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The Southern Presidentials

Fall in New England is not only the time when nature's palette runs amuck with color, it's also the best hiking season of the year. The days range from crisp to downright warm, and mosquitoes and black flies are but a memory, and the trailheads beckon invitingly. Having avoided the White Mountains during the stampede known as Labor Day Weekend, I called Phill to verify that our post Labor-Day hiking plans were still on. That task taken care of, I checked with my two sons to see if their scheduled permitted their participation. Matt was scheduled to work over the weekend, but Adam had some free time, so Saturday morning we loaded up the Mazda and headed north. Having finally bought a lightweight down sleeping bag, I was limiting myself to whatever I could fit in my daypack, which holds only 2500 cubic inches. I kept my total pack weight, including two quarts of water, below 25 pounds. On the way, we stopped in Concord long enough to buy a few food items, and by noon, we were at the trailhead.

Saturday, September 7 (4.0 miles). The Webster-Jackson Trail provides access to the two southern-most peaks of the presidential range, Mt. Webster and Mt. Jackson. Phill, Adam and I started up the trail at a leisurely pace. The weather report, which had been a bit negative, was so far gloriously incorrect. The sky was blue, and the clouds that were sparsely scattered along the horizon looked about as threatening as a nerf ball on quaaludes. The Webster-Jackson Trail, which starts across Route 16 from Crawford Depot, rises steadily but gradually for the first 1.4 miles, and then forks, with the right fork summiting Mt. Webster, and the left fork summiting Mt. Jackson. We decided to leave Mt. Webster for another day, and turned left, climbing steadily until we reached Mt. Jackson's summit, 2.6 miles from the trailhead. After some serious balancing, we finally got Phill's camera to sit still on top of the summit cairn long enough to take this picture. Of course, Phill never quite got posed before the shutter fired, but you know, I kind of like it better this way.

On the summit of Mt. Jackson, several Canadian Jays were waiting to be fed, and with a little patience, we were able to coax them into landing on our hands. After we fed the Jays (and ourselves), we turned northward to take a look at what lay ahead of us, and we noticed that the clouds were beginning to obscure the peaks to the north. From the summit, we could see Mizpah Spring Hut, which was our final destination for the day. After a gradual descent down the northern ridgeline of Mt. Jackson, we found ourselves at the edge of a clearing next to the hut, and we followed the signs that led to the AMC backcountry campsite that is located nearby.

After we set up the tent for Adam, and spread out our bivy bags, Phill and I began making dinner. The skies had cleared somewhat, and the temperature had dropped considerably since we had arrived at the campsite. Dinner was, if not good, at least dinner, and after we ate, we tried to decide whether or not to put up the rainfly on Adam's tent. We decided not to, because the stars above us indicated clear weather.

At 2:00 am, when it began to rain, Adam woke us up, and we had to crawl out of our cozy sleeping bags and scramble around in the dark looking for the rainfly and some cord to set it up with. We worked feverishly to try go get the fly on before the rain began in earnest, and just as we finished up, the rain, of course, stopped. I've no doubt that if we had stayed tucked inside our sleeping bags, the rain would have come down in sheets all night long. Nevertheless, before many minutes had passed, we were back in our sleeping bags, being lulled to sleep by the sound of maple leaves dancing on the wind.

Sunday, September 8 (9.2 miles). After a breakfast of instant oatmeal, we packed up and headed north toward Mt. Pierce. Unlike yesterday, the sky was overcast and as the day wore on, the weather worsened. Visibility was a mixed bag, never got so bad that we were unable to easily stay on the trail. After the climb up Mt. Pierce, we joined up with Crawford Path, which drops down into the saddle between Pierce and Eisenhower before beginning the climb toward's Eisenhower's peak. We were well ahead of schedule at this point, and when we summited Eisenhower (see photo, left) we discussed the possibility of adding Mt. Monroe to the day's hike, and returning via Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail rather than Edmonds Path. We decided that there was enough day left to accomplish the additional peak, so when we reached the junction of Edmonds Path, we continued hiking on Crawford Path, which goes up over the peak of Mt. Franklin and then meets up with the Monroe Loop Trail, which we followed on up to the summit of Mt. Monroe, which I had previously summited in the summer of 1994.

All that was left was a quick descent to Lake of the Clouds Hut, and after getting in out of the weather for a bit, we went back outside and began the long hike dowsn Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. The lower we got, the more the weather improved, and by the time we reached the trailhead, the sun was out. Thirty minutes of hitchhiking and two rides later, I was in my car and driving back to pick up Phill and Adam.

Total trip mileage, 13.2 miles.

Copyright © 1996, David Lister

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Document last modified on Friday, 19-Jan-2007 07:29:28 MST.