Castle Trail and Chemin des Dames - September 23, 2017
With an early 6:45 am start time, the plan was to take Castle Trail up to Mt. Jefferson, follow the ridge to Mt. Adams, Mt. Madison, and then drop into King Ravine via Chemin des Dames, following a series of trails including Cabin Cascades past The Log Cabin horizontal to the mountains, but away from the highway to connect back where I started.
This was an ambitious 15 mile hike and I arbitrarily estimated between 10-12 hours. If anything went bad above the tree line or I ran out of energy I would bail anywhere down the north side of the mountain and walk back along the highway or rail trail. As luck would have it there was not a cloud in the sky although slightly hazy.
The beginning of Castle Trail is a nice gradual uphill and you rock hop across a small stream. It soon gets much steeper and I have to go in small bursts. I feel slightly dizzy like I'm over exerting, but I think that's just from the coffee. My heart rate measures around 170 bpm which is good. The terrain here is unusual, it has a swampy feel and there are mosquitoes and flies which weren't a problem down below.
Soon I reach a large slab of rock which is exposed from the dirt and trees on either side. This begins the most fun part of the hike and there are finally views of the valley below. The trail goes up and over the Castles which are big boulders along the spine of the ridge. Looking to your right and then left and you see it's a very steep and long way down, although there isn't really any one big cliff. There are a ton of rock outcroppings with views of the ravine. And I could have spent all day playing here. There are one or two tricky spots, but these are more just awkward and not exposed or particularly dangerous. In hindsight I see why people choose to descend this route, because then you won't be rushed and can really soak it all in. On the other hand it was very peaceful to be there in the morning with the sun not fully up.
Castle Trail first rock scramble
Castle Trail first view
Castle Trail overlook
As soon as the fun starts, I'm past the castles, above the tree line and going from rock to rock toward Mt. Jefferson. I'm wondering whether I'll be the first on the summit although someone passes me coming down as I get closer I see two others at the top. I try to maintain a steady pace, and it's not terribly tiring, just a lot of foot work. At the top I rest for a bit and take pictures. I learn the two people are doing the Presidential Traverse. A few others have also reached the summit of Jefferson. And as I head towards Mt. Adams I see many more people on the ridge going towards both summits.
A big pile of rocks (Mt Jefferson)
Although it seems close on the map it takes quite a while to even descend from Jefferson and start going up Adams. As I go I'm taking pictures into the south side of the range and then later into the north side where I can see the ridge and castles I climbed prior. Mt. Adams takes forever to get to and my feet are hurting pretty bad by the time I reach the summit. I'm wearing my Vibrams and a good 75% of the people I pass have commented on them. My responses about how they handle up here become less and less positive, but part of the goal is to toughen up my feet. I rest on the summit and eat a bit, it's about 11:30 so this is my lunch. I'm optimistically hoping to quickly hit Madison. To get there I have to first go all the way down to the Star Lake AMC hut. I get to the King Ravine section pretty quick and there's a nice path to the hut from there that's basically a rock stair case. I am going pretty slow here because of my feet and I don't want to overload my leg joints. After probably an hour I'm at the lodge and begin heading up Madison. This is the smallest of the three today and good thing because it takes quite an effort to get up, though I am going quickly and it's at least easier on my joints. I reach the summit just before 1 pm and rest for another 15 minutes before going down the other side and looping back towards the AMC hut.
Mt Adams (biggest in photo) is a long ways away. Mt Sam Adams in the middle. There are actually two more Adams peaks visible in this photo.
Castle Ridge and Castles from a distance, the trail roughly follows the spine.
Mt Madison and Star Lake
From there I just need to get back down the north side, I still feel good overall so go with the plan to take Chemin Des Dames into King Ravine. Just before reaching Chemin Des Dames I can't take it anymore and switch to sneakers. I know I could hobble along, but it might slow me down to much or I get sloppy and trip. With sneakers on I know I made a good choice and feel a new energy. The trail is very steep and while descending isn't as easy or fun as ascending I crab walk my way down and enjoy views of the ravine. I take it slow and carefully, it's still quick because you go practically straight down. It's shorter and steeper than the King Ravine trail, so I can see this one being preferable for down climbing. At some points you are definitely more exposed on Chemin Des Dames than on King Ravine, but there's plenty of brush to cling onto if need be. Mid way down on the rock slide there's another hiker behind me and I'm kind of annoyed because I didn't expect anyone else to down climb it and someone knocking a rock down is my main fear.
Air Line Trail and King Ravine that I'm about to drop into
In a short time I'm back on the King Ravine trail and finally on mostly flat ground. There's a few big boulders which I intentionally and sometimes unintentionally slide down. It's fairly slow going here and takes about an hour to reach the Mossy Falls. At the falls I stop to test out my water filter. It's very relaxing to be down below the tree lines, back on dirt and I figure it should be a short walk out. I make good time to The Log Cabin. Past the log cabin, I'm still traversing horizontally across the range, the Cabin Cascades trail has seen very little use. It's kind of cool at first, but becomes difficult to follow, would be almost impossible to follow in the dark. Many places have you going over slick mossy rock, and a few places have you going over slick mossy rock with a 20 ft drop on the other side, protected only by some brush. I see some type of large bird mid way on this trail, they clearly like that it's cutting into a steep part of the mountain and it's an easy take off.
At this point I'm not even taking pictures, 3 pm is turning into 4 pm and I just want to travel as fast as possible. It's actually a nice trail, I just don't really stop to enjoy it. After what seems like forever I finally reach Israel Ridge trail which I just need to follow downwards until it reaches Castle Trail and follow that back to the parking lot. It's for the most part quick going, well below the steep sections. There are two river crossings, but these I'm still able to jump from rock to rock.
Finally I make it back to the car, I stop briefly to marvel at the mountains in the distance which I had climbed earlier. I check the time and it's been 10 hours and 45 minutes since I started. In the car I proceed to lounge for awhile although I'm not tired just sore. Then I get a move on so I can get some food other than nuts and chocolate.
Mt Jefferson and Mt Adams seen from trail head
Full loop on google earth satellite view
Time: 10 hours 45 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 6693'