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An offbeat way to climb Mt. Jefferson August 2, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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I approached the castles from the Link

I approached the castles from the Link

I often think of adventures as like books with various chapters, but this hike had sections so distinct that they seemed more like short stories in an anthology than chapters in a single-author book.  The whole strange concoction added up to 11.6 miles and 3700 vertical feet, and it felt harder to me than the 9-mile, 4200 vertical adventure I had earlier in the summer going up Washington via Boott Spur Link.

Here it is in a nutshell.  Started at Boundary Line trailhead on Jefferson Notch Road.  Road-walked up to Caps Ridge trail.  Left Caps Ridge a mile up to follow the Link trail over to the Castle trail.  Up over the castles to the summit of Jefferson.  Over to the Jewell trail, down to Boundary Line trail near the Cog base station, back over to car.

Jefferson Notch Road: 1.4 miles, 500 vertical.  Cars passing by may have wondered what the heck I was doing hiking up the road.

Caps Ridge trail: 1.1 miles, 700 vertical.  Just as I reached the trailhead, a group of about 15 college-age kids was walking toward the parking lot.  Try to stay ahead of them, let them go ahead, or get tangled up in the middle?  I opted for the first, going a bit faster than I would have otherwise.  Soon I arrived at the first outlook with views toward the summit.  The view at that point was nothing to write home about.

Murky view from first outlook ledge on Caps Ridge

Murky view from first outlook ledge on Caps Ridge

The big granite ledge had separate muddy footprints that led up to the best spot, as if they were indicating “Put left foot here, put right foot there.”  The college kids arrived and coalesced with a good-sized group speaking… Russian? Polish?  Amidst this sea of humanity a couple explained to me that they had been married on that exact rock, and this was their anniversary, and would I take their picture?  I was happy to, and a patch of sunlight appeared right at the moment the shutter clicked.  Then the sun disappeared again.

Link trail: 1.6 miles, 300 vertical.  A tenth of a mile past the rock I turned left onto the Link trail, and instantly left the crowds behind.  This is a trail that nobody takes from one end (Caps Ridge) to the other (Appalachia).  It’s a lateral trail connecting various major climbing routes:  Lowes Path, Israel Ridge, Castle Ravine, Castle, Caps.  The AMC guide describes this particular section as “a very rough pathway with countless treacherous roots, rocks, and hollows that are very tricky and tedious to negotiate.”  (I’ve always loved the way the AMC guide uses the word “tedious.”)  But the pathway was peaceful, embroidered with moss and ferns.

Mossy rill on the Link trail

Mossy rill on the Link trail

I saw my only wildlife of the day on this trail.

He looks very well fed

He looks very well fed

I noticed an oddball quartz boulder that was trying unsuccessfully to blend in with the granite ones.

Oddball boulder

Oddball boulder

It took me an hour and a half to do this section, which had very little climbing on it.   Just incessant turning, twisting, and clambering.  (Well, part of the slowness was because I discovered I had to delete some old pictures from my camera memory card.)  I caught my first glimpse of a distant castle between the trees, complete with turrets, but the picture didn’t come out well enough to post here.

Castle trail: 1.5 miles, 1700 vertical.  The Link hits it just below where the fun stuff starts.  I’ ve been on this trail twice before, and I knew what I was in for.  AMC:  “Rough with some difficult scrambles.”  One pitch had a cord tied to a tree that I guess you could hold onto, but it sure didn’t look strong enough to support any weight.  When I got to Castle #1, the hardest one, two women with two dogs were looking up at a difficult pitch.  Since they were not actually going up it at that moment, I went on ahead, thinking that might provide some encouragement.  The problem was, one of the dogs followed me and started standing on the places where I wanted to put my hands or feet… oh, well!  I ended up violating climber’s ethics and putting my knee down on one spot to get myself up.

Looking ahead at Castle #2--or was it #2A?

Looking ahead at Castle #2--or was it #2A?

The clouds streamed moodily across the ridge.  I used my knee in one other place when my calf muscle cramped up just as I was hoisting my foot up to the appropriate ledge.

Jefferson castle magic

Jefferson castle magic

After I successfully forged my way past the castles, I crossed alpine lawns that were covered with diapensia mountain sandwort (I saw this correction in a fine trip report covering the some of the same turf!).

The trail was lined with flowers

The trail was lined with flowers

The Castle trail is not very heavily used.  But I reached crowds once again the moment I got to the summit cone.

Jefferson Loop/Gulfside: 1.8 miles, 500 vertical (the climb out of Sphinx col).  Sunshine, crowds, views into Great Gulf.  Lots of boulder hopping.  Did I really ever do a Presi traverse?  (Yes, I did, in 2002 I think it was.)

Near Sphinx col---I like the way it drops off

Near Sphinx col---I like the way it drops off

Jewell trail: 3.3 miles.  As I approached the Jewell junction, I could see a steady procession of hikers making their way down the upper section.  It was tempting to cut across to it, but that is “against the rules.”  So I joined the line and wended my way down.  As on the Caps Ridge trail, I found myself going at a slightly faster pace than usual just so that I could separate myself from the various groups.  With a sudden surge of energy, I bounded along and passed absolutely everyone I encountered for the next hour and a half.  My legs felt like toast when I reached the bottom.  I hoped I would find the obscure Boundary Line junction with no trouble.

Boundary Line: 0.9 miles, a few modest ups and downs.  Same experience as when I turned off Caps Ridge.  Abruptly, no crowds, all green with very plushy mosses and ferns.  A few mucky quagmires lay in wait for unsuspecting boots.  The woods here featured a particular kind of moss that grows in a sort of filigree pattern.

Super-deluxe moss growing on base of tree

Super-deluxe moss growing on base of tree

Thrushes were singing, and the woods would have seemed enchanted were it not for the toast-like quality of my leg muscles.  When I came to the crossing of Clay Brook, I just waded across it with my boots on.  I was almost back to the car.

Clay Brook

Clay Brook

And sure enough, I soon saw the red color of my faithful little car shining between the trees, and a moment later I was back on Jefferson Notch road.

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Comments»

1. kaslkaos - August 8, 2009

Thank you, from a flat-lander, for more vicarious adventuring. Somehow, that quartz looks mysterious and intriguing. I love rocks, and geology in the most amateur way.

2. Jenny - August 8, 2009

Yes, I’m no expert on geology myself, but I notice the shapes and textures of rocks. That quartz boulder stood out not only because of its color but because it was much more angular than all the rocks around it. Some major force must have separated it from its kind and lumped it in with the others.

3. mike d - August 18, 2009

Sounds like fun; I have only been up Jeff. twice both by six husbands tr. Good moss documentation!

4. Henry H - October 19, 2009

Great report. I wanted to do a hike/backpack with my 13 year old son next summer of Castle Ravine to Jeff and down the Castles. Thin we might find a suitable spot to pitch a tent somewhere along the way?

Jenny - October 19, 2009

Hi Henry–You will find places to camp along the lower Castle Ravine trail, though bear in mind WMNF rules about not being too close to the trail or the stream. You will probably not want to take your backpacks up the headwall of Castle Ravine, so would want to figure out some loop where you leave behind your backpacks, go up to the top with day packs, hit the summit, then down the Castles, and then maybe back into the ravine via the piece of the Link trail that joins those two trails to pick up your larger packs. There is no suitable place for camping on the ridgetop trails or going up the headwall of the Castle Ravine trail. Good luck and enjoy!


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