July 3, 2018

Presidential Traverse 2018

For the third year in a row, I completed a single day Presidential Traverse.  It was yet another great adventure, but the experience was quite different this year for several reasons.  First, this year I did it solo which is definitely something that requires a different mental approach than hiking with someone else.  Second, I decided to give it a shot going south to north this time, leaving the biggest climbs and the more challenging northern presi rock hopping to the end.  Finally, while my first two traverses both had perfect weather essentially from start to finish, this trip had more of a mixed bag of conditions which I'll expand on more below.

One of the trickier aspects of completing a Presidential Traverse is logistics.  Since you don't end up at the same spot that you start, inevitably some coordination needs to happen in order to make sure you're not stranded at a trail head.  The past two years we had two cars so we could just stash one at either end.  Doing it solo, though, meant I needed to figure out some other form of transportation.  The AMC Hiker shuttle is a good option but it picks up too late in the morning in order for me to be able to complete the hike during daylight hours.  I considered it but did some more research and called around and ultimately was able to arrange a ride with Dave's Taxi service based out of Littleton, NH.  This is obviously pricier than the shuttle but ended up working out well.

I drove up Thursday night and stayed at a motel near the Appalachia trailhead.  It had been a rainy Thursday but the Friday higher summits forecast had been holding steady all week for summits "in the clear".  In the last 24 hours before the hike, though, the forecast changed and Friday looked to be "in and out of the clouds with showers and a chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon".  Everything was set though and it wasn't a washout so game on!  I was up very early on Friday and was at the Appalachia trailhead by 4:15AM.  There were a few other hikers gearing up in the lot likely prepping for their own traverse, but I still had to travel to the other end to start mine.  Dave's Taxi arrived 10 minutes early and before long, I was dropped off in Crawford Notch to hike back to my car.  I began the hike up Webster-Jackson Trail at almost exactly 5AM.

The early part of the hike was tough.  Not so much because the trail was particularly difficult, but after a poor night's sleep and an early wakeup time, I was just physically feeling lousy.  I also had a terrible headache to start off the day, and was socked in the fog and low clouds to start.  I slugged through this part of the hike regardless, downing extra water and taking a couple excedrin to combat the headache.  I made it to the top of Webster and then Jackson, but both summits were still in the clouds with no views.  I quickly moved on and made my way over to Mizpah Hut and was there before 8AM.

Once I made it to Mizpah, the skies started to brighten and the sun began to peak out.  My headache started to improve and my body physically began to pull out of that early morning funk.  I stopped in for a quick snack but did not stay long and continued to push on.  As I approached the summit of Pierce, the clouds were rolling by and I began to see glimpses of Mount Washington's summit periodically in the clear.  I reached the summit of Pierce at 8:30AM, feeling better and hopeful for another gray jay day above treeline.

I continued on and headed towards Eisenhower and it wasn't long before I was quickly back in the clouds.  The Crawford Path is a smooth and easy trail, but once I reached the Eisenhower Summit Loop, the wind began to pick up and was quite strong and gusty as I summitted Mount Eisenhower at 9:15AM.  Visibility was pretty low so I simply pressed on.  For the next hour plus I was dealing with essentially the same conditions - low clouds, fairly strong and gusty winds, and no views.  At this point I thought this was going to be my day - hiking from cairn to cairn.  At least I was making good time!

Once I made it to Mount Monroe, it was probably about 10:20AM and I was still in the clouds.  However, as I made my way down off the summit, suddenly, everything was clearing out in front of me with clear views of Lake of the Clouds Hut and Mount Washington summit!  I stopped in at the hut and fueled up a bit and gulped down some some extra water while I was there.  I did not top off my water bladder since I knew I could fill up again at Mount Washington only 1.4 miles away.  Feeling rejuvenated and energized by the sun, I headed off to tackle the climb from the hut at 10:45AM and absolutely motored up the very nicely maintained Crawford Path.  I made it to the summit before 11:30AM under blue skies.

I spent a bit of time at the summit, refilled my water, and ate some more snacks and food.  Before long I was off, though, heading down Gulfside Trail towards Mount Clay.  Up and over Mount Clay I went, still feeling good, and then onwards to Mount Jefferson.  When I did finally arrive at Mount Jefferson I think it was past 1:30PM or so.  I encountered a couple at the summit there who asked me what my route was for the day.  When I told them I had started at 5AM in Crawford Notch and was still planning on going over Adams and Madison from there they looked confused.  In any case I continued on for the long trek between Jefferson and Adams.

It was during this stretch of the hike that I encountered changing weather conditions once again.  As I pushed on, I began to notice more clouds and what clearly looked like rain clouds off in the distance to the east.  I knew the forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon, and I did not want to get caught.  Despite the toll of the hike beginning to increase the pain in my knees and feet, I nevertheless picked up the pace.  As I passed Thunderstorm Junction and was probably less than a quarter mile from the summit of Mount Adams, I began to hear rumbles of thunder in the distance.  I could again see the storm clouds approaching from the east and based on where I was, the fastest way for me to get to the relative safety of nearby Madison Hut was to continue over the top of Adams - so I ran.  I ran to the summit and then ran down Air Line as thunder continued to rumble nearby and the rain moved in.  I made it to Madison Hut before 3:30PM and waited out the storm, which never really was a direct hit but brushed on by and gave us a good amount of rain.

I wasn't sure if I would have to bail on Madison, with thunderstorms moving in, but before long the storms blew by and the blue skies were back.  I ventured back out and made quick work of the half mile route up Madison from the hut.  At this point the climbing was done, but I knew the four remaining downhill miles would be no easy task with my knees and feet now in a good deal of pain from the mileage of the day.  I headed down Watson Path from the summit of Madison which is actually quite steep and pretty slow going given my state.  After what seemed like forever, I finally met up with trail junction with Valley Way which is a much smoother trail.  At first I continued with my slower pace, but soon realized that I could go slow and be in pain, or go fast and be in the same amount of pain and get down quicker.  So I sped up significantly and hobble-jogged the last two miles to Appalachia.

I made it to my car at 6:30PM.  I sat in the open tailgate for a minute, reveling in the burn and watching the muscles in my calves continue to ripple and contract even as I did nothing.  The route that I took which was the extended traverse that included Webster and Jackson was close to 24 miles long with over 9000 feet of elevation and took me 13 and a half hours.  Another one for the books!

June 20, 2018

Extended Franconia Ridge Loop

Since I'm planning a solo Presidential Traverse later this month, on a whim I decided to take a Friday off and take a solo hike over an extended Franconia Ridge route.  After our normal morning routine, I dropped the kids off at daycare at 8AM and then headed straight north, arriving at the trailhead at around 10AM.  It was about a 15 mile loop route which included Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty.  I finished the hike around 5PM and it turned out to be a great day.  Enjoy the pictures!