Tue, May 26, 2020
by Bill Newman
Hike Length: Dayhike (10 miles)
Trails: Valley Way for ascent and Airline for descent
Date: Saturday January 15, 2005
Having just done my first winter hike, I was ready for my first winter 4,000 footer. Several were considered including Eisenhower/Pierce, Mt Tom/Field/Wiley, Washington, and a few others. I wanted to make sure I went with a group, so in the end it was a group decision to do Adams.
I had done Adams just a few months earlier, so I felt comfortable with making it my first 4k. However, Adams has the highest vertical ascent in the whites and is the second highest summit, so this was going to be a challenge to do in the winter.
Thanks to Freddi, Julie, and Dave for letting me tag along.....again.
The 4 of us met at the Appalichia parking lot off Rt 2. This seems to be one of the few lots that still doesn't charge a fee. There is plenty of room for 30-40 cars but even in winter it can fill up quickly so get there early. Several groups were just starting out including an AMC group, so we weren't going to be alone.
We started on the trail just after 8 and had to make a decision what trail to take. There are several trails in this area that take you to various areas above timberline depending on your final goal. You can reach either Madison or Adams easily from this lot and maybe Jefferson (on a good summer day). In the end, the decision was easy.....we took the trail that was broken (all the snow had been walked on so we didn't have to wear snowshoes to pack it down), and that was Valley Way.
It had snowed about 3" the previous day so all the trees were still white and it made for some terrific scenary along the way, and every so often Madison could be seen through the trees (magnificient!). It's always nice to hike at various times during the year, but winter has a special kind of serenity and on this sunny day it was all we could ask for. Temps were in the mid 20's when we started and there was no wind....so it was an ideal day.
The Valley Way isn't too steep, it's just a nice steady climb without much scrambling and we had a decent pace going but we were still able to enjoy the scenary and good company. Just before we hit the Alpnie Zone (treeline for this area) we stopped like several other groups to put on our crampons. From this point on, crampons were required and an ice axe is always good equipment to carry for this type of exposure.
Shortly after the zone and at about 1/4 mile you hit the Madison Hut. This is one of the best huts in the AMC system but check out the link on this site to read more. Once at the hut you get clear views to the summit of Madison (ok it's not the summit you see but you get a good sense of the work ahead of you), and we saw several climbers already on their way. We turned around toward our goal of Adams and it looked incredible all ice covered and shimmering in the sunlight, but by now the temps were in the single digits and wind gusts of 15-25 MPH so we had to keep moving. We took the Gulf Side trail (from Mad Hut this trail hangs to the right of one of Adams smaller peaks...I think there are actually 4 or 5 peaks in all). Our intention was to drop our packs along the trail at the huge cairn called Thunder Storm Junction, summit the mountain, and then come back to grab the packs and descend.
Unfortunately, it was a little cold so the packs felt good on our backs as wind blockers, plus we decided to descend via Airline directly from the summit. Gulf Side brings you to the summit from South to North, Airline brings you there West to East (just the opposite for descent), so we actually passed Airline on the way to the junction which added .2 tenths of a mile. The summit was unbeleivable! To the east, Washington was having a clear day, to the north Madison looked like a bump, and to the south, Jefferson and the Great Gulf were totally ice covered with spindrift coming off the top (hopefully the picture isn't too dark).
We couldn't stay too long....it was pretty cold by now, so a quick drink and a bite to eat, and we were off. Quick recommendation, make sure you keep your water in a parka of some sort. I had one in an OR cozy, but my second water bottle, that was secure in my pack, was now almost frozen. Even the bottle in the OR was slushy by the end of the day.
We descended down the Knife Edge overlooking the King Ravine to Airline. The first mile down was pretty easy on the legs and there were no problems until we got back into the security of the trees. That's when we encountered a lot of ice on the trail and we had to keep our crampons on almost to the parking lot. Getting to the summit means you're only halfway there, and we had quite a time going down the sheets of ice. No one fell or got hurt but that's because we made sure to take our time and help each other as a team.
In the end it took us about 9 hours to do 10 miles....and it took more 2 days before my legs stopped aching!
Equipment: Winter Hiking Gear
Special Equipment: Crampons, warm clothes, and a camera!Pictures from the Adams Hike >>
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