Mts Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson are three 4000-footers in the Southern Presidential Range just south of Mt Washington. Eisenhower and Pierce are often hiked together, but adding Jackson makes for a much longer loop, just under 13 miles in length with 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Add in a couple of feet of snow and rising spring temperatures and you’ve got yourself a challenge you can sink your boots into!
April is a tricky month to hike the White Mountain 4000-footers because you’re likely to experience several seasons on the same hike and you need to dress and carry gear to handle all of them. For instance, the current snowline in the White Mountains is between 2000 and 2500′ feet. Below that, it’s mud season. Above that, it’s still winter, with several feet of snow and ice remaining.
Worse yet, is the threat of an early spring snowfall, which is why I chose to knock off this above treeline route when I had a chance. Up to a foot of heavy snow was forecast for the following day and I wanted to grab these peaks while I could do this hike in decent weather and without snowshoes. Temperatures have warmed in recent weeks and snowshoes haven’t been necessary on most of my 4000-footer hikes, although I have had to use Hillsound Trail Crampons and my really sharp CAMP XLC 490 Universal Aluminum Crampons to deal with the ice that remains.
I started hiking up the Crawford Path at about 9:00 am wearing Hillsound Trail Crampons and hiked up to the Webster Cliff Trail Junction, just below the summit of Mt Pierce, where there’s a postcard view of Mts Eisenhower, Monroe, and Big George – Mt Washington I never get tired of that one.
I continued past Pierce toward Mt Eisenhower, taking off my Trail Crampons which had started to ball up at the trail junction, which is just above treeline in full sunlight. It was still early enough in the day that the snow was firm, and bare booting wasn’t a problem as I hiked along the ridgeline that separates Pierce from Eisenhower.
Ike is a big bald dome and a fair likeness of the general. When I reached the bottom of the dome I was surprised to find that I could climb to the summit in bare boots still, without having to put on crampons for the ascent. The snowpack had melted since I was last here in February and the small wooden ladders that climb up some of the trickier scrambles in summer were visible.
I got up to the summit which has an enormous rock cairn and drank in the view of Monroe, Washington, and Jefferson. It was a bluebird day, with a brilliant azure sky and surprisingly little wind. I silently celebrated my 400th ascent of a 4000-footer for my White Mountain 4000-footer grid. I’m just shy of 70% done with just 174 summits left to finish. It is a fine madness that I’ve come to savor.
I retraced my steps back to Pierce and while the snow was still firm, it was starting to get a bit slushy on top. I climbed up to the Pierce summit cairn from the Webster Cliff Trail Junction sign and had lunch in the sun. It was just noon, so I was making great time.
From Pierce, I headed south towards Jackson but the trail conditions started to deteriorate. This section of the hike is just below treeline and sees far less hiker traffic, so the snow was deeper and less packed out. The snow in the trees had also begun to melt (called tree-pee), dripping on me as I passed. This trail gets steep before the AMC Mizpah Hut and very icy, so I switched to full crampons for more traction.
I passed the Hut, which is closed in winter, noting that the front door was still half-buried in snow and all the windows were boarded up. One of my regular readers, Christopher Marshburn will be working at the AMC Nauman Campsite next to the hut as the summer caretaker and I hope to visit him.
I continued south through woods until I passed an alpine bog, one of my favorite spots on this trail, just north of Mt Jackson. Jackson is rocky plug of a peak and easily summitted, although my crampons definitely helped get up the ice along its flanks.
I prefer climbing Jackson from the north which is much easier than climbing it from the south because you’re already up on “the ridge.” I knew I’d have to hike down its very steep and ice south side, which is the reason why I’d brought full CAMP XLC 490 crampons on this hike, in addition to my Hillsounds.
The initial descent of Jackson was a tricky downclimb wearing full crampons, but I really didn’t feel like taking them off, just to put them back on 25 feet lower down. I’m fairly well-practiced walking with them, even on bare rock, so I just took it slow. Once I got back down onto snow and ice, I relied on the crampons to give me the bite I needed to stay upright as I dropped the next 1000′ of elevation, walking down steeply angled slush layered on top of hard ice.
When I’d made it “down” to the bottom of the Webster Cliff Trail, I kept the crampons on until I hit heavy mud and took them off. By then, I was close to the trailhead in Crawford Notch and could pick my way around the ice to the Rt 302.
While the views were fabulous for this hike, the thing I liked best about it was the walking. While it has some elevation, hiking a higher mileage day really appealed to me. Looking back to Eisenhower and Pierce from Jackson and the flow of the ridge from there to here was immensely satisfying. It’s hard to explain the feeling of contentment one feels after a journey like that has finished.