Hike: Mount Madison

Hiked: 15 June 2014

So far, my favorite peaks in the White Mountains are Carrigain, Bondcliff and Madison. When my son chose Madison to be his first 4000 Footer I was excited, even though I’d be doing a traverse of the Presidentials two weeks later. Saturday evening we drove to White Birches Camping Park, and RV park (which I typically and vocally rebel against), but the tent sites in the back of the camping park were actually secluded and quite nice.

We woke at 4:30am in order to get to Appalachia parking lot by 5:30am. Not knowing how my son would perform on his first serious hike I wanted to leave 5 hours for each ascent and descent and an hour for breaks and still be back to Portland to catch the early evening boat. We arrived to find plenty of space at the parking lot and headed up Valley Way toward Madison Spring Hut.

I explained to my son that this was his hike, if at any point he wanted to turn around we would and to remember that at any point the hike was only half over, to save enough energy to get back down. With that I asked him to take the lead so that he could set the pace, which he did the entire hike.

Valley Way was a nice trail, it weaved between conifers and following the brook for a while. Later on it grew rocky and steep. I recognized a few places that I remembered from doing a Presidential Traverse attempt two years previous. The spot where my brother and I stopped to drink some of the Heady Topper he brought because it was too heavy. The boulder-strewn climb just below Valley Way Tentsite that we stumbled over in the dark, hoping that the spur trail to the tentsite would soon appear.

Valley Way

Valley Way

We met just a few people coming down from the peak. They were noticeably wet and mentioned how windy it was. This was disheartening as I was hoping that the clouds would burn away by the time we attempted the summit.

We arrived at the Madison Spring Hut and went inside to rest for half an hour and hope that the weather would break. I stepped into the hut in my t-shirt to quizzical looks and questions about the weather down Valley Way. I let those huddling around waiting for clearer weather know that it was not too bad, and even quite warm a half a mile down the trail. My son was excited to see the hut, but was expecting something like the rest areas that you see on the side of highways, with vending machines and all.

After a couple of Clif Bars we decided that the weather wasn’t likely to break before our legs started to cool down and possibly cramp up (well, more of my concern, not the sprite youngin’s). We added a few layers and headed out into the clouds surrounding the hut.

As soon as we got above the krummholz and onto the bouldery cone of Madison the wind picked up. My son started dashing between cairns while I relished the severe weather. I imagined the contrast between the hot and sunny valley below and cold and windy dampness of the giant’s shoulder. Only those who truly loved the mountains would be undeterred by such weather. And my son was enjoying himself.

I also stopped to take some photos of the Diaspensia and Alpine Azaleas which were in bloom.


Diapensia and alpine azaleas

We climbed up to the summit, greeting a few people as we went. These were people so in love with mountains that the weather could not turn them around. People that refused to huddle within a hut, staring out the window wishing for better weather. We snapped out our pics, stared into the clouds and then decided to head back down to the hut for some PB&Js.

Madison summit

Madison summit

On the way back down to the Madison Spring Hut the sun tried its hardest to pierce through the clouds. There were brief moments where we could see some grayish-blue contrasted by fast moving white.

Sun trying to come out

Sun trying to come out

As we approached the hut there were brief, intermittent patches of clear-ish sky where we could get a glimpse of Mount Quincy Adams.

Madison Spring Hut

Madison Spring Hut

We had our sandwiches and headed back down the Valley Way trail. We briefly considered climbing Mount Adams but decided that even though we had the time do so, chances were we would only see more clouds. My son had climbed Mount Madison so vigorously that we were two hours ahead of my worst-case schedule.

On the way down Valley Way I enthusiastically greeted someone named Carl and his wife. I only knew his name because everyone else greeted him by name and I followed suit, then let him know we didn’t know each other. The Rosenthals turned out to be pretty legendary AMC members and lovers of the White Mountains. I later talked to the group who greeted them and found out a bit of their history, including that his wife, Jadwiga, is one of the few people who have “red-lined” the White Mountains, or hiked every trail listed in the AMC White Mountains Guide. I was in awe and decided I would have a new goal once completing the New England 4000 Footers.

At Lower Bruin Trail we left Valley Way and made our way down to Brookside Trail. We did not see any other people for the rest of the hike and started to see a bit more of the local fauna.

A toad

A toad

Brookside Trail was a nice hike with a narrower trail and some interesting terrain and views of cascades. We stopped at one of the last brook crossings to eat some more sandwiches and my son took a nasty spill on the slippery rocks. He shook it off and was able to hike out despite a bruised knee. We got the the parking lot far earlier than I expected and were able to make an earlier boat back to the island.

I was utterly impressed by my son’s first 4000 Footer hike. He lead the entire way, was not stifled by the cloudy and cold summit and kept up a pace that even challenged me at times. Most importantly, we got to spend an evening and day together and he enjoyed himself.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
—Alfred Wainwright

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Elevation: 5367′
Elevation Gain: 4100′
Distance: 8.4 miles
Book Time: 6:15
Actual Time: 7:00
Temperature: 48°
Wind: NW 35-50 mph
Weather: cloudy

Appalachian Mountain Club Nature Notes.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 18 June 2014.
Dedicated Hikers Red-Line the Entire White Mountains Guide.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 18 June 2014.
Madison Spring Hut at Mt. Adams, NH.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 16 June 2014.
“White Birches Camping Park.” whitebirchescampingpark.com. Friend Communications, Inc. Web. 16 June 2014.

2 thoughts on “Hike: Mount Madison

  1. Pingback: 2014 Presi Traverse | Maine Wanderlust

  2. Pingback: A Look Back on 2014 | Maine Wanderlust

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