Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Adams Slide Trail: A Short Walk in the Great Gulf

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the history and geography of the Adams Slide Trail on this blog. Its incline—“referred to as the steepest path of its length in the White Mountains,” according to the 1960 White Mountain Guide—and location on the south side of Mt. Adams continued to intrigue me, though I was not able to bushwhack it while working in the huts.

Last week, during a visit to Madison Spring Hut, I was lucky to have good weather and spare time, as well as two excellent friends—RD Jenkinson and Hillary Gerardi, both croo at Madha├╝s)— with whom to attempt the climb. After RD and Hillary finished cleaning up breakfast and we had a chance to get some food into our own bellies, we began our descent from the hut along the Buttress Trail. It heads southwest, traversing the southeastern slopes of Mt. Adams before dipping down into the Great Gulf. After 1.9 miles, it intersects with the Six Husbands Trail just below Jefferson Ravine.

The Adams Slide Trail starts near this junction; I won’t say exactly where, but it shouldn’t be hard for anyone with access to a decent White Mountain library to find it. Luckily, RD has sharp eyes, so we quickly began scrambling up a small herd path. A handful of people must bushwhack the trail every year, as traces of their steps persisted until we reached the felsenmeer.

The trail is indeed extremely steep, but progress was surprisingly steady. While undergrowth has spread across the trail during the past forty years (little evidence of the trail’s original exposure on the bottom half remains), a depression is still clearly visible in most places where hikers wore down the earth. At times, we strayed to one side or the other, but between the three of us, we were always able to return to the original tread. Here and there, we came upon a red blaze, a couple of which were reduced to a tiny smear on the rock.

Popping out above treeline, about halfway through our ascent, brought us views of the Great Gulf and into Jefferson Ravine.
Since the south side of Adams falls away so steeply, we could see much more of the Great Gulf than is visible from Adams’ summit, and in greater detail. The waterfalls on the far side of the Gulf flanking the Wamsutta Trail were magnificent. Then we fought our way through a brief section of krummholz—here, crawling was sometimes easier than walking because the firs and spruce have not yet colonized the packed earth of the old tread, allowing us to wiggle through a tunnel beneath the branches.

We stopped for pictures and to look for cairns, of which many remained. They were not well built but were often topped by quartz, distinguishing them from the background of grey schist that makes up most of the felsenmeer. I was more aware of the trail’s steepness above treeline because we rarely had to slow down to get through branches, and thus I had no excuse to pause and catch my breath.

Near the top, the cairns disappeared, presumably scattered when the trail was discontinued so that hikers would not stray into the trailless region. But we scrambled along what appeared to be the most interesting route up the cone and were rewarded by coming across a substantial cave. Had anyone sheltered in it before us? Not far beyond, we came across the blue blazes of the Star Lake Trail. From here, as the old guidebook says, it is but “a few rods to the summit of Mt. Adams.”

All told, the trail ascends 2,308 feet in 1.26 miles. We did the climb in about two hours, with ample time to enjoy views and pose for photos. It was easier than anticipated; this is one of the easier bushwhacks I have done in the Whites, mainly because we did not have to fight through the spruce-fir forest. However, we were lucky to have access to the hut. If one were to begin and end at the base of the Great Gulf, it would indeed be a full day.

Finally, isn't RD a hell of a photographer?