Hiking Mount Madison and Mount Adams in Winter
On an extremely cold and perfectly clear winter day, we hiked up Valley Way to two peaks along the Presidential Range in New Hampshire: Mount Madison and Mount Adams.
Hike Date: January 22, 2022
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Appalachia Trailhead|
|3.6 mi||3.6 mi||Take Valley Way Trail up 3,550 feet of elevation gain to Madison Spring Hut|
|0.5 mi||4.1 mi||Gulfside Trail to the summit of Mount Madison|
|0.5 mi||4.6 mi||Gulfside Trail back to Madison Spring Hut|
|0.4 mi||5.0 mi||Gulfside Trail to Airline Trail|
|0.4 mi||5.4 mi||Airline Trail to the summit of Mount Adams|
|0.4 mi||5.8 mi||Airline Trail back to Gulfside Trail|
|0.4 mi||6.2 mi||Gulfside Trail back to Madison Spring Hut|
|3.6 mi||9.8 mi||Valley Way back to Appalachia Trailhead|
Valley Way Trail
To hike Mount Madison and Mount Adams in the winter, we picked an extremely cold (the high was 6°F), but windless and cloudless day in the White Mountains. We parked at a packed Appalachia Trailhead at about 10am. Even though it was -18°F that morning, many winter hikers like us were all willing to brave the cold for a practically windless and bluebird day on the Presidentials! It was the kind of cold where condensation from your breath freezes into little icicles on your eyelashes and hair. Wearing microspikes the entire time (but carrying crampons and an ice ax just in case), we started up Valley Way Trail.
For the first 2.5 of the 3.8 miles of this trail up to Madison Springs Hut, we steadily gained elevation on a relatively packed down snowy trail under tree cover. When we got to the 1.4 miles to Madison Spring Hut sign, the trail started getting steeper and the snow got deeper and a little more uneven. It was not enough to need snowshoes, but enough to make each step much more tiring! As we got closer to being above treeline and the trail got steeper, it felt as though with every step we took we slid a little back. Nothing was overwhelmingly difficult in the winter since we walked up a snow ramp, but you do gain about 3,500 feet of elevation in the first 4 miles, which is no joke. Once we passed the sign warning that “the area ahead has the worst weather in America,” we quickly popped above treeline at Madison Spring Hut.
We took a brief break at Madison Spring Hut (closed for winter) alongside a bunch of other hikers. We left one of our packs at the hut to lighten the load for the 0.5 mile hike up to Mount Madison. The route up to Madison is rocky and completely exposed, but offers incredible 360 degree views. It is one of our favorite peaks. At the top, we could see much of the Presidential Range, with Mount Adams (our next stop) just in front of us. Shockingly, standing atop Madison, with the sun shining in our faces, we felt the warmest we had all day even though it was just 6°F.
We got back to the hut and decided to bring our packs to hike up Adams. There are a couple of ways up Mount Adams, but we opted to take Gulfside Trail to Airline Trail (a little less than a mile). It can be slightly confusing because you have to backtrack just a few yards toward Valley Way to reach Gulfside Trail. We suggest going this way in winter rather than up Starr Lake (which we did during our Presidential Traverse and is really steep). Wow, was this a tough ascent! After a long day, the steep and boulder-filled trail was tough on our legs. But, it was beautiful with some great views back of Mount Madison and the hut. Blue blazes are painted on rocks, but with snow cover, it was hard to find that route. We relied on cairns and paths that previous hikers had carved out for us with their bootprints. At the top of Adams, it was windier and colder than on Madison, but offered incredible and unobstructed views of Mount Washington. A faint orange hue painted the sky, reminding us that sunset was just an hour away and we needed to start our descent. We layered up, made our way back down to Valley Way Trail, turned left, and ducked back down below the treeline.
Back to Appalachia Trailhead
As we descended, we could see the sky turning pink through the leafless trees and had our headlamps ready, but we made it out just before it got dark. Even though it was extremely cold, it was one of the best days on the Presidentials. These were numbers 39 and 40 of the winter New Hampshire 48 4,000 footers list for us. Only 3 more winter hikes to go!