Mount Washington: Avoid the Crowds and Take-in Two Consolation Peaks

Last week I covered an ambitious hiking route to the summit of Mount Washington (6,288 ft./1,917 m.) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire from the eastern flank and south along the Presidential massif.  It was not the common way up, but it gave the hiker a lot of terrain above treeline and the potential for an epic adventure.

Another way to get up to the summit is by using the Caps Ridge Trail from the west and bagging two other peaks via the Gulfside Trail.  These paths avoid the two more commonly traversed hiking ways to the weather observatory (and the gift shop), the Jewell Trail and Ammonoosuc Trail.

While the Ammonoosuc Trail is a nice route and brings hikers to within spitting distance of Mount Monroe, and even offers some light scrambling, so does the Caps Ridge Trail.  Plus it is steeper and exposed longer.  This is because the trailhead for the Caps Ridge Trail is the highest trailhead off of a public road.  The trail is steep and portions are made up of narrow ledges for excellent scrambling (if I sounded excited, I could not help it).

This trail is not suitable as an escape route in degrading weather, however.  The warnings I provided last week apply here too.  Bring the Ten Essentials plus a full rain suit, gloves and a wool hat.  If things get dicey (or just breezy) you won’t regret the extra weight in your pack.

In good conditions, and before the ice and snow make it a traditional mountaineering “problem,” the way up is an exciting jaunt up the slope.  Just two-and-a-half-miles distance from the trailhead and a mere 3,000 feet higher, the summit of Mount Jefferson (5,716 ft./1,742 m.) is reached.  In good weather this will provide good views to Mount Clay (5,533 ft./1,686 m.) and Mount Washington to the south, as well as the Great Gulf, the east’s largest glacial cirque to the east.  From Jefferson, travel south on the Gulfside Trail, over Clay, and on to the summit, a total of 5.2 mi./8.4 km. from the elevated trailhead.

  • Roundtrip to Mount Washington: 10.4 mi./16.8 km.
  • Total elevation gained: 3,700 ft./1,128 m.
  • Roundtrip to trip to Mount Jefferson alone: 5 mi./8 km.
  • Total elevation gained: 2,700 ft./823 m.
  • Best Map: AMC White Mountains Map 1 of the Presidential Range

Of course, this route can always be cut back if the gift shop and Niagara-Falls tourists on the summit of Mount Washington are what you are seeking to avoid.  The summit of Jefferson is still a great objective, but if some other peak-goals are in order, then head north on the Gulfside Trail and take a quick detour to Mount Adams (5,799 ft./1,768 m.) and perhaps even Mount Madison (5,366 ft./1,636 m,).  Both peaks and the routes between them are also exposed above treeline.  Happy scrambling!

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2 thoughts on “Mount Washington: Avoid the Crowds and Take-in Two Consolation Peaks

  1. Good question. I referred to the White Mountain Guide (26th ed.) from the Appalachian Mountain Club to check my own estimate and I wasn’t too far off. It says plan for 4 hours and 25 minutes. I was thinking close to 5 hours. Let us know who was closer when you get back!

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