Feather-like rime ice growing into the wind off of the summit rocks.

Mount Jefferson (5712')


2004 May 29

We decided to make Mount Jefferson our first 4000 footer for the season. Originally, the plan was to finish the 48 on Jefferson because it's only 2.5 miles to the summit, but we needed a short one for this day's adventure. Perhaps it was for the better. Although the trail isn't very long and the parking lot--located at the highest point of any NH state highway--is 3000' above sea level, it's still a 2700' climb to the summit with a lot of exposure. That's 1080' per mile! Plus, there are some steep scrambles to contend with. This was supposed to be a fair weather hike with forecasts in the 60's, but it was actually in the mid 40's when we started up.

The hike to tree line was fairly easy, but cold. In fact, this was our coldest hike to date. Although we weren't alone, it was hardly crowded. I imagine this trail must be packed in the summer since it is essentially the express route to the Presidentials with spectacular view and lot of time on the ridge. Today, on the other hand, left many day hikers wishing they had stayed home with most turning around more than a mile from the summit. We caught up with a small group of them gathered on the first major break in the trees. The view from the first outlook (Whirlpool ledge according to Dave Metsky's site) may have been enough to justify the trip for many of them, but we didn't ask. We stopped only long enough to gaze upon the frost line and cringe at the thought of what the conditions were like up there.

Looks cold up there . . . First peek from the trees.

We stopped just above tree line for lunch. The wind was already strong and quite cold, so we settled down behind some large rocks off the trail. I had heard about the false summits on Jefferson, but that really looks--and feels--like it should be the summit!

The real summit is actually beyond this cap. Ash with the cog railway base station visible in the background.

Visibility on the summit was limited to a couple hundred yards, and since the summit is merely a boulder field, it was a little disorienting. We almost walked past the summit before we realized it was on our left. On our last hike Andy said, "The summit is where Gravity and I make our peace." This couldn't have been more true today. The wind was battering us and it was so cold (27F) that Ash's Gatorade started to freeze. Both physically and psychologically it all gets easier from here because every step is one step closer to the car and it's all downhill.

Although we can only estimate the conditions on Jefferson, Mount Washington's observatory had detailed information waiting for me the next day.

Of course, Mt. Washington is a couple miles away and 1000 feet higher. Our summit temp read 27F and since the winds would often stop us in our tracks, I'd say there were gusts over 70 MPH. We had trouble walking, so (referencing the The Beaufort Wind-Speed Scale) the wind was probably a steady 40 to 50 MPH. Check out the video clip of the summit winds. A friend of mine drove up Mt. Washington while we hiked Jefferson and she said they couldn't even walk to the summit marker!

on_summit_shawn_ash.jpg on_summit_elleing_ash.jpg summit signs and markers encrusted with rime ice. Feather-like rime ice growing into the wind off of the summit rocks.

Coming out of the clouds on the way down really made the day. The view was amazing. The cloud layer shrouded the cold, windswept, mass of rock that we made haste departing. As we came down, the valley opened up and the sun could be seen busily making a more pleasant day off in the distance.

Simply awesome.  Life threatening conditions to the left. Beautiful, sunny weekend to the right.

Anxious to get out of the wind and the cold, we hustled down the trail. This was no easy task walking directly into high winds. We stopped for a short break behind the last large cap before we reached tree line just to rest a bit. The hard part was over and we could look back and shake our head at the conditions behind us. We'd finish about 5 hours after we started. Not bad for us considering the conditions.

descent.jpg descent3.jpg I want a cracker. It's amazing what can qualify as comfortable given the right conditions.

It was a great day. As the summit faded into the distance and we warmed up on our way to dinner, we began to realize just how great the hike was. It was the most extreme weather we've experienced so far, which is something that seemed more enjoyable now that we were no longer being tormented by it. Not only was the view incredible in the way it appears in the above pictures, but also in the way it disappeared into clouds on the way up and reappeared when we returned. We felt the awesome power of nature when the wind would stop us in our tracks or knock us around trail. It was a day of extremes and a very good one.

We aren't winter hikers, nor do I expect we ever will be. I'd say this was about the limit for us which I'm sure will make many winter hikers happy knowing their solitude will remain 3 people to the better. I prefer to hike knowing that if I'm forced to spend the night it won't be a serious issue. In this case, it could have been. Windchill was in the single digits. Even with windproof clothing covering all exposed skin, 27F is still 27F and it could get worse rapidly. But, safety is beside the point since we could prepare for that. Even if we geared up for the weather, it's not something we've come to enjoy . . . yet.

Now dinner is something we've come to enjoy and this one was no different. We stopped at Truant's again since we have yet to beat it's simplicity, casual atmosphere, broad menu, and reasonable prices. If you haven't tried Truant's give it a look and tell them Shawn and Elleing from UphillTrek.com sent you. They have no clue who we are, but it can't hurt.


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