Mt. Madison

I had been planning to attempt the Presidential Traverse on 9/14/15 – a 22 mile trek across New Hampshire’s Presidential Range featuring 7-11 summits (depending on the variation) and roughly 9,000′-10,000′ of total elevation gain. I called a week in advance to book a $23 one-way shuttle from the Highland Center to the Appalachia trailhead. During the preceding week, I checked the weather forecast on a daily basis. Twenty percent chance of rain…then thirty…then forty…then forty…then forty…then, the day before my hike, I checked the weather one last time, and saw a ninety percent chance of rain.

Forecast

This was the first of three unlucky breaks. With less than a day’s notice, I had no way of swapping shifts with someone to get a different day off. So instead, I figured I would reschedule for Monday, 9/21/15, since that was my last scheduled day off. A few minutes before turning in for the night, however, I double checked the AMC website and saw that the daily shuttle service only runs during the summer through 9/20/15 (unlucky break #2). At the very last moment, I reluctantly decided to make the attempt on 9/14/15 despite the bad weather.

Sunrise over the White Mountains

Sunrise over the White Mountains

The morning was relatively clear, but the rain started to roll in shortly after the shuttle dropped me off at the Appalachia trailhead. I opted to take the Watson Path via Valley Way trail, which gains 4,100′ of elevation over 3.8 miles. I started at a reasonably fast pace, making the summit in 2 hours 25 minutes. One thing I’ve noticed about the local trails is that they seem to avoid switchbacks like you’ll see out west. Watson Path makes a straight line directly up to the summit, which makes for some precariously steep sections.

Typical stretch of trail.

Typical stretch of trail.

There was also an ominous-looking sign at the treeline.

IMG_1142

From the Wikipedia page: “Being both at the intersection of several storm tracks and the center of multiple converging valleys funneling wind from the west, southwest, and south make its weather unpredictable and at times violent…The mountain long held the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded at the Earth’s surface, clocking 231 miles per hour (372 km/h), forcing summit buildings to be chained down so they won’t blow away.”

The warning sign turned out to be pretty accurate. Once I made it above treeline, the strong wind forced me to continue on all fours. Adding to the challenge was the lack of a clear trail. The way forward was marked by rock cairns, but the path was essentially a scramble over wet, sharp, slippery boulders. I tried standing up a few times, but each time I was blown completely off my feet. Here’s a video I found on Youtube, to give you an idea of what the wind was like:

Shortly after topping out on Mt. Madison (5,367′), a fresh wave of rain and snow moved in and the visibility began to rapidly deteriorate. The rock cairns were spaced 40-50 feet apart, so the whiteout conditions made it very challenging to stay on course.

Mt. Madison summit

Mt. Madison summit

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

I tried continuing onward toward Mt. Adams, but at this point it was pretty clear that the full Traverse wasn’t in the cards. My rain jacket and rain pants are only middle-of-the-road in quality, so my inner layers of clothing had started to become damp after about an hour of steady rain. I threw on a disposable poncho for an extra waterproof layer, but the wind ripped that to shreds in just a few short minutes.

Halfway between Madison and Adams, I decided to bail back down to the Appalachia trailhead and catch a shuttle back to my car. I remembered reading that the last shuttle of the day came at 3:30 pm, so I made haste and reached the parking lot at 2:45 pm…only to realize I had read the schedule wrong. The last shuttle of the day had come at 2:35, and I’d missed it by ten minutes (unlucky break #3). So I had to spend $65 on a taxi back to my car.

I still plan to attempt Mt. Katahdin next weekend, and might also make another trip out to the White Mountains to bag a few more peaks if time allows.

Published in: on September 16, 2015 at 1:31 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I laughed when I read “Make haste.”

  2. MATT, WHAT A WILD HIKE OR CLIMB AS IT WAS for you.G’G’R

  3. […] a long time, and it was my #1 hiking priority when I came up to New England for the month. After my failed attempt due to weather the week before, I spent some time debating whether or not to try again. The problem […]


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