Trip Reports

A Beautiful Winter Day on Clay 03/17/09

  • March 17, 2009

What a great way to end another winter season! After looking longingly out the windows from work all weekend long, Tuesday arrived and it was my turn. I was having some computer issues in the morning which took a bit of time to correct (I hate computers sometimes!), but finally I was on the road with my gear packed and parking at Marshfield Station around 11:30.

My plan was to head up Mount Clay via the Jewell trail for some photos of the Great Gulf. Clay gets a bit of a raw deal due to it’s insufficient col, leaving it off the “official” 4000-footer list. But, it’s unique view of Washington and the Gulf is not to be missed. It certainly feels like a real mountain to me!

Of course, to make it a “worthwhile” hike, I had decided to throw Jefferson in as well – can’t pass up a chance to knock another one off the winter list!

Met another hiker at the Station who assured me that even with the late start, this was the best time of day to start a hike in the winter. The ice gets softer and traction is easier than it is first thing in the morning. He was absolutely correct. I hope he had a similar great day on his way up the Ammo trail to Monroe!

I hung my Snowshoes on the back of the pack, strapped on the Microspikes, and headed out. My other goal was to see if I could spend a winter day in the Presidentials without crampons or an ice axe – one that was easily attained today!

The Jewell trail heads up the long ridge flanking Burt Ravine and has a very easy grade. The bare trees gave great views of the solid white mountain massifs and blue sky between the open branches. I could see up ahead a large ledge jutting out over the ravine that I was looking forward to peering over. The trail was well packed and the small amount of traction I had was more than enough to make the hike comfortable. Many postholes on the trail were filled with snow fleas, looking like fine black powder.

Before I knew it, I was out and above treeline. Looking back, I saw the same ledge, now behind me! Why do trailmakers do this? I made a mental note of the location!

Above treeline, the sun beat down from a pastel blue sky, and the glare and twinkle of the ice was mesmerizing. The ground was covered with a flaky, icy crust which shattered and went spinning off behind me with every step. The views were amazing! You could see clearly the Lakes of the Clouds Hut:

Passing several cheerful hikers on the way up, I finally reached the Gulfside trail and worked my way to the first lower summit of Clay. It was lonely on top, but I had myself to keep me company.

Looking back toward Washington was a real treat, crisp and clear under blue skies. The wind was barely blowing and the temperatures were almost comfortable! I could see hikers scaling the summit cone across the way.

I took a long, leisurely lunch and played around with different filters and lenses, getting a few good shots in.

What a difference from just a few months ago……

After the long break, it was time for the trek over the tops of Clay’s summits, then down across the col to Jefferson. Beautiful ice-covered crags were the backdrop of this journey…

Jefferson’s summit was a bit more windswept, and it was nearing 4:30, so the cold was starting to set in. I took a few more shots and ate my last sandwich before heading back to the Jewell Trail.

Heading back, I took the Gulfside around Clay, and the steep side-slope was perhaps the trickiest part of the entire day’s hike! And this was the bypass! As I climbed across the side of the hill, a sign ahead pointed to Spring!

Back on the Jewell Trail, the sun had done it’s damage to the nice hard pack I had enjoyed on the way up. After postholing a few times, I strapped on the snowshoes… I knew I had brought them along for a reason! Back in the woods, I broke off trail to the left and bushwhacked out 500 feet to the ledge I had seen before and was treated to a lovely sunset.

The rest of the trip down was a quick whoosh on a slippery slope through the red filtered sunset! What a way to end the day!

Goodbye, Winter – I’ll miss you!