The 4,052-foot Mount Jackson in the southern Presidential Range is popular peak any time of year. But in the winter its special qualities seem to shine more. Because of its popularity, the 2.6-mile trail is soon packed down after a snow storm.
From its trail head on the east side of Route 302 just beyond the Gateway or height-of-land in Crawford Notch, it winds up through a beautiful virgin hemlock/fir forest.
With the freedom of wearing microspikes on a firm snow trail, it is a pleasure to wind up through this forest on a clear day when sun shines down through snow laden evergreens, all the while while looking forward to the grand open vista from the summit.
Last Friday was such a day.
It seemed to take a long time mid-morning to drive from Tamworth and up through Crawford Notch, but after passing the Gateway, I immediately pulled into the parking lot on the left, into the last open space for a car. There were hikers already on Mount Jackson and probably Mount Willard ice climbers using that lot as well.
Walking across the highway, there was quite a snowbank to climb. I put on my spikes and headed up the amply packed-down Webster/Jackson Trail.
The trail was first cut in the 1890s to Mounts Webster and Jackson for guests of the Crawford House.
In 1917, author Winthrop Packard wrote a book called “White Mountain Trails.” In it was a chapter entitled “Up Mount Jackson: The Climb from Crawfords through an Enchanting Forest.”
An avid naturalist, he identified plants and described ledges and trees and dramatic landscapes with poetic language that people back in the stifling cities consumed with relish.
“Ah, these wise old hemlocks of the deep trails of the Northern woods. These indeed of the forest primeval. The wisdom of centuries, blown about the world by the west winds, find voice in their whispering needles. And I, listening below, hear it told in forest runes.”
As I wound up a couple steep sections of the trail in the woods, bright sunlight shafted down, lighting the shaded forest with brightest silver.
I passed the spur for Elephant Head soon after starting, and then another for Bugle Cliff, both lookouts over the notch. But I was enjoying the trail and kept going. Crossing Flume Cascade Brook, often a challenge in the wet seasons, it was completely covered in mounds of white, and I had to listen very closely to hear the faintest sound of cascading water beneath, before crossing on the packed trail.
In 1.4 miles, I reached the junction with the trail called the Mount Webster Branch. Straight ahead in 2 miles was the summit of Mount Webster (3,910 feet). I took a left there on the Mount Jackson Branch and would reach the summit in 1.2 miles. I met a hiker at this junction who had bagged both peaks and was heading down.
I started up the Mount Jackson Branch and was immediately passed by a fast ascending hiker, then met two descending hikers. Soon after that, I encountered a pleasant Japanese couple who would remain ahead of me the rest of the way.
The trail ascended steadily through a snow choked boreal forest. Once, the sun generously broke through the canopy onto the trail and surroundings. It was at the location of an old “fir wave.”
Fir waves are a fascinating phenomenon and common on the higher peaks. They are testament of the brutal icy winds of winter. When a tree is exposed to wind and rime and declines, it exposes the next tree to it. That one then dies, exposing the next. Where they previously were, new trees grow up, sheltered by the dead fall and other trees.
This combination of events happens in a line or wave. Fir waves occur on higher elevation evergreen slopes. They move away from the prevailing winds 3 to 9 feet a year.
They are not very visible this time of year. But next summer, look up and you will see them.
Finally, the trees grew smaller as I climbed and were mostly snow choked. The trail bore left and I could see the summit ledges of Mount Jackson very close.
I decided to have my sandwich before going to the summit. I wasn’t sure if there was a chilly breeze on top. I put down my extra jacket and sat by the trail in the sun.
But it was perfectly still on top. As I climbed up to the summit, the vast view west toward Breton Woods opened up. I walked on a path through snow choked stunted spruce over to the dramatic view of Mount Washington, directly north.
The couple that hiked ahead of me were there, snapping photos of the gray jays. I offered to take their photo together. He took mine. I didn’t realize until getting home later, that he had taken a closeup of me, with Mount Washington behind.
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