June 17, 2012

Mount Jefferson

Several months ago, Katy asked me if I had any interest in going to a Sugarland concert on June 16 at Meadowbrook in Laconia, NH. I'm not sure if I really knew who Sugarland was, but I said sure why not? Her dad then got wind of this and since Meadowbrook is right down the road from the little cabin he is renting in NH for the summer, he grabbed four tickets to the concert and gave them to us for a pre-birthday present. So it's been on our calendar for a while now that we would be up in NH this weekend, and we had coordinated that Katy's brother and sister, Tim and Anne, would be coming along to the concert with us. Given the proximity of Laconia, NH to the White Mountains you can imagine what this might mean -- another hike up a 4000 footer! And so it was. In choosing a hike for this weekend, we strived to accomplish three goals: 1. Give ourselves enough time to reasonably do a hike and still fit the Saturday night concert in, 2. Convince Tim and Anne to come along with us, and 3. Leave room to spend time with Katy's dad for Father's Day. Given this and all of the remaining 4000 footers on our list, we chose the shortest hike on our list, a five mile out and back up Mount Jefferson via the Caps Ridge Trail.

I've hiked Mount Jefferson before many years ago on a camping trip with my dad, brother, and uncle. While the mileage numbers look tame, I do remember this trail being a tale of two hikes with the lower half being relatively simple and the upper half being steep, rocky, and tough. My perspective as a younger, scrawnier, and smaller kid may be much different than now, though, so I was interested to see how this trail looks to me today. Tim, Anne, Katy and I arrived at the trailhead at around 9:00AM yesterday after getting up somewhat early and departing from our overnight stay in Laconia. The weather was absolutely perfect for an above treeline hike with temperatures in the 60's and climbing, no clouds in the sky, and a calm, clear day forecast for the higher summits. We geared up and SPF'd up before heading off. The first mile, as expected, was cake. With the trailhead at such a high elevation, it wasn't long before the trees starting shrinking and the views of Washington's nearby summit were peaking through the leaves. With Tim and Anne along for the hike, we took our time for the first mile and made it to a ledgy viewpoint in under an hour. From this viewpoint you could see the three distinct "caps" of the Caps Ridge Trail that makes this tricky little trail a challenge. We continued on and the trail quickly got steeper.

Just as I remembered, after passing this ledge, we quickly emerged above treeline and encountered a rocky, bouldery, trail the rest of the way up. It was at this point that Tim decided he was going to slow down and let us go on ahead. Anne, Katy, and I continued on over the three caps which featured some real steep sections and some tricky scrambles. Once past the third cap, it was a steadier grade for the last three quarters of a mile but requiring rock-to-rock-to-rock navigation almost the whole way. We took our time and made it to the top after 11:00AM. It was a crowded summit with many other hikers capitalizing on this Top 10 above-treeline day. The forecast held true as we enjoyed sunny skies, clear panoramic views, and a windless hike. We saw other groups head off to Adams and yet others heading over to Washington, but we stuck with the plan of a simple out and back for the day. After some summit pictures and some time at the top, we headed back down.

We returned the way we came and found Tim waiting for us on the trail. He had made it to the top of the third cap and called it a day there and decided to lay down in the warm sun and take a nap while waiting for us. We continued down the trail, navigating the tricky scrambles once again, and made it back to the car before 2:00PM. It was a simple hike, on a beautiful day, at a leisurely pace, with some challenging features. Ironically, this simple hike is the tallest we've bagged together so far. On the return trip to Laconia, we stopped for some pizza and were back in time for the Sugarland concert. We spent today with Katy's father and took a ride on his boat on Lake Winnipesaukee before returning home. All in all, a great weekend and another mountain down!

P.S. Funny tidbit for the day. It was "Biker Week" in New Hampshire and among other things, everywhere we went we saw thousands and thousands of motorcycles on the roads, everywhere. Given New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto, I would say less than 5% of them were wearing helmets. When we hit traffic close to the Massachusetts border coming south on 93, I joked to Katy that the slowdown was because of all the bikers who were stopped at the border putting their helmets on. When we drove past the border what did we see? About 20 bikers, pulled over, putting helmets on!

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