Madison



8 Jul 11

by Randy Pierce

There are many reasons this was the most daunting hike to date. The weather forecast did not help much, as thunderstorm potential was present every day of our trip. Our group hit the trailhead at 7:00am on Saturday with good weather and appropriate anxiety. A sense of urgency kept words and packing efficient as we began the 3.8-mile ascent up Valley Way. Quinn sensed the apprehension as his work was cautious but quick through the easier early miles. As the terrain steepened with a few trickier points, Rob Carroll shouldered the challenge of guiding me, while Cliff Dike took on Quinn care. We became quickly efficient at communicating and our speed was solid as is evident by our reaching the hut by 12:30pm.

The immediate excitement was the approach of a medical helicopter. An ankle injury had forced a hiker to spend four days at the hut awaiting weather good enough to land a helicopter and evacuate her from the challenging trails. This was an ominous reality check despite our successful work thus far. We enjoyed lunch at the beautifully renovated hut while debating the timing of going for Adams during this better weather. Uncertain of how well we would manage the terrain of either summit, we opted for the practice of the shorter Mt. Madison. The decision was rewarding as Kyle led me along the most challenging footing I have yet traversed in these mountains. Our significant work together in the past paid dividends as well. We made the summit in well under an hour and clear skies with no wind gave us the opportunity to appreciate the beauty that surrounded us. It is simply awe-inspiring to experience the full majesty of the heart of this 300 million year old mountain range unfurled from atop the northeast corner of the Presidential peaks.

Slower but steady and satisfying work led us back down to the AMC Madison Springs Hut. We fully appreciated the many renovation upgrades and a turkey dinner, which was an incredible repast for this group of hungry hikers. The ‘buzz’ of many enthusiastic members of our team and the full entourage of travelers was an excellent energy burst. Some enjoyed a naturalist presentation while Kyle’s advance scouting of the Gulf Side Trail unearthed a different bit of nature. A young, but large moose had wandered above tree line and watched us from the shoulder of John Quincy Adams. We shared Kyle’s find with many and all delighted in the rare experience before settling onto a bench to once again savor a spectacular sunset. Day one was in the books with complete success and thoughts were turning to the deteriorating weather reports and tomorrow’s monumental goal.

Packs were loaded before breakfast and we were quickly upon the trail to seek the peak before the weather arrived. It was a very pleasant morning and Quinn was called upon initially. The terrain was challenging for our work together, and due to the time pressure, we attempted human guidance once again. John Corbett’s tall frame and long strides would match my own well and so he joined the ranks of those guiding me. Our speed increased as we worked together along the edge of the beautiful King’s Ravine. It was more than an hour to traverse the Gulf Side Trail but we hit Thunderstorm Junction earlier than the storms and still felt strong in body and mind. A storm was definitely coming but there was some time, so Kara Minotti Becker, our leader, took over as my guide while Ben Becker took an additional role to scout the route for her as we ascended the summit cone of Mt. Adams. Whether it was our focus, the anticipation, or the success of this double team, the terrain seemed less challenging than Madison to me. The crevices were deeper, the stones sharper and more erratic, yet our route led us smoothly to the summit just as the wind began to rise higher.

Even as the celebratory summit picture was taken, two probing cloud hands reached over Mt. Washington and hurled the dense storm clouds over the summit and towards us. We ratcheted up the urgency significantly and began a hasty descent! Moments later, we realized the terrain would be considerably more difficult going down, and Kyle took over guiding with Ben’s continued scouting. As the first drops began, pack covers and rain gear was donned just in time to withstand the worst of the sleet, which began to pelt our trail and us. Our progress was necessarily slower than we would have preferred, but still quick for the pre-trip expectations.

It had turned to rain by the time we rounded the exposed western edges of the ravine and we were managing the slippery wet rocks very well. We finally found the comfort of the hut, and a long afternoon and evening allowed the group camaraderie to grow stronger as we celebrated our successful experiences. We read books from the hut supply, played games, and partook of the educational presentation on Geology of the Presidentials, while heavy rain and dark clouds encased the hut. It was a long but gratifying evening in which our “Adams Family” hungered for more hiking together.

Monday, July 4, brought us beautiful weather for our descent down Valley Way, which would signify the full success of our trip. Feeling the confidence of our prior work, we allowed time to dry much gear in the warm sun as we shared stories and jests atop the col. Finally, at 9:30am we reluctantly released our hold upon the hut. Kara worked the more difficult and steep section, to practice the different challenges that going down presents for me. After a couple of hours of the slower terrain, Ben replaced her for his first work guiding me, though he had watched and learned much previously. With the somewhat easier trail frequently dotted with the grooved slots, which challenge Quinn and I together, Ben made a long two hours of work, up to the easier final stretch where Quinn eagerly took back his job, and raced out with me in tow. Our expedition was at an end, and yet another team had become a key part of my life and the experience of our quest. These mountains deserve all the daunting words and emotions they held in advance of this trip. This group deserves all the accolades for undertaking the challenge, building our bonds, and savoring an exquisite experience. I may not ever be so fortunate as to assemble this team again but I will always treasure this journey and hope for the possibility for an “Adams Family Reunion” on whatever adventure might await!

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1 Jul 11

by Randy Pierce

The Northern Presidential range is dominated by the daunting Mt. Adams, and it will be by far the most challenging peak in this year’s hiking season. At 5,774 feet, it is the second highest in the 48 after Washington, but in many ways presents a more formidable challenge. Adams’ 4,500 feet of elevation gain is the absolute most in all of the White Mountains. Its cracked, boulder-strewn cone is often considered to be the most challenging terrain. Thus, Adams represents perhaps the supreme challenge for me personally, and for all of our team, during the entire 2020 Vision Quest.

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

Weather is frequently the most difficult factor for any hiker, and here again Mt. Adams stands tall. We’ll make our summit attempt through a convergence of paths known ominously as “Thunderstorm Junction.” It is said that there are more lightning strikes on Mt. Adams than any other point in New England. Though we could not verify this detail, we can confirm that Adams’ mystique has landed it on a list of the top 10 ‘Holy Mountains’ as maintained by the Aetherius Society, who are said to keep their symbols upon the summit.

The best path: Thunderstorm Junction

While we chose Thunderstorm Junction as the shortest section of the challenging summit cone, the very threat of lightning would drive us from our task. As fearsome as lightning can be as it rolls through your town, imagine the same experience on an exposed mountain ledge, with no means to escape or even hide. And given my necessarily deliberate pace, we must only attempt to approach this region if both the forecast and the view confirm we are at very low risk of fast-moving storms.

We will undertake both Adams and its neighbor to the north, Mt. Madison (fifth highest in the 48), during a three-day climb based out of the AMC’s Madison Spring hut. The plan is to ascend the Valley Way trail from the northwest. This moderately steep trail will bring us to the hut nestled in a col between the two pyramidal peaks. If time is sufficient we hope to climb Madison that very day. While only a 1 mile round trip from the hut, the terrain is similar to what we’ll encounter on Adams, and we hope to gain from the experience.

And then there’s Plan B

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

If weather or timing do not allow that practice run, we plan to achieve the summit of Mt. Adams the next day, July 3. Many backup plans are ready based on the conditions on the mountain, and we hope to find the window of opportunity to travel the 2.4 miles of challenging terrain and achieve Mt. Adams’ notorious summit. We anticipate an exhausting day which allows us back to the hut to rest one final night before making our July 4 return down the Valley Way.

Many hikers have managed these summits, but every experienced hiker who knows us well has said this will be an enormous challenge. We could do everything right and yet be forced to forego the attempt of a summit should the weather not hold sufficient clear skies. Even wet rock will greatly magnify our challenge – but of course we are more mindful of the larger dangers of being trapped in hypothermic conditions – — yes even in early July! – — while lightning rages around us.

As you know, we are not doing this because it’s easy. But never before have we looked forward to a hike with such vivid awareness of the dangers we may encounter.

So we’ve prepared more than any peak previously, we have three days of potential to consider a summit and we are prepared to accept any weather reality. After all, all we can ever do is give our best efforts, plan well and make the most of the realities which can challenge or limit our choices. Win or lose, I expect an experience to remember. And I have little doubt that our 8 person team will come out of the endeavor charged by the experience we intend to share!

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