By Randy Pierce
In the quest for the 48, there are several particularly daunting peaks and difficult trails–and Mt. Jefferson represents both.
Our schedule for the finish was becoming dubious as the miss on Carter Dome and harsh weather for Jefferson required us to cancel the hike on Saturday, July 20. Sunday was forecasted to be an ideal day for undertaking a challenge like Jefferson, so we hurried to put together a team at the last minute.
The Caps Ridge trail is shorter in mileage but long in hours due to the scrambling required even before the crevice-ridden summit cone. The hike requires human guides for most of the journey–strong team to guide me and even to keep watch on Quinn.
Many considerations are essential before taking any dog on this trail, never mind Quinn who has such a pivotal role in my life and who is too rapidly becoming an older hiking dog.
On Sunday morning, we assembled at the Caps Ridge trailhead on Jefferson Notch road. The weather front which had delivered powerful lightning storm threats to the humid region one day prior now provided cool and dry weather for our hike. John, Cathy, and Rob had volunteered as a core of guides with me, Tracy, and Quinn. A late addition of Greg and Laura strengthened the group further and we set across the slightly wet lower trail laced with short bog bridges.
Generally gentle trail spanned the first mile to an outstanding overlook. The bugs quickly nudged us onward and the serious hiking of the caps was soon underway. Challenging scrambles led to the scrub brush of an above-treeline trek where views were incredible despite low clouds being blown up the ravines and valleys to create an eerie effect. The Castellated Ridge only enhanced this feeling, making it seems you’re hiking up and over an ancient mountain fortress.
Several accomplished hours of hiking over the Caps brought with it two hiker friends. Mark “Silverfox” and Val informed us we had already completed the Caps and just ahead was the final trail junction before our summit cone work.
The sharp mica schist rock had bloodied up my legs a bit, but we were ready for the precarious summit cone which requires stepping boulder to boulder over narrow but deep crevices which could significantly injure with any misstep. It was a tedious journey taking long patient work before our summit celebration.
Cool temperatures were welcome and the steady breezes above treeline had eradicated insect concerns. Clouds sped past, hiding then revealing glimpses of the many surrounding peaks, valleys, ravines, and even the impressive glacial cirque of the Great Gulf. It was spectacular, though a long day remained.
Another conversation with Val and Mark sent us down the East Side of the cone that added mileage but gave us a tour of the famous Monticello Lawn. There we feasted, rested, and recharged for the tedious descent ahead. A clever sign adaptation changed the “Over Summit” sign to “Lover’s Summit” and we had some fun moments for those taking that path to peer deep into the cirques around us.
The descent was as demanding as anticipated and set the bar for the toughest trail I’ve managed. It surpassed Falling Waters in difficulty though more guides made it easier on the team. We spent many hours working a difficult stretch and then admiring the view unfurled during our break. A glider coasting below us was one of many highlights of a day filled with fantastic experiences. Whether the friendly kilted hiker or the more bizarre Star Wars Scout Trooper with Princess Leia; the characters on the peaks are often noteworthy.
Most noteworthy is always the character of our individual crew. Whether Cathy’s Quinn-attentive care, Tracy and Laura pathfinding amidst their own laughter, or the core work of Rob, Greg, Cathy and John at making such experiences both wondrous and possible for me–it is the people with whom we undertake adventures who shape, change, and enrich our experiences and our lives.
We spent 11 hours on a roughly 6-mile journey. It was tremendously hard and some might think that is the takeaway, but the difficulty isn’t what lingers with me. It is the rewards. I’ve read many Mt. Everest Hikers reports of all their tedious work and preparation for just several moments on the summit but moments of incredible potency. For me those moments are not simply summit moments but laced throughout the entirety of the experiences along the trails of these 48.
Jefferson was our 44th peak and four remain. We established our original quest just over three years ago, and we are now feeling closer and closer to the victory within our reach!