Mileage: 5 miles RT
Elevation gain: 2,700'
Trailhead: The trail starts at the high point of Jefferson Notch Road. Take the Marshfield Road towards the Cog Railroad base station and turn left on the Jefferson Notch Road. The opposite side of the road comes out on Rt 2 near the Bowman trailhead. A WMNF Parking Pass is required.
Lesson learned: I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about hiking this trail and now that I have, I can liken the rock scrambling to the Baldfaces or the spur of the Hunt trail on Mt. Katahdin. I learned that rock scrambling takes momentum, something that takes a while to get back into if you haven't done it in a while.
Hiked with Rich, Sandy, Joe and Norm. This hike is listed on the Terrifying 25 (a list I am not working on but you may be!).
The day was beautiful, with a few gray whisps at the summit drifting away as the day progressed.
The Caps Ridge trailhead is the highest trailhead in New Hampshire (at 3009') and the mileage to the summit and back is a mere 5 but don't let that fool you. It took about 3 hours to get up to the summit and another 2 1/2 to get down.
I expect your time will be better though. This peak was Rich's 48th NH 4k and because Rich is height and exposure averse, he chose this trail as his test of tolerance. The first mile was delightful, steady ascending in woods. We reached lookout rock in about 40 minutes, a relaxing pace.
As we continued, it did not take long for the trees to fall away, allowing us to enjoy a beautiful blue sky, mild breeze and intermittent sun. The Caps are a series of rock bumps on the hike up, steeper than the Castles to their left (another trail to the summit) but not as rolly, i.e. the Castles have more up and down as you travel toward the rocky summit of Jefferson.
The first Cap was a playful challenge; the second had foothold issues for us and we had to wait until someone who was literally frozen in fear to the rock, was able to climb up it. Rich was just glad it wasn't him!
Sandy was still recovering from her twisted ankle and Rich was clearly out of his comfort zone in a few spots but we were moving forward. Once the Caps were conquered, we had the task of climbing the rocky cone summit of Mt. Jefferson. The day was so clear you could see for at least 60 miles.
The summit cone seemed to take forever to rock hop up (they always do on the Presis), but we eventually got to the top and Rich ceremoniously touched the summit pin. We cheered for Rich's victory, his completion of the NH 4ks, and then sat down for lunch (which is not easy to do on that craggy summit).
The summit was very crowded. The day was beautiful and everyone seemed to have the same idea: hike Jefferson when it is dry and warm with no threat of thunderstorms. There was a group there that called themselves the "Four Seasons Group" (a meet-up group). Ironically, on the summit I met the woman who is coordinating the "Flags on the 48" for Mt. Whiteface, which is the mountain we signed up for too.
When it was time to head down, we considered heading down via Gulfside to Jewell rather than try to descend the Caps. But having no real reason to deviate from our plan, we headed back the way we came.
As is typically the case, going down was not as hard as we thought, though there was one spot that was steep without good footholds. I took my pack off and was able to make it down without incident. As we descended, the sun beat down and wind diminshed. This made the going hot and sweaty, inviting bugs to take a stab at us!
At lookout rock I decided to leave the group and get down to the car as fast as I could to be ready to celebrate Rich's achievement.
Going up to lookout rock may have taken us 40 minutes; but going down took me less than 20. Out of our cooler I grabbed the bottle of champagne I saved for this occasion (very cold as it had been on ice) and waited for the group to arrive. I met them at the trailhead with 5 glasses of chilled champagne. We toasted Rich's achievement.
Check out Rich's extra fingers!