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12 July 2012

Mt. Jefferson: 18 Miles as the Crow Flies

As the crow flies, Mt. Jefferson is only 18 miles from where I live.  Assuming it's a clear day, I can see Mt. Jefferson smiling back at me from the end of the roadway leading to my home.  With a neighbor located so nearby, it's seems fitting that I make a visit every so often.
Mt. Jefferson as seen from end of my road

On 11-July-2012, the humidity was low, the winds on the high peaks were low, and for summertime conditions, the air temperature was low (upper 70s).  It seemed like a great time to pay a visit to "Mister Jefferson"!

The route that I chose for my trek was a loop that I've done before.  But, just for something new and different, I opted to do it in a counterclockwise fashion rather the clockwise direction that I've used previously.  This 9.7 mile loop begins and ends at the trailhead parking lot for the Caps Ridge Trail.  Regardless of which direction of travel that is used, you need to do a 1.4 mile walk along Jefferson Notch Road, either at the outset of the loop, or at the very end.  For this trip, I did the road-walk first.   My route is highlighted in pink on the map shown below. (Clicking on any photo will enlarge it.)
Loop-hike is highlighted in pink

One advantage to doing the road-walk first is that it is downhill and goes rather quickly.  I took me 23 minutes to walk the 1.4 miles down the road to the Boundary Line Trail.  Most of the 0.9 mile Boundary Line Trail is downhill or flattish, and so that portion of the hike also goes very quickly.

Hiking up the Jewell Trail is a real pleasure!  It is never overly steep, and it's very well-maintained (thanks to fellow hikers John G. and Philip W.)  After a lovely walk in the forest along the Jewell Trail for about two miles, I came to the clearing where you get your first trailside peek at the Presidential Range.  From here I could see the Lakes of the Clouds (LOC) Hut nestled at the base of Mt. Monroe.
Lakes of the Clouds (LOC) Hut nestled at base of Mt. Monroe

After hiking along the Jewell Trail for about another mile, I broke out above tree-line.  From this vantage point, the vista really opens up!  Mt. Monroe and the LOC Hut once again caught my attention. However,  this time there was the added feature of one of the Cog Railway trains making its way up to the top of Mt. Washington.
Cog Railway train en route to Mt. Washington with LOC Hut in background

As I made my way up the Jewell Trail toward the junction with the Gulfside Trail, I turned around to take a look down the corridor that I had just hiked.  It's a scenic vista that I really enjoy!
Looking down the Jewell Trail

Just to the southwest of the Jewell Trail, I could see a another Cog Railway train. It was still in the wooded portion of the rail corridor as it began its journey up the mountainside.
Cog Railway train in wooded portion of the rail corridor
It seemed like no time at all until I reached the Gulfside Trail which I would follow northward to Mt. Jefferson.  Once you're on this trail, there's little doubt but what you're in the alpine zone.   On this beautiful July day, there was quite a contrast between the brilliant blue sky and the earth-tones and greens of the alpine zone.   There was no need to include a mountain peak in the photo to capture a colorful and interesting scene.
A scene from along the Gulfside Trail

After a short trek along the Gulfside Trail, my target came into view.  Mt. Jefferson was boldly standing on the horizon awaiting my arrival!
Mt. Jefferson on horizon (left side of photo)

As I started climbing the south face of Mt. Jefferson, I stopped to take a look at the summit of Mt. Washington resting atop the chasm of the Great Gulf.  These features are shown in the next photo.  Also seen in the foreground is a greenish-colored plateau which lies at the base of Mt. Jefferson.  This is known as Monticello Lawn.  What an appropriate name!
Mt. Washington, Great Gulf, Monticello Lawn

Once I reached the top of Mt. Jefferson, there was no one there other than me and a "peak-bagger insect" who was relaxing on what I presume to be all that's left of Mt. Jefferson's summit marker.
"Peak-bagger" insect perched on metal rod on Mt. Jefferson's summit (see ADDENDUM to report for more information about this)

After enjoying some quality-time at the summit with the "peak-bagger insect", it was time to pack up and head for home. During the descent on the Caps Ridge Trail, I stopped several times to glance over at Mt. Washington and the parade of high peaks in the southern Presidential Range.
Mt. Washington and parade of high peaks in the southern Presidential Range

Soon, my attention turned to looking westward.  Far in the distance I could see the trailhead parking lot which was my final target for the day.  But first, I needed to climb over a series of rocky outcroppings along the ridgeline known as Ridge of the Caps.  I'd be doing an occasional butt-slide as I descended the steeper sections of these challenging bumps.
Looking down Ridge of the Caps toward trailhead parking lot

Near the lower end the Caps Ridge Trail I stopped briefly at the open spot where there is a large boulder from which you can get a view looking upwards along the Ridge of the Caps.  It can provide a sense of accomplishment to see what you just descended.
Looking upward at Ridge of the Caps from lower end of Caps Ridge Trail

The boulder that I just mentioned above has a notable feature of its own.  It is "pockmarked" with depressions known as glacial potholes.  Geology is one of the many areas in which I have no expertise.   However, as I understand it, these potholes were formed by  high volumes of rapidly-flowing water, possibly in an ice-marginal, or a sub-glacial river. Rocks swirling about in the water served as the "cutting tools" to create these depressions.
Glacial Potholes

To sum it up, I have no regrets for having done this loop in a counterclockwise fashion, rather than following the clockwise route that I've used in the past.  It's always enjoyable to pay a visit to "Mr. Jefferson", regardless of how you get there!  However, I will say the following.  It's nice to avoid having the uphill road-walk facing you at the end of the hike.  But perhaps that is somewhat offset by the fact that an ascent of the Ridge of the Caps is much more enjoyable than the descent!  Overall, I'm left with mixed feelings as to which direction of travel is more preferable.

ADDENDUM (added 12-Aug-2012)
Thanks to a respondent named Kevin (see COMMENTS section of my Blog), I learned a very interesting fact about the metal pipe/rod that I saw embedded in a boulder at the top of Mt. Jefferson.
I had seen similar metal pipes embedded in boulders at other locations while hiking in the Presidential Range.  It had always been assumed these were merely the remains of a USGS survey marker, and that the surrounding metal disc had been removed by someone as a souvenir.  But thanks to Kevin, I learned that this metal pipe was one of many that had been inserted at various locations in the Presidential Range as part of Brad Washburn's mapping project which was conducted during the 1980s.
Eventually, I contacted Larry Garland (AMC cartographer) about this, and he kindly led me to two references which provide detailed descriptions of Brad Washburn's mapping project for the Presidential Range.  Here are those citations:
_ Smith, Alan A. Mapping the Mountain: Ten Years of Cartography on Mount Washington, in Appalachia, vol. 48, no. 2 (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, December 1990), pp. 18-30.
_ Smith, Alan A. Mapping the Mountain: Ten Years of Cartography on Mount Washington, Part Two, in Appalachia, vol. 48, no. 3 (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, June 1991), pp. 69-80.
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Shown below is some text excerpted from the December 1990 edition of Appalachia which talks about these metal pipes.  Perhaps some readers might find this to be of interest.
"When we could, we put our triangulation points at existing USGS markers.  But when there were none, we put in a new one, or drilled a hole and inserted a short length of pipe, on which targets or prisms could be mounted.  Then, at the end of the project, we filled in each of those holes with strong cement the color of the rock, in which was embedded a three-inch stainless steel pin, protruding only half an inch above the surface. Those pins can be used as survey stations in the future."
". . .  some of the USGS markers we expected to find had been stolen . . . by souvenir hunters.  But our pins will be very difficult to extract . . ."
"For the job, we had a set of rock-drilling bits, a heavy-duty electric drill, and a sixty-five-pound horribly awkward gasoline-powered electric generator, laughingly called "portable." When all that gear could be delivered to the site by car, or by helicopter, drilling a hole was easy. The chips had to be blown out, but then the pipe could be driven home, and a target set in place. Frequently, however, the drilling equipment had to be delivered to some remote location on foot, and for that purpose Brad designed a special pack frame for the generator. The whole load was about seventy-five pounds, a severe test of volunteer enthusiasm!  Then, of course, there was the other pack, with the rock drill and the plumbing supplies for handling those pipes, but that was only about sixty pounds!" 


vegematic said...

Excellent Loop! I've done it a few times in the opposite direction, but never this way. Something about descending Caps Ridge doesn't appeal to me.

1HappyHiker said...

Yes, I know exactly what you mean! The only other time I did this loop was in the clockwise direction. But, as I indicated in my report, I opted to do it in the counterclockwise direction just to be in keeping with my desire to try to do something new and different on each hike. And you’re correct, descending the Caps Ridge Trail is far less fun than ascending it! :-)

Thanks for posting your comments!


Kevin said...

The "summit marker" you found is actually a stainless steel survey control point set by Brad Washburn as part of his mapping of the Presidentials in the early 1980's. You will find them on almost every Presidential summit and some other locations that you could see from the summit, such as a large boulder at The Bluff in Great Gulf.

1HappyHiker said...


Thank you for providing this information! Very much appreciated!


JustJoe said...

Simply gorgeous photos John. Although it was only once and just last summer, I love that loop. Main difference for me was Jefferson Notch Rd. was still closed from Irene damage so I parked in the $5 lot at Marshfield Station. It was weird coming out to the Caps Ridge lot to find it empty on a beautiful summers day. And "Mr. Jefferson" is by far my favorite president. Not sure why but I just love that peak.

Great report,

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your kind words, Joe!

It’s terrific to learn that you’ve done essentially the same loop as described in my report, except starting at the $5 lot at Marshfield Station! Starting and ending at that same location, there’s another interesting loop which I’ve only read about. However, it’s something that has stuck in my mind. This lollipop loop involves: Jewell Trail > Gulfside (southbound) > Great Gulf > Sphinx > Gulfside > Jewell. It’s an aggressive 12-mile loop with an overall elevation gain of about 5,600 ft!

Regarding coming out to the Caps Ridge trailhead and finding an empty parking lot, I almost had that same experience on this trek, even though Jefferson Notch Road is open! When I arrived back at the lot around 7 PM there was just one vehicle there. As I learned later, it belonged to Rocket21 (Jeremy Clark).


Peppersass said...

Love your picture of the trailhead parking lot, J.

1HappyHiker said...

At that point in the hike, the trailhead parking lot looks soooo far away. However, it takes far less time than you’d think to be at your car and headed for home!


Ellen Snyder said...

Hi John,

We've climbed Jefferson only once, and followed the clockwise route like most everyone else. Walking downhill on the road first sounds like a good way to go. I assume we all go the other way is that descending Caps Ridge Trail is more daunting than going up. Nice to see the comment from Kevin explaining the survey marker. Good to know. Thanks for the post, your route maps are always a nice part of the story. I prefer the cooling temperatures of last week to what we're into now.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Ellen,

This is the first time I’ve done the loop in a counterclockwise fashion. I opted to do it that way just to be in-keeping with my aspiration of trying something new and different on each of my hikes. Although it is very nice NOT to have the uphill road-walk awaiting you at the end of the hike, perhaps that nicety is more than offset by having to descend the Caps Ridge Trail at the end of the day! Probably if I were to ever do this loop again, I’d do it clockwise.

And yes, the clarification in Kevin’s comment was most welcome. Prior to receiving his comment, I assumed that this was the shaft upon which one of those summit discs had once been mounted. But, apparently that is not the case. Just recently I had seen a similar “empty” post atop the large boulder at The Bluff (which was also mentioned in Kevin’s comment). I wondered why there would be something akin to a summit marker embedded in a boulder at that location. Now I know!


Summerset said...

Phenomenal hike! You had such a great day - the Caps are such fun, too! Interesting tidbit about the pin on the summit. I've seen them Madison, Adams and Monroe, too and wondered whether there were originally the disc-like markers or just the pins.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Summerset!

Yes, the weather on the day of my hike was pretty terrific! Not at all like this hot and humid 15th day of July! But fortunately, we live here in beautiful New England and only have to contend with brief periods of this type of weather. :-)


Rita Wechter said...

This post was fun to read, John. It looks like you had great weather to go with all the remarkable views along the way. I liked the picture looking from the Gulfside trail to the sky. You're so right; you don't always need the "sweeping view" photos to capture the beauty of a mountain scene.

The picture of the trailhead parking lot while you were on the descent is awesome! When we're hiking down from a mountain peak, Tim and I sometimes can't believe how far up we hiked in the first place. It's good to see your final destination to remind yourself of how far you're come!

Thanks for the report on another inspiring hike.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Rita! Your comments are always delightful, and often provide a unique perspective.

Regarding the photo looking down at the trailhead during my descent, I’m frequently amazed at how far away some things appear to be, but the amount of time it takes to reach them is often much less than you’d think. I’m unable to quickly come up with a reference to a discussion about this phenomenon, but do recall reading something about it somewhere.