June 21, 2017

Presidential Traverse 2017

After last year's successful Presidential Traverse with Katy, I decided to give it another go again this year.  This time, I did it with my brother Brian.  We put the date on the calendar (Saturday June 17) months in advance and didn't really have a rain date or alternative option planned.  Unless the forecast called for especially dangerous or complete washout conditions, we were going.  Also, based on how things went last year and our recent preparations, I knew adding the bonus summits of Jackson and Webster to the full traverse was an achievable goal.  So the plan was set, and the day had arrived.

We headed up from Massachusetts on Friday night in separate cars.  It rained the whole ride up and the Higher Summits Forecast for Saturday was calling for summits in the clouds with a chance of showers and drizzle throughout the day.  Typical!  At least it was supposed to be fairly warm with light winds, though.  Once we reached Crawford Notch to drop off a car, the rain had stopped and the skies looked a little more promising.  The lot on Mt. Clinton Rd. was nearly full and there were a couple other groups of hikers doing the same thing as us.  "You guys doing the traverse tomorrow?" asked one guy as he was walking by - "We are" I said.  "We'll see you in the morning then!" he called back as he power walked back towards his car.  He couldn't contain his excitement.  Traverse fever was in the air.

We continued on and stayed at a motel right down the road from the Appalachia trailhead on Route 2.  We were up at 3:30AM and at the trailhead at 4:00AM.  It was cloudy and a bit foggy but also quite warm and not raining.  At this point, it looked about like the forecast was going to ring true and we were in for a cloudy hike.  When we arrived at the trailhead, there were a couple of large groups of hikers and several other smaller groups in the lot gearing up.  It was clearly Presidential Traverse weekend!  We grabbed our packs, put on our headlamps, snapped a couple pictures, and headed off up Valley Way.

We started off at a reasonable pace and quickly passed the two large groups that had headed off just ahead of us.  We didn't see them again but hope they had a good hike!  Not long after that, a group of four guys motored passed us with the same guy we saw the night before leading the pack.  "Hey guys!  You guys doing the traverse?" he asked as they went by.  I'm not sure if he remembered us but he was still just as pumped as he was when we saw him in Crawford Notch.  "Yes we are" I answered again.  "Good luck!" he said as they sped off.  We continued at our pace as the skies gradually brightened with the sun coming up.  As we gained elevation, the fog we were in began to break and we began to see blue skies!  It was a welcome sight and the cloudy forecast for the summits turned out to be wrong.  We were in the clear all day with an undercast below, just a few wispy clouds above, and warm temperatures and light winds.  A top 10 day!

We took a left turn and took Watson Path directly to the summit of Madison.  That trail is pretty rugged and had some steep, bouldery sections.  Just before we hit tree line, we caught up to and passed the group of guys who passed us earlier.  We quickly gained distance on them and didn't see them for the rest of the day.  I hope their traverse went well!  We hit the summit of Mount Madison at 6:40AM and caught our first views of the Mount Washington summit way off in the distance.  We stopped for a snack and to take in the day it was shaping up to be.  Then we pushed on down towards Madison Hut.

We were at Madison Hut before long and stopped just long enough to refill our water and eat some more food.  One thing I told myself to do this year was to eat often and be diligent about the fluid intake.  It's easy to underestimate just how much fuel your body needs to make it through a day like this.  I kept readily available granola bars in the water bottle pouches on the side of my pack throughout the hike and just kept grabbing them and eating them along the way.  I also packed several PB&J sandwiches and a couple bags of trail mix to eat when taking longer rest breaks.  With readily available water at the huts along the route, I ended up refilling my 2 liter water bladder twice, and drank about three 32 oz bottles of gatorade that I made from powdered mix that I brought with me as well. That's about 9 liters of total fluids that I consumed during the hike.  Last year I ended up slightly dehydrated towards the end of the hike.  This year I did not.

After our short stop at the hut, we continued on towards the summit of Mount Adams, making it there at 8:00AM.  We chatted with a couple of other groups of Presidential Traversers at the peak for a few minutes.  Just like last year, at this hour, almost all of the hikers that we had encountered so far were making an attempt at the traverse.  We continued on towards Jefferson.  The route between Adams and Jefferson is straightforward but very rocky and not easy on the joints.  It's also quite long, about 2 miles, and we made it to the summit of Jefferson at 9:40AM.  There was one girl up there who was doing the traverse solo and she said she was on a schedule because she had to make it to the Highland Center before dinner.  We did not stay at Jefferson long, and continued on our way towards Mount Washington.

The trek between Jefferson and Washington is a neat one for a number of reasons.  One, you really can start to see how far you've come, and how far you still have got to go.  You can see back to Madison and you can see all the way forward to Eisenhower and the southern end of the traverse.  You also have the imposing view of Mount Washington right in front of you, and because of where you are, there are very few day hikers who end up on this particular stretch.  We found ourselves spaced out between us and the other traverse teams of the day by this point and marched on.  We went up over Mount Clay, which has a few a modest scrambles but wasn't too difficult, and continued on all the way to the top of Mount Washington which we reached at 11:45AM.

The summit of Mount Washington was actually a really neat scene.  Just like last year, I ended up doing the traverse on the same day as the Mount Washington Auto Road Race.  However, this year we made it there before the race had ended so the summit was teeming with runners and spectators, music was blasting, and a race announcer was still announcing names of finishers as they came across the line.  With the rare weather conditions, it was warm, sunny, calm, and with amazing views of the undercast skies below - it felt like a true party atmosphere.  There was a massive line for pictures at the summit sign, so we just snuck in and tapped the sign and took a selfie off to the side.  We retreated to the summit building to take a break and fuel up some more.

After a decent break at the summit, we continued on, taking Crawford Path down to Lake of the Clouds Hut.  It was here where the true length of this hike started to set in.  I sat down for another snack in the hut and took out my map to look at the rest of our route.  Still 11 miles to go!  It was 1:30PM and we had been hiking for over 9 hours and we still had 11 miles to go!  Good thing Crawford Path is such a smooth trail.  I refilled my water and made myself some more gatorade before we headed back out.  We cruised along, hitting Mount Monroe at 1:45PM, Mount Eisenhower at 3:00PM, and Mount Pierce at 4:00PM.  We continued to Mizpah Hut where we refueled again and then it was on to Mount Jackson.

We hit Mount Jackson at about 5:30PM and it was amazing to take a look back and see how far we had come.  Onward to Mount Webster which we reached at 6:30PM.  At this hour the views were pretty cool with the sun shining through the clouds into Crawford Notch.  By this point, though, the grind was on and the trails began to feel a lot quieter.  I let gravity do most of the work on the way down, gutting it out on every step.  We saw one guy cruising down behind us when we were close to the bottom.  "Where did you guys start?" he asked.  "Appalachia".  "Nice!  I started at Dolly Copp."  He apparently did a traverse too but bailed after Jackson and did not do Webster.  There were a lot of people doing the traverse on this fine day but not many added the full bonus peaks of Jackson and Webster as well.  We finally reached Rt 302 but had to hike about a quarter mile on the road to get back to our car at the lot on Mount Clinton Rd. - walking on the pavement here was easily the most painful part of the hike!

It was nearly 8:30PM when we finally arrived back at the car with the sun starting to set, putting us over 16 hours for the full Presidential Traverse plus the Clay, Jackson, and Webster bonus peaks.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday if I do say so!  Once again, the Presidential Traverse did not disappoint, and I hope I get a chance to do it all again.  Until next time!