Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Winter Hike To Jackson and Webster

Winter hiking is now officially here. With that being said there was not many signs of winter today. There were record high temperatures this past week and the winter solstice arrived without snow or icy ponds and lakes. My hike today would take me up to Mount Jackson (4,052') via the Webster-Jackson Trail then over to Mount Webster (3,910') on the Webster Cliff Trail and back down the Webster Branch Trail. Cold temps and clear skies were in today's weather forecast.

Early morning clouds over the Presidentials

Clouds clearing as I arrive at the trailhead


It was tough getting out of bed this morning. I needed a hike that would work the kinks out after not hiking or doing much in the way of physical activity for two weeks along with over indulging in holiday food and snacks. This made for a slow go and late start that I would find out during the hike ended up being a good thing. This two week break actually gave my body a chance to heal from foot, knee and shoulder problems.

A little trail ice

A hiker almost on the summit of Mount Jackson

Even with a slow start I was still on my way to the trailhead before sunrise which isn't unusual this time of year given the short days of winter. As I drove around the Presidentials the clouds were continually moving off of the high summits and clearing skies were on the way. The weather was looking better with every passing mile toward Crawford Notch.

Gray Jay waiting for a snack

On the summit of Mount Jackson

I parked at the Route 302 parking area. There were already several vehicles here, not surprising as good weather was forecast for today. But these early morning hikers were going to find out that maybe they should have waited a couple of hours. I put on some layers and my backpack then walked across the road to the Webster-Jackson Trail.

Mizpah Hut

Mount Washington

Mount Eisenhower

The lower part of the trail was wet and muddy. There had not been enough cold weather for a good freeze. As I gained some elevation there was the occasional icy sections of trail that I was able to easily get around. There was no need for traction today. When I reached the trail divide, where one branch goes to Jackson and the other to Webster, I dropped down to Silver Cascade to see if there would be any problem with the water crossing and found it would be an easy crossing.

Gray Jay gets a snack

I climbed back up and continued up the Jackson Branch. It was at this point that I started to meet the early hikers that were coming down. They all reported limited visibility but appeared to be clearing. I was hoping it would be completely clear when I reached the summit.

As I got closer to the summit I decided to change my damp layers for dry ones and also put on my Primaloft jacket. I could hear the wind blowing and the other hikers I met confirmed this. As I put my pack down the Gray Jays descended on me. I was expecting them at the summit, they would have to wait. I changed my layers and was on my way.

On my way to Mount Webster

Just below the summit the trees were coated with rime ice. Looking up through the frosty treetops I could see nothing but blue sky and not one cloud. There was a ledge scramble that brought me up onto the top of Mount Jackson. I was able to easily step around the little bit of ice that was on the ledges. One look around let me know that my late start had paid off. The clouds had cleared and the unobstructed 360 degree views were spectacular!

On Mount Webster

I was able to capture some great shots of the surrounding mountains. During this time the Gray Jays paid me another visit. This time I broke out the nuts and they were eager to land on my hand and take them. I heard more hikers coming up. I packed up so they could have the summit to themselves and continued my hike over to Mount Webster.

The Webster Cliff Trail was bare and solid with just a few patches of ice along the way. When I got to Mount Webster the wind seemed to have died down and the sun felt warm and comfortable on the summit. After a few photos I started my descent on the Webster Branch trail. Once again I found good conditions on this trail and was careful to avoid stepping on any unseen ice. I sometimes have a habit of not paying attention then slipping on that one piece of ice that could have easily been stepped over.

Crawford Notch

Gnarly tree roots

Silver Cascade

Silver Cascade...November 2013

I met one solo hiker coming up as I was going down. He asked me if this was New Hampshire and I told him it was, hopefully that's where he planned on being otherwise he probably took a wrong turn somewhere. A little bit further and I was down at Silver Cascade. Except for a few small icicles off to the side there was no other ice around the falls. This is in stark contrast when I hiked this in November 2013 and the falls were hidden by a massive amount of ice and snow.

Lots of this December?

View from Bugle Cliff

A short, steep climb up from Silver Cascade and I was back on the Webster-Jackson Trail. On the way down I took the short spur path out to Bugle Cliff. There was a nice view toward the Highland Center and beyond. Back down on Route 302 there were a lot of vehicles parked along the road. Lots of people were taking advantage of this beautiful day. 

Sun dropping behind the mountains

Presidential summits

Parting shot...Mount Washington summit under clear blue sky

This hike counted as my first Winter 4,000 footer for this season although it felt like I was cheating without the snow, ice and frigid temps. That's all supposed to change next week with a snowstorm in the weather forecast. This was probably my last hike for 2015. I've had a great year of hiking and look forward to more adventures in 2016!

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!

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