September 29, 2015

Madison and Adams

About a month ago, Brian suggested that we go on a hike. Sounds like a great idea! After some coordination, we finally found a date that works, and we were locked in with a plan for this past Saturday. Since finding time to get these hikes in is not always easy to come by these days (Katy and I have two young children now and Brian has a toddler of his own keeping us all busy), I put some careful thought into what hike we should do. The criteria in my mind was something like this:
  1. Do-able in a single day, including driving there and back
  2. Big enough to be worth our while, somewhere in the 10 - 15 mile range
  3. Preferably prolonged, above treeline exposure for maximum views and remoteness "feel"
  4. Include a unique trail or two, one that is less heavily traveled and that we haven't done before
That's a pretty picky checklist, but hey why not be picky? And looking at the list, there was really one one place to go - back to the Northern Presidentials. Last year we took on a hike that met all of those checkboxes in the form of a Jefferson and Adams loop. This year, I figured we could go at it from the opposite side with a Madison and Adams loop. The key to this choice and one that checks off that last box on the list was to make the ascent from the Randolph East parking area up the Howker Ridge Trail. While we've both been up these mountains before, neither of us have been up this trail which avoids the typical and more heavily traveled routes leaving from Appalachia.

So the plan was set. We would meet at the Park and Ride lot in Nashua at 5:30AM to begin the day. Somewhere along the way, though, before the planned date, our twosome turned into a foursome. Mo and David, who are working on their 4000 footers list, joined the group for the outing. We added a daisy-chain to the carpool plan with Brian and I meeting at the Nashua Park and Ride at 5:30AM and then continuing on together to meet Mo and David at the Hooksett Park and Ride at 6:00AM. Fully consolidated, we made it to the Randolph East parking area at around 8:00AM. The weather was cool and clear and the forecast was for an absolutely perfect day in the high peaks. After getting organized for a few minutes, we were off.

The initial part of the hike was gradual and steady. We moved along at a reasonable pace and began to climb. There's a bit of a backstory to this hike, though, as not all members of the party ended in as good a shape as they started. Brian was actually on the fence about coming all week leading up to it, as his son brought home a nasty stomach virus early in the week that he caught and was still recovering from. He made the decision to go for it the night before, though, and early in the hike he was beginning to feel the effects of basically not eating all week. About halfway up Madison, he asked for the map and was planning an escape route. He was still going up Madison but didn't think he was up for the Adams portion of the hike. Nevertheless, we continued on.

A couple hours into the hike, we finally popped out above treeline. The Howker Ridge Trail did not disappoint as we made our way up and over each of the exposed "Howks" under the warm sun, clear skies, and calm conditions. We made it to the summit of Madison in about 3 hours or so and stopped for lunch and to soak in the views. After spending some time on the summit, we made the relatively simple descent from the Madison peak down to the Madison Hut. Brian made it, but he decided that he was done climbing up for the day and would skip Adams. Our original plan had us climbing up and over Adams without doubling back, but we modified our route slightly so that we could meet up with Brian and descend Airline after tagging the Adams summit.

So after a quick break, Mo, David, and I continued on to the summit of Adams. We actually made an error here as we planned on taking one trail to the peak but ended up on another. It turns out there are two trails from the hut that both will bring you to Adams in about the same distance. The difference is that the trail we took had some really neat, scrambly sections that required some more technical maneuvers to get up. Overall, it was a good mistake, and we made it to the summit in about an hour. We spent some time up there, but with a weird cloud of flies and mosquitos right on the peak, we headed down before too long. We made it back to the meeting point with Brian in reasonable time to continue our descent.

We headed down Airline which is a nice trail that keeps you up on the ridge line for a little ways before finally ducking down out of the Alpine Zone. While on the ridge we were eyeing the multiple routes up Kings Ravine to our left that looked absolutely unbelievable. Someday we'll have to return for a thrill and ascend up that headwall. In any case, we continued down, with Brian and I leading the front pack while Mo and David were separated a bit behind.

The hike down was a bit of a grind, with an interesting twist happening towards the end. Brian, of course, was still not feeling well but was gutting it out on the descent. However, while the two of us were waiting at a trail junction for Mo and David to meetup, Mo came running down and handed us her keys. She said to go ahead and get the car and bring it over to Appalachia to pick up David. I at first thought that David had some type of serious injury and we were going to need to mount a rescue operation. A few seconds after that though, though, David came strolling up behind Mo. It turns out that he, too, was starting to feel queasy and wanted to get done as quickly as possible.

So with both Brian and David feeling ill, I completed the last mile and half of the hike on my own to retrieve the car, while Mo, David, and Brian went one mile to Appalachia. After an easy walk, I picked up the car, retrieved the three of them down the road, and the hike was complete. We headed back, stopping for some pizza on the way home, to complete another epic day.

Despite the unusual twists, I really enjoyed the day and the hike. Hopefully we'll be back out there again soon.


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