The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
This hike was my introduction to the drug that is the 48, and to mountain climbing in general. I am of course referring to the Forty-Eight, 4,000+ Foot Peaks in my home state of New Hampshire that were carved from the granite bones of the earth by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years ago. First, a confession: Despite having grown up in NH, this is was the first 4,000 footer I’ve climbed when I knew I was climbing a 4,000 footer. The only other I have ever climbed was Moosilauke as a teen, and at the time all I knew was that I liked walking in the woods. I only went on this hike (On July 3rd, in 98 degree weather with over 90% humidity) because some of my friends saw me post an article about The Lonesome Lake Trail on Facebook, and invited me along. I had NO IDEA what I was in for.
Eisenhower Summit via Edmand’s Path
Mount Eisenhower (formerly Mount Pleasant) is the 11th highest peak on New Hampshire’s list of the 48 peaks of 4,000 feet or higher. Eisenhower has an altitude of 4,780 Feet, and connects with Mount Pierce near the summit. It is part of the Presidential Range, and is named for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Its peak is barren except for a large rock cairn, and has 360 degrees of exposure.
Edmands Path Trail
Alltrails.com lists this route to the summit of Mount Eisenhower as both Moderately Traveled and Hard. It is a 6.5 mile out and back trail that gains 2,791 feet of elevation. The trail head is located on the Mount Clinton Road off of route 302 in Jefferson, NH.
John Raynor Edmands
J. Rayner Edmands was the man the path is named for as well as its original builder. He was a Civil Engineer who studied at MIT, worked for Harvard University, and was one of the founding members of the Appalachian Mountain Club. He is described by the Randolph Mountain Club on their History page as follows:
The last early pathmaker, J. Rayner Edmands, came to stay at the Watsons’ hostelry following a visit to the mountains of Colorado in 1890. He was a meteorologist at the Harvard Observatory, had long been a summer tramper, and was a founding member of the AMC. In the woods he was known to wear gray knickers and flannel shirt with bright red-topped socks and a red sash, and to carry a ball of twine on a stick with which he could mark a trail. Edmands had been greatly impressed by the gradual ascents of western stock trails and felt that similar paths on the northern peaks would open the mountains’ splendor to more walkers (especially women with their cumbersome costumes). Edmands’ first project was a series of paths (and three bark shelters, one of which was the original Perch) to access the waterfalls in Cascade Ravine. He employed local axemen to clear trees and provide a smooth treadway. This labor-intensive approach was antithetically opposed to the methods of Cook and Peek, who blazed and minimally cleared trails that gained the summits by the shortest feasible route, steepness be damned. A certain amount of conflict arose between the two schools of pathmaking, with both Cook and Edmands refusing to walk each other’s paths. Yet they remained civil to one another in musical evenings at the Ravine House, with Cook on the violin and Edmands at the piano.
For the most part my gear for this hike was the same as for The Lonesome Lake Trail. I added a Nalgene type bottle for 48 ounces more water, and brought a few extra snacks. As this was a 4,000 footer I also packed a heavy fleece sweatshirt despite it being early July, and scorchingly hot at the base. The Presidentials can really snow at any time of year, and I was trying to be extra careful. As it turns out I was woefully under prepared for the hike I was about to take. As I mention above I really had no idea what I was in for with this hike. As such my big mistake was not packing anywhere near enough food. When you are climbing a 4,000 footer, realize it will likely take the whole day. Pack plenty of food. As I found out, hiking with a calorie deficit makes the hike no fun.
After this hike I decided to add some more items to my gear. First, I now bring LOTS of food when I hike. I bring some sort of lunch, several pieces of fruit, a bag of trail mix, and several Cliff bars. I never again want to be in a position where I am so calorie deprived that my energy gets sapped away. Second, there is a finite amount of water a person can bring, and it is heavy as hell. Now, I have a sweet water filtration system that would allow me to drink a gallon a day for a year. Finally, I bring BOTH a First Aid Kit, and a Tourniquet.
My gear is a work in progress, and I’m about to take my first “colder” weather hike so I’ll update in that post. I can tell you that there is a nice family from Massachusetts who are damn thankful I had a First Aid kit along when I hiked Jackson.
On The Trail
After getting a much later start than I advise when seeking to bag a 4,000 footer we got to Mount Clinton Road at about 9:15AM only to find that the road was closed. As such, we got the opportunity to add another 2 miles to our hike, getting to and from the trail head.
The First Leg
Similar to the Lonesome Lake Trail this hike can be broken down into several legs. Discounting the walk along the road to get to the trail, the first leg involves crossing a couple of little streams, and traveling along some reasonably flat terrain.
Before long the trail gets rocky, but this is pretty standard for hikes in the White Mountains. New Hampshire is a rocky place, and the trail builders want to make sure everyone understands the full implications of that fact. Even during the morning hours on July 3, 2018 there was an oppressive heat in the air. The humidity was significant, but even with the heat it was a pleasant walk through the woods. This section was either flat, or had an incredibly mild grade. I was walking along with a great group of people, catching up, and generally having a great time.
The Second Leg
Before long you begin to really hike. The footing gets rougher, the grade gets steeper, and you begin to wonder what on earth you were thinking. The air is still humid, but the trees give good shade. This is one of the “Green Tunnel” sections of a hike in the White Mountains, and you begin to feel small. The air smells fresh, and all you hear are your own footsteps. Occasionally, you’ll get scolded by a Red Squirrel, or hear a bird getting angry because you’re walking through its living room, but there is a peace to it. The walking is tougher, but you still have a good time. This point in the hike we were joking, and laughing about how old and out of shape we were. There are a number of stone steps in this section which make the trail obvious, and you’ll find blazes pretty regularly.
The Third Leg
The steep continues, the path becomes a walk along wet ledge, and footing is uncertain at best. This portion of the trail, more than any other feels like hard work. Nature has not been kind to the ground here. Lots of blow downs, and washouts. This can be kind of scary to hike as you tend to feel that if your shoes slip on the wet ledge you’ll slide a long way without control. Choose your footing carefully and you’ll be fine. I’d been feeling small for some time at this point, but now I was beginning to feel the weight of the mountain itself. This is big country for the Northeast, and as an introduction to the 48 game it instills a person with the proper amount of respect for mountains. It doesn’t feel vindictive at all, it more feels like you are beneath its notice. As I climb I am always struck with the feeling that the mountain doesn’t know I’m there. I am an ant crawling up the side of a skyscraper. The mountain doesn’t mind that I’m there, it simply won’t be effected no matter what happens to me.
After the seemingly endless expanse of ledge you come to any one of many of the stone stairways that Mr. Edmands and his followers built. Any time I climb these beasts I am struck with just how amazingly tough the trail builders must be. Here I am, barely able to haul myself up this monster, and the builders brought heavy metal tools up here. They were all tough as nails.
This section transitions in a huge blow-down with what the uninitiated will consider an amazing view. The view is certainly grand, but the best is yet to come.
The Fourth Leg
This leg is really fun. The ascent isn’t terribly steep, but it is continuous. You are walking along the side of the mountain, and are beginning to get high enough so that the trees are smaller. You get several decent views, and are feeling a bit recharged. After the misery of the wet ledge and stone steps this path seems like something you can do indefinitely.
Just before you hit the final leg of the ascent the path gets very narrow, but not unpleasant to walk on. It’s almost like cobble stones. You are really coming to the above treeline section here, and the trees are under 8 feet tall for the most part. We were high enough that the temperature was a bit cooler, and with the constant breeze this was a lot of fun.
Soon enough you’ll find yourself nearing the final push, and be welcomed with the all too familiar (at this point) terrible weather warning.
The Fifth Leg – A Final Push
The last bit of the climb here is full exposure. Its too high for trees, but there rocks are aplenty.
The views are as constant as the breeze. You know you’re close, and keep thinking “right around the next bend”, “right over the next rise”, “I’ve got to be close”. Then you find a sign.
The final push is actually a series of ridges, and despite how frustrated you are beginning to get it actually isn’t that far. There are several smaller cairns along the way that show you the path, and the walking would be pretty easy if you hadn’t already been doing it for several hours. There are a couple of spots in the very beginning of the final ascent that can be tricky for those with a nervousness about high places, but push through and you’ll get the payoff you well deserve.
Finally, you poke your head above that last shallow little ridge, the world opens up before you, and you see the big cairn.
I don’t think you are necessarily supposed to “climb” the cairn, but I was feeling pretty dang special at this point.
You’ll have to forgive me. I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to take any good “view” pictures until I was most of the way back down. Trust me though, you’ll want to see this for yourself.
This hike, above all else was a learning experience for me. I learned that climbing mountains is nearly the most fun you can have with your pants on. I learned that I was both more fit than I thought, and had a long way yet to go. I learned that food is tantamount to success in hiking. I learned that despite the fact that I could barely move the next day, I’d keep finding these big rocks, and never be satisfied until I collected all of them. Finally, I learned that even as I write this article 3 months later my memories of that day, and the folks I shared it with are as fresh and vivid as the day I made them.
Listen up, friends. Standing atop a mountain is about the most spiritual thing a human can experience. It hearkens back to our pioneer, and explorer ancestors. We are reminded that the human soul craves adventure. Regardless of what you think you can do, you can always do more. Get outside. Climb a mountain just because its there. Stand back, and stare into the face of god while standing atop the bones of the earth. You owe it to yourself. If you tell yourself you can’t do it you will be correct 100% of the time. If you think you can’t do it, simply add the word “yet”, and take a tiny step down the right path to get there. Do it now.
Thanks for stopping by!