Northernmost Presidentials

To take the day off to hike, or not...


A full day in the mountains is better than any other form of therapy I've found. However the cost/benefit analysis of heading up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire has been getting more and more weighted toward the "cost" side of things, and so we've been getting our fix on the many local lovely hills and wooded trails. Did I mention they're lovely and we're so lucky to have so many out our back door? Still, the White Mountains, and specifically the Presidential Range calls strong enough every now and then that we really must go. That's what we finally decided around 9pm the night before as we scrambled to pack our gear and get a bit of sleep before our early call time.

It was a Wednesday, and the weather was shaping out to be good. The weatherman on VPR specifically lauded our choice of days saying "if you're going to get out and do something outside this week, today's the day". The next few, Christmas and the days surrounding it, were to be rainy and bleak. We arrived at the large trailhead parking lot to find it emptier than I've ever seen it before. We donned our snow shoes right away and headed off through the moderately snowy forest.

The trail was broken for us for quite a way, but the snowshoes didn't hurt either with at least a few solid inches of snow on the ground. Valley Way trail was somehow less steep than I remembered for longer than I remembered. For some reason the first hour or so of a hike always go by in a blur. Then we hit the steep section, and I remembered why I imagined it to be such a tough slog. Not only was the trail super steep, but just in the steepest section the snow had drifted and there was no semblance of broken path. We were hiking on slanted powdery ground, sometimes finding firm icy ground underfoot, and others slipping back and down quite a way through the powder. It was slow-going. I was asking myself why we were even here — tired from getting up before dawn, having driven hours away, unsure if this trip was going to technically "count" as leaving the state as far as quarantine restrictions go (probably, but who were we even seeing anyway?)

Then the sun broke over the ridge and illuminated the trees and it was magical. I found my uphill hiking rhythm. Breathing hard felt great. I wasn't cold at all.

We made it to Madison Hut, all boarded up for winter. It's an unspoken rule that making it to a hut means snack time, even if it's closed. We ate hand-fulls of Christmas cookies that Cody's mom had mailed us all the way from Minnesota. It was sunny and bright and beautiful, and starting to get cold as we stood still. We bundled up in preparation for the final rocky and usually extremely uncomfortable ascent to Madison, keeping our snow shoes on for the time being.

There is a very short section right at the start of Osgood Trail that's in the trees and which accumulates quite a bit of drifty snow, so you usually want your snowshoes on for it. But at the top, the wind is usually so cold that it's hard to get them off and change into spikes. Sometimes we're the jerks that skip the snowshoes and posthole up to the rocky bits. This time we were just plain lazy and decided to keep them on. Exposed rock and bumpy terrain required getting quite cold as we shouted back and forth through the wind that we ought to change. I took my hands out of my gloves and quickly get on one spike then put them back in my gloves and bounced around until enough dexterity came back to go for another.

Once that unpleasant business was over with, I was giddy heading up to the gusty summit. When you know it's temporary, the feeling of being in a place so extreme and hostile to life feels exhilarating to be alive in it. Plus, the view was spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. Rye wasn't so sure and we both agreed to hot foot it back down the mountain after taking a couple of photos.

We righted ourselves back at the hut and set off for Adams. I was exhausted at this point, but knew I'd regret it if we didn't summit Adams after climbing all this way. When we were nearly to the summit, we met the one man we had passed earlier as he was coming down (having opted not to summit Madison). Rye made friends with his pup and we talked for as long as was comfortable in that howling wind. I noticed he had a patch on his water bottle bag — "NH48 Over 70" it read, meaning he had presumably hiked to the summit of all 48 4,000 footers over the age of 70. When I asked about it he chuckled like it was nothing, saying he was going for "over 80" now! We were both astonished and inspired.

Adams is usually a less-windy brother to Madison, but not today. At the very top the wind was just as harsh. Rye put up with our photo taking for about 10 seconds before bouncing down the mountain after her new friend. We never caught up to him, or maybe he took another trail down. We took our time though, stopping to enjoy the views out of the harsh wind on Airline.

We packed some barrel-aged bottled cocktails we picked up way back in 2018 in Edinburgh while there to celebrate Cody's cousin's wedding. We had planned to drink them while out hiking in the Scottish Highlands, but never did. Since, Cody has brought them along on several hikes: our backpacking trip with Doug and Irene, our moonlit Presi traverse, but we failed to actually drink them. Today felt like the day. So we enjoyed a bit of liquid warmth on our way down the mountain along with many more Christmas cookies.


Madison (5,367 ft), Adams (5,774 ft)




Gulfside Trail, Valley Way, Airline

Total Distance

10.97 miles, 5,476 ft elevation gain


Start: 8:35am, 6:25 Round Trip


16F but feels like 6, and feels a heck of a lot colder than that up on top

Trail Conditions

Some parts very well broken, some parts super powdery with snow drifts. Snowy but not slippery above treeline


Snowshoes, spikes

Partners in Crime

Cody + Rye



Sun hitting the tops of the trees

Rye through the snowy trees

Beautiful day to be out for a hike

Cody in the sunny forest

First glimpses of the summits

Mount Madison Hut (all boarded up for the winter)

Cody's mom's Christmas cookies at Madison Hut

Ice feathers, or so we call them, on Osgood

Me atop Madison

Summiting Madison, it was a lot colder than it looked!

Cody atop Madison

Summit of Mount Madison looking toward Adams

Mount Madison

View of Mount Washington (left) and Adams (right) from Madison

Us, atop Mount Madison

The only other man on the mountain, in his 80s

View of Mount Washington from Adams

Cody atop Mount Adams

In the shadow of Mount Adams

Rye looking to go back down

Descending Adams with a view toward Madison

A cocktails carried far from whence it came