Even though we enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner in moderation and didn’t literally stuff ourselves like turkeys, my son and I decided to avoid the Black Friday crowds and hike the day after Thanksgiving. We decided to head up to Pierce and Jackson since the weather was going to be nice. I had never been on the section of Webster Cliff Trail between Mizpah Hut and Jackson, and Cameron had never seen the views from Pierce. His last trip up about 2 1/2 years ago was disappointing with a totally socked in summit. When a totally clear Mt. Washington came into view on the ride into Twin Mountain, we knew we’d have a good day for views.
Since we were doing a loop, we parked at Saco Lake, and walked up the 302 to the Crawford Path. We started up the Crawford Path and tried to keep a slow, but steady pace. I didn’t want Cameron to rush the first part of the hike, get too hot and sweaty or run out of energy at the end of the day. We started a little later than I would have liked, but I also knew that once the first major climb was over, we could travel a bit more quickly and still be out of the woods before dark. We also had the option of going down the Mizpah Cutoff from the hut and not going over to Jackson if it was getting too late to hike to the whole loop.
We hiked upwards and decided that our first stop would be the junction with Mizpah Cutoff. It seemed like a very long time before we got there, and rock hopping around all the ice didn’t help. There were plenty of rocks sticking out of the ice, so any sort of traction would have probably been damaged and not much help. We also encountered a very large blowdown between Gibbs Falls and the Mizpah Cutoff. I took the herd path and Cameron climbed through it.
We rock hopped and worked on safe ice traveling skills, and finally, just when Cameron was about to give up on the junction, I saw the signs. We sat on a log and brought out the trail mix, which of course attracted the grey jays. Cameron had seen the grey jays before, but he had never actually had one land on his hand and take food from him. He was delighted by the birds and surprised at how bold and unafraid that they were. I think this was the highlight of his hike.
Once we were done, we headed up the trail, followed by the jays for quite some time. Eventually we made it to the junction of Webster Cliff Trail and took the right hand turn up to the summit of Pierce. The views were really great, with all the higher summits totally in the clear. The surrounding alpine vegetation had shades of green, brown and purple, having turned a few months from their bright green summer colors. We hung out at the summit for a while and then decided it was time to head over to Jackson. Cameron had never been to Mizpah hut, so I said we’d stop on the way by to take a look, even though it was already boarded up for the winter. Carefully picking our way through the ice, we made it past the ladders and soon enough, came to the hut and clearing.
Looking at my watch I knew we’d have enough time to complete the loop, so now it was time for some new trail! I had never been on this portion of the Webster Cliff Trail, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. What we found beside the continuous ice/rock combintaion was an extraordinary number of bog bridges, the most we could remember from any trail we’d ever been on. The trail was actually quite nice, mostly level or going downhill and going through a few meadow-like sections.
Soon, we came to the point where we could see the summit cone of Jackson ahead and felt like we were climbing up again. The trail had been continuously icy, but we finally came to some steep ledges covered with ice that made us stop. We knew we weren’t going straight up that ice, traction or not. This was another learning experience, so we carefully assessed where the trail was, where there was a safe way around the ice. Using our usual system of one go forward and finding a safe place to be, and then calling the other up (or down depending on the trail), we made it past this section. It wasn’t a long section with only three really steep slabs, but one that obviously didn’t get much sun and the ice just kept building up. Fortunately, we were able to get around the worst of the ice by either bushwacking a bit parallel to the trail or going along the very edge of the trail. After that, the next ledges we went up were ice free, being above the trees and near the summit. The summit cairn came into view and we were enjoying our second summit of the day.
We stayed long enough to enjoy the summit, but with an eye on the time, we knew we’d have to head down and quickly. We headed down past the bouldery section, through a very icy section but once we got closer to the Webster-Jackson split, the ice disappeared. It was getting darker, and with the better footing, we really able to pick up the pace. Soon the cliff side trail came into view and we knew that it was definitely less than a mile to the road. Concentrating on swift, but safe travel, we passed by the Elephant Head side trail and knew the road was just ahead. Sure enough, we could see it through the trees and there we were, walking along the road, back to the car, with just a little daylight to spare.
We had a really fun time, even though we had to pick our way through quite a bit of ice. Ice isn’t that unusual at this time of year, and we were prepared for that and thankful that we were safe the whole hike. It was more good winter practice for Cameron, and he certainly enjoyed his experience with the grey jays and the great views we had all day.