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09 January 2012

Mt Webster (Crawford Notch): Contentment at 4K Minus 90

The "4K Minus 90" in the title of this report refers to the 3,910 foot elevation of Mt Webster which disqualifies it as one of the New Hampshire 4K peaks by 90 feet.  However, this mountain does qualify as being part of the southern Presidential Range, and has the honor of being it's southern-most peak.
My day on 09-January began with uncertainty about whether to hike to Mt. Webster, or to Mt. Jackson, or to both.  I decided to defer this decision until I arrived at the junction where the Webster-Jackson Trail splits to the Webster Branch and the Jackson Branch.
I began the hike with Microspikes and kept them on for the entire trek.  This type of traction device was perfect for the trail conditions which consisted of an underlayment of ice with a few inches of compacted snow on top.
En route to the junction mentioned earlier, I took a brief detour to the Bugle Cliff viewpoint where I enjoyed a nice view toward Mt. Avalon and Mt. Tom.

Upon arriving at the junction for the Webster Branch and Jackson Branch, it was decision time! Do I turn left, or go straight ahead?

From this junction, it is 1.2 miles to Mt. Jackson which is a 4K peak, and it is 1.1 miles to Mt. Webster which is 90 ft shy of being a 4K peak.  I've bagged Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster on several occasions during the winter and summer seasons.  However, my winter visits to Mt. Webster have been less frequent than my winter visits to Mt. Jackson.  Therefore, I opted to go to Mt. Webster first, and then possibly head on over to Mt. Jackson.
Within a few minutes after setting forth on the Webster Branch, you come to a cascade on Silver Cascade Brook.  There is no "cascading" during the winter months!  Instead, you are treated to a display of blue ice that is quite picturesque.

As you climb higher, you begin to experience that wonderful "winter wonderland" effect where nearly every inch of the trees are cloaked in white.

Hiking to Mt. Webster via the Webster Branch is soooo much easier in winter than summer.   Regardless of whatever season it might be, the trail is still steep.  However, it is much smoother during winter conditions when the snow and ice fill the deep voids between the rocks and roots.  With these ideal conditions, it took less than an hour to traverse the 1.0 mile distance of the Webster Branch Trail to its terminus at the Webster Cliff Trail.
Immediately upon reaching the Webster-Cliff Trail junction I was assaulted by a band of unruly Gray Jays who were demanding to be fed!  Fortunately, I had a small Zip-Loc bag filled with pecans that was readily accessible.  I broke the nuts into smaller pieces and loaded them into the palm of my hand, and then let the feathery bandits have at it! 
Of course, I took some photos to be used as evidence of this banditry (see below).

After awhile, I told the gang they'd had enough and I was going over to Mt. Webster to enjoy the views while having lunch.  I'll swear that those birds understood my words!  I had a winged escort for the entire 0.1 mile trek over to the top of Mt. Webster!  Once I pulled out my sandwich, they insisted that I share it with them.  I really didn't mind sharing my lunch with the Gray Jays.  Others might disagree, but I think they are charming little creatures.
So, after we (i.e. the birds and me) finished our lunch, it was time to decide whether to go onward to Mt. Jackson . . . or not.  After much thought, I decided "not"!  Since it was such a delightful spot, I decided to stay perched on Mt. Webster with the Gray Jay Gang.  There was very little wind, and the air temperature was very mild.  I don't know how accurate it is, but my pack thermometer read 28 degrees (Fahrenheit).
Perhaps some might consider it laziness, or whatever, not to continue onward to Mt. Jackson and thereby conquer a 4K peak in the winter season.  However, I prefer to think of it as contentment!  I was perfectly content to hang-out at my "4K Peak Minus 90" location and enjoy the views on a delightful winter day.
Speaking of views, the next series of photos provide a sample of views at and near the summit area of Mt. Webster.
Looking up the southern Presidential Range

Willey Mountain Range as viewed from a spot near top of Mt Webster

Another view of Willey Range with little Mt Willard sitting down low in the Crawford Notch

Might be one of the rock/ice climbing routes to the top of Mt Webster??

Looking southward toward pointy Mt Chocorua on distant horizon

Looking southeasterly toward ledges on Mt Crawford and Mt Resolution

After I'd had my fill of lovely lounging on Mt. Webster, I packed my things and started the return leg of my trek.  I soon arrived back at the junction of the Webster-Cliff Trail and Webster Branch Trail.
Despite having already decided not to go onward to Mt. Jackson, it was still very tempting since the Webster-Cliff Trail leading to Mt. Jackson was nicely tramped out from hiker traffic.   Going to Mt. Jackson would involve a nearly 4 mile return trek to the trailhead, versus 2.4 miles if I simply retraced the same route used earlier in the day on the outbound leg of my journey.  With less than 2 hours of daylight remaining, I opted to stick with my decision to bypass Mt. Jackson.   And besides, I like nice round numbers.  The round-trip mileage for the route that I followed is a very tidy 5.0 miles!
The descent back to trailhead went quickly and smoothly.  Only one brief stop was made along the way to take a snapshot of Cherry Mountain from a trailside opening.  There is a special fondness for this mountain since I maintain the Martha's Mile hiking trail that runs along the ridgeline and connects the peaks named Mt. Martha and Owl's Head.

Just before getting in my car, I glanced back at Mt. Webster from the trailhead parking lot and snapped a photo.
Yup! It had a been a very good day in the mountains!

To sum it up, although Mt. Webster is 90 feet short of being a 4K peak, it is far from being short on providing a terrific hiking experience.


OPW5000 said...

I think you said it all in your "to sum it up" remark. Webster is one of the best peaks I've been to in the Whites...who says you need to reach 4000 feet to enjoy a hike anyway?
Thanks for sharing!

Grant said...

WOW! nice photos!!! I don't know how you get such amazing photos but I am glad that you do. It looks like you were able to find the snow that eludes the rest of us. nice post!

1HappyHiker said...

OWEN and GRANT: Thanks guys for the nice words!

@OWEN: Agree completely that it's unnecessary to go to a 4K peak to have a terrific hike. But, then again, visits to 4K peaks are also fun. Guess hiking is just fun . . . regardless of the destination! :)

@GRANT: Yup . . . generally speaking, there is actual "winter" beginning at about 3K elevation. Quite a contrast to what is currently seen at lower elevations!


Rita Wechter said...

Wow, an all-around delightful post, John. The photos are amazing; I love the winter wonderland pics as we are definitely NOT experiencing "winter wonderland" weather around here.
Also, the story of the Gray Jays is a fun read!
Thanks for another entertaining post.

Summerset said...

Just gorgeous, you had a beautiful day! The view towards the Presidentials is my favorite - those clouds are interesting and very much a part of the Presidential's landscape. I saw your post on Tuesday and was so glad I was going hiking yesterday. I really needed to get back out there. There is something magical about getting up into the "winter zone" when there isn't any winter where you live. Of course, I'm looking out at a snow storm right now that is going to change that!

1HappyHiker said...

RITA and SUMMERSET: Thanks for posting such kind words!

@RITA: So far this year, our "winter wonderland" scenes here in New England are confined to the higher elevations. Old Man Winter is playing "hard-to-get". You have to climb up to visit him, because apparently he isn't going to come down to visit you!

@SUMMERSET: Interesting comment you made about the clouds being "a part of the Presidential's landscape". I never stopped to consider that as being a landscape feature, but I now that you mention it, I think that is indeed the case! Hmmm! Now I need to ponder whether the clouds are landscape clutter, or landscape enhancement! :)


Summerset said...

I think of the clouds as just part of the Presidentials - it is actually unusual when there aren't any! I think your view of the clouds will depend on whether you actually wanted to see the summits or just like how the clouds interact with the summits. It is sort of like the dandelion: is it weed or a flower?