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!