This was a solo overnight, attempting to hit a bunch of trails that I've never hiked before. The weather failed to cooperate, and I didn't end up doing what I had planned, but I enjoyed myself and got to spend some quality time alone.
I took off on Thursday evening and arrived at the cabin in Randolph just around 10:00. After a good night's sleep I woke up early, had breakfast, and hit the Appalachia trailhead around 6:45 AM. As I started out I noticed that they finally removed the railroad tracks that paralleled the road. I was trying to take the Maple Way to Sylvan Way, but missed one trail junction and ended up on the Cliffway. I did a quick backtrack to where the Sylvan Way crosses the stream and continued on track. The Sylvan way crosses a big clearcut, then reenters the woods and hooks up with the Howker Ridge trail. I'd done part of this trail in the winter but without a full pack. As I climbed, I noticed all the wonderful mushrooms along the trail.
After about two hours of hiking, I started getting some views. The first was to the north, of the Pilot/Pliny range. As the trail hits the ridgetop it becomes a little gentler for a while. There are nice mossy areas that are a great change of pace from the steady climbing. Finally, I reached the first Howk, and got a great view of Madison. From here, the trail goes through some more undulating terrain, with several Howks that bring you higher and higher. I would stop at each one, resting, eating a bit of gorp, and taking pictures. I haven't been hiking too much recently with a full pack and I could really feel it on this 4000' foot climb. The closer I got to the treeline I could see the fall colors begining to show on the birches.
At the last Howk I could see Moriah, the Carters, and Carter Notch. The birches were very colorful up here. Finally, I gained the top of the ridge and connected with the Osgood Ridge trail for the final .3 miles to the summit. As I climbed up the last section I noticed a hiker coming up the ridge behind me, the first person I'd seen all day. At the summit I dropped my pack and took a well earned sigh of relief. The bright morning sunshine had diminished a bit, but Adams, Washington, the Great Gulf, and the Wildcats still looked wonderful. After a sandwich and all my remaining water I headed down. Just off the summit I took a nasty spill but there was no damage, except to my confidence. I was more tired than I expect, and I could see the weather was coming in from the northwest, so I decided to head for Crag Camp instead of the Perch tentsites.
It is a quick drop to the hut from the summit. I dropped pack and hoofed it over to Star Lake for the view of Washington and back to Madison. I filled my water bottles from the stream and briefly talked to the AMC croo guy who was turning the compost. The hut was closed for the season. I left the hut via the Gulfside trail planning on skipping Adams due to my tiredness. I love the rockwork on the Gulfside trail, wonderful stone steps and paving stones. After passing the Airline I began to feel better, and the views into King Ravine were perking me up. At Thunderstorm Junction I dropped my pack and took a quick run up to the summit of Adams. From there I had nice views of Jefferson and Madison, as well as Osgood Ridge. But I had done what I wanted, it was time to head down.
I still hadn't made up my mind about the Perch or Crag Camp, but back at Thunderstorm Junction I decided to just head to Crag down the Spur trail. As always, I loved the views across King Ravine to the Durand Ridge and Madison. Along the way I saw a stream of highschoolers from Montreal heading up to the summit. There must have been 20 of them, spread out over a miles. It was after 3:30 now, and it seemed kind of late to be heading up above treeline with no packs, gear, or flashlights. Just above Crag Camp I stopped at Knight's Castle for a neat view of the cabin and into King Ravine. There were lots more of the high school kids in the cabin, all day users, and one other guy who was spending his second night after a 50 mile journey. As it turns out he sent me e-mail asking questions about his trip after finding this web site. Small world. After the kids left (all 35 of them) I settled in for dinner and a relaxing night.
For those of you who've never been to Crag Camp, it's a cabin run by the RMC for hikers. There are no reservations, it's first-come first-serve, and $8/night. In the summer there is running water, other times you use a spring .2 miles away. There are three bunkrooms, two with two four-person sleeping shelves, one with four bunks, all with mattresses. The kitchen has tiled countertops for cooking, a sink for washing, and a few odds and ends. In July and August, there is a gas stove for cooking. The large windows look over King Ravine on one side and towards Jefferson and Randolph to the other. There is a composting privy just next to the cabin.
During the night I heard heavy rain, and was glad I made the decision to come here. I woke up to find everything socked in and occasionally raining. The other guest left early so I had breakfast alone and then walked over to Gray Knob, where the RMC caretaker lives, to find out what the weather forecast was for the day. Unfortunately, the forecast didn't come in that morning, so I looked around the place, upstairs and down, and decided to pack up and head out. I planned on going to Edmond's Col, then the Perch and Log Cabin on my way out. I took the Gray Knob trail over to the Randolph Path, but as I broke treeline the rain started pouring and the wind howled. I took this as a sign to head down. At the Perch there were three through-hikers (Osgood, Purple Haze, and T????) who were taking a rest day due to the weather. Actually, they were planning on heading to Osgood Ridge Campground but my description of the conditions up high changed their minds. I ate lunch, then gave them my extra day's food and took their trash to pack out. They were very happy. As the rain picked up I reached the Log Cabin and rested for a few minutes. There were several hikers coming up who seemed rather miserable with the weather. The last few miles were steady slog in pouring rain, Randolph Path to Shortline to Airline to Appalachia. It wasn't raining too hard when I hit the trailhead. I changed clothes, drank the water I had left in the car, and headed for home.
I didn't accomplish what I had originally planned but I had a good time. My two nights tenting at the Perch turned into one night in Crag Camp, and I didn't go down into the Great Gulf and climb the headwall, but I know I made the right decision for me. Flexibility is always the key in the Presidential Range.
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