Powder Day :: Skier as Presi Day ::
Since this is a blog about hiking you probably guessed D correctly. In the world of White Mountain hiking, the term 'Presi Day' refers to any day that is suitable for a visit to the above treeline alpine zone of the Presidential Range. While this term is used in all four seasons, it is during wintertime when it becomes gold. It is an unspoken rule among hiking friends that all hiking plans for any given day become null and void if it turns out to be a 'Presi Day.' Most people know that mountain weather is often hard to predict and can be extremely volatile on short notice. The Presidential Range is no different and its highest peak, Mt. Washington, is known as being the "home of the world's worst weather." If you want to learn more about the weather on Mt. Washington I would highly recommend visiting the Mount Washington Observatory's website to learn more. I spent a week volunteering on the summit of Mt. Washington and I have seen first hand the incredible weather scenarios that can unfold in a short time! So with all of that being said, if the weather dictates a Presi Day (clear skies, no chance of precipitation, moderate temperatures and no or low wind), then you head to the Presidentials and hike!
The other thing about the mountain weather forecast is it is not reliable until about 36 hours out. It usually comes down to making a decision the morning of the hike as even a minor increase in wind for the day can mean a lower wind chill factor which can become unsafe in terms of exposure. This was the case Tuesday for Kyle and I.
Kyle had been chomping at the bit to get in a hike above treeline and to be honest, I had been feeling the same way for awhile. Our original plan for the day that we kept all the way up until the night before the hike was to hike up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut then up to Mt. Monroe then over to Mt. Washington then over to Mt. Jefferson then back down the Jewell Trail to the car. The forecast hadn't changed much in the days leading up to our hike; bright sunshine, little cloud cover, OK temps (high teens), and very light wind (10-15 MPH). The forecast was slightly different when I woke up at 4:30 Tuesday morning. The winds had picked up to 30-45 MPH with potential gusts up to 55 MPH making the wind chill dangerously low. Knowing we would be exposed above treeline most of the day I made the call to scrap Plan A and go with Plan B which would be a nice 11 mile hike through the southern Presidentials (the winds were forecasted to be a little bit quieter over here too). We would have the complete coverage of the trees between Jackson and Pierce and some partial shelter provided by the scrub (alpine shrubs) between Pierce and Eisenhower. Plan A would have to wait for a warmer day and less windy day.
We met at the Highland Center at the top of Crawford Notch just after the sun had come up. We began our hike shortly after 7:00 on the Webster-Jackson Trail which is a short 0.2 of a mile down the road from the Highland Center. The Webster-Jackson Trail is short but has lots of short steep pushes to keep the heart rate up. The trail was nicely packed out from the very beginning and only had a couple of fresh inches of powder on it as we gained elevation. Kyle chose to wear his Microspikes while I decided to strap on my snowshoes asI knew I would need them on eventually and I absolutely detest wearing them on my back. Yes, I am a rare breed of winter hiker that actually prefers to have snow shoes on my feet when at all possible!
The wind picked up a bit as we approached the summit. We stopped to layer up and take in our first views of the day. It was breathtaking. The sky was incredibly blue with hints of light pink here and there. Sights like these are a huge payoff for starting a hike early in the morning. Once on the summit, the wind was driving into us in a straight line, it was bitter and made me glad I was not standing on one the peaks of the northern Presidentials. We snapped some pics then headed down into the col to make our way over to Mizpah Hut and then up to Mt. Pierce.
From the summit of Jackson it is 2.4 miles to reach the summit of Mt. Pierce. The AMC Mizpah Spring Hut is reached after 1.6 miles and though it is not open during the winter, it is a great spot to stop and take a break. The Gray Jays greeted us shortly before we reached the hut despite neither one of us having any food out yet. I guess they were lonely though they are nice and fat so someone has been around to feed them! After a quick snack break at the hut we continued on for another 0.8 of a mile where we reached the summit of Pierce. The wind was not nearly as strong as it had been on Jackson and the sun was shining down in full force making it feel that much warmer. We snapped countless pictures before moving onward towards Eisenhower.