Saturday, April 28, 2007

The abandoned Adams Slide Trail

Oddly, given the emphasis on exposure and challenge in today’s world of outdoor sports, New England’s steepest hiking path no longer exists. The Adams Slide Trail, last included in the White Mountain Guide in 1967, ascended 2300 feet over 1.25 miles.

The Adams Slide Trail went extinct around the time that the backpacking boom was taking off. Its isolation, deep within the Great Gulf Wilderness (and invisible except from Mts. Washington and Clay), kept traffic minimal, in stark contrast to Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine Trails on the east side of Washington. It was too steep for any but the most experienced to use on a serious backpacking trip.

The trail was always difficult to maintain, right back to its cutting in 1909 by Warren Hart. Unlike the better-known J. Rayner Edmands, whose gradual, winding paths were a testament to his belief that hiking should be a civilized endeavor, Hart sought the summit by the quickest means possible. In some places, the Adams Slide Trail climbs at 45 degrees. Rockfalls inevitably took a heavy toll.

The Adams Slide Trail is only one of several trails Hart built in the Great Gulf. Indeed, during that summer of 1909, another of his crews completed the Six Husbands Trail, named for an apparently insatiable Indian Princess. Ascending a rare (for the Whites) arete—one of Mt. Jefferson “knees,”—the Six Husbands Trails is one of the steepest, wildest, and most beautiful trails in the northeast. Like the other evocatively named trails Hart built in this giant glacial valley—the Sphinx, Buttress, and Wamsutta (one of the six husbands) Trails—the Six Husbands Trail feeds into the region’s hiking thoroughfare, the Great Gulf Trail, which itself makes a long and exposed climb up the Great Gulf’s headwall.

Since the AMC stopped maintenance, a trickle of hikers have continued to use the Adams Slide Trail, drawn by its steepness and historical interest. While blowdowns and thickets are major obstacles, particularly near the lower junction with the Buttress Trail, old red paint blazes are still visible below treeline. A surprising number of cairns still stand in the alpine tundra, marking the way up over Mt. John Quincy Adams before petering out just before the true summit.

Now that the Great Gulf is officially wilderness, the chances of the Adams Slide Trail reopening are nil. But that’s probably for the best—it’s good to have challenges like this when the beaten paths become a bit too familiar.

Photos: The Northern Presidentials - Adams is in the sun, with the slide directly below the summit but down about one thousand feet; Looking up at Jefferson’s Knee from the Great Gulf Trail.


Ari said...

Hey have you hiked Adams Slide or just written about it? I hiked down Star Lake and Buttress yesterday (didn't stay at Madfest). And gosh do my knees hurt. Can you think of any hiking (as opposed to climbing) as hard as the Great Gulf?

Bob D said...

Yes we did!!! Maybe I shouldn't be so proud, as it almost turned into a disatster that you read about. Myself and three other experienced hikers hiked the trail on 11/07/09. We left the Great Wilderness trail head at around 8:00am and came out of the woods at Lowes general store at around 6:00pm. If you try to find it, a couple of words of advice. 1) allow plenty of time. This is a long hike, with no easy bail-out points. Once you are on the trail, there is no easy way off of it. Additionally, it is close to a 5 mile hike just to get to the base of the trail head. 2) Make sure you do the hike in good weather. We hiked it on a beautiful fall day, but the week after day-light savings time. By the time we broke tree line it was after 12:00, and the top of Mt Adams is a lot further than it would appear. Also, seeing that above tree line there are almost no karin's, it is difficult and slow going. Also, there are no easy/ quick alternatives but to go up and over Adams. There are no trails within a 1-2 mile radius to bail-out to. As luck would have it, half way to the Adams we encountered three problems. 1) one of our hikers started experiencing severe cramping, 2) bad weather started blowing in from the west - the dusting of snow we thought was on top, was actually 3-5" and 3) the sole of my boots began delaminating. Thank god for duct tape. We batteled through our issues and made it over to Crag Camp by 3:15, and came out of the woods in the pitch black at around 5:30. Because of the potential problems, we barely stoped, and I would consider us to all be fairly strong hikers. We had plenty of warm closthing, but not the proper gear to spend a night in the White's in early November. If you try to find it, the key is right after the intersection of the Six Husband and Buttress trail, vear right onto the Buttress trail. Within 1/4 mile you will come to a talus field, on your left, right before the talus field, you can barely make out through all the thicket of the woods, the remanats of the old Adams Slide Trail. It is not marked, but after the first 100 yards you should come accross worn red markings on the rocks. Just follow the natural flow of the landscape. It goes pretty straight up. This part was a lot of fun, with lots of exploring. Some parts are more obvious, some you have to do some bushwacking. Half of the trail is in in the woods, and the reaminder is above tree line. Once again, once above the tree line, it takes a lot longer than expected to get to the top of Adams. Good luck and be careful. Don't make the msitakes we did..
Best, Bob D, Ed Sop and croooo