Friday’s weather promised to be beautiful and with an entire day off to hike, the northern Presidentials were calling. My friend Schorman also needed a trip to Madison and Adams, so we worked out a plan to suit both of us. Schorman suggested a loop including Howker Ridge, Osgood, Star Lake, Gulfside, Valley Way, Lower Bruin, Brookside and Kelton Trails ending back at Howker Ridge Trail. I was very interested in this plan, as I had not been much of this loop at all and he’d done it several times.
Meeting time was 6:00a for the carpool, and we headed north to Dolly Copp Road, just off of Rt. 2 near Gorham. No one was in the parking lot when we arrived, but that wasn’t surprising. We set off up the trail, hiking easily through the lower forests and near a stream with a couple of falls. We then crossed the stream and the grade became more moderate.
The forest started to change to more evergreens than decidious trees. Somewhere, partway up, I heard some moving about in the trees, and then some panting, like a dog. I couldn’t think of how a dog would be several miles up the trail, and not even on the trail, by itself. Schorman didn’t hear it, but I was sure I heard it. We stopped to listen and sure enough, we saw what it was: a bear! Sadly, we didn’t get any good pictures of it before it moved away through the trees. With that excitement over, we continued up to the first Howk. Each ridge or rocky cap, known as a Howk, provided better views than the last.
We were getting to the point where we could see back to the valley, but also up ahead. Up ahead looked rocky and that was no surprise as the trail steepened through the scrub and became the well-known Presidential rock hop. We headed up to a saddle and false summit to pick up the Osgood Trail and just a few tenths later we were at the summit of Madison enjoying the views to our next destinations, Madison Hut and Adams. We headed down to the hut, which was open for the last weekend and enjoyed a great bowl of beef stew along with the other things we had brought for lunch. Then it was off to Star Lake and the summit of Adams.
I had been to Star Lake several times, but never had been past the lake to the summit. This was another adventure as the trail is rather steep and there are a few small rock scrambles near the top. This was fun, although a bit warm since the summit cone of Adams shields any breezes. Once on top, we enjoyed the breeze and views before starting the very long trip back to the car.
The first part of the descent down Airline, Gulfside and Valley Way was familiar to me, as I had hiked this a few times. Once down Valley Way, we took a right onto Lower Bruin, which started another new section of trails for me. Lower Bruin is a quick little connector over to the Watson Path and descends easily with reasonable footing. We then followed the Watson Path for a short bit and then took the Brookside Trail, which yes, follows a brook.
Due to the proximity to the brook, this trail was a bit more damp and the footing was more rough than previous sections. We had to carefully pick our way through this section, due to a lot of slick footing. This type of stuff wasn’t unfamiliar to me, as Vermont has miles and miles of this kind of trail! We passed several nice cascades and falls and crossed one more time to pick up the Kelton Trail. The Kelton Trail is a really nice trail that winds through a mossy, spruce forest and has nice, soft footing. There are also a few view points back up to the summits of Madison, JQ Adams and Adams. Looking back up to the summits, it was hard to believe that we had been all the way up there that day! We were able to pick up the pace and swiftly descend right back to the Howker Ridge Trail, and from the junction it was a little over a half mile back to the car.
What a great day! I got to see a lot of more of both Adams and Madison, on 7.5 of new trail out of the 10.9 miles that we hiked. The loop was a good variety of all types of trail – everything from streams and waterfalls, to above treeline rock hopping and a walk through a mossy evergreen forest. Although we were out all day, it didn’t seem that long, since Schorman has an abundance of stories to tell of his many, many adventures in the Whites. We couldn’t have been blessed with better weather with of lots of sunshine and breezes, safety and mostly dry trail (well, except for that section of Brookside!).
Special thanks to Schorman for a fantastic hike and for sharing his many experiences and trail wisdom and photos!