Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Friday, February 19, 2016

Perfect Winter Hike to Monroe and Washington

The weather forecast was shaping up to be spectacular on the high summits with the possible exception of strong winds. I would be joining a group of hikers, John, Henry, Mark and Jill for a hike to Mount Monroe and Mount Washington. This would be Jill's #46 and #47 winter 4,000 foot summits with one more to go to complete the 48. The plan was to hike up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to Mount Monroe, assess the weather situation, and if winds were to strong either go back down or over to Mount Eisenhower and down. If conditions were favorable we would continue on to Mount Washington via the Crawford Path and down the Jewell Trail.

 Mount Monroe from Marshfield Station

 Mount Washington from Marshfield Station

 The hike begins on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

 The theme of the!

 Sun just rising over the Presidential Range

 Bridge crossing

 Gem Pool

We all met and parked at the cog railway Marshfield Station. It was a beautiful morning and the sky was incredibly clear. The Presidential summits were majestic in the clear, cool morning air just before the sun rose up over them. While gearing up we were trying to decide whether or not to bring snowshoes. We made the decision to carry the snowshoes. John wore his for the entire hike and the rest of us started out with microspikes. I was also carrying my new crampons and I was very glad that I had them.

 A view of the Mount Washington Hotel

 Ice obstacle in the trail

 Henry looking for the best route across this ice

 John moving up the trail

 Henry, John and Mark at the top of an icy section

 Mount Washington from the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

As we moved out onto the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and the first thing that was noticable was the lack of snow for this time of year. There has not been a significant snow storm yet this season. Over the past week there was considerable rain and I was expecting a lot of ice at some point during this hike. I didn't have long to wait. As we started up the steep sections of trail past Gem Pool there were some tricky areas that required careful footing around the ice. We were under full sunshine on the upper part of the trail with no wind and it felt great!

 Jill makes her way up the steep icy trail

 Lakes of the Clouds Hut

 Hiking up Mount Monroe

 Straight up

 Hiking into the sun

 Summit of Mount Monroe in sight

We arrived at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and the weather just continued to get better. It was prime conditions for sunburning and I had left the sunscreen behind in my vehicle. Henry had some and it was literally a face-saver as I easily burn especially with the sun reflecting off the snow and ice. Our first summit for today was Mount Monroe. We dropped our packs at the hut and decided to go straight up instead of taking the trail. The conditions were spectacular on the summit. There was an awesome 360° view and just a slight breeze. There was no question that we were on our way to Mount Washington.

 Henry and Mark on the top of Mount Monroe

 Henry and Mark

 Rime ice on rock

 Mount Washington

 Mount Washington summit from Mount Monroe

 Bretton Woods ski slopes

 A south view from Mount Monroe

 On the summit of Mount Monroe

It was a quick descent off Mount Monroe back to the hut and our backpacks. A quick snack and we were on our way to Mount Washington. It was getting warm and I found it necessary to delayer as well as remove my hat and gloves. As we approached the cone I felt the first pangs of thigh cramps. I slowed down and finally stopped to mix up some raspberry Emergen-C with some water. This combination helped me to avoid full blown cramps.

 Attitash and Bear Peak ski slopes

 A view into Vermont

 Descending to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut

 Snow drift in front of the hut door

 On our way to Mount Washington

 Frozen Lake of the Clouds

Mark and Henry were once again the first to reach the summit then John, Jill and finally me. I take too many photos and I was also trying to avoid the cramps by slowing down. There was a steady wind blowing but very tolerable. I got the obligatory summit photo then had a quick snack. Jill and I decided to swap our microspikes for crampons, we would soon find out that it was a very wise decision.

We started our descent on the Trinity Heights Connector down to the Gulfside Trail. The ice was starting to get very interesting. After crossing over the cog railway tracks there was one long ice field that flowed over into the Great Gulf. We stayed away from the edge although I did see Henry go take a look down into this glacial cirque, a little too close for my comfort. I was very glad that I was wearing the crampons as we made our way down over this continuous ice. Traction was definitely in order for this part of the trail.

 A beautiful day on the top of New England

 Tip Top House entrance

 Mark leads the way off the summit

 Heading down from the summit

 Northern Presidentials

 Looking down the cog railway

 Looking up the cog railway

Upon reaching the Jewel Trail junction Mark decided to tag Mount Jefferson. My legs were definitely not going to take me over to that summit without a cramping complaint and the rest of us continued down the Jewel Trail back to Marshfield Station. As we got down into the treeline it was time to swap the crampons for microspikes. Going further the snow got very loose and deeper. Snowshoes could've been worn but I kept going with the microspikes. The trail had varying conditions from snow to bare ground and rocks as well as some ice.

 The serious ice begins

 Henry and John walk toward the Great Gulf

 Icy trail junction

 Moving down the ice

 Icy trail

 Henry on the edge of the icy drop into the Great Gulf

 Henry trusting his traction

Our last obstacle of the day was crossing the partially frozen Ammonoosuc River. Henry had hiked ahead and already back at the parking lot. When I arrived at the crossing I took some time to study the ice over the river, it did not look good. John and Jill were behind me watching as I started across. Just as I got to the middle of the river the ice broke under me and I went down into the water. Fortunately it's not deep but it sure is cold and wet! In the process of falling I struck my knee on something and it was very painful. I was expecting to have wet feet but between my boots and gaiters I was bone dry. Looking back I saw that the ice was partially supported by a fallen tree and the ice I fell through had no support underneath. John had no problem crossing. After some hesitation Jill made it across with no mishaps.

We arrived back at the Marshfield Station parking lot completing our loop hike for today. Henry was there waiting for us and we found out that he had also broken through the ice and gone into the water, but unlike my dry feet his feet were soaked. It was nice to get the pack off my back and the snowshoes that had a free ride today. The day started with a crystal clear blue sky but was now overcast with an impending storm on the way.

 Ring around the sun indicating impending storm

 Mark on his way to Mount Jefferson

 Looking down from the Jewel Trail

 Final water crossing at the end of the trail

 John encouraging Jill on the final but precarious water crossing

Back at the beginning completing the loop

I've hiked to Mount Monroe and Mount Washington several times but this was my first winter hike to these two summits. This was a memorable and incredible hiking adventure with fantastic weather, good trail conditions and an awesome group of hikers!

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!

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