Friday, January 15, 2010


With its abundance of snow-caked evergreens and its fine summit views, Mt. Jackson in the Southern Presidentials is one of the best winter hikes in the Whites. Sunny skies were forecast for this day, and an internet report indicated that snowshoe conditions were superb on the Webster-Jackson Trail (thanks, Silverfox/Mark T.!). So John Compton and I headed up the W-J Trail a bit before 10.00

The trail conditions were, as reported, excellent for snowshoeing, a soft top layer over a well-packed track. Early returns on the views were good from Bugle Cliff, a short side jaunt 0.6 mile up the trail. Looking across to Mt. Tom and Mt. Avalon.

Avalon is an impressive little peak from this angle.

The view over "Crawford's" and the Highland Center with the Rosebrook Range beyond.

John ascending the last of the three short, steep pitches on the lower part of the trail.

A lacy snow-coated canopy.

The 1.4 miles up to this junction always seems shorter than the 1.2 from here to the summit.

In the open fir forest at about 3500 ft.

The resident Gray Jays found us shortly thereafter.

From here up it was true winter wonderland material.

A peek up at the summit from the traverse in the Tisdale Spring area at 3800 ft. In deep snow years the trail can be difficult to follow in this area.

This section of trail was a nice corridor.

Snow sculptures everywhere.

Looking for more handouts.

As we climbed the last steep section to the summit, views to the west unfolded, this one looking at Mt. Willey.

Mt. Carrigain (L) and the Hancock massif (R). The cloudbank that lingered all day off to the west soon engulfed these summits.

The final ledgy pitch up the summit cone is sometimes icy in winter. Today, it was crusty snow, perfect for mountaineering snowshoes (MSRs, in our case). Note the jay waiting for us on the R side of the trail. There were 5 Gray Jays at the summit, and they were quite aggressive in their quest for tidbits from John, me and a party of three other hikers at the summit.

A bird's eye view to the SW. The Sandwich Range is on the far L.

John tackles the final pitch. When we arrived at the summit, we were astounded at the lack of wind, making it quite comfortable in the sun with temperatures in the 20s.

The Presidential views were OK today.

Never before seen Mt. Pierce quite this snowy.

Reports posted about this day indicated that even the higher summits were snowshoeable.

The views across the wild Dry River valley are among my favorites from Mt. Jackson. Mt. Isolation is the double hump in the center, with snowy South Baldface and darker Sable Mtn. in the distance to its R.

Looking across at the looooong ridge of Mt. Davis. The Doubleheads, Mt. Shaw and The Gemini are behind on the R. In looking at this view, I thought of the excerpts from Guy Waterman's journal and letters about his epic winter bushwhacks, published in the latest issue of Appalachia. He recounts a bushwhack up the SE ridge of Mt. Jackson from his base camp in the Dry River valley - five hours of pushing through snow-caked conifers. The upper end of that bushwhack route would be in the lower part of this photo. What incredible fortitude!

The view towards Stairs, Resolution, Crawford, and Chocorua.

The obligatory summit sign shot.

After a lengthy summit stay spent soaking in the views, we still had some time, so we decided to venture north 0.4 mile on the Webster Cliff Trail to the open alpine bog that the trail traverses, where we could enjoy some additional views. Once down the steep ledgy pitch off the cone and into the woods, we found the trail quite difficult to follow due to extensive drifting and heavily snow-caked trees.
We made several false starts before we found a remnant of an old track, obscured by a bent-over snow-clumped tree. Where there had been less wind, the old track was easier to follow. As we continued down, an occasional view presented itself.

Is this the trail?

John looks up in wonder at the fantastic snow sculptures.

John spotted this cool profile to the left of the trail. When I showed it to Carol that evening, she declared it to be a Presidential profile.

The view from out on the open bog.

Pierce and Eisenhower.

Guardians of the bog.

John is liking it.

Looking back at Mt. Jackson, which has thousands of guardians.

John checks out the other side of the bog, which was well-buried in firm windpacked snow, protecting the vegetation beneath.

Dwight, Ben, James, George and Francis in their winter finery.

Another perspective on Jackson.

Nice late afternoon light.

A typical obstacle along the Webster Cliff Trail. As John noted, this short side trip was a full-body workout.

Heading back up the cone of Jackson.

The Dartmouth Range finally emerged from the clouds.

Looking back down at the bogs, the white areas in the center of the picture.

Carefully descending the steep upper pitch on the Webster-Jackson Trail.

Heading back down through the woods on the fine snowshoe track.

The trip had an unusual ending. After John headed home, the rear-wheel drive pickup I was driving got stuck in slushy snow/ice in the inclined Webster-Jackson parking area. I hadn't given this a thought until it was too late. Twenty minutes of rocking yielded nothing but spinning wheels. But with some sand obtained through the courtesy of a friendly young woman at the Highland Center desk, and with the help of a Good Samaritan fellow hiker exiting late off the Willey Range (who provided a push and sacrificed a piece of plywood out of his truck for a traction ramp), I was able to get the truck back on the road. All in all, it was a memorable winter day.


  1. Steve . . . Excellent report, as always!

    And once again, it paid off to follow your gut instincts and years of experience with weather in the Whites. Mt. Jackson had some grand views yesterday, whereas it's uncertain if the same would have been true for the other options being considered.

    I'm so sorry to read about the problem you had with your truck after our hike. Since your engine was started and you had everything packed away inside the vehicle, I thought you were "good to go". And, since I pulled out of the lot with no traction issues, unfortunately I didn't give it a second thought that you'd have any problems. Wrong! From now on, we'll make certain that we are both "on the road" before we go our separate ways.


  2. Thanks, John - it was a great day! It never occurred to me that there would be a problem backing the 2WD truck up the incline. Next time I'll park more carefully!

  3. Incredible photos! I love the snow sculptures and the gray jays. It sounds like you had a fun outing and a good workout.

  4. Thank you - it was a classic winter day!