Winter Ascent of Mt. Adams
February 27-28, 1999

Hikers: Matthew Reagan, Karen Willcox, Dave.

Now that Mt. Washington was out of the way, it was time to work on the rest of the Presidentials. The idea of a Northern Presidentials traverse had been kicking around for some time, and with a nice weekend coming up, an attempt at both Adams and Madison seemed reasonable if an overnight stay was part of the plan. When the time came, though, the threat of a big storm hung over the later half of the weekend, so a more modest project--an overnight trip to Adams--was the final goal.

Karen, Dave, and I set out from Cambridge by 6am with no problems, and made it to Appalachia soon after 9am. We hit the trail by 9:30, which meant that our original plan to simply hike to the shelter seemed too easy. We set off up Airline, to Short Line, to the Randolph Path, soon leaving behind the crowds of climbers headed up Durand Ridge or Valley Way. We made excellent time, and the weather was looking great, with bright sun, minimal wind, and shallow, well-packed snow on all the trails.

We arrived the base of the Spur Trail about an hour earlier than expected, and attached crampons for the first steep climb. The trail curved steeply up the end of the ridge, passing a frozen waterfall, then ascending a series of ledges via switchbacks and the occasional wooden ladder. The snow was powder on top of ice, and crampons were the key to speedy travel. The steep climb did not let up until we approached the crest of the ridge, and then the trail widened and continued along the ridge top at a more moderate grade (left). As we climbed, views opened up to the east, with King Ravine opening below us and Mt. Madison peeking out over the rim (right).

The trees began to thin to dwarf pines, and a rocky knob appeared ahead of us. A short scramble up another steep grade brought us to the front porch of the RMC Crag Camp at 4300', our original goal for the day. However, it was only 12:30pm, and we still had nearly five hours of reliable sunlight left! So, we chose a bunkroom, dumped our sleeping bags and extra gear, and ate lunch in preparation for a quick trip to the summit.

We followed the Spur Trail around the back of the hut, past the high-tech composting outhouse, and into a grove of snow-covered conifers. The trail climbed at moderate grades straight up the ridgeline, with only one detour to the viewpoint at Knight's Castle about halfway to treeline (left). Looking down into the Ravine, we were surprised by the nearly complete lack of snow anywhere outside the woods. The bright sun was unbelievably warm, and the whole excursion seemed more like a spring hike than a winter climb. Back on the main trail, we quickly reached treeline, and began the long trek across the alpine zone to the base of the summit cone (right). Beyond the trees and scrub, only a thin layer of snow remained, with bare rock and wind-scoured ice being the main attraction. The rocks made crampon use difficult, but several ice fields made it necessary to keep them on our feet. We circled the north and east sides of Adams 4, and soon reached Lowe's Path, just below the giant cairn and signpost at Thunderstorm Junction (left). The sky was unbelievably clear and blue, and only a light wind blew across the ridge.

At Thunderstorm Junction, we gave up on crampons and decided to boot it up the rest of the way. After crossing another snowfield, we reached the crest of the ridge at the base of the Adams summit cone. The wind picked up considerably, and suddenly it seemed like winter once again. The last few hundred yards was difficult only due to the unpredictable gusts that defied us to keep our balance as we hopped from rock to rock. By the time we reached the summit (right), a solid northerly gale smacked us around and kept us from getting too comfortable. We still lingered at the summit to enjoy the views (left, below) and snap a few more trophy photos.

The trip down was much more difficult than we expected. The wind was now at our backs, and getting gusty. Walking down through the jagged rocks was tricky at best, and sometimes only a half-competant stumble was permitted by the hazardous footing. Once off the summit cone and behind the shelter of the ridge, the going was once again easy, and we didn't bother reattaching our crampons for the walk down. We did, however, let gravity help us out on some of the snowfields by practicing our glissading and in one case, our self-arrest technique. Booting across some of the icier sections was tricky at times, but we soon reached the softer snow and well-defined boot track that lead back to the cabin. The long, straight path through the scrub begged to be glissaded, so we finished the trip with a long slide down through the woods.

We reached the cabin (right) well before sunset, and took some time out to relax before setting up for the night. As we thought about dinner, several groups arrived--some coming down from the summit, and others fresh from the climb up the Spur Trail. We cooked up nice meals of instant pasta with various creamy sauces, and I threw in my special touch of tinned white chicken meat to add some substance. The other groups were much better prepared, and we watched as out came steaks, fresh vegetables, and some kind of decadent dessert. Dinner was followed by plenty of tea and hot chocolate, followed by a trip outside to enjoy the night. The sky was still perfectly clear, and the wind had stopped completely. A nearly full moon, reflected by the snow, lit the ravine with an eerie gray light. The lights of Randolph, Gorham, and Berlin were clearly visible in the distance. We retired to our bunkroom by 9pm, and enjoyed the relatively "warm" temperatures (upper 20's) in the unheated cabin. Everyone got a solid nine or ten hours of sleep, even despite the thunderous snoring from the room next door.

The next morning dawned clear and sunny, with only a light streamer of snow at the Adams summit indicating that the winds had picked up. Having already summitted, we were in no hurry to do anything, and slept in, ate a leisurely breakfast, and sat around in the warm sun until about nine in the morning. Packed and ready to move, we headed across the ridge to Gray Knob cabin, then connected with the lower part of Lowe's Path at the Quay (left), and amazing viewpoint at the end of Nowell Ridge. We pondered the possibility of laying out our sleeping pads and relaxing in the sun for the rest of the morning, but rumors of an approaching ice storm kept us moving. Indeed, as we dropped into the woods, high clouds began to gather to the south.

We followed Lowe's Path down toward the RMC Log Cabin, and trail conditions deteriorated rapidly. The steeper pitches had been scraped clean by foot traffic, leaving nothing but long stretches of blue and brown water ice left over from the January thaws. We stayed on bare boots, since crampons wouldn't really make things much easier. A few glissadable sections made up for the ugly stretches, but once we reached the Cabin we were ready to try something different. The snowy and untracked Cabin-Cascades trail was a welcome diversion, and we soon were back on the Randolph Path at the base of the Spur Trail. Following a fresh snowshoe track, we decided to take the Amphibrach back down the Appalachia, and our choice paid off with a long, perfectly groomed walk back to the car.

We made in back to Boston just as the rain arrived.

photos by Matthew Reagan

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