Mt. Jefferson via the Ridge of the Caps
July 26, 1998

Hikers: Matthew Reagan, Paul and Susan Rozelle, a nice family from Worcester, and The Octopus

Even if one has done all of the Presidentials, there are still plenty of reasons to go back. No where else in the Northeast will you find such a vast expanse of fascinating and impressive terrain. So, when someone asks where they can do a nice climb, the choice is obvious.

A spring climb up Mt. Flume got Paul interested in the local hiking scene during his summer stay in the Boston area, and his apparently glowing reports about White Mountain vistas convinced Susan to come along on the next trip. We made an attempt at the Presidentials on July 11, but near-freezing summit temperatures and a persistant drizzle pushed us away from the alpine zone and down to a short hike up to Mt. Crawford (via the Davis Path). Despite the dreary weather, we got some fantastic mist-shrouded views of Crawford Notch and a good practice hike for bigger things to come. Two weeks later, the rainy spell had passed, a heat wave had come and gone, and the skies were unusually clear.

Our day began at the height of land on Jefferson Notch road (3009'). Thanks to this road, we were able to skip 1,000-1,500 feet and 1-2 miles of hiking and still make it above treeline. After loading up on water and DEET, and after securing The (well-travelled) Octopus, we were approached by a nice family from Worcester who had heard that this was the "easiest" route up to a Presidential summit and wanted to make it to Jefferson by lunch. I was characteristically cautious in making recommendations, but they decided to try it anyway. We then had company for the first half of the hike. The trail begins in a flat, swampy area in the notch, and then quickly climbs steadily through the woods with good footing and even grades. With "our" family close behind, we covered the first mile in a textbook hour and reached the first views of our destination as the ridge began to narrow (right). From this ledge we also got a fine view of Jefferson, Clay, and the Southern Presidentials, with Washington still rising into the clouds. The ledge included a notable geological formation--potholes formed by running water (left). Considering that we were already at a relatively high point on the ridge, it was interesting to imagine the waterfall that must have cascaded down off the melting continental ice sheet 13,000 years ago.

After a leisurely break, we proceeded into the scrub and up the ever-narrowing ridge. The Nice Family was waiting for us up ahead (I must have looked like I knew what I was doing) and again followed us toward the first Cap.

Then, things got interesting. A break in the trees revealed the first Cap looming steeply above us. The trail began to climb, first on steep rock steps, then on steeper rock slabs (right). Susan, who was specifically looking to get to know the mountains better, proclaimed the terrain "cool." The family disappeared--apparently they did not care to get so up-close-and-personal with the mountain. The steep climb soon brought us out into the open at the base of the Cap. From here, several routes presented themselves. The blazes, and a well-trodden footpath, led around and below the steepest ledges. However, numerous handholds allowed a more direct route to the top.

From here, the ridge was completely exposed and above treeline. A look back showed the short distance covered, and the steepness of the ridge (left). The trail climbed over several smaller features, and then ascended steeply to the upper Cap (right), with more ledge walking and scrambles. Above this point, the ridge blended into the main mountain mass, and the remaining 700' of vertical was simply a long uphill slog through a sea of broken rock. This was not nearly as "cool" as the ridge climbs, but once you get this far you want to make it to the top.

After a final sprint to the highest of the three summits, we settled down on the eastern slope of the summit cone to enjoy a well earned lunch. Goldfish and M&M's were in abundance. So were views--of the Monticello Lawn and Sphinx Col (left), and of Mt. Washington across the Great Gulf (right). The temperature was perfectly seasonable (in the low 50's), and a steady breeze blew streams of mist across the alpine terrain. We enjoyed a fine air show as a sailplane took advantage of the airflow across the ridge, silently soaring only a few dozen feet over our heads.

Once fed and hydrated, we stopped for the obligatory summit photo (left,below), with the proud Octopus claiming Mt. Jefferson for eight-legged creatures everywhere. To avoid a steep and rocky descent down the summit cone, we instead detoured north to the Gulfside Trail, enjoying the better footing and scenic vistas of Mt. Adams, Jefferson Ravine, and the Great Gulf (right). Turning east and then south on the Gulfside, we followed the line of quartz-topped cairns along a level path in the lee of the Jefferson summit. Mt. Washington loomed silently over the headwall of the Gulf, and darker, thicker clouds appeared over the ridge. We soon completed the loop and crossed the Monticello Lawn, where the wind had picked up considerably and the streams of mist had grown up to become full-sized and fast-moving clouds. We descended from the lawn via the Cornice, connected to the Caps Ridge Trail below the summit cone, and retraced our path over the Caps and down the ridge.

The descent was not as difficult as the climb up would have suggested. Susan discovered the wonders of the denim-reinforced butt-slide, while I decided to again take the hard way down (and up and down). With a quick stop at the potholes to reapply DEET, we moved quickly down the ridge and made it back to the car in a mere 1.5 hours.

Dinner at Woodstock Station, of course!

photos by Matthew Reagan

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