May 10, 2017

Rainy slog over Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson, and Webster

In hope of making a Presidential Traverse an annual event, I am back again this year to do it again - this time with my brother Brian.  After Katy and I completed the traverse last year, Brian was clearly feeling left out.  We therefore made a plan many months ago for the two of us to go for a Presidential Traverse in June of this year.  With that set, we decided to do a couple of good sized hikes leading up to it in order to get ourselves prepped.  First up was a trek over the southern Presidentials plus Jackson and Webster on a Saturday in early May.

We planned this hike out weeks in advance, and since we both have busy schedules, jobs, and small children, the date was locked in.  It was hike on May 6 or not at all.  Our original plan was to do a long loop starting at the Dry River trailhead, hiking through the Dry River Wilderness and then up over Jackson, Webster, and looping back down.  The route was about 14 miles.  However, with spring hiking conditions often very challenging, I was monitoring trip reports and trail conditions leading up to the hike and noticed at least one person make an attempt up the Dry River Trail and report that there is a crossing of Dry River that is dangerous or impossible.  I managed to get in contact with the reporter via email and he suggested we change our route.  We looked at the options and decided to ascend Eisenhower via the Crawford Path instead, and then descend back over Pierce, Jackson, and Webster.  It would be a good teaser for what we would encounter at the end of the traverse!

The forecast for the day of the hike was not good.  The valleys were forecast for showers all day and the Higher Summits Forecast was predicting summits socked in the clouds, rain all day, and temperatures in the 30's and 40's at elevation with high winds.  As I mentioned it was hike on that day or bust so we kept our plans and were at the Crawford Path trailhead on Mt Clinton Rd at 6:30AM.  It was cloudy, cold, and raining and there were no other cars in the lot.  We geared up and headed off.

The early portion of the hike was wet but straightforward.  We quickly put our rain gear on and slogged on.  Once we reached about 3000 feet of elevation, we began to encounter increasing patches of snow until there was a full, stable monorail with some areas still sporting multiple feet of snow.  We put on our microspikes and were able to move along pretty well during this portion of the ascent.  This was without a doubt the simplest part of our hike with straightforward trail conditions.  Once we reached tree line, the snow become very patchy with some areas of bare rock, some stable monorail, and some unstable snow conditions with post-holing a problem.  We slogged on until we reached the Mount Eisenhower Loop Trail to head up the summit cone of Eisenhower.

We were in the clouds the entire hike with no views at all.  Once we reached Eisenhower Loop Trail, the winds really picked up.  They were easily 50-60 mph sustained winds with gusts even higher.  Just walking and staying upright was a challenge and we battled our way to the summit and then quickly over the top and back down to Crawford Path.  At this point we made a short attempt to descend into the Dry River Wilderness via the Mount Eisenhower Trial.  However, the trail was a mess with deep, unstable snow and many blowdowns so we abandoned it and decided to backtrack down Crawford Path.  While backtracking, we bumped into the first and only hiker we saw all day.  It was a through hiker heading over the big Presidentials - definitely a brutal day to hit these peaks while hiking the AT!  We wished him good luck and continued over Pierce and towards Mizpah Hut.

Once we made it to Mizpah we stopped for the first time all day.  We were cold and wet and changed into whatever dry clothes we still had and ate some lunch.  The caretaker was all by herself and we chatted with her for a bit and took advantage of some of the amenities she had to offer including hot coffee and muffins.  It was at this point that we also had a choice.  We could shorten our route and head straight back to the car from here, or we could stick to the plan and ascend Jackson and Webster before making our return.  The full route was about 3 miles longer and we opted to go for it.  We thanked the caretaker for her hospitality, packed up our gear, and headed for Jackson.

The trails up and over Jackson and Webster featured more of the same.  Wet, cold, and a mixed bag of bare rock, deep snow, and stable and unstable monorail.  We post-holed often and the going was slow but we made it over both peaks.  On the way down Webster we encountered a couple of challenging river crossings, one which required a nearly waste deep dip.  We were already so wet though that it really didn't make much difference.  We made it down to Rt 302 and did the small road walk back to our car by about 4:30PM.  Overall a roughly 14 mile hike that took 10 hours.

This hike was a real challenge.  The combination of the rotting snow trail conditions, the cold, the rain, and the wind made for a tough day but still a good one!

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