Monroe, Washington, (Clay,) Jefferson - March 12, 2012
I've been holding out for a "Presie Day" for several weeks now. Experience has shown that there are always some mild spring-like days in early-to-mid March, and I was banking on getting Monroe, Washington and Jefferson on such a day. Yesterday (Monday, 3/12) was the day I was looking for. The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s, with winds moderating from 50 mph to 25. Joining me on this day were Justin Fuller, and the Talbots (Kevin, Judy and Emma).
Kevin, Judy and Emma / Ice bulge above Monroe Brook Falls
Kevin, Judy and Emma picked me up in Concord to carpool to the Cog hiker lot. We met Justin there and finalized our plan of attack: Ammo to Monroe, Washington, Jefferson and down the Jewell. Judy and Emma wanted Washington, Kevin wanted Washington and Jefferson, and Justin and I would do all three. The Ammo was still cold and packed with little ice, so bare booting was possible, at least through Gem Pool. Beyond that, traction was required, and snowshoes with televators provided that, along with some calf relief. We found some zip-loc bags which had snow inside and were labeled with "Pit 150 cm" and some other numbers - we decided to leave them as they looked like they could be avalanche core samples, although I doubt they were left there on purpose.
Lake of the Clouds Hut featuring Washington / Justin approaching Monroe
As we approached treeline on the Ammo, it got a bit windier, but could not be considered cold by any definition of the word. There is substantial water ice right near the hut, and we scrambled over that and into The Dungeon to prepare for our ascents. Although I pocketed goggles, a mask and balaclava, they never got put on. Kevin, Judy and Emma set out for Washington, and Justin and I headed to Monroe. The winds were, as predicted, strongest in here. The OBS conditions for this time reported 50 MPH, but at about 800-1000 feet higher. It was a warm wind, and it did inflate your layers like a balloon, but walking was not ever really challenging. Of interesting note, the reported visibility for the day was 35-40 miles (60 by night) and from the ridges we could see haze at the ground level, like you see in the summer months.
Clay, Jefferson, Adams / Clay, Jefferson over the Great Gulf
We caught up to Kevin, Judy and Emma about 2/3 of the way up the Crawford Path and ascended the last 1/3 of the way together. The summit was remarkably devoid of the snow, ice and rime feathers that are usually present during winter. The state park folks were out testing new snow cats, and apparently having fun. They recognized Emma of course and shortly we were all introduced. From them, we got the skinny on current conditions - 30 degrees and NW winds @ 35 mph. The wind actually felt warm. After a sheltered and leisurely lunch, Judy decided to follow us down towards the Jewell Trail. It was so warm, sunny and comfortable that it took no effort at all to convince everyone to go over Clay. I've visited Clay twice before - once on a nice fall day, and once during a socked-in Presidential Traverse. Today was a treat. On the eastern-facing slopes, there was a decent amount of soft powder, although it surely corned up by day's end, and we even saw a cornice or two over some of the chutes.
Justin on Clay / A cornice above one of the skiable chutes on the back of Clay
It was somewhere along here where our grins turned ear-to-ear, and thence into spontaneous laughter. This was a top-three winter hike for sure, and the only one I can think of for sure that tops it was the last time I did Monroe and Washington - with a fantastic undercast - and Justin was along for that trip as well. I think the stretch over Clay was the most casual part of our day, but at this point, Judy had made up her mind that she wouldn't get another shot this nice at Jefferson, and so we descended the north end of Clay for the Gulfside Trail.
Jefferson behind Monticello Lawn / Adams from Jefferson
Now as warm as it was, up to this point, there was still plenty of opportunity to make the microspikes/hillsounds stick. Ascending the Gulfside towards Jefferson, what little snow and ice that was present was definitely softening. At one point I sat on a rock to adjust my traction and I made an off-the-cuff comment about how Hiker Ed would love this rock. Not 30 seconds later, Ed came around the corner. The timing was perfect, although I guess it should come as no surprise he would be out there today. On the summit of Jefferson, we found ourselves minimally layered, and comfortable without hats or gloves, at least for a bit. We had our second, leisurely lunch before heading back down.
Considerable snow melt occurred while on Jefferson / Clay, Washington and the Great Gulf from the Gulfside / Clay Junction
On the way down, the trail had softened considerably, with large pockets of slush, and running snowmelt everywhere. We began the slow ascent of the Gulfside up the face of Clay, and cut across the snow fields at about 5400', to pick up the Jewell. As green as everything was today, it was very easy to spot the Jewell trail as a white path through the scrub. It might have been prudent to put on snowshoes at this point, because the snow was so soft, even the packed track was deteriorating. My pack-mounted free thermometer said 55 degrees. Once into the trees, the shade kept the track in much better shape, and Justin and I bare booted to the finish. Note that if you are looking for the Jewell Spur on the way up, take the bridge over the river, up the hill 100 yards, cross over the tracks, and follow the blue-topped grade stakes.
Thanks to Kevin, Judy, Emma and Justin for a fantabulous day! I'm still smiling.
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