Mt. Adams

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Mt. Adams
AirlineTrail.JPG
Partway up Mt. Adams
Drive 100 miles
Hike 9 miles
Difficulty Strenuous

At 5,774 feet, Mt. Adams is the tallest peak in the White Mountains that doesn't have a hamburger stand on top, making it one of the most beautiful spots in NH. It is also one of the more dangerous spots in bad weather, so plan your trip carefully, and turn back if things start to turn sour.

Driving Directions

Get online directions to Gorham, NH. The best place to start an assault on Adams is the Appalacia Trailhead, which is just west of Gorham on Rt 2, very close to Billings Cabin.

Hiking Directions

There are a number of routes up and down Adams - details are available in the White Mountain Guide. One popular route is to follow the Valley Way up and the Airline Trail back down (or the reverse).

The Valley Way follows (you guessed it!) a valley most of the way to the top, and passes some lovely cascades just after the trailhead (you may need to take side trails to see them all). This also means it is sheltered by trees almost all the way to the ridgeline, which it hits just before Madison Hut, where you can get water and shelter when it is open. From the hut, you have a few choices. The most straightforward is to take the Gulfside Trail a short distance over to the Airline Trail for the last scramble up to the summit. Instead, you could take the Star Lake Trail around behind the summit for some views of the other side of the ridge and interesting alpine lakes, adding just under a mile. In either case, the summit cone is bare, rocky, and steep. Views from the summit are stunning.

The Airline Trail parallels the Valley Way to the west, following the line of a shoulder ridge. It is much more exposed than Valley Way, providing some fantastic views, but little shelter from bad weather.

Advice and Anecdotes

A hiker contemplates the steep descent off of Mt. Adams, March 2011.

Winter Advice

Mt. Adams is a pretty dangerous hike in the winter - the summit is quite exposed, and its long snowfields present the opportunity for quite a long slide in the event of a fall. The Airline Trail has precipitous drops on both sides, and a fall in either direction could easily prove deadly. So if you want to hike Adams in the winter, ice axes and a little bit of self-arrest practice are strongly encouraged. CnT has had some close calls with uncontrolled slides here in the past, and it'd be best not to repeat them!

You'll also definitely want to bring crampons of some sort. Preferably, bring mountaineering boots and full-foot crampons from DOR (or hiking boots and full-foot strap-on crampons if any trippees have them). If need-be, in-step crampons could work, but they're a lot less reliable.

Finally, you'll definitely want ski goggles and face protection for all your trippees - you'll be above treeline for quite a while, and Mt. Adams can have some very strong winds!

And all the above may sound quite scary, but hiking Mt. Adams in the winter is definitely worth it, both for the gorgeous scenery (no burger stands!) and the awesome mountaineering experience.

The Star Lake trail is not recommended in the winter - it's quite steep, and some of the rocky scrambles are unnerving even in the summer. A better option is to take the Airline all the way up, or to come up via Valley Way and then head over to the Airline via the Gulfside trail. In either case, it's easy to lose the trail, so keep you map and compass handy, and don't be afraid to head a little ways off the trail in order to find the safest route possible!

Trip Reports

10/03/2014

Group size: 12

Leaders: Greg Partridge and Hunter van Adelsberg

Weather: Cloudy, 50s

Trail Conditions: Good below treeline, above was damp and sometimes slippery.

Description: Started up Airline at 8:45 AM, reached the summit around 1 PM. Above treeline was in clouds and windy, we put on extra layers. Bringing windbreakers/fleeces is a must for Adams even in relatively warm weather, having gloves and hats is also a good idea. Wind strenghtened as we started up the summit cone of Adams, wind at the top was very strong and even sheltering behind rocks would have been cold for lunch. We climbed down below treeline to the Madison Hut to eat instead, which was still open despite a sign at the trailhead saying it had closed for the year. We descended by Valley Way, reached the parking lot around 4:50 PM, and headed to the lodge for Fall Weekend dinner.