View Full Version : Bagging Mount Clay

04-11-2005, 00:47
Bagging Mount Clay

Submitted 22 June 2004, Steve Keri

I wanted to hike Mount Clay in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, but I don't want to spend a long time climbing to the top, so I decided on the Jewel Trail.

Mount Clay (5,533 feet) sits in a small col bewtween Mount washington (6,288 feet) and Mount Jefferson (5,716 feet) on the appalachian Trail with the Great Gulf Wilderness sharply dropping thousands of feet east of the ridge. After what seems an incredible time poring over maps and traveling dirt roads, I arrive at the parking lot on Base Road and begin my hike. The Jewel Trail ascends the unnamed western ridge of Mount Clay, parallel to the Cog Railway off in the distance. The Cog Railway is the world's first mountain climbing railway, (grade of 37.5 percent)--a passenger diesel train ride that ascends Jacobs Ladder on its way to the top of Mount washington. The Jewel Trail is named for Sargent Winfield Jewell, who was an observer for the Army Signal Corps on Mount Washington.

As I enter the moist low woodlands on this drizzly, warm July day, the scent of damp spruce forest perks up my senses and immediately engulfs my soul. Crossing the Ammonoosuc River, I follow the footpath northeast, ascending at an easy grade through patches of wood fern. Leaving the soothing sound of of rushing water behind, I enter a quiet sanctuary of stillness with a light drizzle that glazes over the spruce and mixed hardwood forest. My continued ascent on the crest of the low ridge brings me to a short saddle containing a variety of fern, and just as I step down into it, I catch a glimpse of what I think is a mink. It disappears quickly leaving me scratching my head. Having finished climbing about two miles of switchbacks through a wetter and slightly cooler spruce forest, I am awakened from my meditative stupor by the sound of the deisel engine from the Cogs Railway making its way up Jacob's Ladder.

Proceeding upward at a fast pace, I take a break at an open blow down patch at the edge of Burt Ravine, just in time to snap a picture of the train on the far ridge as it smoke entwines with the thick fog now moving in. For the next mile, I meander through the spruce forest, aware of the wind blowing through small expansions within the thickets. Swinging to the northside of the ridge and climbing east, I exit the massive roof of the spruce forest and am smacked with intense wind and rain. I don my rain gear while taking in the view of the ridge lines of Mount Clay and Washington. I linger for a while taking pictures of the massive ridge and steep walls of Burt ravine and almost fell asleep on my feet listening to the sound of the splattering rain.
I reach treeline at the three mile mark on the trail at about 4,200 feet and see a couple of other hikers braving the elements. For the next half-mile, I follow the same path up the ridgecrest zigzagging at a moderate grade between krumoltz and over rough and rocky terrain, which quickly becomes less prominent and blends into the slope of Mount Clay.

I continue to follow the barren trail up the now easy slope to the Gulfside Trail. As the wind increases and the down-pour makes footing on the rocks a serious challenge, I occassionally stop to take pictures while taking in a 360 degree view of the rocky geography. It makes me feel like I'm sent back in time to a world that has just been formed by the shifting continents. I can feel a chill coming on as the temperature starts to drop, so putting on my glove liners, I head toward the top of Mount Clay, which is really a bump of a rock straddled by a north and south saddle. About half way to the top, I stop for lunch and take in the krumoltz scenery partially covering the rocky slides of the Great Gulf bowl.

Finally, at about 2 p.m. I bag Mount Clay and immediately become engulfed in a wind tunnel with the cold rain pelting my rainshell. I aske myself, "Is this it?" No sign indicating I have reached the summit? No other people enjoying the view?

I stand atop Mount Clay slowly admiring the views of the Great Gulf Wilderness while holding onto a feeling of accomplishment. I stay here for quite a while, feeling like I belong.

As I start to descend, I come across a plaque in the ground. It is dedicated to a hiker who perished one day on this weathered ridge. As a meloncholy feeling creeps up on me and the wind and rain increase, I think about 'our friend', Guy waterman, who committed suicide one winter day on Mount Lafayette. He hiked up the mountain without sufficient clothing and gear and froze to death. I can't understand why someone would want to do that when one could keep coming back to these wonderful mountains. I take one last look at the wet landscape, and breathe deeply as if by doing so I am taking a peice with me.

As the wind batters the rain against my face, I pull the hood of my rainshell up over my head and continue to descend. Steve Keri (Little Bear)