Hike: Mt Madison, Mt Adams, Adams 4, Crag Camp (overnight)
Location: Northern Presidentials, White Mountains
Route: Appalachia Trail Head, Sylvan Way, Howker Ridge Trail, Osgood Path, Madison Hut, Star Lake Trail, Lowe’s Path, Gray Knob/Crag Camp Trail, Quay Path, Lowe’s Path, The Link back to Appalachia Trail Head Parking Lot
Mountains: Mt Madison(5367 ft), Mt Adams(5774 ft), Adams 4(5348 ft)
Elevation Gain: 5,400 ft
Distance: 9 miles to Crag Camp, 4.7 miles to Appalachia Trail Head
Available Water: Hitchcock Falls, Howker/Pine Link Trail Intersection, Madison Hut, Crag Camp Spring, Log Cabin
I popped up to the Northern Presidentials last Friday for a hike up to Mt Adams and a sleepover at Crag Camp in Kings Ravine. I’m working on my Trailwrights 72 list which requires seven separate ascents of Madison, Jefferson, and Mt Adams and it’s four distinct sub-peaks, all over 5,000 feet in elevation. To keep these hikes interesting, I’m climbing up to the presidential ridge on all of the trails in this part of the Whites,. This is the hardest part of the White Mountains to climb given the rough trails, high degree of above treeline exposure, and dangerous weather.
Although I probably could have hiked this loop in one day, I decided to sleep over at Crag Camp, a cabin overlooking King Ravine on the northern face of Mt Adams. For $13/night, the accommodations and company cannot be beat. Crag Camp is maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club and is also popular overnight cabin for hikers and climbers skilled enough to tackle the Northern Presidentials in winter, when it is especially dangerous on these peaks.
I started my hike at the Appalachia Trail head off Rt 2, just past the Lowe’s Store, and hiked up Sylvan Path to the Howker Ridge Trail. This is one of the more remote and less used trails to the summit of Mt Madison. It climbs up the side of Bumpis Basin over a series of knobs, or small hills called Howks. The summits of each Howk pop above treeline and have a high degree of exposure, before dipping down below treeline. It’s quite maddening to lose elevation after scrambling over each knob.
Before reaching the summit of Madison, the trail intersects The Pine Link Trail and water is available if you have a filter. After a stretch of wet trail with forest cover, the Howker pops above treeline and follows a series of quartz-capped cairns to the Osgood Trail, which continues up and over the summit of Madison.
When I reached the summit, I hung out for a bit and enjoyed the view. Besides the physical challenge of climbing, I hike for the views and the feeling of awe I always experience on top of mountains. If you want to experience “the moment”, mountain-tops are the place to go.
From Madison, I rock-hopped my way down to the new Madison Hut to check it out. The outside of the structure is still not completed, but the inside is serving Appalachian Mountain Club guests anyway. I refilled my water, had a quick snack, and then continued with my tour.
From the Hut, I took the trail that skirts past the alpine tarn known as Star Lake, passing the Buttress Trail sign, before climbing up the south face of Mt Adams. It took me an hour to climb the one mile, which is very rocky and unforgiving. Still, I’d never been to the summit via this route, which has rather stunning views of Mt Madison with the sub-peak of John Quincy Adams in the foreground
While the climb up Adams is hard, the descent down the north side is even more difficult, traversing a boulder field, before arriving to the famous Thunder Storm Junction cairn. I believe this is the largest cairn in the Northern Presidents. Contrary to its name, it is a terrible place to wait out a Thunderstorm and is very exposed in a wide expanse of alpine lawn and scree. It is the intersection of several major trails, however, and a welcome site in poor visibility.
From the junction, I continued down Lowe’s Path, headed towards Crag Camp, and an overnight stay. Lowe’s Path is one of the oldest trails in the Northern Presidentials, cut in 1875-76. By the time, I arrived here, it was about 5 pm and daylight was waning. I had had a late start after driving up from Boston that morning, and I was bonking after hiking 9 hours of hiking and climbing over 5,400 feet of elevation gain in one day.
Still, I wanted to bag one more peak, called Adams 4. This sub-peak of Mt Adams is located right on Lowe’s Path and requires a minor ascent. There is ample reward, however, with spectacular views into King Ravine, a magnificent glacial cirque, on the northern face of Mt Adams.
From Adams 4, it is a short walk down Lowe’s Path to the Gray Knob Trail and Crag Camp, which is perched on the sidewall of King Ravine. With room for 20 guests, the cabin has a caretaker in the summer but is otherwise completely self-service with mattresses and bunk beds. Dogs are also permitted.
The next morning, I headed on down Lowe’s Path back to my car. This was my first time hiking down this trail and I was grateful I hadn’t had to climb it the day before. It’s rather steep and wet, quite reminiscent of some of the steeper climbs I experienced on The Long Trail in Vermont. This is not surprising actually, given when the trail was cut, and the elevation gain of the climb.
I climbed down Lowe’s Path to The Link, a more moderate but very muddy trail which cuts across King Ravine, but way below treeline. That trail also reminded me of The Long Trail with its poor drainage and epic mud pits. I don’t think I’ll take that trail again!
This was an excellent hike and I am looking forward to exploring the rest of the trails in the Northern Presidential trail network. With six peaks to go, in this region alone, I’m sure that I will become an expert on this trail system by the time I finish my Trailwrights 72 list.