Two days, two children, two Presidents. Monday, Cameron and I went to Washington, and Tuesday, I took Dakota to Jefferson. She still refuses to hike with her brother, so mom gets take them separately and hike twice as much. That’s good – I think. She wanted to do something shorter, but also didn’t want one of the cairn in the woods sort of summits. Looking at the “short hikes” she has left that have a view, I suggested Jefferson via Caps Ridge. I’d been wanting to hike the Caps again, and this was a good chance, especially since the weather looked to be pretty cooperative.
The last check of the weather and radar before leaving the house showed clearing skies and improving weather throughout the day. As we drove up, I wasn’t surprised to see some of the higher summits still in a low cloud layer. We were prepared for the fact that we might be in the clouds, and had brought enough extra layers plus hats and gloves. As we approached the parking area on Jefferson Notch Road, we had sunshine and it looked like some of the clouds were going to lift.
We started up the trail, headed for our first destination about a mile or so into the hike, the pothole rocks. Between the trailhead and the rocks was a pretty, mossy forest with some elevation gain, but nothing steep yet. Once at the rocks, we were able to start to see some views up to Mt. Clay, down to Bretton Woods and other points to the west. After a break, it was time for the real fun to begin: climbing the caps. There is still a bit of forested trail before the first cap, but the trail soon changes as the rock size changes from large rocks to boulders to big slabs. The trees also start to shrink in height, an indicator that the alpine zone is not far away.
We made it to the first cap and first real challenge, the rock slab. I explained the best thing to do is find the next cairn or blaze, decide on a route and head up. There are no right or wrong ways as long as you stay on the rock and are safe. She decided on a route to the right where there was a crevice in the rock where she could get some hand and foot holds. She made it up and then I came up. She then asked, where next? Well, I explained, look for the next cairn or blaze. If she couldn’t find the next marker, she’d ask and I’d find it, but I wanted her to actively look for them too, rather than relying on me to guide her the whole way. She did well and we made it up all three caps and to the Cornice Trail junction.
Continuing up Caps Ridge Trail from the junction is the usual northern Presidential rock-hop. Again, this was a find the cairn, get to it safely and additionally, don’t destroy the alpine vegetation game. We didn’t always take the same route to the cairn, but she did learn a lot about foot placement and picking a path through the rocks. She also learned about false summits, because this trail has one. I warned her earlier about it, and reminded her that once we got to what looked like the summit, we were about half way to the real summit. She was getting a bit frustrated by that point, but I told her to just relax and follow the cairns and soon enough, we’d be at the summit. Soon enough, we were at the summit. She was thrilled and even better was the fact that the clouds were now lifting and we had big patches of blue sky and views to Adams and Washington.
Even better and more fascinating than making it to the summit was the apparent occupation of the summit by a group of chipmunks. I had not seen the chipmunks on Jefferson before, but there was a group of four or five, scurrying around, under and over the rocks. They apparently knew that hikers dropped tasty crumbs and were pretty fearless about scampering around our feet to pick them up. When I got up to take a picture for a fellow hiker, I got a scolding from one of the chipmunks, unhappy that I was towering over his food source. Dakota, of course, thought the chipmunks were fun to watch and most likely was the highlight of her trip. I tried to remind her that we had them in our yard back home, but somehow, that wasn’t the same.
After a nice break, it was time to move back down trail, back to the car. The trip down was a bit quicker and she did a good job descending all the rocks and following the cairns. We then worked through the caps section. She couldn’t believe that we’d hiked up some of it and didn’t remember some sections. Slowly, we made our way back to the pothole rocks and I think she was really glad to be back walking on a trail that was mostly packed dirt, rather than scrambling down rocks. After eating the last of our snacks, we hiked out the last fairly easy mile or so to the car.
We were blessed with a good day – cool and breezy with improving weather the whole way, not to mention views and chipmunks!