Trip report

Mt. Jefferson via Castle Ravine

Hiking/Walk DATE: 07/06/2019 - 07/06/2019

Trip/Event Location: Gorham, NH

Trip Leader(s): Gandalf

Max # People: 15

Trip Guiding / Event Fee: No, I will not be asking participants for money

Difficulty Level: Very Strenuous

Join us for a hike that includes it all. We will be hiking up to Mt Jefferson (5,712 feet) on the less traveled Castle Ravine trail! Time permitting when we return back to the Mad River Lodge, we can

Driving directions to the location and spot to meet at:

The trailhead is at Bowman on US 2, 3.0 miles west of the Appalachia parking area and 4.2 miles east of the junction of US 2 and NH 115. We'll be driving a blue Toyota truck. 

Trip Report/Photos
Featured Photo

Our initial plan was to ascend via Castle Ravine but given the weather forecast of thunderstorms, our pace would be faster using the Castle Trail. The Castle Ravine has at least 16 water crossings that would have slowed us down. As expected, the summit was socked in the clouds when we arrived.

10 miles round trip
8-9 hours
Difficulty: Pack the Ibuprofen and Tylenol

Mt. Washington may get the glory, but the Mt. Jefferson Castle Trail has more than its fair share of guts. With 4,200 feet of elevation gain over 5.0 miles, and a tip-top height of 5,716 feet, the Castle Trail packs a wallop as challenging as anything in the New Hampshire Presidential Range has to offer!

Is this a “technical” hike? The word ‘technical’ conjuring images in my mind’s eye of climbing ropes and harnesses. What exactly is a technical hike, anyway? 

Perhaps it’s a hike requiring hands as much as feet. In this case there are three steep rock embankments where all four appendages are needed, as well as numerous little pull-ups. Or maybe it’s a trail where careful stepping is warranted. In both cases, under that definition, the Castle Trail is technical. The top portion above the castellated ridge is a full-on rock scramble.  Below treeline, rocks and exposed roots are endlessly entwined. Unlike other White Mountain trails where rocks have been carefully rearranged into happy staircases, the Randolph Mountain Club has taken great care to leave the trail composition in its natural state. In other words, the Castle Trail is difficult for difficulty’s sake. And deservedly so.

For a difficult, or “technical” hike, the Castle Trail provides plenty of warm up for the legs. The lone obstacle is the Israel River crossing and its choose-your-own-adventure selection of rock hops. Nothing stands out as the obvious route - well, that was our success rate...until our return...more of that later.

The first 1.3 miles is an easy stroll through the woods with little trail debris or elevation gain. During this stretch, we enjoyed a number of wildflowers including Devil’s Paintbrush and Wood Sorrel.  

What this warm-up stretch of trail really means is that the 4,000-plus feet of elevation gain occurs primarily over 3.5 miles. Fun. No, really, it is!!!

The climb begins after the Israel Ridge Path splits off and the Castle Trail ascends Mt. Bowman. From here the next 1.2 miles of trail transforms into a motley collection of rocks and roots delivering consistent elevation gain. There’s a brief reprieve where the trail levels off on the wooded ridge connecting Mt. Bowman to the Castellated Ridge. The ascent returns gradually before becoming steep again for a short stint prior to the intersection with The Link.

A good rule of thumb on the Castle Trail is that intersections also mark points of increased difficulty, and The Link junction is no exception. The Link enters stage right (and left) at a little above 4,000 feet with 1,700 left to gain over the final mile and a half. So, yeah, it gets steep. Immediately. The Link crossover is also “only” .3 of mile before the first Castle. The parenthesis around “only” are to denote sarcasm. This stretch is loaded with three steep rock embankments and the White Mountain National Forest sign informing hikers they’ll die in bad weather.

After emerging from the treeline onto an open ridge, we also entered the clouds with the occasional rumble of thunder in the background. The final of these rock embankments ascends the first Castle. There are a few rocky up and downs in the scruff between the Castles before the trail emerges onto the meat of Mt. Jefferson and the seemingly endless rock scramble. Later than sooner the trail reaches the Cornice crossing where a marker alleges that it’s a half mile to the Jefferson summit. This last segment offers more of the same in the rock scramble department, often following cairns white-capped with quartz.

Once onto the Jefferson summit, we were the only ones there. We were white-washed in clouds. A few minutes later, a group arrived. We noticed one of the guys starting at his phone. He shared with us that Doppler radar had a short band of thunderstorms north of us and heading down our way. We quickly wrapped up lunch and made our descent. We really did not want to encounter a lightning storm above treeline!

To our surprise and pleasure, the clouds dispersed on our descent providing us sunshine and extended views. We could see the spiny Castles in the sun. From the Castles, we enjoyed views of Mt. Adams and Castle Ravine. We crossed the intersection of The Link and once again enjoyed the flat section in the mossy forest before beginning our steep descent.

The skies then began to darken. The breeze picked up. The rumbling in the distance became louder. It got so dark we almost needed flashlights to pull out our rain gear. Then the skies opened up as if buckets of water were pouring over us. Thankfully we were under the tree canopy. It was slippery with the wet roots and rocks. A few of us slipped. Once the trail began to flatten, our umbrellas popped open. Ahhh! Much better!!!

The Israel River had swollen once we reached it due to the heavy rain. The stepping stones we used to cross at the start were submerged in water. Our feet were already soaked. We just plopped our feet right into the river and crossed. We did not have far to go before reaching our vehicles.  

Everyone returned back to the Mad River Lodge. Dave B. took a shower and then headed home. Rob and Dave joined Jon and I for dinner. Oh…and Soleil…Rob’s puppy…how could I forget her!!! While Jon was cooking up another of his delicious meals, the rest of chatted about upcoming vacations and adventures. As you can tell from the pictures we had a Caprice Salad, grilled Eggplant with Basil, and marinated pork ribs. Yummy!!!

Report by Mike Boisvert
Pictures by Jon Normand and Mike Boisvert                                                             


What Members Are Saying About This Trip/Event

  • The Castle Trail is unique - no crowds, mystical and enchanting - too hard for most & a gem to experience. A great day in the mountains with a fantastic group! - JDNnh
  • It is always a brilliant adventure in the mountans and made more fun with these men who tackle the trails with joy and appreciation for our natural surroundings - Cheers all around gents!! - Robert.L

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