Presidential Bridesmaid: Mount Webster
(Presidential Range from Mt. Webster summit)
In the lofty shadows of its Presidential neighbors, Mount Webster is often the forgotten peak of the Crawford Notch region. With an elevation of 3,910 feet, it falls short of joining the famed "48 Club" of New Hampshire four thousand foot peaks yet lies at the southern tip of the Presidential Traverse, next to Mount Jackson (southernmost tip of the Range) and a bit farther from Mount Pierce (next in line). Despite this lesser known presence, the hike up Webster is rewarding and a relatively efficient way to see some breathtaking views of both the Presidential Range and the visually impressive Webster cliffs across Route 302 and surrounding Crawford Notch region.
The plan was to hike the Webster-Jackson-Pierce loop (9.1 miles/3,100' elevation) using the Webster-Jackson and Crawford Path trails. Even in early April, mountains this far north feature significant ice shelves and deep snow, especially above treeline and in less sunny parts of the trails. While not as high as its loftier neighbors to the north, Webster is no exception to this as the trails started out snow-covered but well packed from frequent snowshoeing to becoming icier and less traveled as the trail ascended toward the peak. Additionally, this snow elevates the walking plane for the trail, raising any hiker literally to tree level in some parts, making for a tight passageway with branches encroaching one's path en route to the top. Microspikes are a must while snowshoes are an individual preference by this point of the year on a mountain of this height.
Access to the trail head is very open and easy, with parking just off to the side of Route 302 a few hundred feet past the AMC Highland Center. Once on the Webster-Jackson Trail, it is about 1.3 miles over terrain that goes sharply uphill with some short descents and brook crossings before dividing into two ascending routes: one directly to Mount Jackson and the other to Mount Webster, both just over a mile in length. We chose the Webster option in keeping with our hiking plan and immediately were greeted with a sharp descent past a secluded and beautiful waterfall (frozen this time of year) and then back up a sharp ascent until resuming a normal uphill pace to the peak of Webster.
(Photo credit: Allison Spencer)
Even with microspikes, the upward trek in this type of snow and occasional ice is tricky and requires shorter, more purposeful steps and toe-digging into the trail than one would have to do in the summer or fall, causing the hike time to increase slightly. Approaching the summit, my feet poked through the hard pack a few times, plunging me down easily in snow up to my waist. This trail won't be completely clear of winter for probably another two months. Anticipating more cold and a longer trek I definitely over packed for the day's hike, adding more weight than probably necessary to my load, but this region and time of the year demands having proper gear in tow even if it doesn't get used. In approximately a half mile, the trail meets the Appalachian Trail portion of the Webster-Jackson route and a right takes you another tenth of a mile to Webster's summit, a small, rocky and this time of year, snow covered perch with open and stunning views of the surrounding region. Although not technically 360 views, the peak comes close, offering a beautiful look at many of the peaks and rock cliffs littering the landscape of this area.
(Photo credit: Allison Spencer)
As with any hike, the plan is king and disobeying its rule can be foolhardy no matter how good one feels in the face of realistic considerations. The day went great up to this point and we were making better time than anticipated. The snow was a bit more than expected and although we felt good, the distance to our next planned peak (Jackson) looked more daunting in plain view than it did on my hiking app's trail map. Nothing insurmountable, but still considerable, and after traveling a hundred feet or so we contemplated the prospect of getting a distance toward our summit goal and needing to bail out for whatever reason (cold feet and hands are always a nagging concern on hikes like this), ultimately deciding to trace our path back down from Webster and tackle Jackson and Pierce another day. It is sometimes tough to make those decisions but it's always the right move to make. We summited a great mountain and were feeling good. Another few miles and that all could change so the best bet was to turn around. If it had been June or July (or October even) we would have undoubtedly kept moving toward Jackson and probably Pierce. We retraced our ascent and made excellent time heading down the Webster-Jackson trail back to the trail head, stopping at the Bugle Cliff spur for some more quick views of the Crawford Notch area before returning to our vehicle, another day well spent on a trail in the White Mountains.