This hike to Adams and Madison has to rank up in the top 3 of winter hikes that I’ve done. I’m not sure entirely that it was due to finishing my winter list, either. That might have had something to do with it, but I know there was more to it than that.
With Monroe done, I finalized plans to hike Adams and Madison the next day. After the familiar carpool pick up at the usual place, the Park and Ride at exit 20, we got on the freeway and started the drive northward. Along the way, we were treated to orange, pink and lavender clouds as the sun rose over the mountains. We noted all the summits in the clear from Moosilauke to the expanse of the Presidentials. We tried not to talk about it too much, as we didn’t want to jinx the weather too much!
Today’s destination was the Appalachia trailhead, the start of many adventures in the northern Presidentials. We weren’t the only ones with plans to hike in the area, Appalachia was already getting full and it wasn’t even 7:30a! Greg YEAH! pulled in right behind KRobi and I, and after last minute greetings and gearing up, we set off to hike up Valley Way. I’d never hiked this trail in winter, so this was new and different. We made reasonable time going up the trail, greeting hikers along the way (like Rachel and her adorable little dog, Isis!) and soon we were to the steepest section, between Valley Way Tentsite and Madison Hut. This is where it was the hardest for me – between the steepness and the hike the day before, my body did not want to keep up the pace. With a few extra breaks, the hut roof came into view and then we were there. We had discussed our plan of attack earlier on the trail, deciding that it would be best to hike up to Adams first for a couple reasons. One, being the weather, if it was going to change (and we knew it would!), we wanted to get that one done first. Second, if we summited the larger one first, there would be almost no chance we’d orphan Madison. I was pretty determined that I wouldn’t leave it behind unless the weather was just too bad or I was injured to the point of not walking at all.
With our break done and extra layers added, we headed up to Adams. We knew from weather reports that we wouldn’t be battling extremely cold temperatures like we had in previous weeks (if that was the case, we wouldn’t have even thought about hiking this day), but that the wind would be our challenge. KRobi set a slow and steady pace to help me out and we made our way up to the next decision point – go up Airline or go around on Gulfside and up from Thunderstorm Junction? Airline was shorter and steeper, Gulfside was longer but a little easier. After a bit of indecision, we decided on the direct approach – better to get it done in less distance. The wind was already in the 20mph range, and the summit was obscured in the clouds. Visibility was still pretty good, so up we went. One crest, then another, then the flat area, then the last climb up. The boulders became larger and I knew we were near the top. KRobi said he could see the signs and that was it, we were on top! All the while, the wind speeds steadily increased, making walking a more conscious activity than mindlessly strolling along. In our favor, the summit cone’s rocks did have a decent snow pack around them, making the trek upward a bit more flat and solid than the summertime scramble up and over the boulders. While at the top, the handheld weather stations were out, and now it was the game of sustained winds measurement. The numbers creeped upward, 45, 46, 47, 48 . . . . We were now cheering on the wind, hoping to get a sustained 50mph. No such luck. It was surreal though, to stand on the summit and to watch the clouds race and swirl around us, and in split seconds part just enough to give a fleeting glimpse of the landscape around us. Done with the wind game, we decided against hiking into the wind down to Thunderstorm Junction and once again opted for the direct route, down the way we came. We passed several other small groups of hikers on the way up, each working on their own summit goals for the day. Down we went, back out and now under the clouds for a well deserved break at the hut.
Since it was a special occasion, special treats were brought, and we enjoyed the first of these, some homemade raspberry cream cheese coffeecake before our next destination: Madison. Although Adams was still shrouded in clouds, we enjoyed some sunshine and views on our ascent up to Madison. The wind was at our backs for a good portion of it too, which in some places literally pushed me up the mountain, even though I wore my pack for a bit of ballast! Once on the ridge crest, there was no where to hide and once again, attention had to be paid to just walking. A few more cairns to go, and there it was, winter summit #48, Madison. With a very thankful heart, I said a short prayer of thanks and ascended the last few rocks to the summit. Carefully, I clambered up on top of the highest rock for a quick picture, bracing myself in the wind. After some congratulations, and then more wind speed measurements, it was time to descend, now into the wind. It wasn’t too difficult and soon we found ourselves at the hut, enjoying yet another homemade treat: chocolate chip cookies! Well fueled (well, at least deliciously fueled!), we headed down Valley Way.
Our retreat down Valley Way did not come too soon, before we even finished our last break, the sun had gone into hiding, and the clouds were descending, even obscuring the close summit of JQ Adams. Down, down, down, we went, even enjoying a few short butt slides along the way. Back at the cars, we noted the low clouds, which must have followed us down the trail, as all the high summits were now obscured in a thick grey cloak. While we were thrilled to be back down and even a bit earlier than planned, I surely hope that everyone made it off the mountains safely that day.
I was asked on our last break at the hut what some of my favorite winter hikes were. That was hard to answer – I’ve certainly had quite the range of experiences, from winter wonderland snow laden trees and blue-bird skies to some weather conditions I hope never to encounter again. I’ve thought about it, and for sure, this hike is one of my favorites. I think what made the day great was two things, first and most important, the fantastic company I had, and second, the thrilling experience of being in the wind and clouds and actually being comfortable in those conditions. While this hike didn’t have the amazing panorama of a blue-bird day, there was enormous satisfaction that comes with meeting a challenge and not only overcoming it, but actually enjoying it. I’ve certainly learned and grown in confidence throughout the whole journey to finishing the winter NH 48, and by no means am I done with either hiking or learning just yet!
Special thanks to Greg YEAH! and KRobi for hiking along with me and making this a memorable finish! Also, special thanks to KRobi for use of some of his photos.