I closed my eyes, then I opened them again. Let’s see, North Pole? No. McMurdo Station, Antarctica? No. Remote glacier in Alaska? No. Hoth the ice planet? No again. Mt. Jefferson in New Hampshire? Yes! It was still the same bleak, windblown, rime-iced, snow-covered landscape that if you didn’t know better could have been any one of those other places. I was wearing the same gear, plus or minus a few things like my expedition gloves (although they were in the pack!). We were less than a half mile to the summit of Jefferson, and with the summit in sight, we continued upward.
So, how did I find myself on the side of Mt. Jefferson on such a day? Well, Jefferson is not an easy summit grab in winter. Although the distance and difficulty is not beyond most day hiking trips in the Whites, the fickle weather, the distance and time spent above treeline in winter make it a tougher objective. That said, I knew I wasn’t going to be hiking this one solo. I’ll admit I do solo quite a bit, but I know I’m not invincible and I have enough brains left to know that there are quite a few peaks that going with a group (experienced if I can find one!) is a good idea. When BigEarl posted an invitation to hike Jefferson, my husband and I revised our hiking plans so that I could go. With the weather not supposed to change until later in the afternoon, we figured it would be fine. A few messages later and I had the meet-up place and time.
About 7:00a I was sitting at the hiker parking at the Cog Railway, thankful to have an all-wheel drive vehicle. Base Road is plowed, sort of, and I still have no idea how the small passenger car without all-wheel drive in the lot got there. BigEarl and Sue showed up a little later, we finished gearing up and off we went to pick up the Jewell Trail from somewhere behind Marshfield Station and over the Cog tracks. Sure enough, it wasn’t broken out, so our trip to the treeline was a bit of work. I mainly stayed in second position not doing much except trampling down whatever snow the person in front didn’t get.
For breaking snow, we moved along rather well, and we were rewarded with some nice views once we got higher up and could see out a bit. We were between two cloud decks, and could see Vermont’s peaks easily, even though we really didn’t have any sunshine. The sun tried, but just couldn’t break through the clouds, and eventually gave up trying.
The trees started to get shorter and skinnier and that was a sure sign treeline was coming up. We got a few peeks out and the ridge of Mt. Clay came into view. We added some layers and out we went to follow the cairns as best as possible, while aiming to pick up the Gulfside Trail and head north to Jefferson. The cairns were covered in rime, but mostly still visible and if you looked carefully, you could sort of see a gully or smooth spot where the trail went through the now-buried scrub. Keeping a sharp eye out for cairns and figuring out the best way to ascend, Sue did an excellent job getting us where we needed to be. The Gulfside trail was more of the same terrain, but a little bit of a relief from ascending. I knew it wouldn’t last, because at Sphinx Col we’d be starting up once again on the last section toward the summit. The weather was still reasonable, but that the would change soon.
We got to the Jefferson Loop and it had just started to snow. There was no where to go but up, and with the snow picking up a bit, it was time to summit and come back. The three tenths up to the summit went by fairly quickly, with all three of us trying to spot cairns and determine the best path up. At some point, all these cairns will be buried in snow, so it won’t matter much anyway. It was more of a find a cairn or landmark and find a way to it affair. With the snow pack, at least no alpine vegetation was trampled that I know of!
We made it to the giant cairn and in a few more minutes were on top of the summit rock pile balancing for our summit photos. That done, it was time to exit the way we came, realizing that most our tracks were already being covered.
One last climb and we were back at the point where we were to pick up the Jewell Trail. It was another one of those find a cairn and find a way adventures. I found it a good exercise to see if I could pick out the cairns and the same path that Sue was going to pick. She did the leading, but I wanted to make sure I could do it myself and not just blindly follow, which would have been easy to do. Meanwhile, the wind picked up and was stinging the small amount of my exposed face with snow and was blowing billowing clouds of snow over the slopes. Thankfully, by this point we could easily see the trail and it was just a matter of getting into the trees. Once in the trees, like magic, the wind was gone, it was only lightly snowing and just a pretty walk in the woods. Someone had even broken out a nice trail for us. LOL.
Down we went, enjoying the powder and the woods, and soon Marshfield Station was in sight. It was silently asleep for the winter under a soft blanket of snow, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the summer season. It was peaceful ending to a day of hiking with a variety of terrain and weather and the blessing of health and safety.
BigEarl and Sue are certainly experienced, strong hikers, not to mention gracious. Many thanks to them for letting me tag along! Good luck to you both on your hiking goals!