Fri, Feb 03, 2023
Mt. Madison & Mt. Adams
By Richard & Susan
Hike Length: dayhike
Trails: v, Brookside, Watson Path, Appalachian Trail, Airline
We were originally planning to climb Mt. Whiteface on 8/12/01 but changed our minds at the last minute when the weather gods saw fit to deliver an unusually clear day in the Northern Presidential's, so we decided to hike Mt Madison and Mt Adams as a loop instead. We arrived at the Appalachia parking lot just off of route 2 just after 8:00am Saturday morning. There were a least 20 cars in the parking lot and a number of hikers gathering their gear as they prepared to enter the trail. The Appalachia parking lot is the starting point for a number of trails that ascend Mt Madison and Mt Adams so we knew it was not going to be a secluded hiking experience.
We started out on Valley Way for the first hour of our hike and much to our surprise we only encountered one hiker who was heading to the Madison hut for the evening. Not wanting to tempt fate by encountering any more hikers we quickly took a left onto the Brookside tail, which connected to the Watson path and would eventually ascended Mt Madison rather than taking Valley Way thereby saving us the trouble of covering the distance from the hut to the summit twice.
The Brookside trail was appropriately named for it followed a brook as it ascended the ridge heading to Mt Madison. The gentle sound of the water flowing over the rocks made the hike especially delightful as the weather was nice and there wasn't a soul in sight except for us. We settled into a comfortable pace and stopped periodically to eat, drink, and rest for we knew this was going to be a long day and we needed to reserve as much strength as possible for the latter potions of the hike.
The RMC must have been busy this year for all the signs marking the trails looked new. At one point we were not certain which way the trail went until we saw a sign across the brook that said "path." Once on the Watson Path, the trail began to ascend more steeply as it meandered towards tree line. A few sections were steep and required a little scrambling, but nothing like once you emerged above tree line and had to scramble up and over the pile of rocks that makeup the summit. The only other people we encountered during our ascent up Madison were several French Canadians who grunted some semblance of a salutation as they passed us heading down Watson Path. For the rest of the morning before we emerged above tree line we had the path to ourselves.
Once beyond tree line the hiking gods decided to toy with us by giving us several false summits to add a little excitement to our otherwise tranquil and thoroughly enjoyable hike. Each time we were about to crest what we thought had to be the summit we were greeted with yet another "false summit" just over the horizon. After being treated to three false summits in just under an hour, we eventually reached the true summit and were met with an absolutely breathtaking view of Mt Washington and the various gulfs that make up the range below.
I had never seen Mt Washington so beautifully presented to us in all its glory without a cloud to mar its majesty. The auto road and the cog railway were clearly visible in the distance as caravans of cars were headed to the summit to enjoy the views that this exceptionally clear day had to offer. The Madison summit was relatively crowd free with only ten people moving around hoping to get just the right picture. Off to the northeast I could see some smoke coming from what I thought was the Osgood campsite, but later realized it was too far up on the ridge to be the camp. It didn't dawn on me that this was an actual forest fire until the next day when I read about it in the newspaper. It never seemed out of control, just a steady stream of smoke that one would associate with a campfire.
After a twenty-minute rest with the usual assortments of photos being taken, we headed towards the Madison hut. You don't actually see the hut until you are almost on top of it for it is located in a saddle between Mt Madison and Mt Adams. We stopped in for a few minutes to fill up our water bottles, go to the bathroom, and sample some of their home cooking for a nominal fee. The hut didn't look all that crowded, yet there were a number of people milling about outside either finishing a hike or just getting ready for a hike. As we headed for Adams, we inadvertently set out in the wrong direction until we realized just where the Mt Adams trail began. In our defense however, they rerouted the trail and it wasn't well marked.
It took about 20 minutes for me to get back my hiking legs after our rest at the hut. The trail to the summit was steep and we had to watch our footing so as not to twist an ankle as we climbed from pile to pile. The last section just before the summit was the steepest. Nevertheless, by this time I had once again recaptured my hiking legs and quickly scurried up the last section. The summit for Mt Adams is not as large as Mt Madison so it took us a few minutes to find a spot to sit and take some photos. Although Mt Adams is closer to Mt Washington, my wife and I felt that the view from Mt Madison was better. Our rationale was that Mt Madison gives you a panoramic view, were as Mt Adams gives you an up close and personal view. I'm sure others will disagree. Either way, both summits offer you a spectacular view of the Northern Presidentials.
By this time, it was 2:00pm and we needed to leave shortly if we wanted to reach our car at a reasonable hour. I half joked that we should take the King Ravine Trail back to the car, but was given a look by my wife that could not be misconstrued as anything but a NO WAY! We encountered a number of groups as we descended Mt Adams heading to the Airline trail and meet several interesting characters. Two young lads were heading to Maine having come from Georgia. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they were no longer on the Appalachian Trail and just assumed that they would eventually figure it out when they stopped at the hut. My favorite encounter however was the male and female team who passed us going down Airline. He was carrying a full pack with all their provisions while she sashayed behind him carried nothing. "She's not carrying much, is she" my wife said with a slight tone of displeasure since my wife was carrying all her own supplies. "As far as he is concerned" I chimed in with a mischievous smirk "she is carrying the most important items of all, namely her perky breasts." 'You noticed that did you?" my wife said with a playful tone of admonishment. In my defense however, if all you are going to wear is a sports bra while hiking, people (males) are going to look. It's genetic!!
Several other groups passed us as we slowly descended Airline heading towards our car and the end of a long day. Most of these groups only did Madison or Adams so they were still able to hike with a steady gait while we were slowly exhausting what energy reserves we had left. I don't mean to minimize their achievements by suggesting that only hiking up Madison or Adams was somehow less of a challenge. It's just that I'm 47 and my wife is 44, so for us to have hiked the loop and still been able to walk that late in the day gave us a real sense of accomplishment. Besides, most of the groups that passed us were in their twenties and thirties and oblivious to the ravages of age. I even commented to one husband and wife team we chatted with during one of our breaks that this loop looked great on paper, but in reality took more stamina than we thought. I'm just glad we decided to do the hike this particular weekend, for we were planning to do the loop two days before our scheduled trip to the Bonds in the Pemi wilderness. Two days later when my thighs were still sore I realized just how unrealistic doing these two hikes in such close proximity would have been.
We continued our slow but methodical pace towards our car and salvation. We were running low on water having drunk nearly ten quarts since 8:20am when we started this Bataan death march. We were both beginning to long for our car and eventually our soft beds as we discussed what to make for dinner that night. We were too tired to go out to eat, so we decided to just throw some dead piece of meat on the grill and be done with it. At 6:00pm we emerge from the forest and collapsed in our car before heading back to the house.
The next morning we hobbled around the house licking our wounds before heading back to Connecticut. Besides the sore thighs we both had a bad case of sunburned even though we used an ample amount of sunscreen. In retrospect, as tired as we were after the hike, we have to say that it was by far one of the most awesome hikes we have done in a while. From what we hear, the Bonds are going to be just as spectacular. We cannot wait!!
Special equipment: Trekking poles
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy