Mts Eisenhower, Jackson, and Pierce are three 4000 footers in the Southern Presidentials, west of Mt Washington. I like to climb all at once when because they’re in close proximity to one another, although it can be a big day, depending on the route you take. Eisenhower is by far my favorite in the group, but also the least protected in terms of weather because its a bald dome. While all three have great views, Pierce and Jackson are easier to climb because they’re closer to Crawford Notch and lower in elevation.
This was a special hike for me because it would be the 12th calendar month that I visited all three peaks. I’m hiking a peak list called “The Grid” which requires hiking each of the forty-eight White Mountain 4000 footers in each calendar month, and this was the 12th time I “had” to climb these summits for that list. Although I’m sure I’ll climb them in the future because they’re such an enjoyable and accessible hike for me.
If you only have one car, it makes sense to hike up the Crawford Path and grab Eisenhower first, before looping back to Crawford Notch on the Webster Cliff Trail and catching Pierce and Jackson on the way back. I’ve hiked that route many times, especially when I do it solo. But on this hike, my friend Ken suggested we drive a shuttle, so we could shorten the hike a bit and do a traverse, rather than a loop. I was down with that and looked forward to hiking with him again, along with two other friends, Tom and Dave, who wanted to join us.
We met at 8:30 am in Crawford Notch, drove to the Edmand’s Path trailhead on Mt Clinton Rd (which is closed in winter), and started hiking up the trail. But I quickly had problems keeping up with the group. I just wasn’t feeling that hot and felt like I was going to puke. It came to a head about a mile in and I told the guys to hike ahead without me and that I’d catch up. I think I ate too much meat for dinner the previous night which was upsetting my stomach. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, not out of any conviction, but because it takes too much work to make.
They took off and I was able to slow down my pace. I thought about bailing, but I really wanted to climb these peaks, so I resolved to keep hiking. I ate a granola bar and drank some water and was soon feeling better. Good guys that they are, they waited for me at treeline so we could finish the hike together. Apparently, I was only 8 minutes behind them although it felt like it was much longer.
Together again, we climbed the last 400′ or so up the east side of Eisenhower to the giant rock cairn at the summit, where a small group of other hikers had gathered. Conditions were great with ample sunshine and only light wind. But the best part was the autumn foliage in the surrounding valleys, which was just starting to peak. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
I led the group down the east side of Eisenhower towards Pierce along the Crawford Path, which is one of my favorite sections of trail in the Whites. It’s just an open ridge between the two summits interspersed with dwarf shrubs, but it was the first significant portion of above-treeline hiking I ever did when I first started section hiking the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail some 15 years ago. I’m slowly section hiking it for the third time while I pursue other goals: basically, I got stuck in New Hampshire and southern Maine because I like hiking here so much.
When we arrived at Pierce, we ran into an elderly couple that climbed up to the summit cairn with us. He was 88 and she was 84, and both had 2000 miler AT patches sewn to their packs. We chatted with them for a while: they told us that they’d thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail three times which was pretty wild. But we were all impressed that they’d made it up to Pierce which was apparently a regular destination for them. I sure hope I’m fit enough to do that hike when I’m 84 or 88!
The sun was warm and the sky was blue, so we took a short rest at the Pierce cairn, I ate my sandwich, and sat in the sun for a while. The AMC Hut at Mizpah Hut, about a mile further, was still open so I knew I could refill my water bottles there without having to filter water along the way. Many of the AMC huts close for the season on Oct 15 and after that certain above-treeline routes become more difficult because you need to carry more water, especially since filters are prone to freezing when the days get colder.
The stretch of trail from Pierce to Mizpah is easy to follow but was severely damaged by a hurricane, which trashed the trail destroying ladders and bog bridges in its wake. Some of that damage has been repaired, but you need to be careful with your footwork descending the section before the hut. It’s far more sketchy in winter though, when full crampons are required.
We refilled our bottles at Mizpah Hut and then headed south to Jackson, which is the point where this route becomes “long” and you feel the time and distance. Most hikers just do Eisenhower and Pierce as a loop because it’s shorter and easier, but if you’ve ever climbed Jackson by itself, you’ll understand why I don’t relish climbing as a standalone peak. It’s really quite a challenging climb from Crawford Notch, even though it’s one of the shortest 4000-footers. Put it like this: elevation is a terrible thing to waste. When you’re on the ridge, it makes sense to summit as many peaks as possible before descending.
There are lots of ups and downs between the Hut and the Jackson summit, which coincides with the Appalachian Trail. This section of the trail is under the tree canopy which is very dense with an understory of ferns. There are no views until you reach the rocky summit of Jackson with the exception of two bridged alpine bogs. They’re bridged to protect the vegetation and because the mud in the bogs is very deep.
The final climb up to the Jackson summit is quite a scramble, no matter which direction you approach it from. It’s not long, but it is steep and having footwear with sticky, pliable soles like trail runners is a real asset. Jackson also has good views of Washington and Oakes Gulf, which is the long and deep river valley to the south of the Southern Presidential range. It’s quite remote and a Wilderness Area in its own right.
From Jackson, we took the trail leading to Mt Webster and its viewpoint overlooking Crawford Notch, the deep mountain pass that separates the Southern Presidentials from the Willey Range. I had hoped for a clearer view, but haze made it difficult to see much foliage on the other side of the pass. Mt Webster, which is just a few feet shy of being a 4000-footer, and the Webster Cliff Trail is a great walk although it takes some effort to get up there. It’s right across from Mt Willard on the other side of Crawford Notch, and the views are outstanding.
The day was waning, so we headed down the Webster Cliff Trail and back to the top of Crawford Notch passing several waterfalls en route. The trails along this entire route are really great. They’re rugged to hike and full of rocks and roots, but you get a lot of personal satisfaction by hiking them and taking in the views they provide.
Trip Stats: 11 miles w/3500′ of elevation gain.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 31st ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine