Member Trip report
Mt. Clay Hike
Trip Report/Photos from Gandalf
The summer is slipping by far too quickly, as usual. With a good weather forecast, we headed above treeline and climbed Mount Washington’s northern shoulder, a peak named Mount Clay (5531′). Clay forms the western headwall of the Great Gulf, the deep horseshoe valley separating Mount Washington from Mounts Jefferson, Adams, and Madison in the North Presidentials.
Jon and I left the house at 8AM and made our way. I feel the need to mention the scenery as we drove to the trail, because it is close to peak foliage and is one of the nicest trips you can take in New Hampshire. We traveled up I-93 through Franconia Notch to NH 302 through Twin Mountain and then Bretton Woods. The scenery is enough to make a 90 year old man who's allergic to Bran mess in his Depends, it's that gorgeous! And of particular note is the Mt. Washington Hotel, which is situated just off 302 in Bretton Woods. It truly is a spectacular hotel, and if you've never stopped in to take a look, you should really do so. Their website has some great photos in their Photo Album section.
To get to the trailhead, you need to take Base Rd. from Bretton Woods to the Jefferson Notch Road, which happens to be the highest State maintained road in NH. The road is pretty cool, but isn't for the weak of bladder. We got to the trail at about 9:00.
The day started out being overcast and temps were around 60 degrees.
As the White Mountain Guide professes, the beginning of the trail is a little wet, with log bridges providing some relief from the H2O. After about 100 yards the grade began, slowly at first and steepens entering into a beautiful boreal forest. I was well aware that the Caps Ridge Trail is about 2.5 miles long with about 2,700 foot elevation gain (for the math impaired, that's about 49 feet of elevation gain for every 100 feet walked, or approximately a 42 degree incline). But don't be deceived, the grade increases and eventually gets to the point where you need to do some fairly difficult ledge scrambling, but more on that later.
After 15 minutes of walking through wooded trail, the first view presented itself on a southerly whitish granite outcropping just shy of the junction of the Link Trail. The book says this is at one mile. The potholes there are an interesting sight, and with a little imagination, one even looks like a prehistoric foot print. If you look up at the trail from here, you can see the Caps for which the trail is named. Looking south, you can see some amazing ridges. The views were great and included Bretton Woods valley, Southern Presidentials, Willey Range and Twin Range.
It was a busy day on Caps Ridge with lots of people. As we climbed higher, the clouds dispersed and we were now hiking on a sunny day. Not long after leaving the outcropping, the trail breaks the tree line and turns mostly to granite rock-hopping. It's not too bad, but makes a point about having sturdy boots. At about 1½ miles the trail gets very steep and we arrived at the first Cap. From here the views are spectacular and we enjoyed a kaleidoscope of changing mountain views. Looking back you can see the whitish granite outcropping with the pot holes earlier on the trail. The views were expanding the higher we climbed.
We took a few snapshots and moved on to the next cap. The trail is broken and rocky, making footing tough, but only if you're a real klutz and don't look where you're going. Keep your eyes open, and you should be able to follow the blazes and make your way slowly up.
Much like the first cap, there are some great views from the second cap. There was a refreshing breeze at this point and we spotted the summit. Not long after that, we reached the highest cap.
About 0.2 mile further along the trail, the Cornice Trail enters. This leads to Mt. Clay to the southeast, our destination for today. We took the Cornice Trail that climbs upward to Gulfside Trail, but at a moderate grade.
We took Gulfside Trail and enjoyed the alpine vegetation that spreads across a broad plateau. It was very wind so Jon and I put on a wind shell. There are acres of grass, rock, blueberry bushes turning to fiery red and mountain cranberry. This is definitely a worthy section to explore!
We descended to Sphinx Col. The White Mountain Guide mentions a view of the Sphinx, a hike that GO member Jim Manhart recently led. We looked for it. It may have been right in front of us, but we really could not make it out. I guess it must take some imagination…LOL.
Soon after Sphinx Col, Mt. Clay Loop diverged left which we took the summit. Mount Clay has two summits, both on the eastern side of the Clay Loop Trail. No one really knows which one is the higher of the two, so it’s customary to climb both! The actual climb up the tops themselves is a just minor scramble and we savored it, finding a sheltered spot from the wind. We looked deep into the Great Gulf and Spaulding Lake which is situated at the eastern base of Clay, about 1000 feet below the summits.
We retraced our steps and returned back to the truck just before it started to rain.
Brilliant hike. If the weather cooperates, Mount Clay is an excellent destination and well worth it for a fine autumn day above treeline!
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