So my first 4000-footer (Cannon) was 4100 feet. My second (Carrigain) was 4700 feet. My third, however, jumped to 5712 feet! Though as I’ve read, of the tallest mountains in NH, Jefferson is the shortest distance to summit – only 2.5 miles on the Caps Ridge trail. Though it’s not an “easy” hike by any means. But strangely, it wasn’t the caps I found most difficult today. Those were tough, but actually doable for me – not as terrifying as I expected them to be. I actually felt pretty good when we summited in 3 hours. The additional 5+ hours coming back down via the Castle and Link trails was far more difficult. The Link trail in particular, as that trail is unmaintained and had a lot of fallen trees (mostly off trail), eroded areas, and rocks to climb over, plus it’s essentially a very narrow trail running along the side of a very steep slope. Longest 1.6 miles EVER for me.
We had originally planned to take the Caps Ridge trail up, and the Gulfside and Jewell trails down (we spotted a car at the Ammo trailhead parking lot, which is across from the Jewell trail). After meeting another group of hikers on our way up to the summit, including Luann who just finished her 48th NH 4000-footer with this hike, we decided to join them going down the Castle trail on the opposite side of the mountain, then taking the Link trail back to the lower part of the Caps Ridge trail.
Taking Gulfside/Jewell down would have been a total of 8.4 miles. Our new route made our hike a bit shorter at 6.7 miles. However, the Castle trail and Link trail proved to be far more difficult than our original route was expected to be, and it took us more than 5 hours to descend for a total of just over 9 hours of hiking, including breaks and lunch at the summit.
In all, I loved the caps. Some spots were a bit tricky, but it was completely doable for me with some good work gloves to protect my hands from the eat-your-skin rocks. Coming down the Castle trail was kind of rough, as it was almost entirely rocks. And while the castles weren’t steep ledge like the caps, they were a completely different kind of difficult – and, I think, more difficult than the caps. The Link trail (which we knew in advance was not maintained, so we have nobody to blame but ourselves) just plain sucked. There were some beautiful spots, like a long, skinny waterfall running down the steep slope of the mountain, lots of cute mushrooms, and a small stream crossing that gave me a refreshing little splash on the back of my legs as I crossed. We (that is, my hiking buddy Lucy, my new hiking buddy Devon, and me) were beyond elated when we finally reached the junction with the lower portion of the Caps Ridge trail (above the potholes, but below the caps).