Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Balmy December Day on Mount Madison

Above normal temps and clear skies had me changing my hiking plans to something above treeline. Mount Madison (5,367') seemed like the right choice and my hiking route would take me up Valley Way to Madison Spring Hut then onto the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mount Madison. My return trip would take me down the same trails. I would like to have done Mount Adams but yard work on Saturday that included shoveling gravel had me a little worn down so it would only be one summit today.

 Mount Madison on the way to Appalachia trailhead


It was a cold start to the morning with fog and freezing temps creating an abnormally heavy frost on everything. I left the fog behind as I drove over Gorham Hill on Route 2. Mount Madison was in the clear and not a cloud could be seen anywhere. There was plenty of space available when I arrived at the Appalachia parking lot. I had a couple of thin layers and a fleece to start. Even though it felt cold I was counting on a quick pace to warm me up a bit. I was also going to be breaking in new hiking boots that arrived last week to replace my old, worn out three-season boots.

 Snow hanging heavy

 Easy-over blowdown

 Lone icicle

There was no snow to start but in less than a mile a coating of snow was on the ground. Except for a few wet spots there was snow on the trail all the way to Madison Spring Hut. I didn't use the microspikes on the way up and didn't have much of a problem. On the way down would be a different story and I was thinking I'd be putting them on for the descent.

 Valley Way tentsite trail was unbroken

 First view

I arrived at the hut under full sunshine and a cool breeze. Before going on I stopped for a break and quick snack. It seemed much warmer here than it did coming up the trail through the woods. I thought I would be putting on the Primaloft jacket but it was certainly not needed. The sun felt great! After eating and a few photos it was time to make the final 0.4 ascent to the summit.

 Mount Adams

 Madison Spring Hut just ahead and Mount Madison above

 Mount Adams

The rocks were bare and it was a fairly easy climb. My thoughts went back to my childhood when I spent lots of time rock hopping on the Swift River along the Kancamagus. Those skills sure come in handy nowadays while hiking especially above treeline. I tried my best to follow the cairns but would occasionally find myself veering off the "trail".

 Taking a break at Madison Spring Hut

 Heading up to the summit of Mount Madison

 Mount Washington in the distance

As I got up onto the summit there was a steady, brisk wind blowing. A couple of hikers were coming down and another couple were up ahead of me. The three of us arrived at about the same time. The wind was really whipping now. They asked me to take some photos of them and they returned the favor. The views were spectacular in every direction. Even though the sun was bright, the temp was tolerable and the views were great the wind was discouraging me from lingering. I took my customary panoramic video and then started my descent.

 Summit shot to the east

 A coating of white on the Wildcat ski trails

 Mount Washington

 A view to the west

Walking along the top of the summit the wind was blowing directly into my face causing my eyes to water to the point where I would have to wipe them in order to see where I was going. Dropping down onto the south side of the summit cleared up that problem. I carefully picked my way down to avoid some of the rocks that had some rime ice on them. 

 A view to the north

 A view to the east

 Summit pin

On the way down I met an interesting hiker who went by the name of Postal Patty. She had just completed the grid last Tuesday, December 1, 2015 on Mount Jefferson. For those that don't know, hikers that complete the grid have hiked all of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers in each calendar month ( 12 x 48 = 576 hikes ). It's an amazing achievement! I congratulated her and we talked for a few minutes. She said she met the couple of hikers in front of me on the Carters last weekend. Today she had just come from Mount Adams and was adding Madison, seems she may be starting on her second grid.

 Mount Washington summit zoomed

 Hikers on Mount Adams zoomed

 Madison Spring Hut

I stopped at the hut again and ate the other half of my sandwich. It was also time to put on my microspikes for the trip down Valley Way. The sun felt great and it was 53°F! Once I got down into the woods the temperature dropped to 43°F. Further down the trail temps fell into the 30's. I had not made any clothing changes all day which is very unusual.

 Putting on the microspikes for the trip down

 A last look at Mount Madison before descending

As the trail snow started to disappear I removed my microspikes. Toward the end of Valley Way I detoured onto the Fallsway trail hoping to get some good waterfalls photos. There was some good water flow coming down Snyder Brook and I was able to capture some good waterfalls pics. When I arrived back at Appalachia the parking lot was full, not surprising on such a spectacular day. All the hikers I met today were thoroughly enjoying their hike and amazed at this beautiful December day.

Final shot of the day

There doesn't appear to be any winter conditions in the next several days including next weekend. Of course this is New England and that could change. But for now it appears that hikers may be able to enjoy favorable conditions on the high summits during this balmy stretch of weather in December.

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!


  1. Another excellent entry.

    1. Thanks...glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Very inspirational and has me thinking about where to go this weekend. Still finding and transitioning to winter hiking clothes/gear. Keep posting pix and stories since I have talked this blog up to the hikers at work. One did Starr King and Waumbek this past Saturday and the pictures were over the top with snow and blue skies.