So my birthday was this past Saturday (the 7th) and for a destination I chose the Crawford Notch to revisit the Webster-Jackson Trail and hopefully ascend the peaks of both Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster. After the disappointing trip we had up this trail a few weeks back (click here to read about this failed attempt), we were a bit hesitant about trying this trail again and hoped the result wouldn't be the same. To our delight, we found the Notch under bright blue skies, sporting no humidity with the air temperature at a comfortable 58 degrees.
We started up the trail and as we expected, the first mile was very familiar to us as we had hiked it just a couple weeks prior. The big differences were that we weren't walking in fog and downpours, the trail didn't look like a running brook and we weren't soaked! The view point, which is located only 0.6 miles up the trail, gave us great views to the northwest. The Mount Washington Resort Hotel was clearly visible, as was most of the Notch.
We continued on and before long, came to the infamous Flume Cascade Brook, or as I like to call it, the raging river that made us head back last time. I was absolutely amazed to find it a mere trickle of water that only required us to take a slightly long stride over to the other banking. UNBELIEVABLE! I can't even explain to you how different this flow of water was a few weeks prior.
Happy that we made it across, we continued on to the split. Now, most of the trail guides out there advise that you make a counterclockwise loop, up and over Webster and then continue on to Jackson. This is due to some very steep sections and some rock hopping on the Webster Branch of the trail. I believe one guide even says if done counterclockwise, the hike ends up being about one hour faster than if it is done in a clockwise fashion, because of these trail features. We did, however, decide to ascend Jackson first. This is because I didn't know how we would feel after hitting one peak. Would we be too tired to continue? Would it take too long to summit and would our turn around time force us back down before the next peak? Taking this into account, I knew we wanted to summit Jackson no matter what, so we turned left on the Mount Jackson Branch of the trail.
The Mount Jackson Branch was beautiful. I can't describe to you the amount of green moss that was everywhere you looked. It was like someone took a bright green carpet and spread it through the forest. That, with some water runoffs and the sun peeking through the canopy made the forest glow with beauty. It was really an amazing sight and probably one of the nicest forest scenes I have ever been in.
Toward the top of Mount Jackson, we had the pleasure of being able to ascend the peak by some good rock hopping as well as some slab climbing. They weren't too steep, but just steep enough to make it fun. The view from all around at this point was beautiful. Along with the view above the trees came a cold westerly wind. We made it to the top of Mount Jackson and were rewarded with one of the best views I have seen so far in the Whites (remember, I'm still fairly new to hiking...haven't ascended that many peaks yet). You could see the lower Presidentials in the near distance with Mount Washington towering over them. It was truly a great sight.
Jill and I found a nice rock on the northern face of the summit to settle in, eat lunch and absorb the beauty of the White Mountains. It wasn't long before we had a visitor, though. A plump bird, with a black head landed down right at my feet. I was in absolute shock that a bird would get this close to me. I thought it would make for a great picture. However, it wasn't long until we noticed that the bird was asphyxiated on our food. We looked around and all of a sudden we were surrounded. And then it came to me, "these must be the gray jays I have read so much about!". So, Jill and I ate our food quickly in hopes they wouldn't want to fight us for it. A guy behind us was actually feeding the gray jays from his hand. Now, I know this bad because the more it is done, the more they harass hikers. But being the first time I have encountered these scavengers...I had to try it. It was pretty cool letting the bird eat out of your hand. I promise, as a good hiker, I will never do it again!
After taking one last deep breath of Mount Jackson air, we headed southwest down the Webster Cliff Trail (also part of the Appalachian Trail). This trail was steep going down the peak of Jackson and we were sliding on our butts quite a bit. It did level off but got very wet and muddy. There are quite a few walking boards on this trail to help keep you out of the mud...but not everywhere. This trail, between these two peaks, was pretty boring and did not offer much for views. We made it to the peak of Mount Webster pretty quickly. Here, we were rewarded with great views of the Notch and an amazing sheer cliff drop off to Route 302.
It was on the peak of Mount Webster where I encountered an extremely unprepared hiker, which actually startled me a bit. This hiker had nothing more than a small "fanny pack" which could hold a lunch and a bottle of water, was dressed in a tee shirt and shorts (with a light windbreaker) and a written down description of the loop that they had pulled from online. This hiker wanted to go to Mount Jackson, but was ready to head south down the Webster Cliff trail. I helped them out by showing them on my map where they were and where they needed to go. Being the over prepared hiker that I am, this under prepared hiker made me a bit uneasy the rest of the day. The good thing was, it was a very nice day out and the loop trail had plenty of presence of other hikers.
The truck down the Webster branch trail was truly the hardest part of the hike. There were many steep sections that required poles and lengthy, impacted jumps. In some places, it was steep enough that poles got thrown down first and you slid down on your butt. The terrain made the first mile go by very, very slow. In the end, we made it off the trail safely and proud of our accomplishment. Most importantly, we were able to finish the journey we started a few weeks before. We saw the beautiful Presidential Range, fed birds from our hands, hiked 6.5 miles and had a wonderful time. Jill is able to say she has completed her 3rd 4000 footer, and I can say I have completed my fifth. I can honestly say it was a great birthday and I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. Spending the day with my lovely wife while looking out at the White Mountains was the best gift of all!