Mount Jackson (4,052 feet) is a popular winter hike, with an attractive trail and great views all around. Its location lends itself to a sidelong view of the Southern Presidentials, culminating in a direct view of a white Mount Washington.
Mount Jackson is located along a ridge between Mount Pierce in the Southern Presidentials and Mount Webster above Crawford Notch. Geologically, it rises above this ridge because of erosion-resistant quartz veins in the summit rocks.
Mount Jackson is not named for President Andrew Jackson, but for Charles T. Jackson who supervised the first geological survey of the White Mountains from 1839 to 1841.
This past Wednesday was a bluebird day, and that morning Mount Jackson came to my mind. I headed out.
Just above the gateway of Crawford Notch, I pulled off Route 302 into the parking lot on the left. Though it was only 8:30 a.m., it was already almost full, a sign of the times, and of the popularity of the 4,000-footers.
I donned foot traction and pack, grabbed my trekking poles and walked across the highway to the start of the Webster/Jackson Trail. The trail was thoroughly packed and pock-marked by foot traction.
Although this trail is fairly steady in elevation gain, it does so with grace and variety through a shady evergreen forest with occasional interesting boulders and ledges. I bypassed the 0.2-mile spur out to Elephant Head, saving it for the way down. I met the first of many hikers — a woman from Bradford, Vt. We agreed that this was the easiest kind of hiking in the Whites — with good traction in firm snow with no rocks and roots.
In 1.4 miles, I turned left on the 1.2-mile Mount Jackson Branch of the trail, the Mount Webster Branch continuing straight. My steady uphill gait with an occasional rest felt good; then a young man approached from below and passed with a quiet hello and an uninterrupted fast pace.
When the trail bore left near the ridgetop, I could see the nearby summit promontory ahead. Soon, I was traversing a slanted gully of packed snow below the top and paused to turn and look back at the great view out over the peaks above Crawford Notch and west towards Vermont.
On top, the panoramic northern view opened like a stage curtain. Mount Washington had hints of dark rocks, unlike a week before. I found a north facing nook in the sun for lunch.
People slowly arrived on the trail. Then two Canadian jays arrived looking for a possible handout. But I headed down. I passed many people on the trail on their way up.
Near the bottom, I took the 0.2-mile spur to Elephant Rock above the gateway to the notch. To the immediate north, it was the modern version of the view, with cars below, and the AMC Highland Center further along.
I thought of two well-known works of art painted from the other direction, looking south to Elephant Rock, Mount Webster and the gateway to the notch. One was an autumn scene painted by Thomas Cole in 1839 called “North of the White Mountains.” I saw it in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a couple times. The other was a dark scene painted by Alvan Fisher in 1834 and called “Gate of the Notch.” It was in a show at the Pace Gallery at Fryeburg Academy a few years ago put on by collector Sam Robbins. He said it was the first painting ever of the Presidentials, though Mount Webster was named for Daniel.
Much has changed in the mountains since that time, though they haven’t changed.