4.7 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Pack the Aleve
The White Mountain Guide describes Lowe’s Path as the “easiest way to climb Mt. Adams.” There’s an important distinction to be made here: easiest doesn’t exactly equate easy, especially in the winter. The 4.7-mile climb to New England’s second highest peak, 5,799 feet, will beat your legs into submission like a drill sergeant at boot camp. Don’t worry, though, it’s jolly good fun. And the rewarding views of neighboring Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Madison, and big brother Mt. Washington will quickly cleanse any residue of a pre-dawn rise and shine.
Most of the climb isn’t very steep (the key word here being “most”). The challenge of Lowe’s Path lies in the cumulative 4,450 feet of elevation gain, about a mile and a half of which occurs above treeline. The rocky, windswept landscape of Mt. Adams’ alpine zone is mesmerizing to behold when the weather plays nice. The fool who ventures here when the weather makes a turn for the worst is, well, asking for a new Facebook status. But don’t take my word for it. Just read the signs.
Lowe’s Path, originally cut from 1875-1876, begins at U.S. 2 just across and up the road from Lowe’s Store. Parking is available at the store for a dollar a day. Lowe’s is a classic country store, complete with a sleeping dog on the floor. There isn’t much of a food selection, but they do carry Gatorade, Cliff Bars and other treats to fuel the hike.
The early going on Lowe’s Path is rather benign, crossing a snowmobile trail, the Presidential Range Trail and some power lines. The climbing begins gradually with a few steep bursts mixed in, eventually passing intersections for the Link and the King Ravine Trail. At the point where the “Forest Protection Area” sign is posted there might as well be another sign that reads, “You’ve got to be this tall to climb Mt. Adams,” because the kiddie hike is tout finis. Here the trail turns up a rocky, icy, vertical grade that pretty much requires crampons. Unless of course you enjoy face plants.
A respite from the sudden steep grade isn’t far away. Just up the trail on the left is the Randolph Mountain Club’s creatively named “Log Cabin,” which appears to attract regular occupants even in winter. At this juncture the Cabin Cascades Trail exits on the right, and a little further along is a four-way intersection with the Randolph Path. In both instances Lowe’s Path continues straight ahead—signage is good, but if there’s any doubt, just take the steepest route.
Lowe’s Path soon climbs into the krummholz, the stunted conifers that “grow” in alpine zones, which are always interesting in the winter. Don’t dilly-dally too long here, though, because the first view to elicit an involuntary, “Oh…WOW,” is near. A rocky scramble breaks momentarily out of the trees to offer the dramatic Mt. Jefferson Castellated Ridge as a reward. From here it isn’t far to the Quay Path intersection on the left, which is a hop, skip and a jump to the Gray Knob Trail Crossing.
Soon after the Gray Knob crossing, Lowe’s Path leaves the krummholz for good, embarking on the mile and a half of open exposure. At first the cairns are easy to follow in winter, though this may also be a byproduct of the lack of snow this winter, ascending a peak known as Adams 4. The views of Mt. Madison, JQ Adams, Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson from Adams 4 are nothing short of grand.
Lowe’s Path now descends a rocky embankment into a depression between Adams 4 and the summit of Sam Adams. More snow collects here making the trail trickier to follow. The key is to stay to the left of Sam Adams and head for the big mountain top in the middle. During this climb Lowe’s Path parallels the Spur Trail and the two ultimately connect just prior to Thunderstorm Junction, a five-way intersection with the Great Gully Trail and the Gulfside Trail, which is also the Appalachian Trail. A frozen .3 miles of jagged rocks is all that stands between Thunderstorm Junction and the Mt. Adams summit.
From New Hampshire take I-93 north to exit 35 for U.S. 3, and continue on U.S. 3 until the right turn onto Route 115. Follow Route 115 to the intersection with U.S. 2 and turn right, the trailhead is 5 miles from here on the right. From Maine follow U.S. 2 through Gorham, New Hampshire. From the junction of U.S. 2 and Route 16, follow U.S. 2 west for 8.4 miles; the trailhead will be on the left.
The climb to the top of Adams 4. And they call Lambeau Field the frozen tundra.
View of the Mt. Jefferson Castellated Ridge. Mt. Lafayette is peaking above the clouds in the background.
The view from Adams 4. From left to right is Mt. Madison, JQ Adams and Mt. Adams.
Which way did the wind blow?
Is that the top? No? Seriously???
The Mt. Adams summit. Finally. Unless it was hidden under ice there’s no summit sign, which is odd considering Mt. Adams is New England’s second tallest mountain at 5,799 feet. There is a sign detailing the intersection of the Air Line and Star Lake Trail.
JQ Adams and Mt. Madison from the summit of Mt. Adams.
The eye of Mordor. Also known as Mt. Washington.
Zoomed in on the summit of Mt. Washington.