To start off the New Year, my trail blog will focus on New Hampshire's tallest peak, Mt. Washington (6288 ft.) and the Jewell Trail, described by many hikers as the "easiest" route to the summit, if gaining almost 3900 ft. in elevation over a 5 mile hike is to be considered easy.
Located to the northeast of the Upper Valley area, one approaches Mt. Washington from its western side on Rt. 302. The Mt. Washington Hotel, situated 1/4 mile east of Base Rd., is well worth the short detour. The Base Rd. leads to a parking area/trailhead (approx. 3 miles) for the Jewell and Ammonoosuc Ravine Trails, and continues on to the Cog Railroad Station and the several trains that summit Washington.
The Jewell Trail leaves the parking area by crossing the road and descends gently into the forest for about a mile to a small brook. Crossing Clay Brook on a wooden footbridge, the trail almost immediately begins its long (3.7 mile), steady-but-moderate climb through the woods along an un-named ridge. This ridge parallels the Cog Railway tracks on the opposing ridgeline across Burt Ravine. At the 3 mile mark, the trees begin to shorten and thin to open rocks with elevation gain, allowing for fine views towards the summit and across the ravine to the railroad. The Jewell Trail has a few switchbacks beneath the summit of Mt. Clay and eventually ends at the junction with the Gulfside Trail. The route to Mt. Washington along the Gulfside Trail (1.4 miles) is a bit easier in grade, very open, and has stunning views.
It is the most direct route, but there are many boulders to manage as you cross the rail tracks and ascend the summit.
During my rest at the summit on a gorgeous 75 degree August day, there was a whole lot of action at about noontime. Along with the many tourists and sightseers who either drove or took the train up, a police helicopter actually flew beneath me while the trains were making their way either up or down the mountain. Not what I had expected to say the least! After resting at the summit house and cafeteria (yes, a cafeteria) I worked my way back down along the same route and went to the edge of the Great Gulf (hence the Gulfside Trail) to sit alone on a big rock and enjoy the quiet and the amazing view.
As always when hiking to the open, rocky summits of our largest east coast mountains, please be prepared for the worst kind of weather (unusually cold temps, high winds, rain storms etc.) and bring plenty of food and water as one shouldn't count on the summit cafe′ for a good meal.
Written by Brian Markee