Many New England hikers consider Mount Jefferson (5712′) to be the toughest peak to climb in the White Mountains. Most of the routes to the summit require miles and miles of above-treeline exposure on a rocky ridge that is constantly blasted by a stiff north-westerly wind.
Joe C and I led an Appalachian Mountain Club hike up Jefferson on Saturday with 7 hikers. It was a tough hike, 11 miles long with 4200 feet of elevation gain. We climbed the peak via the Jewell Trail approaching from the west and continuing along the Gulfside Trail over the Monticello Lawn and up the to the summit.
Winter is still going strong in the Northern Presidentials and we were carrying full winter gear, despite the fact that it is late April. On the climb up the Jewell trail we encountered soft snow with a depth of 3-4 feet, with the beginnings of a monorail. We wore microspikes all the way up the Jewell and then along the Gulfside until Sphinx col.
This proved a little sketchy once we hit treeline and we’d knew we’d have to switch to full crampons for the steep descent. The wind picked up as soon as we broke from the shelter of the krumholz.
At the top of the Jewell Trail, the wind was blowing a sustained 50 miles per hour with gusts uo to 80 mph. The temperature was relatively warm at about 30 degrees but the wind chill was dangerous so we wore balaclavas and face masks.
Hurricane forces winds blow at 70 miles per hour, which is the wind speed where walking above-treeline becomes difficult. I was blown off my feet three times during this hike and my trekking poles were blown out of my hands more than once.
We headed north on the Gulfside Trail toward Jefferson ducking behind a natural windbreak near the final ascent to Jefferson’s summit. Here we ate and drank and switched to full crampons. After being blasted by the wind for hours, it was pleasantly peaceful and sunny.
We started the final ascent and my crampons kept slipping, getting misaligned with my boots. This was bad because we were climbing over ice-covered scree in the boulder field below the summit. I didn’t want a bad sprain or a broken ankle, with just two weeks to go before I go hiking in Scotland.
I stopped and tried to take my crampons off to readjust them but couldn’t get them to budge. I was wearing a new pair of strap-ons and they were very sharp. I must have cut myself since I started to bleed. I motioned Joe back down to help me (the wind drowned out all shouting) and after a titanic struggle, we were able to get them off. Despite some re-adjustment, they continued to slip for the rest of the hike.
We continued on up to the summit of Jefferson for a short photo-op before sitting down in the summit’s lee to eat lunch.
From there it was very slow going back to the Gulfside and the top of the Jewell Trail, our exit route. None of us had eaten or drunk enough with the constant wind in our face and people started to bonk. At our current pace, it looked like we’d be hiking out in the dark.
I reassembled the group for the descent down cautioning everyone to stay together and I got up front so I could control the pace. It took another hour before we were down into the krummholz. We changed over to snowshoes because the trail had turned soft in the midday sun and we were starting to posthole.
After more food and water, people started to recover and we had a fast-paced descent. It had been a glorious but tough day, climbing Mount Jefferson in April.
Total miles: 11, Time 11 hours: Elevation Gain 4200′
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company