Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Birthday Celebration at Crag Camp

Getting to spend a night sleeping in the mountains is always a treat.  Getting to do it twice in the same week is truly fantastic!  We had already made plans for our Carter Notch trip when Kim told us that they were planning to spend the weekend at Crag Camp for her birthday and invited us along.  Working out the logistics for two trips in a week seemed unlikely.  Having the weather cooperate as well  was really a long shot.  This was just too good to pass up though and the stars certainly aligned for us.  We had stopped at Crag Camp to refill our water on the way down from Mt Adams last summer and after seeing it we couldn't wait to get back to stay.

The forecast for last weekend was initially iffy, but we certainly know not to be concerned too far out.  As the weekend approached the forecast improved daily.  By the time Friday was here there was nothing but sunshine and blue skies on the horizon.  Amazing!  We were lucky enough to be invited to stay with Ma and Pa at the mountain house on Friday night so that we didn't have to make a super early drive on Saturday.  Unfortunately the Friday afternoon traffic was the worst we've ever seen, but that's now just a memory and certainly didn't spoil a great weekend.  The frustration of the drive was alleviated by a dinner at the Gypsy Cafe - one of our favorite spots, and a secret that the bike weekend crew seems to have not figured out.

We slept well Friday night and were up early.  Crag Camp holds 20 people, and like the other RMC sites doesn't take reservations.  We wanted to get up there early enough to ensure we had beds for the night.  It was a spectacular morning in the mountains and we were greeted by the beautiful field of lupines across from the house.

The plan was to head up from Appalachia with a car spot at Lowe's so that we could come out on the Castle Trail on Sunday (as long as the weather and our legs cooperated).  We were going to stop at the Water Wheel for breakfast, but when we got there the place was already packed and we opted for some coffee and muffins to go instead.  Dani showed up just as we were heading out and we all headed over to Appalachia together and had breakfast there.  Kim and HuiYeng had also brought everyone coconut and custard buns from Chinatown and we had one of those to go with the muffin.  Delicious!!

Ready to start...

...along with LOTS of others.

Not surprisingly the lot was already full at 8:30 and people were parking along the road.  We got packed up and headed out.  It was already warm in the woods as we made our way up the Airline and Short Line.

Starting up the Airline

Everyone looks happy to be out!

Whatcha' got in that big pack Pa, a pizza??

Checking out the route

Taking the Short Line

The lower sections of this route are all easy grades and the miles go by quickly.  The problem is, the elevation gain has to come somewhere...

HuiYeng catching the views

Following the brook

Dani looks motivated!

Only 0.8 left (straight up)

We made great time getting to the Spur Trail and then the work began.  1300' up in the last 0.8 miles.  The trail is generally nice though with good footing (and the RMC trail crews are working on some new rock stairs near the top to replace the old log ladders).  We stopped about half way and cooled ourselves off in the brook.

Pa does a head freeze

Pa looks cooler - now it's HuiYeng's turn

How cold was it HuiYeng?

Everyone looks refreshed

Just one more crossing

I seem to have a hitchhiker

It seemed like the last climb was taking a long time, but we arrived at Crag Camp by noon and had actually made good time.  When the views opened up as we neared the top, we got a taste of what we were in for this weekend.

Going up...

First views appear.  Beautiful!

Crag Camp ahead

Almost home

There were a few others ahead of us, but the eight person bunk room was still open which gave us a private room for our group of seven (Jen was heading up later in the day after teaching a climbing class).  We met Jack, the caretaker, and paid our $13 per person fee for the night.  What a great deal!

Our (almost) private group bunkroom

Relaxing in the dining room

The views here definitely don't suck!

Crag Camp history

Wow!  Nice to know we'll be warm tonight

Uh, OK

View from the porch.  I could just sit here all day

The room out back...

We all got settled and then took a walk over to the spring that's about half way across the trail to Gray Knob to refill our water.  Last summer when were stopped at Crag Camp the water line was right behind the building.  Jack wasn't sure what had changed, but the 1/4 mile walk for the caretaker with multiple larger water jugs several times a day can't be a fun chore.

The spring down the trail to Gray Knob

The trail back to camp

We sat for a while and had our lunch.  Pa had brought pizza to share (so there WAS a pizza in that big pack after all) which was a real treat.  After lunch we took our now near empty packs (another treat) and headed above treeline.

Packs are gone - now out for a hike

Crag Camp perched on the edge of the ravine

We stopped on the way up for the short diversion to Knight's Castle.  What a spectacular spot!

Madison and JQ Adams

Madison over King Ravine from Knight's Castle

Crag Camp

Labrador Tea

Kim on Knight's Castle

We continued up the Spur Trail and discussed plans for the rest of the day on our way to Thunderstorm Junction.  There was just a light breeze and the temperature was about as perfect as you could want for a day in the northern Presis.

Heading above treeline

Up into the clouds.  Hey, where did the clouds come from??

Uh oh, Lightning Guy is following us!

Madison and JQA

Mt Adams ahead.  Not going up today though

Checking out the day's later destinations

Approaching Thunderstorm Junction.  Abigail Adams in the background (left)

The plan for the rest of the afternoon was to bag the sub-peaks of Mt Adams, including John Quincy Adams, Samuel Adams and Abigail Adams (aka Adams 4) - a regular Adams family festival!  My knees had still been complaining from the Wildcats/Carters hike a few days before, and the idea of going up and down the uneven rocks on these peaks just didn't seem like a great idea.  As much as I'd have liked to head up with the rest of the group, I decided it was a better idea to wander around on the Gulfside and just enjoy the day and the views while the others did their peakbagging.  Certainly not a hardship on a gorgeous day like this.

First target JQA...

Heading down Gulfside from Thunderstorm Junction

On Gulfside

Arrow points to Crag Camp perched on the edge of the abyss

King Ravine

The rest of the group heads up JQ Adams

Approaching JQA summit

On the peak!

HuiYeng conquers JQA

While I was waiting for the group I wandered the rest of the way across Gulfside to the top of King Ravine to check out the rest of the ravine views and the views down to Madison Hut.

Durand Ridge

Adams disappears into a cloud.  Bet I know who's up there ;-)

Mt Madison

Madison Hut

Mountain Cranberry

The summiters return from JQA

Heading back on Gulfside - more peaks ahead

Back to Thunderstorm Junction

The group planned the rest of their summit assaults.  First would be Sam Adams (hey, now I'm thirsty) and then across to Abigail Adams (which someone decided needs to be renamed again to Adam Ant) and down to Gray Knob and back across to camp.  I opted for the direct route as I again figured my knees didn't need the extra mileage on the descent.  As they head for Sam, I wandered around the shoulder of Adams on the Gulfside to get the views of Jefferson and Washington.

Mt Jefferson from Gulfside

Jefferson and Washington hiding in the clouds

Mt Jefferson

Cloud hovering over Thunderstorm Junction.  Not an omen today though

Sentinel on the path

Mt Adams

I headed back around as they were reaching the summit of Sam Adams.  Looked like fun up there.

Samuel Adams - next target

The group on Sam Adams summit

Looking for the tap.  Sam Adams draft please?

Looks like fun.  Kinda' wish I was up there

As they headed down from Sam and over to Abigail (or is that Ant) I headed back down the Spur Trail to camp.  The mile back down felt like much more, and my knees were definitely glad that I spared them the peak scrambling.

I head off on the path to Crag Camp while the rest head to Abigail Adams

Cairns lead the way home

Madison with it's head in the clouds

Mountain Sandwort

Clouds recede as the afternoon shadows grow

Enjoying the flora along the trail in solitude

I arrived back at Crag Camp, traded my boot for sandals, and sat out on the porch waiting for the others to arrive.  They came in only about 20 minutes after me and they all said how much fun they'd had on the Adams family.  We all had found the perfect ways to enjoy the afternoon.  Everyone got out the snacks they'd brought and we dug out a few beers that had found their way into our packs somehow.  Unfortunately Kim and HuiYeng had forgotten theirs in the fridge that morning, but we all shared what we had for the moment and put in our order with Jen (who was hiking up later) for more.  We enjoyed sharing some of our snacks with Ella, who joined us on the porch.  I really love it that the RMC allows dogs here!

Ella greets us back at camp

Watcha' got out there?  Any snacks??

Nat models the Crag Camp evening attire style

By this time the sun was setting and we all headed down to the ledges to enjoy the light show and have our dinner.  We didn't really want to be antisocial, but given the choice of the dining room (which is certainly really nice) and the edge of the cliff, it was an easy choice.

Watching the sun go down from the ledges below Crag Camp

Fading light over King Ravine

Crag Camp from the ledges

Soon Jen showed up with the rest of the evening libations and the party began in earnest.  We stocked up and headed back down for the rest of the show.

Jen arrives with the libations!

Alpenglow lights up the mountains

Peaceful end to the day

After the sun went down and dinner was done it was time to celebrate Kim's birthday.  We had brought brownies and candles and HuiYeng had brought an amazing lemon roll cake from Chinatown.  I'll never know how she got it up there in one piece!  Happy Birthday Kim!  So glad we could be along for the celebration!!

Lemon roll - birthday cake #1

Celebrating with the birthday girl

We hung out on the ledges for a long time, enjoying the stargazing and the remaining libations.  We eventually had to reluctantly drag ourselves up and go to bed.  Before turning in though, we had a final bedtime snack.  In addition to that pizza in his pack, Pa had brought up hotdogs and chili and Jen had picked up a pack of rolls along with the beer.  It was almost midnight so we didn't bother with the chili, but a dog before bed really hit the spot!

After the long day we'd had we all slept really well (or at least I did).  I had planned to be up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the valley from the ledges.  When I opened my eyes at 5:30 the room was already filled with light and I knew that I had missed it.  I pulled my clothes on and headed down anyway.  I wasn't too disappointed with what I found.

Morning undercast creeps into King Ravine

Nothing better than waking up above the clouds

What a gorgeous sight!  One of my favorite parts of staying at the high mountain huts is the morning undercast that is so often present.  There truly is no feeling quite like waking up above the clouds.  Nat soon joined me, and I went back up to make coffee and then returned to enjoy it in this most amazing place.  We also enjoyed the incredible coconut and custard buns that Kim and HuiYeng had brought for everyone.  Save the Eggs Benedict for another day!

Coffee is on

The towering inferno.  It was actually twice this size at one point!

Good morning Ella

Prayer flags in the morning light

Burning off the undercast

Can't think of a better spot to begin the day

We finally headed back up to pack and make our plans for the day.  Pa and Dani had decided to hike down to tend to commitments at home, and Kim, HuiYeng and Jen were planning to hike back up to Jefferson and down the Castle Trail.  As much as we wanted to experience that trail, we decided that it was better to save for another day, and we headed down with Pa and Dani.  We said our goodbyes and gathered on the deck for our group photo.  I'm still not sure how HuiYeng got the timers on all three of those cameras set at the same time.

I wonder if this little guy spent the winter in our back yard.  He's certainly happy to be here!

Group shot before we part ways
Me, Nat, Pa, Dani, HuiYeng, Kim and Jen

My knees complained mightily on the steep upper section of the Spur Trail.  This is the only part of two multi-day hikes in a week that isn't great.  I told the rest of the group to go ahead and even gave the keys to Nat so that they could go get the car if they were down well before me (which I was sure would be the case).  Once I got below the steep section though, I found them all waiting at the brook crossing with their boots off, soaking their feet.  I joined them and we took a long break and enjoyed the cool.  The rest of the way down we were all on cruise control and before we knew it we were back at Appalachia.  Dani had a cooler of ice cold beer in the car and we happily had one last beverage to cool off and celebrate a fantastic weekend.

Last hurrah for these stairs on the Spur Trail

Heading home down the sunny path

Orange Hawkweed

Wild Blackberry
This past week in the mountains has been a true blessing.  From a solitary hike and a private hut stay at Carter Notch, to a weekend with wonderful friends and an above treeline celebration, I can't think of a better way to spend four days.  I think it's going to be while before we get back to the mountains (probably not until Seek the Peak at the end of July), but that's OK.  June and July in Rhode Island is not a bad thing!

Thanks to Kim, HuiYeng, Pa, Dani and Jen for making this another truly amazing weekend!  Already looking forward to the next one...

The full set of pictures and slide show are here:

Here's the route including the hike to and from Crag Camp and the rough loop over the Adams family on Saturday.  JQA is omitted since there is no trail close to the summit to include on the map.  Lowe's Path goes near the summits of Sam and Abigail.  Click on the maps (or any photos) for larger views.

Route Map.  Crag Camp indicated by arrow

Overall route

Crag Camp and Adams family loop

South view

West view


  1. Mark, an all-around great trip report! In terms of your photos, the late evening and early morning images were spectacular!!


    1. Thanks John! I have found that there is one key secret to getting such evening and morning photos in the mountains - being there at those times. ;-)

      I know that there are lots of folks that hike by headlight to be on summits and sunrise and sunset, but that's never really been my cup of tea. There is absolutely nothing better, though, than sleeping up high and waking up above the clouds!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Unstrung. This one was particularly fun to relive and write. Always glad to hear that others enjoy them.

  3. Wow - two great hikes in one week! It doesn't get much better than that, with good friends and great views.

    1. You're so right Summerset. I'd have a very hard time remembering a better week than this one!

  4. Wow - great undercast shots.

    1. Thanks Philip. It was the perfect morning for it

  5. dbcooperisalive6/28/2012 7:51 AM

    Once again terrific pictures. I realize RMC doesn't take reservations. How do you reserve the bunk bed if after you get there you decide to hike Adams? Is there a hut member that stays there all the time to monitor this? I wasn't sure in busy times that there is a possibility of losing your bunk space if you hike after checking in. I really enjoy your trip reports. thanks

    1. Thanks DB. There is a full time caretaker at all the RMC huts. When you arrive you pay for your spot and pick your bunk. We were also able to pay for the person that we had arriving later in the day to reserve her spot. Basically you just put your gear on your bunk to hold your spot. The caretaker is there to ensure that everything is safe (and even during the times that he's out to get water or doing other chores out of the hut nobody is likely to bother anything). The nice thing about this is that you can then go hike Adams, Madison, Jefferson or whatever without bringing your heavy pack. Most of our group just had their water and snacks in their pack lids that convert to fanny packs. I had my whole pack, but with virtually nothing in it. Really a treat.

      Glad you enjoy the trip reports. I have so much fun writing them and mainly do it so that I have them to look back on and reminisce later. The fact that others enjoy them and can get some information and inspiration from them is a bonus.


  6. Quite a report- looks like beautiful country.