White Mountains (day 2, Madison attempt)

Today I was feeling up for another hard summit push. Or at least, I thought I was. I knew within 10 minutes that I’d be hiking while sore the whole day. And soon enough, sore and wobbly. That is partially why the title of this post is “Madison attempt“. I still had a fantastic time, and learned some things.

There were several stream crossings

The trail was very steep, and required all-fours hiking

Louis dropped me off at the trail head and we set a meeting time for 6pm sharp. That would give me a good seven hours to make the ascent and descent, and would provide, I hoped, a good cushion before the sunset. I’d never done a solo hike of quite this magnitude, although I am by no means a stranger to being self-sufficient in the woods, and I have enough hiking experience to feel confident that I could have a wonderful day even by myself. Happily, this turned out to be true, even though the day was not without its moments of “okay, now what?”

This is the map I wish I had. Credit: 4000footerclub.com

The first such moment came almost immediately, when I realized my 1:24,000 scale map of the area was almost completely useless for the maze of trails that cover the base of Madison. It showed about half of the whole tangle of trails, and only two of them were labeled. There was, blessedly, a map at the trailhead from which I somehow memorized the important bits, and knew only that I wanted to take the Valley Way to Watson Path, which, with some guesswork, I was able to do. (When in doubt, go up).

Looks like we're getting a spot of weather. Time to call it a day.

The round-trip distance is listed as 8.4 miles, but I’m fairly sure I was at least a mile from the summit when I had to turn back, so let’s just say I ended up with 6.4 miles and something like 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Other than feeling generally wobbly by the time I came within sight of the summit, the wind and the rain, being alone and exposed on the boulder-encrusted peak combined to make me realize that a summit attempt was more dangerous than it would be worth. Even if I hadn’t been on my own, I don’t think I would have happily pushed on. The slow crawl over slick boulders was just exhausting.

The second thing I learned was this: If you wear glasses, DO NOT go hiking without straps to hold them on your face! They will fly off when you least expect it, like when you run into a tree while taking a pit stop. Panic will ensue.

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