Always rising, never steeply. That was J.Rayner Edmands concept for the paths he created along New Hampshire’s Presidential Mountain Range in the 1800s.
To celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary, my wife and I completed a two-day traverse of this range. It was two days filled with quality time together, beautiful vistas, well-maintained trails and, with the exception of one, trails which always rose, but never too steeply.
Our hike almost didn’t happen. We scheduled a ride on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s shuttle from the Highland Center in Crawford Notch to the start of our hike at the Great Gulf Trail, but we were running late and missed the bus by five minutes. This was partly my fault for not researching drive times better. Thankfully another AMC shuttle driver agreed to give us a ride to meet up with our bus.
Once we were on board and the mistake behind us, we enjoyed the 40 minute ride to the Great Gulf Trailhead along NH’s Route 16 by swapping hiking stories with the two other hikers on board. We began hiking as soon as we arrived. The Great Gulf Trail was flat but we soon turned onto the Osgood Trail and began our ascent of Mount Madison. This was the most difficult portion of our two days of hiking. The trail climbs at a rate of approximately 1,000 feet per mile and by the time we broke the tree line, we were glad for the cooling winds that greeted us.
Madison, like most of the Northern Presidentials, is very rocky and we were glad to be down the other side at the AMC Madison Springs hut, taking a breather and refilling our water. We side-tracked after this and dropped our bags at the Randolph Mountain Club’s Crag Camp down the Lowe’s Path Spur Trail.
The RMC maintains the trails along the Northern side of Mount Adams and has two huts available for hikers, Crag Camp and Grey Knob. These huts offer no amenities, but at the (2011) rate of $13 a night are a great alternative to staying at the much more expensive AMC huts. Each hut has room for twenty and slots are on a first come, first serve basis.
With our load lightened, we quickly summitted Mount Adams and then followed the Gulfside Trail from Thunderstorm Junction to summit Mt. Jefferson. We were under-prepared for the strong winds and cool temperatures that we found on the ridge and were glad for the protection we founds as we traveled along the Gulfside to Edmands Col.
The climb up Jefferson was quick and we paused for a snapshot and a snack before hiking back to the Crag Camp along the Randolph Path and Grey Knob Trail. We cooked our dinner in the small kitchen area next to a group of Boy Scouts. We enjoyed front row seating to a beautiful sunset while enjoying our meal. A perfect end to the first day of our anniversary trip.
Day two began with purifying water from the local mountain spring and eating a quick bite before heading out along the Randolph Path, headed for Mount Washington. It was a little tedious traveling this path again, but once we reached Edmands Col, we picked up the Gulfside Trail and gained sight of the highest summit in the Northeast. At 6,288 feet, we thought Mt. Washington would be a difficult climb. We were surprised to find the Gulfside rising pleasantly to the summit. We passed the Cog Railway, which I particularly enjoyed, as we ascended and saw several of the trains on their way back to the station.
We didn’t stay at the Mount Washington Observatory long, because there was a large crowd meandering there. You could easily spend several hours investigating all the different things there, such as the Mount Washington museum. We grabbed a few photos before picking up the Crawford Path and attacking the Southern Presidentials. We stopped briefly at the Lake of the Clouds Hut and bought some vegan chocolate cake and coffee.
The Crawford Path was the most enjoyable portion of the traverse and my wife and I enjoyed some light trail running. It is not rocky like the trails on the Northern Presidentials and the climbs to the summits are more gradual. The views of Mount Washington are spectacular and there are many alpine plants, moss and flowers to enjoy. From the hut, we completed Mount Monroe, Franklin and Eisenhower. For some reason, the climb up Eisenhower was the most enjoyable of the trip for me and the views from the summit were superb.
After the trail comes down from Eisenhower, it runs mostly below treeline. The summit of Mt. Pierce is a pile of rocks in the woods and the only views are just to the North. From Pierce, the trail descends over switchbacks to the AMC Mizpah Springs Hut. With all the descending, my wife and I could sense the hike coming to an end and it began to become tedious here. We picked up the Webster Cliff Trail and ascended Mount Jackson. The climb looked intense at first, but we were quickly enjoying views from the rocky summit.
To finish this hike, we descended into the woods via the Jackson Branch and the Webster-Jackson Trail. This portion of trail is fairly steep and we had to climb down over many large rocks. By the time we reached Route 302, where our car was parked about half a mile up the road, our knees were sore and we were tired. We hustled up the road to where we parked and dropped our gear, glad to have had such a wonderful experience together.