Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Trail Report: Mount Jackson and Mount Webster Loop

On July 21, 2012, Kellie, Tony and Myself decided to hike either Mount Jackson or Mount Webster.  My knees are still tender from the Mount Lafayette hike two weeks earlier so I wasn't sure I'd be able to do both, so we planned on one and decided we'll see how I feel when we get to the top.  This was also Tony's second hike and his first 4000 footer so I was concerned about him as well.  We left Hudson, NH around 830am and arrived at the trail head about 1030am.  The parking lot was full so we parked along route 302 next to the lot and started to gear up.  At 1046am we hit the trail head of the Webster-Jackson Trail.

Webster-Jackson Trailhead

Trailhead Sign

The start of the trail was very typical for New Hampshire, very little elevation gain, lots of rocks and tree roots.

Lots of Rocks and Roots

A couple of things interesting about this trail was that very early on you get a couple of nice views.  At .1 mile into the hike you hit the Elephant Head spur trail, this is a .2 mile trail that leads to a rock ledge that over looks Route 302 and at .5 miles you hit the Bugle Cliff spur trail to a rock cliff with a pretty steep drop off, same view as Elephant Head just higher up.

Elephant Head Spur trail Sign

Elephant Head Spur trail

View from Elephant Head

AMC Highland Center and Mount Washington Hotel from Elephant Head

"Cliff View" is pointing towards Bugle Cliff

Bugle Cliff Spur Trail was loaded with rocks

View from Bugle Cliff.  I didn't want to get to close.

A mile into the hike you hit a fork in the trail.  Left brings you to the summit of Mount Jackson and right to Mount Webster.  I wasn't sure what to do, thankfully a very friendly hiker who just happened to finish all forty-eight 4000 footers by doing Mount Jackson was on his way down when we ran into him at the fork.  I asked him, "If you were only going to do one would you pick Jackson or Webster", he said "Jackson has a 360 degree view and Webster doesn't".  That pretty much nailed the coffin shut.  We went left up to Jackson.

Webster-Jackson Trail Sign @ the Fork

Fork in the trail - Left to Jackson - Right to Webster

Fifteen minutes into the hike to Jackson after the fork, Kellie's spidey senses went off and she stopped mid-trail and started looking around.  She found a cold Coors Light unopened under a tree branch!  Either this fell out of someone's pack or someone left it for the return trip down the mountain.  Either way, I'm sure they were disappointed to find out their beer was missing.

Kellie's Spidey Senses are going off!

Unopened Coors Light that was still cold!

The trail got muddy in some locations

We were told by numerous hikers that the closer you got to Jackson the steeper it got.  And that the last few hundred feet of the climb got extremely steep.

Steep climb

One of many rock scrambles near the summit

Tony taking a break before the last push to the top!

Another steep rock scramble near the summit

One of the first nice views near the summit

Another nice view looking towards the Mount Washington Hotel

The final push to the summit!

Tony - Summit of Mount Jackson 4,052'

Mike & Kellie Summit of Mount Jackson 4,052'

I had read reports of a bird called a "Gray jay" that will eat out of your hand, I didn't believe it until I saw it in person!

A Gray Jay

A Gray Jay Eating Crackers

Mount Washington from the summit of Mount Jackson

There were quite a few people at the top of Jackson, I wouldn't say a ton, but a good handful, more than I care for.  My knees were a little sore but I decided I could make it to Mount Webster and Tony was also feeling good so after an hour break at the summit of Jackson we decided that we would go over to Mount Webster along the Webster Cliff Trail.  The Webster Cliff Trail is 1.4 miles long with only 300' elevation gain. Sounds pretty easy right?  It was, except for the extremely steep section coming off of Mount Jackson.

Webster Cliff Trail Sign

This was probably the steepest thing I have climbed yet

Looking up what we just climbed down

Looking down another steep section

Going down!

Webster Cliff Trail for the most part is pretty flat and level

Kellie & Tony on the final climb of the Webster Cliff Trail

After about 40 minutes of hiking we made it across the Webster Cliff Trail to the junction of Webster Cliff and Webster-Jackson Trail.  At this point we continued on the Cliff Trail over to Mount Webster which was only another .1 or .2 miles from the junction.  Mount Webster, while not having the 360 degree view like Jackson still has very nice Westerly view with an amazing view of Mount Willey.  One great thing about Mount Webster, because it's not a 4000 footer (it sits at 3,910') it is not as crowded.  There were a few people at the summit but they all left within 15 minutes and then we had the summit to ourselves for a good 20 minutes or so.

View from the summit of Mount Webster 3,910'

Another great view

Kellie sitting on the edge
Summit of Mount Webster 3,910'

 Mike - Summit of Mount Webster 3,910'

Tony - Summit of Mount Webster 3,910'

We didn't stay to long at the summit of Mount Webster, maybe 30-45 minutes.  Then we decided to hit the trail and head down to the car.  I didn't take to many pictures on the way down as my knees were really starting to get sore at this point but we did run into a few nice areas for photos.

Steep section heading down from Mount Webster

Kellie, Mike, Tony @ Silver Cascade Brook

 GPS Track

Summit of Mount Jackson: 4052'
Summit of Mount Webster: 3910'
Total hike time: 7h 8m
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2202'
Trails:  Webster-Jackson Trail & Webster Cliff Trail

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trail Report: Mount Lafayette Traverse/Loop

My friend Kellie has been bugging me for two months about doing Mount Lafayette, I have been against it only because I am fat, out of shape and a very inexperienced hiker.  Mount Lafayette is the highest peak in New Hampshire outside of the Presidential Range at 5,260'.  I've got a number of hikes under my belt now with a couple of them, I feel, were difficult for my experience level.  So I said why not, let's give it a go and see what happens.  What's the worst that can happen?  I don't make it and have to turn around?

I start to read other trail reports and blogs from people that have done this mountain and I realize that most people do the traverse across the ridge to Mount Lincoln (5,089') and Little Haystack (4,760').  A typical hike up Mount Lafayette via Old Bridle Path is about 3 hours one way.  This would typically be a normal hike that we have done, but adding the two other peaks into the mix turns the hike into 9-10 hours round trip and about doubles the distance.  Needless to say I was a little worried about this.  A 9 mile hike?  No way is my fat ass going to make that!  But I did make it, and it was a wonderful experience!

We arrive at the parking lot about 9am and we started to get our gear together.  The parking lot and trail head is the next exit past the sign that says "The Basin" on I-93 North.  The sign does not say anything about Mount Lafayette or Lincoln, it just says "Trail Head Parking".  You can also park in a lot off of I-93 South and take a tunnel under the highway over to the trail head.  The lot off of 93 North was about half full when we arrived, I had read this was a popular hike and it was, the trails and the summits were very busy.  At 9:26am we started our walk over to the trail head and at 9:32am we started our ascent.

Trail Information Sign

We decided to do the reverse loop which starts with a very, very short walk on Old Bridle Path until you reach a fork in the path and we then took a right turn onto Falling Waters Trail.  This trail leads to the summit of Little Haystack.  Little Haystack is not "little" by any means.  The peak sits at 4,760' but unfortunately is not recognized by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) as one of the "four-thousand footers" because it stands less than 200 ft above the col on the ridge from Mount Lincoln.

Trail Head Sign

Falling Waters Trail is just that, you're basically following a brook for a good portion of the climb up and there are some beautiful waterfalls along this trail along with "Shining Rock" which is a 200 by 800 yard granite rock, when covered by running water from the woods above, it often shines like a mirror in the sun and can be easily seen from I-93. This side trip is well worth the effort.

We made our way to the start of Falling Waters Trail which starts by crossing a wooden bridge over Walker Brook.

This blue blazed trail starts off fairly easy with only moderate elevation gains and quite a few rock/water crossings.

 Blue Blazed

Not long into the hike we reached our first waterfall, Stairs Falls.

Stairs Falls

A few hundred feet past Stairs Falls you come to 60' Swiftwater Falls.

Swiftwater Falls

The third and final waterfall, the main attraction of this trail is 80' Cloudland Falls.  This water fall was just absolutely beautiful!

80' Cloudland Falls

After a short break at the falls with all of the picture taking, it was time to press on.  The trail at this point starts to get steep, especially to the left of Cloudland Falls where you are pretty much rock climbing at this point.

It doesn't look all that steep, but trust me, it is!

After a few more brook crossings we started to get further away from the water and noise and the forest started to get quiet around us.  We hit a few switchbacks on the way up and at one point it even leveled out nicely for a short while.

 Nice level ground
After a nice (but short) break of switchbacks and level ground the elevation started to get steeper with a lot of rock stairs.

More rock stairs to climb

At about the 3 mile marker you will see a sign for the Shining Rock Spur trail.  This spur trail is very short, but it is also pretty steep going down from the sign.

Shining Rock Spur Trail Sign

You'll know when you're at Shining Rock, you can't miss it.

Yes that is ice cold water running down the rock

A panoramic shot of Shining Rock

After a short break at Shining Rock we started to head back up the spur trail to Falling Waters Trail.

Shining Rock Spur Trail looking up the trail from the rock

Not very long after we started heading back up Falling Waters Trail we started to get our first views of Franconia Notch & Cannon Mountain.

Cannon Mountain Ski Area

Once past the Shining Rock Spur trail, you are not very far from the summit of Little Haystack.  And once you get above treeline you get some really spectacular views.

Above treeline view of Cannon Mountain

A view of Mount Lincoln from the summit of Little Haystack

Almost to the top of Little Haystack!

Once we hit the summit of Little Haystack we decided to sit down for some lunch and a nice long break.  Although not to long as it's an hour hike along the ridge to the summit of Mount Lincoln and then another hour to the summit of Mount Lafayette.  Once on the ridge it is pretty much impossible to get lost, the ridge trail is pretty obvious and there are plenty of people and signs, just follow the crowds.

Franconia Ridge Trail Sign

Ridge Trail Leading to Mount Lincoln

At this point the wind started to pickup and my sweat started to get cold, but I dried off fairly quick and Kellie had changed into a long sleeve shirt, yes, even when it is 88 degrees and humid at the base, the weather can change very quickly up at the higher elevations.
Walking along the ridge trail to Mount Lincoln

Looking back down the ridge trail towards Little Haystack
We made it to the summit of Mount Lincoln (5,089) in about one hour.  We stopped for a quick break before heading along the ridge trail to Mount Lafayette.

Looking at Mount Lafayette from Mount Lincoln

View from the summit of Mount Lincoln

Ridge trail to Mount Lafayette

Mount Lafayette from the ridge trail
You can see the ridge trail cut through the trees in the middle of the picture

AMC Greenleaf Hut in the distance

Me standing near the edge on the ridge trail
That is Cannon Mountain in the background

Looking back towards Mount Lincoln from the Ridge Trail

Getting closer to the summit of Mount Lafayette

Just about there!

Made it!  Summit of Mount Lafayette 5,260'

After about five hours we made it to the summit of Mount Lafayette!  It was a long journey for someone as out of shape as me, but it was well worth the effort!  The only problem now was getting down from Lafayette which is another four hour hike.  About one hour to the Greenleaf Hut and then another two hours or so from the hut to the parking lot.

Looking back towards Mount Lincoln from the summit of Mount Lafayette

Summit trail sign

Two happy hikers at the summit of Lafayette

Foundation for an old building that used to be here

USGS Marker for Mount Lafayette

I don't recall how long we stayed at the top of Lafayette, but I'm thinking it was 30-45 minutes.  And then we started our hike down the Greenleaf Trail to the AMC Greenleaf Hut.  I was told this is about a 30 minute hike but it took us an hour.  After hiking for 5 hours my knees really started to get sore.  The hike down was awful on my knees and for the first time ever while hiking, Kellie actually was breathing heavy and towards the end she started to complain about her knees hurting.  This was a very long and tiring hike for the both of us.

Heading down the Greenleaf Trail

Looking up towards Mount Lafayette from the Greenleaf Trail

Back below the treeline, Greenleaf Trail

Shining Rock that we visited earlier in the day!

A closeup shot of the AMC Greenleaf Hut

We stopped at the Greenleaf Hut for about 15-20 minutes.  This was my first time seeing and using an AMC hut.  These huts are pretty neat, Greenleaf sits at 4200', there you can refill your water and they also have cookies, lemonade and I assume whatever kinds of pastries they feel like making (I had carrot cake).  To refill your water is free, the other items do have a cost but is very cheap and well worth it.  Make sure to bring $5 with you on the hike, you'll want to eat some sugar while you're here.  You can also rent rooms and sleep on the mountain.  After this long hike I can see why people would want to stay, rest and then hike down the next day.

Eagle Lake by Greenleaf Hut with Mount Lafayette in the background

Trail head sign for Old Bridle Path down to the parking lot

The people working at Greenleaf hut said the hike down Old Bridle Path is 2-3 hours and is steep for the first mile.  I need to seriously consider the use of trekking poles or at least bring my old ski poles.  These hikes down are doing a job on my knees.  During this trip I could have used them, the first mile was not only steep but lots of sharp edges along the rocks.

Going down Old Bridle Path

You don't want to fall on these rocks!

We hiked the entire ridge line you see here
Shining Rock is to the far right near the top of the peak

One final look before we get into the trees

The Mount Lafayette Loop & Traverse was a long but enjoyable hike.  I would definitely like to do this hike again during the Fall season when all the trees are bright orange and yellow and the temperature is in the 60's.  Today was very hot and humid.  I drank 3.5 liters of water, 2x 20oz Vitamin Waters, 1x Little kids juice box and 2x cups of lemonade at the hut.

My GPS track over Google Earth

Summit of Little Haystack: 4760'
Summit of Mount Lincoln: 5089'
Summit of Mount Lafayette: 5260'
Total hike time: 9.5h
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3900'
Trails:  Falling Waters Trail, Shining Rock Spur Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path