One trail that has always interested me is the Ridge of Caps Trail (more well known as the Caps Ridge Trail) which leads to the summit of Mount Jefferson, the 3rd highest 4,000 footer in New Hampshire at approximately 5,712 feet. The Caps Ridge Trail is the highest trailhead location in the State that leaves from a public road starting at about 3,000 feet in elevation. It’s 2.5 miles long and climbs approximately 2,700 feet to the summit. However, the more interesting allure to this trail is the terrain. It’s known to be a great rock scramble trail, featuring giant Caps that protrude from the mountain side creating a ridge. The rock climbing and scrambles that these Caps create on the trail have even awarded itself a place on the Terrifying 25 list for New Hampshire!
The decision to hike this trail actually stemmed from my buddy, Pat, who was vacationing at the Mount Washington Resort in the Crawford Notch back in February. While having a beer at the bar, he was staring out at the Presidentials and texted me that he’d like to climb one of those mountains. Since I'll never turn down an invitation to hike, I took the text as a request to plan out an epic trek. We set the date for 6 months later and I chose this trail due to the interest I had for it and the challenge! We also recruited by buddy, Sean, who I hiked Potash with (see previous report) a few years prior.
We met at the trailhead around 9:15 or so and for a Friday, there were still quite a few cars there. It was about 80 degrees and sunny at the trailhead, but there were clouds circling Mount Washington, which in turn, encompassed Mount Jefferson’s summit as well.
The first mile of the trail is in the woods. You first travel over some log platforms setup for wetter conditions and then the trail heads up somewhat steeply. The trail is well maintained and it’s easy to keep your footing on the hike up. I would say, after about ¾ of a mile, the steepness dissipated and the trail flattened out. The trees also got smaller and wind was more prevalent. It wasn’t long before we came to a view point at the 1 mile mark that had some granite slabs on the right of the trail.
First section with log bridges over the wet portions
View of the caps near the first view point
The granite slabs had very large potholes in them which were remnants of glacial activity many, many years ago. From this viewpoint, we had an awesome view to the south of the Southern Prezis (as well as Mt. Clay) and up to Jefferson's peak. You could make out the rest of the trail route over the Caps and up to the very cone-shaped, pointed summit. The Caps looked extremely intimidating from this standpoint, but we were ready to move on and tackle them.
Up toward Clay at first viewpoint
Potholes in granite slabs at first viewpoint
Up toward the Mount Jefferson Summit at first viewpoint.
Crawford Notch with the Mount Washington Resort in the valley
The trail continued on flat and it wasn’t long before we came to a junction where The Link Trail entered from the left which leads to the Castle Trail. We remained to the right as we wanted to continue on The Caps Ridge Trail. Soon after this junction, we came to the famous Caps!
The trail went from flat earth to large boulders that you needed to climb over using your hands, feet and knees! It was a lot of fun and seemed pretty safe as trees still surrounded an obvious route up. However, as we got higher, the Caps became more exposed and instead of boulder filled, slide like trail; we were facing what seemed like small cliffs!!!
Trail just prior to the Caps
Looking down at one of the first scrambles
View back from the trail
View back from the trail
The intimidation of the climbing and rock scrambles disappeared pretty quickly as we were having a ton of fun! Trying to negotiate the best way to tackle the rock faces was a blast. Every time we got over a challenging one, and even more challenging one surfaced and we started over again. As we got to the upper most Cap, the intimidation came back…but it was with regards to how were going to make our way back down them during the decent! Oh well, we figured we’d cross that bridge when we were headed down.
Pat tackling one of the Caps
Sean negotiating a Cap
Glabrous Sandwort on the Caps
Looking back on the Caps
After the Caps, the trail turned into less of an actual trail and more of a craggy rock pile, similar to the upper portion of Mount Washington. We passed the junction where The Cornice Trail crossed and continued up at 2.1 miles. Now, completely exposed above tree line, the wind hit us hard from the west and the clouds rolled in thick and heavy. For a short few seconds, there was a break in the fast moving clouds and we caught a glimpse of the Mount Washington summit.
Peak of Jefferson at the The Cornice Trail junction
Cog in the distance from the junction
Mount Washington making an appearance from behind the clouds for a short minute
Stake at summit...no Benchmark!!!
At the summit
The Great Gulf
Memorial on the summit
We pushed on to the Mount Jefferson summit which was small and craggy, but very cool. The clouds and the wind made it a very eerie visit. It was also 48 degrees by my thermometer...and colder with the windchill. I was very disappointed to find that the USGS Benchmark is no longer there and only a metal stake remains. I assume someone stole it as I’ve seen pictures of it from past trip reports. Sean, Pat and I hung out on the summit for about 30 minutes, hoping the skies would clear but they did not. So we snapped a few pics and headed down.
The trip down was pretty fast and the hardest part was the craggy rock at the top as most were potential ankle twisters! The Caps were not that difficult to negotiate going down as long as you took your time. However, your butt was needed for sliding in a few spots. Back at the trailhead, we set up a few chairs and relaxed with some beverages. I can honestly say I miss being able to hike as much as I used to as life has gotten hectic…but just getting out once in a while with some great friends on an epic journey like the Caps Ridge Trail definitely helps make up for it!