The Presidential Traverse

The Presidential Traverse has been on my bucket list for 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 was that I only had one possible day that worked with my ER schedule – 9/21/15 – and it was the day after my climb of Mt. Katahdin. It was also the first day of the year that the AMC shuttle wouldn’t be running, so I’d have to pay for another cab. I eventually decided to try for it anyway.

I woke up at 5:00 am to make the 2 hour drive to the White Mountains, and couldn’t believe how sore my left thigh was. I practically limped to my car, wondering how on earth I was going to manage 20 miles and 18,000′ of elevation change just one day after doing 12 miles and 8,000′ of elevation change. I was pretty sure I remembered smacking my left leg against a rock while crossing the Knife Edge on Katahdin…so I was banking on this being a bruise rather than an overuse injury. A bruise would likely get better while hiking, but tendinitis would only get worse.

AMC Presidential Range Trail Map

AMC Presidential Range Trail Map

After catching a cab from the AMC Highland Center to the Valley Way trailhead, I started the climb up Mt. Madison (5,367′) at 7:30 am via the Valley Way trail and Watson Path. This was the exact same route I had taken the week before, and I was moving at a much more relaxed pace. Despite this, I made the summit in 2 hours 24 minutes…exactly one minute faster than the previous week. The key difference was the weather. Rather than crawling on all fours above treeline (see last week’s post), the clear skies and gentle breeze meant I could hop easily from one rock to the next. After just a few miles of climbing, my sore leg stopped bothering me.

Mt. Madison summit

Mt. Madison summit, looking toward Mt. Washington (left) and Mt. Adams (right)

From Mt. Madison, I descended to Madison Hut to refill water and inhale a protein bar before starting up Mt. Adams (5,793′). As an optional add-on, Mt. Adams is flanked by several smaller sub-peaks (Mt. Quincy Adams, Mt. Sam Adams, Mt. Abigail Adams). Since I was feeling good and making decent time, I opted to climb Quincy Adams (5,394′) and Sam Adams (5,489′).

Mt. Quincy Adams summit - looking back toward Mt. Madison

Mt. Quincy Adams summit, looking back toward Mt. Madison

Mt. Adams summit - view south toward Mt. Washington (left) and Mt. Jefferson (right)

Mt. Adams summit – view south toward Mt. Washington (left) and Mt. Jefferson (right)

Mt Sam Adams, with Mt. Washington in the background

Mt. Sam Adams, with Mt. Washington in the background

From Mt. Sam Adams, I tried following some rock cairns to shortcut back down to the Appalachian Trail…but unfortunately, they led me to the edge of a nasty, steep boulder field. I made it down just fine, but this probably cost me an extra 15-20 minutes. Once back on the AT, the trail descended to a saddle between the Adams group and Mt. Jefferson (5,712′). Shortly after starting up Jefferson, a side trail branched off leading to the summit.

Mt. Jefferson summit

Mt. Jefferson summit

Somewhere between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Clay (5,533′), I had the brilliant idea to clip a bag of beef jerky onto one of the carabiners on my shoulder strap. This meant constant snacking and no more stopping from here to Mt. Washington.

Mt. Clay summit, looking back toward Mt. Adams (left) and Mt. Madison (right)

Mt. Clay summit, looking back toward Mt. Adams (left) and Mt. Madison (right)

Between Mt. Clay and Mt. Washington, I crossed over the cog railway – a popular way for tourists to travel from the valley floor up to Mt. Washington (6,288′ – highest point in New England).

Mt. Washington cog railway

Mt. Washington cog railway

Mt. Washington summit, looking north toward Mt. Jefferson (left), Mt. Adams (middle), and Mt. Madison (right)

Mt. Washington summit, looking north toward Mt. Jefferson (left), Mt. Adams (middle), and Mt. Madison (right)

There were lots of tourists at the Mt. Washington visitor center and observation deck, and I only stayed a few minutes before heading south again on the AT.

Approaching Mt. Monroe and Lake of the Clouds Hut

Approaching Mt. Monroe and Lake of the Clouds Hut

The southern Presidentials are definitely smaller and less rugged than the northern Presidentials. The trail was still rocky, but the rocks were flat and smooth rather than sharp and jagged. So I made much quicker time from here on out. I stopped briefly at Lake of the Clouds Hut to refill water, then began the steep (but short) climb to the top of Mt. Monroe (5,372′).

The view south from Mt. Monroe

The view south from Mt. Monroe

As you can see above, the trail south of Mt. Monroe made for a nice evening ridge walk. No more tough climbing to speak of. My next stop was Mt. Franklin (5,003′), a small sub-peak of Mt. Monroe, which can be seen to the far right in the picture above.

Mt. Franklin sub-peak

Mt. Franklin sub-peak

The sun was starting to move toward the horizon by the time I reached Mt. Eisenhower (4,780′), and my feet were finally starting to get a little sore.

Mt. Eisenhower summit

Mt. Eisenhower summit

My final peak of the day was Mt. Pierce (4,310′). I think the summit was technically below treeline…but the vegetation was short enough and sparse enough that I was still able to see clearly.

Mt. Pierce summit, looking back toward Mt. Eisenhower (left) and Mt. Washington (right)

Mt. Pierce summit, looking back toward Mt. Jefferson (far left) Mt. Eisenhower (center) and Mt. Washington (right)

Sunset from Mt. Pierce

Sunset from Mt. Pierce

I rested for a few minutes atop Mt. Pierce, taking a little bit of satisfaction at how far away Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington looked from here. It seemed hard to believe I’d been standing atop them a few hours before. In hindsight, I wish that I’d stayed another 20-30 minutes on Mt. Pierce, because the sunset that evening was outstanding…and the best of it came when I was well below treeline. I could have snapped a few really impressive mountain/sunset shots had I just stayed put.

Sunset from below treeline

Sunset from below treeline

I returned to my car (near the AMC Highland Center) via the Mizpah Spring Hut and the Mizpah Cutoff trail. The last hour or so required a headlamp, and was only a little eerie.

Final few miles of trail...Bigfoot standing off to the right

Final few miles of trail…Bigfoot standing off to the right

I made it back to my car with a final time of 12 hours 30 minutes. You can see the splits for each individual mountain below.

Splits:

Mt. Madison – 2:24

Mt. Quincy Adams – 3:18

Mt. Adams – 3:39

Mt. Sam Adams – 4:05

Mt. Jefferson – 5:16

Mt. Clay – 6:23

Mt. Washington – 7:15

Mt. Monroe – 8:38

Mt. Eisenhower – 9:58

Mt. Pierce – 10:55

Finish – 12:30

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Published in: on September 27, 2015 at 8:39 pm  Comments (6)  

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)