the Gulfside Trail, we crossed paths with an AT thru hiker heading north, near Thunderstorm Junction. He said wind further on south along the ridge was fierce; I got the impression it wasn't anywhere near what you can experience along this ridge, but we as we did descend from Thunderstorm Junction and its large, broad cairn down Lowe's Path, we did have some decent winds coming at us (perhaps only 15-25 miles per hour tops).


Lowe's Path meanders gradually down a ridge that divides the King and Castle ravines. From the northern Presidential ridge it lies above treeline a good distance, a little over a mile. Footing was good, though, but you still had to be careful with the wet conditions. Near where the trail dips below treeline, a spur path leads east about 0.2 miles toward the first of two RMC cabins in the area, Gray Knob camp. It's a small, cozy cabin used mostly during winter as a base camp for skiers who take in the snow fields around the Lowe's Path; must be pretty incredible to ski up there!

We spent some time at Gray Knob and met the caretaker, Carl Lenz. He's a friendly, younger guy, board member of the RMC, and offered some tidbits about use of the cabin, and the RMC in general. We talked about the "best kept secret" that is the RMC, and the very reasonable cabin rates; they're looking at increasing the rates slightly for non-RMC members, which we thought was more than fine. At $20 a night for these cabins, it's really quite a steal. You do have to bring your own food and cooking materials, but $20 (even $30-35) is a fabulous price for a cozy cabin, heated very basically (wood stove) in winter. The loft where folks sleep even has thinner pads to sleep on.


Rather than backtrack to Lowe's Path to descend from there, we decided to continue on to the bigger, more updated Crag Camp. It is the cabin we saw way up on the western edge of King Ravine as we ascended, and we didn't want to miss it. About 0.4 miles and we were there; a stunning view down into King Ravine and the path we took just a few hours earlier.

Crag Camp is larger, more updated, and more spacious, with a couple of bunk rooms and a roomy kitchen and dining area. The side facing the ravine is vaulted and totally windowed, offering commanding views. Like the other camps/cabins, you bring your own food and cooking stuff, though it seemed as though you could utilize some cooking gear (I'm sure you wash what you use!). A couple was enjoying some time in the dining area, and we were told the caretaker was resting in her quarters, but otherwise no one was around.


We descended from Crag Camp via the kinda-steep Spur Trail -- yeah, that's what it's called -- down to where the King Ravine Trail intersects with it and the Randolph Path. From here, we hiked the King Ravine Trail back to the store and our car. Not far from the junction, we stopped at a nice little pool and had a quick dip; cool and very refreshing!

While we didn't touch any summits this day, we were thrilled at the opportunity to explore not only this great ravine with its thrilling topography and adventure; but also a great tour of two of RMC's camps, one of it's own stewards, and indeed the very trails the same people so thoughtfully maintain. Can't wait to come back!
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