Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mt. Adams (5,799) via Airline, Gulfside and Valley Way trails, July 26, 2014

Mt. Adams (5,799) via Airline, Gulfside and Valley Way trails, July 26, 2014

Mileage:  8.8 miles (loop)

Elevation gain:  4,500'
Trailhead: Appalachia,  located on US Route 2, 5 miles west of the intersection of US 2 and NH Route 16.
Hiked with Rich as part of our training for our Utah backpack in two weeks.  First we considered Galehead but the elevation gain wasn't enough (this would be our last conditioning hike before Utah), then Carrigain but that was a group hike on Sunday and the weather was iffy.
So we decided to hike Mt. Madison instead.  Who were we kidding?  The draw of Adams with its ridge and edges and beautiful ravines got the best of us. It was never in doubt.  When we arrived at Appalachia, we went right at the fork and found ourselves on the Airline trail.
I've hiked Mt. Adams in 2009 (see 2009 report) and in 2011 (see 2011 report).  The Airline trail is listed on the Terrifying 25 (a list I'm not working on but you may be!). We got to the trailhead late and made our way up Airline, which is surprisingly mellow before the steeps.
You have the option but I'm tellin' ya, take Airline!
Trail is surprising mellow and rock free at first.

There is one junction on the Airline trail where the trail sign does not indicate you are still on Airline. Look up the trail to find the Airline sign.  Other than that there's plenty of signage.

Since both the Airline and Valley Way trails feed into the Appalachian trail (Gulfside), the blazes are blue.

Gets steeper, a lot of elevation is gained in short distances.

The summit's about 1 mile from this sign.  Have enough
clothing, food and water and be prepared for changes in weather
As the trees get shorter the trail levels out (around the Scar trail junction) and the blazes lead you out of the trees and onto the open ridge.  The surroundings are surreal  - with Mt. Adams' summit off to the right, and a steep gray ridge rising up to meet it. 
The ridge and the peak (yes, you're going there).
Relax. It's fun.  It's rugged but quite doable.  The Airline Cutoff intersects Airline trail.  Hop on it if you plan on visiting the hut first but (warning) going back up it to get on to Airline trail will add an unwelcomed 300' to your hike. 
The view from Gulfside (the ridge we just went over).
The rock hopping starts at the junction of Airline and Gulfside trails.  Heavy, rough, angled glacial boulders are the trail here and following the rock cairns and blue blazes is a tedious task. The summit is up ahead so its not like you're going to get lost. The trick is to find a path that doesn't bite your ankles or toes.  These boulders are very sticky, not a bit slippery in wet weather (ice however, is quite a different story). 
As if to throw you a bone the path becomes more defined and forgiving at the first and second cairns, which mark the path to the beginning of Mt. Adams' summit cone.  Rock hopping continues, with bits of trail improving here and there (dirt and grass) to break up the monotony  - try to stay off the fragile alpine vegetation.  The slowed pace and need for focus is renewing, plus it helps to see the summit....right.....there!
This is what you are hiking on.

Heading that-a-way.
Two or three last pushes up the rocks and we were on the summit, which was crowded today. And buggy. 
There is no USGS marker but there's a pin at the top, and the trail junction sign.
The view was hazy and occasionally a gray cloud would engulf the top. But the wind was calm and we were comfortable in short sleeve shirts. 
Summit sign.

Views of J.Q. Adams, Star Lake and Madison.

Relaxing on the summit, Mt. W. auto road in the background.
It was time to head down and visit Madison Spring Hut. Gulfside trail dips down to the hut as a gravelly slope.
The hut was renovated in 2011 and inside is airy and clean. There were many happy people hanging out on the deck and at the tables inside. We grabbed a lemonade and chatted with the staff.   Around 3:00 we headed down to the car via Valley Way trail.

One of the rooms at the hut.

Temporary sign to Valley Way.

We met the hut staff coming up with supplies (five of them) and that is about as exciting as it gets on this trail.  We were down having a beer in Gorham in no time.

A very ho-hum trail.
This is such a rough and beautiful hike, and tough but worth it if the views are good. If the weather is iffy, do another peak (you never know what the northern Presidentials have in store for you!).

Monday, September 15, 2014

#93, #94 Jay Peak and Big Jay, Vermont, September 14, 2014

#93 and #94 Jay Peak and Big Jay via the Long Trail and herdpath, September 14, 2014.

Mileage: 6 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 2,527'

Trailhead: This hike begins where the Long Trail crosses Route 242 at Jay Pass, 6.4 miles west of the intersection of Routes 101 and 242 in Troy, VT.  Parking is on the south side (left).  Long Trail northbound is directly across the street.
Tip: Wear gaiters, waterproof boots and bring rain pants.
Hiked with Rich, Rich and Joan.  Jay Peak and Big Jay are on the New England Hundred Highest list (a list I am working on) and the farthest drive of any non-Maine peaks on the list (213 miles, a three hour drive from southern NH).  Canada is just a few miles away and our cell carrier charged us international rates for data while at Jay Peak. We had to call to get the charges taken off our bill.
An event for work brought me up to northern NH and I'd convinced Rich to come with me so we could drive over to Jay, VT afterwards to hike "the Jays."  From Gorham, it was still a two hour drive.
We stayed at the Stateside Hotel at Jay Peak Resort ($109, a good value and as close as you can get to the trailhead). It rained overnight and we awoke to socked-in conditions and temps in the 30s.
Rich and Joan met us at the hotel and we headed up to Jay Pass.  There's plenty of parking.  I put on my winter gaiters; Rich used his ankle gaiters. 
Donning rain jackets and gaiters

Kinda hard to see in September.
The trail crosses at the parking lot and it took a double take to find where northbound heads into the woods. It's directly across the street but a bit subtle.  The Long trail is very well blazed (particularly helpful when we were at the summit of Jay Peak trying to figure out where the trail continued off the ski runs).
This shelter is by the road and "not for overnight use."  So...what's it for?

We signed the hiker register and headed up the trail. Immediately off to the left is a blue blazed trail - Jay Camp.  It's a cute little cabin by the photos I've seen; we didn't visit it (an opportunity missed!).

Mellow with good footing (misty and wet here).

The path is level for a few hundred yards and then heads up.  The woods were wet and there's nothing much to report on this stretch except one huge tree on the trail is growing horizontally, quite interesting. Stifle that yawn, it was HUGE and growing out from the slope, and deserving of mention.

Things got rocky and steepish.

Rich remarked after this hike that it offered so much variety. He's right.  After the usual rocky trail (and occasional earthy flat), we were treated to some angled rock which mixed things up.

We reached stairs that took us over water pipes (for snowmaking) and down a ramp onto a ski slope.

Stairway to mist and fog and spitting cold rain.

Up and down the ski trail we saw nothing; just a wall of white mist.  Things weren't improving weather-wise. 

But.... it wasn't horrible and therefore hikeable.

Some hikers report going straight up the ski slope to the summit but directly across from this staircase are the blazes on a short rock scramble.  Up we go. 

This is the way to the rocky summit area.
Ice cover shrubs poked at us as we ascended the rocks.  It was windy and very cold up top (this is summer?!) and we layered back up to weather the trek. 

View of the summit.
The summit area is complete with a staircase that descends to the gondola building and the Sky Haus Deli.  There we met a few hearty underdressed people who were pretty amazed we chose to hike in the cold weather. We in turn were amazed they were wearing flipflops.
How cool is it to get something hot and go to the bathroom halfway through your hike?  We sat down for a minute, ate, rearranged clothing (I put on my rain pants) and then headed out to Big Jay.
Building on top of Jay Peak (complete with a deli).

Icy branches.

Past trip reports provide a wealth of information but I couldn't find a clear description of how to continue north on the Long Trail from the Deli and how to find the herdpath to Big Jay given the maze of ski slopes draping the mountain. 

We left Sky Haus Deli, turned right and headed down a ski slope, quickly finding white blazes painted on rock slabs (in winter, just head down the slope directly behind the building).  We followed the blazes past the Tuckerman's sign until we were facing a fence (directly ahead). 

Walk down, keeping this sign to your right (don't go down Tuckerman's trail!).

Long trail is behind this double blazed fence, opening on the right.

Bunch of signs on the other side of that fence.

It isn't immediately clear where the opening of the fence is (it's to your right facing the fence).  Go through the opening and follow the long trail a very short way (some say 30 paces, depends on your stride) to a very clear herd path off to the left. Hint: the Long Trail goes right and starts to descend right where this path starts.  This is a VERY CLEAR herd path so don't go down something that looks like an iffy path (we almost did), the entrance to this one is almost as nice as a trail.  The herd path about a mile long.

A blaze is on the tree just to the left of the herd path.

Joan heading down the path.

There are some significant downed trees in the beginning.  In 2007. this path was deliberately cut by vandals (article about it here) and it's quite evident at some of the wide areas. 

Where to go is never in doubt as the path heads right toward Big Jay's summit with only one or two offshoots (and it's pretty obvious they are secondary paths). 

Most trip reports tell tales of muddy conditions on the path.  Big Jay's mud is quite impressive. In some spots our poles sunk in over 10".  There are bushwhacks around the mud bogs but negotiating these areas will slow you down and you simply can't avoid getting at least one mud soaked boot.  My gaiters were thick with mud and Rich wished he'd brought his "industrial strength" pair instead of his weak little ankle gaiters.

One of the many mud traps. 

There are a few rocky "ups" to let you know you are reaching a high point and I am quite sure on a nice day the views are scrumptious but all we could see are white and puffs of mist blowing past us.  And all we heard was the sound of icicles plinking as they fell on us or to the ground. Our packs got very wet from the mist, the occasional sprinkle and the overreaching spruce that tried to snuggle us in as we walked by.

Several cool scrambles.

The summit is an obvious height of land, distinguishable by a red litter strapped to a tree. There is a bracket next to it, where a canister used to be.  About 15 yards east of this area a small jar with a register hangs on a tree but we didn't see it (we weren't really looking for it). 

Posing in front of the litter.

Bracket for the canister on the tree.

Path is easy to find on the way back.

We ate, took a few photos and headed back. The herdpath is very easy to follow up until a few hundred yards before the end where we got a little mixed up and had to do a bit of bushwhacking (very little).  

We were back on the Long Trail heading south to the fence, and back on the ski slope we decided to turn right and simply head down toward the ramp/stairs that would bring us back into the woods and to our cars.  We met quite a few people coming up as we were coming down. 

The six mile trip took us about six hours, longer than anticipated. Though we did hang for a bit on the summits and at the Sky Haus Deli, negotiating the muddy areas took more time than we'd imagined. 

This would be a great winter hike (I could not find any restrictions for winter hikers on Jay Peak).