WHEN IN DOUBT, TWIRL
We woke up Thursday ready to get back on the trail. However, we had some challenges to overcome first. The biggest problem was the water pump in the campground. It was an old-fashioned hand pump that required two hands to operate. Unfortunately, one hand was needed to hold the water bottles, so I had to get Christy to help. After a full minute of strenuous pumping, we'd managed to fill a one quart bottle. I had had enough, so we drove into town and bought a couple of jugs. With that problem out of the way, we headed up the road toward the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad.
We initially missed the turn for Jefferson Notch Road, but eventually found it. We reached Jefferson Notch and a large parking lot. We were surprised to find out that there was a $3 parking fee. I managed to come up with $3 in mixed change, but there were no envelopes. So I put it all in a ziplock and somehow managed to squeeze it into the tube. By the time we were finally ready to hike it was after 9:30.
The Caps Ridge Trail started climbed through a spruce / fir forest. After a mile, we reached a rock outcrop with a view of Mt. Jefferson high above us. After a brief rest, we resumed the climb. We passed the junction with The Link Trail, and the trail became steep. Once we passed treeline, the hiking became a matter of scrambling up through ledges and over rock faces. It was challenging, but after Maine we were getting used to it. In fact, it was kind of fun. It was steep though, and the going was slow. We climbed over several "caps", or knobs along the ridge. After 2 hours we reached the Cornice Trail, which loops around the west side of Mt. Jefferson. From there it was simply a matter of scrambling over the boulders to reach the summit.
We hadn't seen anyone on the trail, so we were surprised to encounter a crowd at the top. It was lunch time though, and nothing draws a crowd like a high peak on sunny day. We found a boulder to sit on and enjoyed the view. It was hot, humid, and hazy, but many significant peaks were still visible. To the north was Mt. Adams, which looked quite impressive. To the south were Mt. Clay and Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. I was content to watch the train struggle up the mountain as we ate lunch.
Afterwards we decided to explore. We hiked south to meet the Appalachian Trail on Monticello Lawn. Monticello Lawn is a grassy meadow below Mt. Jefferson. It was a pleasant break from all the rocks on the summit.
We hiked the AT around the east side of Jefferson, and saw lots of backpackers. The views were incredible, and the hiking on the more civilized trail was much easier. We descended into Edmond's Col, which is the gap between Jefferson and Adams. I really wanted to continue on to Adams, but we didn't have time. Instead, we decided to loop around Jefferson on the Cornice Trail. Neither of us was looking forward to going back down Caps Ridge. Instead, we decided to hike down Castle Ridge to The Link Trail and follow it back to Caps Ridge. That would create a loop and eliminate all but one mile of backtracking. Plus, The Link Trail appeared to descend much more gradually, which would be easier on the knees.
We climbed up the Cornice Trail, which was annoying since we knew we'd have to go back down. We found the Castle Ridge Trail without any problem, and began to work our way down a boulder field. The "trail" was really just a long steep pile of boulders. This made for difficult hiking. To make matters worse, there was no sign of The Link Trail. All of the junctions we had seen had been signed. This one wasn't, and we were still way above treeline. Looking for cairns amid a sea of boulders was virtually impossible. I'm sure the trail was there somewhere, but there was no way to identify it. We continued down Castle Ridge to make sure it wasn't still ahead of us.
Everything was going ok until Christy stepped on a loose rock. It wobbled and Christy lost her balance. I was behind her when I saw her spin and fall. She landed on her back on a boulder, bounced, and rolled down the boulder pile. Luckily she stopped when her backpack got caught between two rocks. It looked real bad. I hurried to her and promptly sat on her arm. She had bashed her knee and scraped herself up pretty badly. Of course, it could have been much worse. Her backpack had probably kept her from banging her head. She had twisted her knees when she fell, but luckily she was able to walk. I bandaged her up and we had a long rest. I was afraid that she wouldn't be able to walk out. It was late afternoon, and a rescue from our position would have been an ordeal. Fortunately she sucked it up and was able to continue.
I scouted ahead, and gave up on finding The Link Trail when I reached treeline. We had no choice but to return to the Cornice and hike it around to Caps Ridge. We did go off trail on the way up, hoping that we would see The Link Trail when we crossed it. Eventually we did see cairns, but they were for the Cornice Trail. We reached it, and worked around the west side of Jefferson. This part of the hike was the worst. It was really only a trail in theory. We scrambled over boulders the whole way. It was slow going, and we were both tired. Christy was hurting from her fall, and I was afraid that either one of us could repeat that incident. It was a huge relief when we reached Caps Ridge.
The descent turned out to be easier than anticipated. We simply slid down the steepest rock faces. Some looked bad, but all of them had occasional footholds to slow us down. We had brought 7 quarts of water, but it was long gone by the time we started down. We still had 2 miles to go, but it had cooled off a little, and hiking downhill didn't require much exertion. We celebrated a little upon reaching treeline, but saved the most emotion for the parking lot. Our Mt. Jefferson adventure had taken 9 hours, but we had survived.
Neither of us wanted to cook, so we stopped at Mooseland Grill in Twin Mountain for dinner. This wasn?t in the budget, but we didn't care. Afterwards we returned to camp, where we enjoyed a brief fire before exhaustion overcame us.
That night it rained for the first time all week. It stopped by morning, but it was damp and overcast when we got up. We had a quick breakfast and drove in to Twin Mountain to check the weather forecast. It didn?t look good. The high peaks were lost in the clouds, and it didn't look like it would change anytime soon. Christy was really too sore to hike anyway. So we decided to go back to the beach. We need to head south anyway. We returned to Hampton Beach State Park and had a picnic lunch. However, the clouds followed us there. There wasn?t any sun, and the water was too cold for swimming. We stayed a couple of hours before beginning the long drive home.
We drove around Boston and hit Hartford at rush hour. We tried to avoid the worst of the traffic, but ran into a huge mess at Waterford. We detoured through town but eventually had to get back on the highway. The rest of the drive through Connecticut and into New York was tedious. I had hoped to make it to Delaware Water Gap to camp, but that didn't seem likely. Plus, it had started to rain again. Instead we stopped for some McDinner and headed for Bear Mountain State Park. The drive along the Hudson River was beautiful. High cliffs towered above the river. We passed through a number of cute, though expensive looking towns. We crossed an amazing suspension bridge over the river, and reached the park at dark. It was practically wilderness, although we were virtually in sight of New York City. I was stunned that such a nice, natural place could still exist this close to the biggest city in the country.
We drove through the park, but couldn?t find the campground. We did see at least a dozen deer though. Our second pass didn't bring any luck either, but we did find a park map. On our third try, we found the campground. It was full. Now what?
It was getting late, but there were some parks in New Jersey. Camping in New Jersey? Sure, why not? We drove through suburban New York, got lost twice, got gas for $1.79 a gallon, and eventually found interstate 80. We got off the highway in western New Jersey and aimed for the first state park on the map. We didn?t find it. We went on to a state forest. We found this one, but once again, the campground was full. We drove on, and found ourselves at Delaware Gap, our original destination. The campground was full. I guess reservations would?ve been a good idea.
It was approaching midnight, so we began to look for hotels. The Quality Inn in Stroudsburg was full. So was the Days Inn at Allentown. I was kind of glad actually, since the going rate was $150. I was beginning to think we'd sleep in the car in a rest area. We discussed driving straight through the night. I was exhausted though, and Christy couldn?t do it herself. We ended up driving back towards Harrisburg. I knew of some cheap hotels near Lebanon that were sure to have vacancies.
We reached the hotels, and all 3 of them were full. One had a sign suggesting trying a hotel down the road. We reached it, and they had a room for $50. It wasn't anything special, but it wasn't bad, either. It was 2:30, and all we wanted was a bed. The room was actually decent, and we didn?t have any trouble getting to sleep.
We got up at checkout time on Saturday. We drove through Hershey past the Chocolate factory. We then stopped in my old hometown of Harrisburg, where we had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. From there, we drove down through Baltimore and Washington. Washington was a disaster, thanks to construction and bad driving. We got past it eventually, and reached Richmond by late afternoon. We stayed with a friend of Christy's and caught up on our sleep. On Sunday we had an easy, uneventful drive back to Charlotte. It was a great trip. It was kind of fun doing it spontaneously, but in the future I hope to have time to plan it in advance. I'll at least make sure to get reservations each night.
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