Not Quite Winter on Mt. Madison

Hike Summary

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Distance: 8.4 miles
  • Elevation: 5,367′
  • Elevation Gain / Loss: 4,100′
  • Hike Type: Lollipop
  • View: Excellent.

Map:

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View full map on Caltopo.

Trip Report

This weekend the MIT Outing Club (MITOC) held its annual winter retreat at one of two cabins in and around the White Mountains. The day was spent training new leaders on how the club operates its trips including logistics, required gear, and general trip planning advice. Fiona, Evan, Christina, and I decided the weather was perfect to head up into the Northern Presidential Range to get some early-season practice on some of the larger mountains The Whites have to offer. After going over many different trip options, we opted to start the day with an easier plan on doing Mt. Madison, and extend the trip to Mt. Adams if we found ourselves with extra time. The weather proved to be perfect and we spent a relaxing day hiking, enjoying the summit, and eventually heading back to civilization. Full trip report below.

We arrived at the trailhead at almost exactly 8:00am after a quick detour to Gorham for some last minute donuts and a heated bathroom. We passed the parking lot on the way there and would have managed to be the first car of the day, but had to settle for donuts and the honor of being the third group to start up the mountain on Sunday. The parking lot temperature matched the expected summit high of 20ºF so we wasted no time getting our packs on and getting moving to generate a bit of heat.

The Valley Way Trail is a relatively easy trail for the White Mountains and not much changes in the Winter. The lower sections of the trail were mostly ice without much snow on them to add traction. We bare-booted until we found a minimum amount of reliable snow or ice cover and decided to put on spikes for convenience. This early in the season the trail would still have been passable without the aid of extra traction, but since we were carrying it anyway we decided we might as well use them. I switched from true Microspikes to Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras two years ago after breaking three pairs of Microspikes in a single season. So far the Hillsounds have held up fantastic and I recommend them highly.

We continued up Valley Way until we reached the intersection with the Wastson Path. We had originally planned to continue up Valley Way all the way to Madison Hut, but since the day was easy and the weather was fantastic, we made a last minute decision to head up Watson instead. I had previously descended Watson during the summer months and found it to be not much harder than Valley Way, although it is steeper for much of its length.

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Frozen waterfall and pond on the way of Watson Path.

We made our way up the Watson Path eventually entering snow-crusted trees at 4200′ before finally breaking treeline to find the day clear and calm. At this point we were greeted with fantastic views of John Quincy Adams and Mt. Adams proper. We opted to remove traction as there was less snow covering the rocks above treeline than there had been below treeline. We made our way carefully over the sometimes loose rocks as we continued to ascend Madison. The day was so nice that we didn’t worry much about time, often stopping to enjoy the view or try to get a nice picture.

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The trail seemed to go on longer than expected, but eventually we met up with The Pink Link trail which cuts from Watson over to Madison Hut. From here it was just a short climb to finish our ascent to the summit of Madison. We found one other person on the summit, which was surprising given how calm the winds were that day. I would estimate the winds were no stronger than 5mph at their worst, with long periods of being completely still. We dropped our packs and took the first round of summit photos as Adams moved in and out of the clouds.

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Taking in the view of Mt. Adams.

After a hearty snack to re-fuel us we explored the summit for a short time, continuing to enjoy the nice weather. We took another round of summit photos as Adams came fully out of the clouds, and generally just relaxed. I have had so few days where one could truly relax on the summit as long as you want. I believe we spent over an hour there, which is nearly unheard of in December.

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After our final photos we began the descent to Madison Hut which has fantastic views of John Quincy Adams, Mt. Adams, and the Hut itself. The Hut has been boarded up long ago, but I took a few minutes to find the emergency shelter underneath the hut, incase it ever proves necessary to know. The valley way trail here was covered in thick ice, and we had some fun sliding the few feet down it.

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We began our descent back to the trailhead without any traction, but as the way grew icier some of us decided it was time to put spikes back on. We made good time down the mountain without any notable events, reaching the cars just as the sun was setting. Overall this was an absolutely incredible day to be above treeline in the Presidential Range.

Three Slides to Owl’s Head

Hike Summary

  • Difficulty: Extreme
  • Distance: ~17 miles
  • Elevation: 5,089′ (Mt Lincoln), 4,025′ (Owl’s Head)
  • Elevation Gain / Loss: +5,000′, -5700′
  • Hike Type: Thru
  • View: Excellent, Rare.

Map:

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View of the Route (minus hike out to Lincoln Woods). View full route on Caltopo.

Trip Report:

Sunday I finally got a chance to try a trip that I’ve been dreaming about and planning for a little over a year. After doing Franconia Ridge near countless times, I decided to link up a few different trip reports I’ve found to make a novel path to Owl’s Head. The trip involves going up an off-trail slide to Franconia Ridge, down the off-trail Lincoln Slide into the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and finally up the Owl’s Head Slide to the summit. The way is no shorter than going in and out through Lincoln Woods, but does add an incredible amount of adventure. Katherine, Fiona, and I led this hike as part of MITOC’s October Circus.

We started up the Falling Waters Trail just before 6:00am on Sunday, aiming to reach the turn-off for Dry Brook Ravine at Sunrise. The drainage didn’t look too difficult from the previous trip reports we found, but we decided that trying to pick our way through the rocks and blowdowns would be no fun in the dark. We made good time up the easy first part of the trail, reaching the turn-off in under an hour. We had excellent weather for the hike, with no rain for the previous week. We made good time up the drainage, having to work our way over many downed trees, but without much worry of getting our feet wet. We encountered many small falls, and it was great to think about how few people have experienced this part of The Whites.

We continued up the drainage, eventually finding a spot that appeared to be recently devastated. The exposed rocks and roots were much fresher than the other parts of the drainage, with large boulders and beautiful exposed rock. Here we also encountered our first good views of the day.

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Blox standing at the base of what appeared to be a relatively recent slide.
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Sunrise on North Kinsman, looking down Dry Brook Ravine.

After climbing to the top of the damage, we initially thought that we were about to begin the true bushwhacking portion of the trip. After pushing through only 20 or 30 feet of forest we found that the drainage actually continued slightly left of where we had climbed up the earthen mound. It always pays to spend an extra minute looking before diving into the forest! Eventually we came to a point in the drainage where we faced a larger-than-average waterfall in front of us with loose and slippery rocks galore. Right at the same location a small slide met the drainage of the left, which we (in hindsight) miss-took for the beginning of the Gargoyle Slide. After attempting to climb the waterfall and deciding it was more difficult than we wanted, we instead climbed up the slide assuming we were on our way to the main gargoyle slide.

This small slide proved to be one of the more dangerous sections of the day despite its length. The rocks were eager to come loose, and it was short and narrow enough to make dodging and incoming rocks difficult. To mitigate the risk we ended up climbing the slide one-by-one. We soon found ourselves at the top, but in thick forest around 4000′, which made traveling slow. In hindsight (and GPS tracks), it appears we left the drainage too early. Instead it would have been better to continue up the drainage which appears to naturally come to the base of the slide with no real bushwhacking required.

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Taking a break after finally reaching the base of the slide.

The base of the Slide is one of the most difficult sections with large amounts of a surprisingly slick black moss growing on much of the rock. The slide is very steep and even after 7 days of no rain was quite wet in places. It should be avoided at all costs when wet. After a while the slabs opened up and provided many hand and foot holds, with only a few sections that really required any aid. The Gargoyle’s were also in view from the very bottom of the slide, and always appeared to be just out of reach.

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Looking up the slide to The Gargoyles.

The going began to get steeper and more committed as we moved up the slide, with sections starting to appear that I would classify as difficult Class 2 or even easy Class 3.

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Blox navigating one of the wetter parts of the slide.

After more scrambling we finally made it up to the Scree Field portion of the slide, which only really exists in the last few hundred feet. The rocks here were loose but not treacherous, and with some careful footing we didn’t dislodge any rocks of notable size.

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Entering the Scree Field at the top of the slide.
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Finally getting close to The Pillar.

The last challenge of the slide was of course at the very top. The ridge trail is guarded by a short section of real climbing. After making our way up nearly 1000′ of wet slab, this short section proved easy and quite fun!

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Fiona making the last few moves to gain the Franconia Ridge Trail.

In total, the Gargoyle Slide took us almost exactly 4 hours, and we topped out on Franconia Ridge just before 10:00am. If I were to do it again, I would stay in the drainage longer which would cut this time significantly. We spent an unknown long amount of time trying to determine if we had missed the slide or not.

After a quick all-safe text and selfie to close out the first portion of our adventure, we made our way to the summit of Lincoln for an early Lunch and a view of Lincoln Slide, the second half of our journey. We were also treated to our first view of Owl’s Head, our eventual destination for the day.

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First view of Owl’s Head
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Lincoln Slide seen from Mt. Lincoln.

The Lincoln Slide is a large V-Shaped slide that sits on the eastern side of the ridge between Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. The slide is easiest to access from the summit of Mt. Truman, sometimes also referred to as “Unnamed peak between Lincoln and Lafayette”. It is the highest point between the two and there is a worn herd-path that leads away from the summit cairn and can be followed to gain access to the slide with minimal trampling of alpine vegetation. The Lincoln Slide can be followed down to nearly 3800′ in the true slide, with a small stream and drainage that continues all the way to the Lincoln Brook which flows next to the Owl’s Head Path.

We entered the slide and found it to be just as the trip reports said: full of sand and loose rocks the size of a fist to fridge. We zig-zagged on the upper portion of the slide to prevent knocking any rocks down on each other. Although the rocks were very loose we never had a problem with dislodging them. We made good time down the slide, reaching the bottom section where it became a stream in approximately an hour.

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The very top of the slide where the herd path from Mt. Truman enters. Owl’s Head in the distance.
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Carefully picking our way down the top of the slide.
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Katherine’s signature pose.
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Blox showing the scale of the rocks nearing the base of the slide.
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Kathy stealing Katherine’s move while she isn’t looking.

As we reached the base of the slide, we got what might have been our biggest surprise of the day. There was actually someone camping at the very base of the slide, where the first trickles of water came out of the ground. The tent was cleverly placed behind a large rock which I suppose would provide some shelter in the event of an small and unexpected rockslide. You definitely couldn’t get me to camp there!

At this point the slide began to level off and the rocks took on a much older and worn quality. There were bright shades of blue hiding in the rock and the slide became much more of a stream than a rockslide. With the advice of the hiker camping at the base of the slide, we made our way into the brush to the left of the river once the drainage narrowed to the point of making forward progress difficult without getting our feet wet. We entered the brush slightly too high and could have progressed further down waiting for it to thin further. Once the trees thinned it was very easy to maneuver and we made it from the base of the slide to the Owl’s Head Path in an hour. After a 15-minute break where we joined the Owl’s Head Path we started off down the trail looking for the Owl’s Head Slide.

The slide isn’t an official trail it is well worn but I’ve heard the markers at it’s start are sometimes taken apart by Forest Rangers. The cairns we saw at the base were well established, and looked very similar to the ones I saw last year.

As we made our way up the slide to the summit of Owl’s Head, we were treated with a surprisingly wonderful view of Franconia Ridge. The view isn’t usually considered a great view for The Whites, but today it proved to have special value. We all stopped on the slide to admire how far we had come, with The Gargoyle’s visible on the southern portion of the ridge and Lincoln Slide on the northern side.

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We hiked that! Gargoyles on the left, Lincoln Slide and drainage on the right.

We made our way to the summit of Owl’s Head, marking off a repeat for Katherine and I and number 36 for Fiona. Blox and Katherine aren’t exactly tracking their 4000 footers, but after this hike they should probably start!

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MITOC group photo on Owl’s Head summit. Dinky summit Cairn in the background.

With Halloween so close we decided to carry animal masks up to the summit. Two animals that rarely meet in the wild got into quite the tussle.

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Fight, Fight, Fight!

With the summit behind us all that remained was an 8-mile slog back out to the Lincoln Woods trailhead. We had thought going up and over Franconia Ridge might be technically the shorter milage way to do Owl’s Head, but it turns out it was exactly the same 8 miles as it takes to get there from Lincoln Woods. It is much more interesting though, and everyone agreed this hike was one of the best we’ve done yet. After a 3 hour slog we made it back to Lincoln Woods at 7:30pm, just under 13.5 hours after we started. All-in-all we managed to see the Milky Way Twice, Sunrise, Sunset, and we explore parts of The Whites seen by many but experienced by few. This trip won’t soon be forgotten.

Notes and Do It Yourself:

  • 6:00am – Start Hike
  • 7:00am – Turn off into Dry Brook Ravine
  • 9:00am – Base of First Slide
  • 10:15am – Franconia Ridge
  • 11:00am – Top of Lincoln Slide
  • 12:00pm – Base of Lincoln Slide, top of Drainage
  • 1:30pm – Owl’s Head Path
  • 2:15pm – Base of Owl’s Head Slide
  • 3:30pm – Summit Owl’s Head
  • 4:30pm – Base of Owl’s Head Slide
  • 7:30pm – Parking Lot

The small slide that we encountered on the way up to Franconia Ridge starts at ~3800′ where the drainage suddenly hits a cascade. Stay in the drainage here, the real slide starts at ~4100′, saving you 300′ of bushwhacking.

The Gargoyle Slide is very steep and even after 7 days of no rain was quite wet in places. It should be avoided at all costs when wet.

The drainage of Lincoln Slide is narrower and harder to stay dry that the other parts of the trip. We moved out of the drainage and into the woods to the north at approximately 3700′, but found them to be very dense. It would be easier to stay in the drainage until 3400′ – 3500′ and move into the woods then.

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Tripyramid Slides Loop

Hike Summary

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Livermore S Trailhead
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation: 4,180′ (North Tripyramid), 4,140′ (Middle Tripyramid)
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.
  • Hike Type: Out and Back / Lollipop
  • View: Good on Slides, Poor (North Tripyramid), Poor (Middle Tripyramid)

Map:

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Tripyramid slides route with rain detour shown. Source: Caltopo

Trip Report:

This weekend Fiona and I decided to lead our first MITOC hike together and take a group up the notoriously difficult Tripyramid Slides. The North slide is the more challenging of the two with the bottom half comprised mostly of granite slabs that can be extremely slippery when wet. We found this out the hard way as it had rained the day before, leading us to a false sense of security on the cloudy but otherwise dry morning. While I sometimes feel that the difficulty of trails is overstated in the guidebook, this one is not to be underestimated. The slide is quite committing, and quickly makes a retreat to the bottom an unfavorable option with hundreds of feet left for the summit. Below details the full trip from start to finish.

We left Boston around 6:30am and arrived in the parking lot by 9:00am with a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts to go over logistics and get delicious trail snacks. We were hiking by 9:15am along the well maintained dirt road that comprises Livermore Trail for the first few miles of the hike. We made good time enjoying the fall foliage and easy warm-up before the real climbing started.

We reached the turnoff for the North Slide Trail and made a decision as to whether or not it was dry enough to attempt the slide. With the dry leaves around us and the sun starting to poke through the clouds, we opted to attempt the slide figuring we could always turn around if it proved too slippery.

After 10-15 minutes of gradual but steady elevation gain we reached the base of the slide, marked by the sudden increase in slope and exposed rock. The rock here was covered in moss and slippery from the leaves and rain the previous day, but was still passable. There was a worn herd path / trail to the left of the slide, and it was difficult to tell which of the two was the “official” trail without any noticeable blazes or Cairns. We continued up the slide sticking to the rock as much as possible to minimize any additional wear on the herd path. Only a few sections of the slide proved to be too treacherous to force us off into the woods.

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Finding the best way through the slabs.

A few hundred feet higher, the slide opened up allowing us easier and obvious travel along the granite slabs. They still proved to be quite slick and moss-covered in places, but the entire team was moving quickly and efficiently so we opted to continue up the slide. It was approximately here that we began to feel committed to the slide, figuring that retreating down the granite slabs to the base would be treacherous.

Eventually we reached a sort of “book” in the rock with granite slabs on either side and no herd path in the woods. A wider section of slide existed to the right and for a moment we were unsure if we had stayed off the trail to the left. We noticed a blaze right in the middle of the book, clearly marking the way forward. The book proved to be the most interesting and challenging part of the hike, requiring a chimney-esk butt-shuffle to conquer.

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Shuffling up The Book. Photo credit Fiona Imami.

The book also marked the end of the granite slabs, but not nearly the end of the slide. After a quick snack we found ourselves at the base of the large scree field that makes up the top of the North Slide. Scree is the small boulders and rocks left behind after a rockslide or glacier comes through an area.

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Entering the scree field in the fog.

The scree proved to be much easier to traverse than the slabs, and even maintaining a solid 10-15′ between each hiker (to limit danger from loosed rocks) we made good time to the top of the slide. A large cairn marked where it was time re-enter the trees and end our slide adventure. Minutes later we found ourselves on the summit of North Tripyramid, a first time visit for most of our group!

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North Tripyramid Summit!

The slog from North Tripyramid to Middle and South Tripyramid proved uneventful, with no notable views or happenings. We decided to push past the Middle and Tyipyramid summits for lunch and instead stopped at the top of the South Slide. We had great views of the surrounding mountains and took turns trying to use the compass to name them.

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Enjoying the view from the top of the South Slide. Photo credit Fiona Imami.

Going down the South Slide was much easier than the North Slide, and we made good time down the slide and back to the main trail. After a quick 2.2 mile slog we were back in the cars and headed to Boston.

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