Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2014 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"Madison is the northernmost peak in the northern Presidentials. It's also home to the   
[Appalachian Mountain Club's] oldest hut, Madison Springs, which is in the col
between Madison and Adams . . . There are many routes to the summit . . ."
Mount Madison wasn't my first choice for a challenging hike this weekend.

I really wanted to hike a different route up Mt. Washington, also in the Presies, than I did in July but lousy weather for most of the two weeks we were here this time quashed any notions of that.

I'm talking about some combination of sub-freezing weather, rain, sleet, snow, low clouds, and/or extreme winds up to 90 MPH at the summit on any of the days I could have hiked up. I lucked out with better weather in July.

Common sight this month:  Mt. Washington and the northern
Presidential Range socked in by clouds.

Even though I still have bad memories of my first attempt to summit Mt. Madison during my Appalachian Trail Adventure Run nine years ago, I knew there was an easier way up and down than the A.T. -- a trail more suited to my current abilities and training.

It's the Valley Way Trail from the Appalachia parking area on US 302 just a few miles from our campground in Twin Mountain. It's the route folks take to the Madison Springs Hut. It's a much shorter and more gentle way to reach the summit of Mt. Madison than from either direction on the A.T. (I use "gentle" in relative terms compared to the A.T. in this area.)

Even so, there are dire warnings on Valley Way at the trailhead (above) and near tree line in the alpine zone (below):

In case you can't read the fine print on the STOP sign above, it warns, "The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back NOW if the weather is bad."

I hiked this handy trail twice during my A.T. hike -- going down the day I had to bail out near the summit of Madison because of sleet, ice, and high winds (it would have been impossible for either Jim or me to reach our rendezvous site on Mt. Washington that day), and going back up to the summit on the next clear day so I could finish that section of the A.T. from Mt. Madison to Mt. Washington.

This was my first time going up and back down the same day on Valley Way Trail -- and it was tougher than I expected! My memory of the trail has faded and I'm not 56 any more . . .

In fact, because of today's cold, overcast, windy weather I didn't even go to the summit of either Mt. Madison or nearby Mt. Adams. I turned around at the Madison Springs Hut a half mile below Madison's summit.

The hike was not a failure, though. Despite the lousy weather I got back down to the valley before it began raining and I mostly enjoyed the challenges of the trail. I just wish the weather had been better.


So why did I even do this hike today? I don't usually want to hike on weekend days when the trails are more crowded, let alone in crummy weather.

It's all Eric's fault!

Just joking. Eric is our avid hiking-cycling-running friend from Maine. He knows the trails in NH and ME like the back of his hand. He gave me a good reason to go to the summit of Madison and/or Adams today.

When we got back to the area he told us about a local tradition he participates in called "Flags On the 48." On the Saturday closest to September 11 hikers climb the forty-eight New Hampshire peaks over 4,000 feet elevation and place large U.S. flags on the summits between noon and 2 PM in memory of all the people who died on 9-11-01.

Eric went up with a group of friends to help plant the flag on Mt. Tecumseh in the southern Whites. He encouraged me to either join him there or hike up a closer 4,000-footer closer to our campground.

The summit of Mt. Madison (elev. 5,367 feet) is about 1/2 mile on foot above the hut.

The summit of Mt. Adams (elev. 5,774 feet) is about one mile on foot in the other direction.

I reached the Madison Springs hut about 10:15 AM. It was so cold and windy up there that I decided to descend the mountain when I saw the flag bearers head out at 11 to go up to the summits of Mts. Madison and nearby Adams.

If the weather had been nicer, or if I'd been with someone determined to attend the ceremonies, I probably would have continued up to one of the summits.


I know the Appalachia parking area fills up early, especially on the weekend, because several popular trails begin there. When I reached the parking area a little after 7 AM it was already full and I had to make my own space.

It was much worse when I got back down at 2:30 PM; vehicles were parked up and down the wide shoulder of US 302 by then.

The trail is the most hiker-friendly in the first mile.

After approximately three-fourths of a mile the trail lies close to Snyder Brook for a little while:




Valley Way winds high above the ravine formed by Snyder Brook all the way up to the hut but hikers get the best views of the stream closer to the beginning of the trail. The origin of the stream is a spring near the hut.

The temperature at the trailhead was only in the upper 30s F. when I began the hike. It got colder, cloudier, and windier as I ascended from 1,300 feet to 5,200 feet -- especially after I emerged from the trees just below the hut.

The trail was more gnarly than I remembered and it took me three hours to hike up 3.8 miles. It took even longer on the slick rocks going back down because I had to be so careful with my Granny Knees. Even so, I fell twice going back down. I banged up my GPS as much as one of my knees.

Nope -- definitely not 56 any more!  (My inside joke re: not being in as good condition as when I did the A.T. run-hike nine years ago.)

My GPS recorded a total elevation gain and loss of 8,270 feet in 7.8 miles (I took a detour on the way down that added about 1/4 mile). That would be difficult for most people if it was paved, let alone rocky-rooty as all get out.

Considering the difficulty and the number of pictures I took, my time isn't so bad.

The trail isn't too steep the first two miles but the upper half is much steeper and rock-strewn. From the hut to the summit, which I hiked nine years ago but not today, the trail is a steep rock pile. At least the rocks were mostly dry. One reason I began my descent at 11 AM was to avoid the afternoon rain that would have made my descent even more treacherous than it was.



The trail finally offers some valley views about a quarter mile below the hut:




There were a few more people on the trail today because of the flag ceremony than there would have been otherwise.

I counted 17 people coming down the mountain in the morning from the hut, including two "croo" members, as I ascended. I saw eight hikers going up; five were in the Mt. Madison flag group. Before I left the parking area the Mt. Adams group began its ascent but I didn't catch up to them until the hut.


On my descent I saw 38 people going up the mountain. The number would have been higher if I'd stayed on Valley Way the whole time.

Instead, I followed another USFS trail, Falls Way, along Snyder Brook the last half mile, then Maple Walk to the parking area. I wanted to see the pretty falls, cascades, and pools of water along the lower part of the creek:


Salroc Falls

Tama Falls



The maple leaves along Maple Walk hadn't begun
to change color yet when I took this picture.

The falls and pools of water in Snyder Brook are so pretty that I took the dogs back two more times to play in the water. I'll show more photos of the creek in another entry.

My arms and legs were pretty sore by the time I got back to the truck. It's been a while since I've done that much elevation gain and loss. I really leaned on the trekking poles on the descent and "had the brakes on" the whole way down. I'm glad I did the hike, though.

Next entryphotos from a variety of popular trails, pools, and lakes in the Whites -- Ammonoosuc Lake, Echo Lake, Ripley Falls, Snyder Brook, The Basin, Artists' Bluff, and Prospect Mountain/Weeks State Historic Site

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

Previous       Next

2014 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil