Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mt. Jackson and Mizpah Hut, White Mountains

Waiting for a hike.
Crawford Notch, from the Highland Center.
Tristan and I continue to explore the White Mountains. A quick 90-minute drive typically gets us over there; good car-camping abounds at many of the state campgrounds, such as Dry River, to provide "base-camp" access; and there is so much terrain to explore - just peruse any map of the presidential range and be dazzled by the sheer number of trails! Your options for hiking in the White Mountains are plentiful.This past week, we had the privilege of exploring not only some new hiking trails, but also the AMC's Highland Center in Bretton Woods, NH.

The Center is steeped in mountain culture, from the lodge-style accommodations, to the sweeping views of Crawford Notch, to the many framed photographs of White Mountain vistas, summits and trails. The lodge staff, like everyone you meet in the mountains, are knowledgeable and friendly. The Center itself can serve as basecamp for any number of White Mountain adventures, with a fully-stocked retail area, including all the hiking essentials, an LL Bean gear room for guests, family-style meals, comfortable sleeping rooms and many nooks to tuck away with a good book or trail map, as you plan your next adventure.There is also a very nice meeting and conference center, which I would recommend to anyone planning a multi-day meeting, special event, retreat, or similar.

A stream crossing on the Webster-Jackson Trail.
The Center served as home-base for this adventure, though we camped at Dry River Campground (the Center does not allow dogs, and Odin will not allow us to hike without him). I will tell you there was nothing dry about this campground, except for the inside of our tent, thankfully, as it absolutely poured and stormed the whole night. The plan was to summit Mt. Washington the next day; both thunder and worry about an exposed hike in stormy weather kept me awake most of the night. 

This loop over Mt. Washington would have been only our second time at the top of this beautiful and majestic beast. However, the continual roll of thunder from 9pm the night before well  into the morning, plus a forecast including significant threat of thunderstorms throughout the day, suggested to us we seek an alternate destination. I don't mess around with lightning and exposure - there just aren't many places to seek safe cover on the exposed ridgelines of the Presidentials. Always play it safe, and live to hike another day is my feeling!

Summit, looking north.
Summit of Mt. Jackson.
Plan B was a new-to-us loop starting from and ending at the Center. We headed out on the Webster-Jackson trail to the beautiful summit of Mt. Jackson. At just over 4,000 feet, this summit is exposed, but not in the same way that the extended ridgelines are, which are characteristic of the Presidential Range. This hike truthfully felt more like a walk in the Green Mountains, and the summit more like a Vermont peak, save for the granite everywhere. Another distinct difference is the duration of the climb. The White Mountains seem to me to be more steep and rugged than the Greens, even when the elevation gain is similar. Overall, this was a great hike though, with steep sections punctuated with rolling walks to rest the legs. I am sure that the summit views would have been spectacular, too! 

We then headed over to Mizpah Hut for lunch. The hike north from the summit included some scrambles down wet rock, but overall I found the granite to be easier to grip my shoes to. Once we had gained the summit of Jackson, and then descended just a few hundred feet, the trail rolled along the same contour, give or take a few hundred feet, for a few miles over to and past the hut.This section of the walk included many beautiful bog bridges.

Mizpah Hut in the fog.
Mizpah Hut was a short distance from our trajectory, so we headed 200 feet down to the Hut to sit and have some lunch. Tristan and I have not experienced many of the huts (this was my third and his second) and we continue to be impressed and surprised. Personally, we prefer a more rustic campsite, but these huts make for nice places to stop, relax and eat. And it is certainly impressive to see what the AMC accomplishes in terms of service and culture. 

Alpine nature, with the Hut in the background.
After lunch, we completed our loop with a walk down the Mizpah Cutoff and then the Crawford Path - the oldest continually-used hiking trail in the continental US! This descent is fairly mellow. While rocky, there are not scrambles like what we saw coming up the Webster-Jackson trail, and the grade was mild. This would be a good trail to gain elevation for hikers that wanted to avoid steep climbs and strenuous rock scrambles. It is also a good hike for wet weather, since there are not slabs or rock to climb up or down, but rather rock steps and sandy soil.

Overall, this was an excellent hike - one of my favorites, and a loop I will do again for sure, hopefully with better vistas next time! In total, the hike was about 8 miles and included a significant climb up to Jackson, but the descent down on the Crawford path was mellow, and probably the easiest and best option for my knees! We're looking forward to an opportunity (read: a few days off from work in a row, together) to link more of these summits and huts with some of those White Mountain ridgelines!

A sign at Crawford Path's intersection with US-302 explains the history of this old trail.

If you're in the Crawford Notch/Bretton Woods/White Mountains area, this is a great hike to check out. Happy Trails!