Member Trip report
Mounts Madison and Adams Winter Hike
Trip Report/Photos from Gandalf
On Saturday I got up extra early and headed to Appalachia for a 7:00 AM start to hike up two of the most magnificent peaks that the White Mountains has to offer, Mount Madison and Adams! Adams [5774 feet] is second and Madison  is fifth on the New Hampshire list of tallest mountains.
In the winter these are very pesky mountains to hike because of brutally cold temperatures, low visibility, and damaging winds guarding the peaks more often than not. Madison and Adams’ proximity to the ridge with the adjoining Presidential Range summits of Jefferson, Washington, and Monroe, make them as challenging as any White Mountain 4,000 footers!
How easy was today’s hike? Temperatures were in the low 30’s, winds around 15 mph, overcast but a high cloud ceiling, and no need for snowshoes. Conditions like these in the winter I put in the category of ‘stealing a peak.’ Apparently everyone got the memo as I saw over 50 hikers summiting either Madison and/or Adams! At Madison Hut, there were so many people it felt like a hiker’s convention!
The hike I laid out was pretty straightforward. Given that I was hiking solo, I opted for the quickest route up and down. That meant starting/finishing at the Appalachia trailhead on Route 2 outside of Gorham, and taking the Valley Way Trail.
The parking lot was almost full when I arrived! Lots of hikers had already left while others were gearing up to leave. I set off from Appalachia on the Valley Way Trail. I used MicroSpikes the entire day. The temperature in the valley was 22 degrees. I started at 7:15 AM after driving from my house in Waterville Valley.
Even though the White Mountains are known for difficult weather, I wasn’t mountaineering. The well-known mountaineer and writer, David Roberts, cut his teeth in the Whites, but he refers to these mountains as “walk ups.” Roberts’ preference for real climbing is done with crampons, ice axes, and ropes and is done in Alaska on vertical ice/rock faces. I was content with ‘my walk’ for today…LOL.
I took my first break at the junction of Randolph Path and continued to climb at a comfortable grade high above Snyder Brook, crossing several small brooks. I’m not a fast hiker and with the amount of people hiking on the trails today, a few passed me by. Nonetheless, I felt I making good progress. After the junction of Watson Path, there was more snow on the trail so I was sinking a bit.
When I reached Madison Hut, there was only one other person besides me. Where did everybody go? At the hut, I put on my wool had and down parka, ate some food, and drank some water before setting out for the top of Madison.
As I started climbing a group of eight were coming down with their 3 dogs. The hiker taking a break with me at the hut had left a few minutes before me. I caught up to the hiker and passed him resulting with me having Mount Madison all to myself! Solitude is one of the joys of being in the White Mountains in winter. I found the trail quite icy in spots wishing I had something beefier than MicroSpikes such as Hillsounds or crampons. I took my time and was careful with my footing. I reached the top at 11:00 AM.
I spent a few minutes on top soaking in the fantastic views! There is no worrying about work when I’m out hiking. That is one of the main reasons why I love forays into the mountains. I could see a steady line of hikers ascending Mt. Adams. So that’s where everybody went!
I made my way back to the hut. This time, there were about a dozen or more hikers taking a break. I ate half my sandwich, ate half my soup, and took stock of how I was feeling. It was 11:30 AM. I saw more people heading up to Mt. Adams. I felt good and ready to give Adams a shot!
I climbed easily through a frozen landscape on the Gulfside Trail and starting to climb rock steps now covered with snow/ice. During this climb I looked back and there was an imposing view of Mt. Madison’s massive pyramid that I had just climbed! On the steps I ran into Beth Sullivan, who I know from my days with Chiltern Mountain Club. I have not seen Beth in ten years…possibly more. She told me her partner Kate was working so she decided to solo up to Adams using Air Line. She felt Air Line was very icy and she could have used crampons. It was awesome to see one of my old friends whom I’m not heard from in quite some time, still hiking. And winter soloing no less!
I took a left onto the upper part of Air Line. There were hikers ahead of me, I could make out the summit of Adams and the cairns could easily be followed. I could make out the Durand Ridge that the lower Air Line follows and King’s Ravine below. There was a breeze but that’s to be expected climbing this mountain. It became a relentless and steep climb but I kept at it and made good progress.
At 12:30 PM I reached the summit of Mt. Adams. What a terrific view of Mt. Washington, Jefferson and the valley below from here! There were about a dozen people on the summit. I went behind some large boulders for a wind block where I ate the rest of my sandwich and soup.
Once below treeline, I had a pleasant walk back to my truck. I finished my 10.4 mile hike with 5,050 elevation gain in seven hours and 45 minutes. Phenomenal day in the Presis! How often do you get temps in the 30’s, almost no wind, and be able to hike in just spikes car-to-car?
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