June 20, 2016

Presidential Traverse

The Presidential Traverse!  It's a benchmark day hike and one that Katy and I have been talking about for a long time.  Back when we were working on the NH 4000 footers list, it kind of reached joke status.  We would talk about it with each other and with our family and friends that knew about our hiking endeavors as if it was just some crazy thing that other people do.  Slowly, though, the joking became more serious until we finally actually put it on the calendar.  As the date on the calendar continued to get closer, it became more real.  We started preparing for it, planning it, anticipating it.  I guess we were really doing it!  The date of the hike, June 18, 2016, finally arrived this past Saturday.  And we did it.

A Presidential Traverse is a single continuous hike that hits all of the peaks named after U.S. presidents.  In all, there are 7 of these peaks, and the shortest route over all of them is about 20 miles long with roughly 8500 feet of elevation gain required.  Given these requirements, there are many variations to a Presidential Traverse, including whether to go north to south or south to north, choosing one of the many trails up (or down) Madison, and adding "non-presidential" peaks to the route like Clay, Jackson, and/or Webster.  We decided in advance that our goal would be the "minimal" traverse from north to south going up Madison from Appalachia on Rt. 2 via Valley Way and ending at the bottom of Pierce taking the Crawford Path out to Rt. 302.  We would also bypass the unofficial Mt. Clay on the way up to Washington.

We had spotted a car on Friday night in Crawford Notch at the base of the Crawford Path and stayed at a motel on Rt. 2 near the Appalachia trailhead.  Our plan was to be on the trail and hiking starting at 4:00AM.  We were a few minutes behind and made it the trailhead parking lot at 4:15AM.  The lot was completely full!  There were also several other hiking groups there at that time gearing up for obviously the same thing.  We parked on the shoulder of Rt. 2 and got ready to go in the dark.  After getting our gear and headlamps together, and snapping a few pictures, we began hiking up Valley Way.

The initial ascent was interesting and not quite what I expected.  For one, it was our first real experience hiking in the dark which was kind of neat, but different.  Also, there were at least four other groups and well over a dozen hikers who started at almost the exact same time as us.  Even though I knew this would be a very popular day to hike the traverse and we would likely see other traversers, I don't think I was quite expecting the train of headlamps ahead of us and behind us during that first mile.  The intensity in the air was also abundant with the other hiking groups starting and stopping frequently to adjust clothing, adjust water bottles, adjust headlamps.  We leapfrogged these groups several times right out of the gate.  After a mile or so, though, things settled down.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the ascent, though, was how I felt.  I basically felt like I was asleep.  Normally I am not awake at 4 in the morning and my body was letting me know this.  There was some initial adrenaline, but most of the hike up to the hut was a quiet slog.  We set a reasonable pace, though, as Valley Way is a fairly steady trail and before we knew it, we were at Madison Hut.  We continued right past the hut, after Katy briefly dropped her pack, and went right for the Madison summit.  I was starting to wake up at this point, and we were finally above tree line, with the sun having risen and it starting to feel warmer.  We could not have gotten luckier with the weather, as it was forecast to be in the 50's on the summits with clear skies, lots of sun, and not much wind.  We made it to the Madison summit at 6:50AM fully awake now, feeling good, and ready to tackle what's next.

We doubled back to the hut and decided to stop to eat and fill our water.  The hut was bustling with activity as the overnighters were all sitting down for breakfast.  After a short break, we continued on to Adams and were at the summit by 8:20AM.  For some reason ascending Adams this time seemed easier then any of the times I've done it in the past.  It was at this point in the hike that we were well ahead of our estimated schedule, feeling good, and thinking this Presidential Traverse is going to be easy!  Also, at this hour of the day, at this point in the hike, almost every other group that we bumped into was attempting a Presidential Traverse.  It would be a theme throughout the day as we continued to leapfrog several groups several times.  We did not stay on the summit long, and were back down off the Adams summit and back on the Gulfside Trail in no time.

The hike between Adams and Jefferson is long, but with some fairly flat sections.  We continued our steady pace, still feeling good and made it to the summit at 10:20AM.  A few pictures on the summit and on we went with the next stop Mount Washington.  It's over 3 miles from Jefferson to Washington, with Mount Clay in between.  We decided in advance that we would take the Gulfside Trail around Clay and save ourselves a couple hundred feet up and down of elevation.  Once we made it around Clay, we still had about a mile to the summit and 1000 feet of elevation gain to climb so we decided to stop for a bit and eat.  It was a good move and gave us the boost we needed to make it up Washington.  When we reached the summit at 12:45PM I was expecting huge crowds as the Auto Road race was happening in the morning.  However, the festivities must have just ended as it was surprisingly quiet with even lots of empty tables open in the summit building.  We stayed at the top for about a half an hour, long enough to use the rest rooms, eat some food, drink some water, and rest up for the rest of our journey.  We were over halfway done in terms of mileage and most of the climbing in terms of elevation gain was complete!

The hike down Crawford Path to Lake of the Clouds Hut was really quite easy.  This trail is as nicely maintained as I remember with easy footing and lots of rocks setup as stairs.  On the way down, we had a reunion with a couple of traverser groups that started the day with us way back at 4:15AM at Appalachia as they passed us going to the hut.  We caught up to them at the hut, though, as they were still taking a break when we arrived.  We quickly filled up our water and stayed for only a couple of minutes before heading for Monroe which was less then half a mile away.  We made it to the top of Monroe at 2:30PM, almost the exact same time as the two other traverser groups, and stopped just long enough for a picture.  On we all went, with one group taking off ahead of us that we didn't see the rest of the day, and one falling behind, that we also didn't see the rest of the day.  We hope they made it!

It was another couple of miles before Eisenhower, and as we approached the final ascent, it was at this point that the hike began to take its toll.  I began developing a dehydration headache and we stopped to eat again and drink more water.  The refueling helped and we continued to the summit of Eisenhower, getting there quicker then it looked from the junction of the Eisenhower loop trail at 4:10PM.  We were 12 hours in to the hike, with only one more peak to go!  The hike over to Pierce is not a difficult, but we were slowing down at this point with so many miles and so many feet of elevation under our belts.  We made it to Pierce at 5:10PM with the final summit complete!

It's a running joke that Katy has stated her life goal is to be able to do a "5K at any time."  My sister Maureen insists that this can't possibly be a goal since there's no way to really achieve it.  Well, it's 3.1 miles (or 5K) from the summit of Mount Pierce back to where we parked our car.  At this point, we were tired, hungry, and in plenty of pain so if there's ever a time to "achieve" this goal, it was then.  This was easily the most difficult part of the hike with our knees and quads speaking to us on every downhill, rocky step and my headache still a dull pain in the background.  The Crawford Path is an easy trail by most definitions, but that easy 5K took us over 2 hours to complete.  Any time though!  We made it back to the car at 7:30PM, tired, sore, hungry, but it didn't matter because we had done it.

The Presidential Traverse was a goal that we had set for ourselves years ago, and it was finally in the bag.  We had prepared for it, we were ready for it, and everything finally came together for us to make the attempt on an absolutely perfect day.  Add to that the intangibles of the day: the anticipation of the event, the excitement of the goal, the intensity of the morning, the instant camaraderie on the trail, and just like that it was an instant classic.

June 1, 2016

Mount Washington

Traverse training continues!  Over Memorial Day weekend, my aunt and uncle were kind enough to host the whole family at the condo in Bartlett, NH.  My parents also came along and they offered to watch Toby and Tyler for a day while Katy and I head off and do a hike.  With our planned Presidential Traverse in only a few weeks, we decided that Mount Washington would be a good warmup hike to get us ready.

After getting the kids up and fed on Sunday morning, we headed off to the main Pinkham Notch trailhead and arrived there at about 9AM.  The lot was filling quickly but we found a space and headed off.  The forecast called for a mostly cloudy day with a chance of showers, and as we started up the trail, it was overcast with low clouds.  It looked like we were in for a viewless hike.  We continued on nevertheless.

The first half of Tuckerman's Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch is a very wide, gradual, easy trail.  As usual, it was a busy trail with many other hikers going up and coming down.  We made good time and eventually came to the trail junction for Lions Head.  We opted to go up Lions Head trail as that had the main steep section at a lower elevation and we were unlikely to encounter any leftover spring snow.  As we continued to climb, surprisingly, things began to clear up.  Just as we popped out onto the ridge we began to emerge out of the clouds and were treated to an undercast below.  It's not a terribly rare weather phenomenon in these mountains but you don't see it everyday and it is a neat view.  We plodded along, taking a few breaks along the way as the summit began to become visible ahead.

As we traversed the ridge, we could see into Tuckerman's Ravine and noticed a few skiers taking runs down the last few patches of snow high up the headwall of the ravine.  It was quite the sight as there was very little snow left and it looked like quite a challenge to avoid crashing into the rocks when the snow comes to an abrupt end halfway down the headwall.  As we continued on, we soon made it to the trail junction where Lions Head Trail meets back up with Tuckerman's Ravine Trail.  Trail traffic picked up as we made the final push to the summit.

We made it to the summit at around noon, and stopped for lunch.  Conditions at the summit were better then expected, with mostly clear skies and a partial undercast below.  As usual, it was busy at the summit with tourists and hikers, and we stayed for maybe a half hour.  We began our descent back down the way we came, and opted to take Tuckerman's Ravine Trail down instead of Lion's Head.  The trail was steep as usual but in good shape.  However, there were two snow fields left that we were forced to cross, one of which was on a severe side slope.  We didn't use or bring any traction, so they definitely required some caution.  We made it down, though, and continued into the ravine.

Before long, we had made it to the Hermit Lake Shelter at the base of the ravine, and continued down the rest of the trail back to our car.  It was a nice hike on a nice day and perfect for traverse training!

May 18, 2016

Mount Lafayette

The date for our Presidential Traverse is drawing nearer, and with that, Katy and I are working on our hiking training missions. Last week, I planned a hiking trip with Brian to go up the classic Franconia Ridge loop over Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln. Given our schedules, Sunday was the only day that would work. We've had good weather lately, so I didn't think weather would be an issue. However, this early in the season, I knew we would have to be prepared for potential spring snow and ice so would need the appropriate gear. As the hike drew closer, we had been monitoring the weather forecast in Franconia Notch and noted that it called for a fairly dreary day with chilly temperatures and rain. It didn't matter to me - the hike was still on.

The day before the hike, I checked the Mount Washington Observatory's Higher Summits Forecast. Even though we weren't going up Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge is a little ways away, it would still be a pretty good indicator of what we would experience above treeline. The forecast called for temperatures in the 20's, 50-70 mph winds, and a couple of inches of snow. I talked it over with Brian and we decided to stick with the plan, but vowing to make good decisions once we decide to go above treeline. It was 80 degrees and sunny in Massachusetts while we were talking, but I packed up my full winter gear, hats, gloves, microspikes, etc. in preparation for the hike the next day.

Per our usual routine, I met up with Brian at the Park and Ride in Nashua, NH at 6AM. It was cool but nice out at the time with skies mostly clear in southern NH. We continued on together to the trailhead in Franconia Notch where conditions were different. Temperatures were in the 40's and raining with low clouds/fog as we geared up for what was sure to be an interesting day. As we started our way up Mount Lafayette in the rain, we couldn't help but talk about a 2004 backpacking trip that we did with our friend Bob where we hiked up this very same trail and it just down poured on us the whole day. Will this hike be a similar experience?

Lafayette is a big mountain but Old Bridle Path is a trail that sees significant traffic and trail maintenance and is fairly steady in steepness all the way. We moved right along taking almost no breaks. The rain continued to come down, but after only about a mile or so, it changed to snow. The snowfall was actually a welcome change as you are less likely to get soaked through. We continued on, passing several large groups coming down that had clearly stayed overnight in Greenleaf Hut. Several people expressed their disbelief that we were actually going up the mountain and not down. "You just couldn't stay away huh?" said one. "It's going to be pretty windy up there today you know." said another. My favorite comment was from one of the kids in a boy scout troop that was coming down from the hut: "Woah! These guys are actually going up!!"

By the time we made it to Greenleaf Hut, it was full blown winter. Snow was falling at a decent clip with about an inch of fresh snow that had accumulated and it was cold. There were a couple patches of ice just before the hut, but it wasn't significant enough for us to put on our microspikes. We ducked into the hut for a quick break and to have a snack. At this point, we had to make a decision. Do we go above treeline and head to the summit of Lafayette? Should we do the full loop and hike exposed across the ridge to Lincoln? There was no question that danger could lie ahead, but we were prepared and opted to head to the top of Lafayette and make a decision about the ridge from there. We put on all of our layers, hats, and gloves, and were about to head off. But wait! Brian packed two hats instead of a hat and gloves! Well for some reason I decided to pack an extra pair of gloves. Crisis averted. Into the blizzard we went.

Heading up from the hut was cold, snowy, and windy, but the wind was at our backs which made it not bad overall. Visibility was low but not full whiteout as we were still always able to see to the next cairn. As the summit drew closer, conditions became very severe. The wind really picked up speed and it became more difficult to navigate. We made it to the summit but were in universal agreement that we would not do the walk across the ridge and would instead head straight back down. On the hike back down to the hut, the wind was directly in our faces and it was very cold. With a few inches of fresh powder on the trail, though, we were actually able to make really good time and we booked it back to the hut. As the hut drew closer, the wind gradually lessened as we escaped the unforgiving Alpine Zone.

We took another break at the hut, before heading back down the way we came all the way to our car. It rained, it snowed, it was cold, it was windy, but this was a fun hike. I love summer hikes with clear skies, and perfect views, but it's only a hike like this one where you can fully experience all that these mountains have to offer.

April 20, 2016

Mount Wachusett

Recently, Katy and I decided it was time to get our hiking boots back on and summit a peak. We hadn't done much hiking lately, but we have extra motivation to get some hikes under our belt this spring. For years now, we've been talking about doing a single day Presidential Traverse. It's kind of a running joke because we've talked about it for so long, but for a variety of reasons, have never been able to coordinate it and pull it off. Well, the time for talk is over. This year, in mid June, we are doing it. In preparation, we are aiming to get some smaller hikes in leading up to the main event.

We had some nice weather over the weekend, and thought it would be a good chance to get a family hike in. Toby is almost 3 now, and can handle longer distances without being carried. Tyler is approaching 1, and loves being in the carrier. We decided Mount Wachusett would be a good choice as it's only an hour away and is a small, relatively simple hike. We decided to do an out and back to the summit via Mountain House Trail. We started off with me carrying Tyler on my back, and Toby walking on his own. Toby did well and made it almost halfway up the mountain before he got too tired. At that point, we put Toby on my back and Katy carried Tyler with the Baby Bjorn front carrier. We went the rest of the way up like this until reaching the summit which was quite crowded.

We had lunch at the summit, and after navigating a few potty-training toddler challenges, we began heading back down. The boys were doing well, but at this point, it was best that they were both carried down as well. This proved probably the most challenging as Tyler is getting a little too big to be carried with the Baby Bjorn but we only have one back carrier which Toby was occupying. Despite this, we made it back down to the trailhead before heading home.

A small hike - but an adventure nonetheless bringing two boys under the age of 3 and Tyler's first real hike!

October 17, 2015

Killington Peak

We're back! Three years ago almost to the day, Katy and I hiked Mount Carrigain to complete our 48th and final New Hampshire 4000 footer. Since then, our lives have changed quite a bit as we now have two children and are as busy as ever. It's always been our goal to continue on with our peakbagging and tackle the New England 4000 footer list. We love our boys and we love being parents, but one thing that is certainly true is that finding the time (and the babysitters) to get out and hike a 4000 foot peak is quite a bit more challenging now. But last weekend, we found both! We decided to rent a condo in the Killington, VT area for Columbus Day weekend for a classic New England trip. We invited Katy's sister Patty and her boyfriend Mike to join us, and they graciously offered to watch the boys for a few hours on Saturday so that Katy and I could hike Killington Peak for our 49th New England 4000 footer and first outside of New Hampshire! It was definitely a different experience from our peakbagging trips in the past, but on Saturday morning we were ready to go and out the door of the condo to make the short drive over to the Bucklin Trailhead to start the hike.

It was about 10:00AM when we made it to the trailhead and were geared up to go. The weather was cool and crisp with forecasts in the 40's under mostly clear skies. The Bucklin Trail is about 3.5 miles long with a total of about 2500 feet of elevation gain. The first couple miles are quite straightforward though as they are mostly flat. We cruised along without issue, enjoying the fall foliage and just being out. The trail gradually became steeper and we continued to work our way up, passing a few other hikers along the way. It wasn't too long before we reached the trail junction with the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail (both the same trail during this stretch) which we followed for a short while. We passed by the Cooper Lodge Cabin and a few tent platforms before reaching the Killington Spur trail which is just a quarter mile to get to the summit. This section was short but quite steep, requiring a bit of scrambling as we rapidly popped out above the short Alpine Evergreen trees which were still covered in frost. We reached the summit which was busy with people and where apparently just seconds earlier a couple had just gotten engaged! Pretty cool.

Despite only seeing a few other hikers on the trail, the summit was packed. Killington Peak is a ski resort and while it wasn't ski season yet, they operate gondola rides to the top year round. It being a peak fall foliage weekend, there were plenty of people who made the trip up to catch the pretty spectacular views. We took some pictures and then made our way to the Peak Lodge, which has cafeteria style food available as well as a full service bar operating. In contrast to other summit services that I've seen (i.e. Mount Washington), this one was surprisingly posh and definitely catered to a certain crowd. Even though we brought our PB&J sandwiches, we decided to share one of the sandwich offerings from the menu which turned out to be quite good. It was fun to spend some time up there and take in all the mountain had to offer.

Overall we spent about an hour at the summit before beginning the journey down. The hike down was again fairly straightforward and we were at the bottom in short order. We made it back to the condo by about 3:30PM and were quickly back to our busy world but not before checking off number 49 of 67 on the New England 4000 Footer list!


September 29, 2015

Madison and Adams

About a month ago, Brian suggested that we go on a hike. Sounds like a great idea! After some coordination, we finally found a date that works, and we were locked in with a plan for this past Saturday. Since finding time to get these hikes in is not always easy to come by these days (Katy and I have two young children now and Brian has a toddler of his own keeping us all busy), I put some careful thought into what hike we should do. The criteria in my mind was something like this:
  1. Do-able in a single day, including driving there and back
  2. Big enough to be worth our while, somewhere in the 10 - 15 mile range
  3. Preferably prolonged, above treeline exposure for maximum views and remoteness "feel"
  4. Include a unique trail or two, one that is less heavily traveled and that we haven't done before
That's a pretty picky checklist, but hey why not be picky? And looking at the list, there was really one one place to go - back to the Northern Presidentials. Last year we took on a hike that met all of those checkboxes in the form of a Jefferson and Adams loop. This year, I figured we could go at it from the opposite side with a Madison and Adams loop. The key to this choice and one that checks off that last box on the list was to make the ascent from the Randolph East parking area up the Howker Ridge Trail. While we've both been up these mountains before, neither of us have been up this trail which avoids the typical and more heavily traveled routes leaving from Appalachia.

So the plan was set. We would meet at the Park and Ride lot in Nashua at 5:30AM to begin the day. Somewhere along the way, though, before the planned date, our twosome turned into a foursome. Mo and David, who are working on their 4000 footers list, joined the group for the outing. We added a daisy-chain to the carpool plan with Brian and I meeting at the Nashua Park and Ride at 5:30AM and then continuing on together to meet Mo and David at the Hooksett Park and Ride at 6:00AM. Fully consolidated, we made it to the Randolph East parking area at around 8:00AM. The weather was cool and clear and the forecast was for an absolutely perfect day in the high peaks. After getting organized for a few minutes, we were off.

The initial part of the hike was gradual and steady. We moved along at a reasonable pace and began to climb. There's a bit of a backstory to this hike, though, as not all members of the party ended in as good a shape as they started. Brian was actually on the fence about coming all week leading up to it, as his son brought home a nasty stomach virus early in the week that he caught and was still recovering from. He made the decision to go for it the night before, though, and early in the hike he was beginning to feel the effects of basically not eating all week. About halfway up Madison, he asked for the map and was planning an escape route. He was still going up Madison but didn't think he was up for the Adams portion of the hike. Nevertheless, we continued on.

A couple hours into the hike, we finally popped out above treeline. The Howker Ridge Trail did not disappoint as we made our way up and over each of the exposed "Howks" under the warm sun, clear skies, and calm conditions. We made it to the summit of Madison in about 3 hours or so and stopped for lunch and to soak in the views. After spending some time on the summit, we made the relatively simple descent from the Madison peak down to the Madison Hut. Brian made it, but he decided that he was done climbing up for the day and would skip Adams. Our original plan had us climbing up and over Adams without doubling back, but we modified our route slightly so that we could meet up with Brian and descend Airline after tagging the Adams summit.

So after a quick break, Mo, David, and I continued on to the summit of Adams. We actually made an error here as we planned on taking one trail to the peak but ended up on another. It turns out there are two trails from the hut that both will bring you to Adams in about the same distance. The difference is that the trail we took had some really neat, scrambly sections that required some more technical maneuvers to get up. Overall, it was a good mistake, and we made it to the summit in about an hour. We spent some time up there, but with a weird cloud of flies and mosquitos right on the peak, we headed down before too long. We made it back to the meeting point with Brian in reasonable time to continue our descent.

We headed down Airline which is a nice trail that keeps you up on the ridge line for a little ways before finally ducking down out of the Alpine Zone. While on the ridge we were eyeing the multiple routes up Kings Ravine to our left that looked absolutely unbelievable. Someday we'll have to return for a thrill and ascend up that headwall. In any case, we continued down, with Brian and I leading the front pack while Mo and David were separated a bit behind.

The hike down was a bit of a grind, with an interesting twist happening towards the end. Brian, of course, was still not feeling well but was gutting it out on the descent. However, while the two of us were waiting at a trail junction for Mo and David to meetup, Mo came running down and handed us her keys. She said to go ahead and get the car and bring it over to Appalachia to pick up David. I at first thought that David had some type of serious injury and we were going to need to mount a rescue operation. A few seconds after that though, though, David came strolling up behind Mo. It turns out that he, too, was starting to feel queasy and wanted to get done as quickly as possible.

So with both Brian and David feeling ill, I completed the last mile and half of the hike on my own to retrieve the car, while Mo, David, and Brian went one mile to Appalachia. After an easy walk, I picked up the car, retrieved the three of them down the road, and the hike was complete. We headed back, stopping for some pizza on the way home, to complete another epic day.

Despite the unusual twists, I really enjoyed the day and the hike. Hopefully we'll be back out there again soon.