Eight of us met at Lowe’s Store on Route 2 in Randolph for the hike up to Gray Knob Cabin.  Trailhead parking on this side of the Presidential Range is lacking in the winter but the store lets you park there for $1/day.

After last week’s thaw, we knew the trails would be missing a lot of the snow they’d previously had.  Plus, the Mount Washington Observatory helpfully shared this photo comparing the snowpack on Mounts Jefferson and Adams between Wednesday and Saturday, so we all put spikes on for the hike and left the snowshoes in the cars:

I’m usually in favor of having snowshoes anyway, just in case, but there’s no point in being the only person carrying some.  If we encountered any snow requiring them, unless everyone had them, we’d all have to turn around.  Luckily, it turned out we didn’t need them anywhere.

It was very cold in the parking lot but once we crossed the street and started up Lowe’s Path, the woods cut the wind and we warmed up quickly as we started climbing, necessitating many delayering breaks.

The frozen tree branches glittered in the sun, still encased in ice from Saturday’s sleet.  The trail was, in fact, fairly hardened.  The only postholes in the trail, once we got away from the road, were made by a moose, not people.

It’s only 3.2 miles up Lowe’s Path to Gray Knob Cabin but it climbs over 3,000′ in that time.  The trail actually started out fairly mellow so we eventually had to catch up on elevation gain and it became very steep.

After two and a half hours, we popped out of the trees onto the Quay, a gorgeous lookout conveniently located 100 yards away from the cabin.  It felt so nice and warm in the sun so we enjoyed the views for a bit before heading to the cabin to stake out our spots.

Gray Knob Cabin is run by the Randolph Mountain Club.  It’s the only one of their shelters that has a caretaker in the winter, and a woodstove.  It fits fifteen people and we arrived so early because of the size of our group.  We wanted to make sure we could fit.  It turned out only two other people were there that night, and it rarely fills up ever.

The caretaker is the only person allowed to use the woodstove as it’s more for moisture control in the cabin than providing warmth for guests.  They advertise the cabin as being only 20-30° warmer inside than outside, and indeed, it was 0° outside and 30° inside when we got there.  However, the stove is only used in the evenings so it had been cold all day.  We each grabbed a mattress in the sleeping loft and changed into dry clothes then hung out with the caretaker as she started the fire.  They use BioBricks instead of cordwood, which is pretty neat.

Sunset was quickly coming on so we all went back out to the Quay to watch from there.  It was gorgeous.

Once the sun was down, we all went back inside and started hanging around the woodstove, which was quickly warming up.  It would get over 45° by the time we went to bed, although sitting right near the stove was obviously much warmer.  After cooking dinner, we spent the rest of the evening telling stories and singing songs.

Even though I was very warm, I still used both of my quilts when I went to bed, and kept my puffy jacket and fleece pants on over my long underwear.  Around midnight, I woke up sweating and had to get rid of a bunch of layers.  I even went outside for a few minutes to cool down.  I was much more comfortable when I got back in bed, although as the stove cooled towards morning, I was reaching to put some of those layers back on.

After breakfast, we emptied a few things from our packs since we’d be passing by the cabin again later, then hit the trail.  We continued up Lowe’s Path towards Mount Adams, getting above treeline almost immediately.  It was a fairly calm day above treeline – enough wind that you’d want to take breaks sheltered from it, but still bearable and not completely freeze-inducing while hiking as long as you had a shell on.

The trail went from packed snow, to ice, to mostly rocks with ice in between.  Most people took off their spikes to rock hop, but I kept mine on.  I wasn’t convinced there wouldn’t be more ice, and I hate ice.  Walking on rocks with spikes on isn’t the best idea though.  Not only does it make the footing slightly wobbly, but it also dulls the spikes.  But I prefer spikes on rocks to no spikes on ice.

Just before the intersection with the Gulfside Trail, there were some unmelted snowfields so I was happy to move right across them easily.  We then came to the summit cone of Mount Adams, which was completely bare rock, so I finally took my spikes off for the last quarter mile.

I’m not a huge fan of hiking over giant piles of rocks, which is why I like hiking in the Whites in winter – all the spaces are usually filled in with snow and it’s much easier walking.  However, today we got the rocks of summer with the temperatures of winter – not ideal.  I was last up to the summit at 5774′ and we didn’t hang out long since the wind was much stronger there.

Once back down from the summit, we hopped onto the Gulfside Trail to head over to Mount Jefferson.  We hadn’t made it too far before one of Spoon’s spikes broke.  The rubber had torn when he put them on in the morning so it wasn’t unexpected.  I didn’t think we were making very great time anyway, so after discussing it, we decided to all turn around.  We probably would have ended up finishing our hike in the dark if we had continued, and everyone had a long drive home in any case.

We went back down to the cabin to eat lunch and collect our things and then headed back down Lowe’s Path.  I think walking on all those rocks dulled my spikes some because they kept slipping on ice, so I was moving very cautiously through the steep parts.  Most of them I sat down and glissaded for, although ice and hard snow with occasional rocks sticking out isn’t the most fun to glissade.  We made decent time back to the cars and celebrated with pizza in Gorham.