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Topic: Presidential Traverse, New Hampshire (8/20/2012)< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 1:12 am  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The austere and ferociously windswept heights of New Hampshire's Presidential Range are home to some of the highest peaks in New England with Mt Washington, at 6288ft, the very highest. A jet stream occasionally touches the range, resulting in gale force winds that are decidedly unfit for human consumption - a wind speed of 231mph on Mt Washington's summit was the fastest ever recorded on Earth until recently. The ridge bobs its way over various peaks, mostly named after presidents, from north to south, anchored near the middle by Mt Washington. A one-day traverse of the range whilst summiting the presidentials is one of New England's premier hiking challenges: depending on how many peaks one goes over, the hike can net up to 23mi and 9000ft+ of elevation gain.

A year ago I made it up Mt Madison, the northernmost of the peaks, but got balked near the next one due to rapidly deteriorating weather and not enough conditioning. On that trip I was taken aback at how rugged the trail conditions were; prior to that I'd never been on an official 'trail', as opposed to an off-trail 'route', with such poor footing. The raw stats (19-23mi, 7000-9000ft gain) did not even come close to the actual difficulty. There were only a few instances when I could just swing my foot forward and put it down; each step required careful placement to minimize the risk of a twisted ankle.

A year later, dosed with a healthy new respect for the challenge, not only did I want to complete the hike I wanted to enjoy myself doing so. So I trained, the first time I'd ever done so for a hike. Unfortunately, western Pennsylvania doesn't come with easy opportunities to do so, since the gentle hills just aren't nasty enough and gaining serious elevation requires creativity. I couldn't do anything about the former, but I could do something about the later: 22-26mi hikes, with 6000-7000ft of gain (courtesy of doing multiple laps up any 1000ft+ climb), every weekend for a month and a half prior to my Presidential Traverse attempt would have to suffice. The weather would have to be taken care of by the powers above.

The evening prior to the hike was spent at a motel in the small resort town of Bretton Woods, 4.5mi from the southern end of the range. It was only a short 20min drive from there to the Valley Way trailhead at the northern end. The morning of the hike I made that short drive, well rested after a good night's sleep, and was on the trail by 4:40am.

It was a still a good 50min shy of first light. The cold, hard light from a thousand stars was a welcome sight, confirming the generally excellent weather forecast for the day. I switched on my headlamp and followed its friendly pool of light into dark woods. Almost immediately the grade steepened and within a half mile I was clambering over a root strewn landfill at a rate of 1000ft/mile. Starlight was no longer visible up above, due to the dense canopy, but hundreds of light sources glittered beneath my feet: little chips of mica, etched into the very rocks I was cursing, were reflecting my headlamp's light back at me.

The higher up I climbed the rockier the surface got...and I was only starting. Thankfully, since I'd experienced this once before I wasn't beaten down psychologically. Little did I know then that the remaining hike wouldn't be any better, with nearly the entire section above tree-line comprised of nothing but more of the same, if not worse. Deep in the forest, with nothing much going on, it was place one foot in front of the other and hike. Up and up for 4000ft.

Around the 2.5mi mark, the timbered lower slopes of Mt Madison began to appear through the trees in peek-a-boo fashion. Finally, 4mi in I broke out of the trees and was deposited at the saddle between Mt Madison and Mt Adams. Nestling in this awesome spot was Madison Hut, one of three such sites along the traverse that allow hikers to break up the trip into sections. What a spot! A peak hulking high on either side and right beside tiny but scenic Star Lake... I took a short break here to regroup: the rest of the trip until the final descent from the ridge crest was what I'd come for. I was determined that preoccupying myself with thoughts of the enormous amount of effort still required would not dampen my enjoyment. There was going to be no pushing myself to finish before I needed to.

Presidential Traverse: A room with a view
Madison Hut and Quincy Adams

Since I'd already been up Mt Madison before, I skipped it and headed up the flanks of Mt Adams, on the Airline Trail. It had been a bit chilly to-date but as I rose higher I broke out of the shadow of Mt Madison and into the morning warmth. Spirits soaring, camera out and clicking away, I clambered up the talus. Halfway up, I headed left to tuck in Mt Quincy Adams, a sub-summit of Mt Adams - really not much additional effort for a great reward, in the form of a lovely view of Mt Madison, the Madison Hut and Mt Adams. It was back down for a bit then, followed by a steep climb to summit Mt Adams. Amazing views from here! The northern presidentials swept off into the distance in a wave, wrapping around the yawning valley called 'The Great Gulf', with Mt Washington lording over it all at the end, impossibly far away. Better not to think of that and focus on the more immediate views of the Mt Madison group!

Presidential Traverse: Mt Madison
Mt Madison, from Quincy Adams

Presidential Traverse: Star Lake
Star Lake

From Mt Adams, I stepped my way down the talus escalator to Thunderstorm Junction and intersected the Gulfside Trail. The 'trail' was just a pile of rocks that stretched off, downhill, towards Mt Jefferson. Ignoring this was easy though because it was all so incredibly scenic. My head was on a swivel: the view looking back was just as nice as the one in front and to the left.

The downhill stopped abruptly at Edmands Col. It was almost a relief. When the footing is so bad I find it easier to go uphill. Mt Jefferson's climb was long and steep, with a great view of Mt Adams. As I gained the summit, for the first time but not the last time that day, I was struck by how the views from a new summit just didn't get old - same range but with yet another wrinkle. This time it was the first good look at the southern presidentials, beyond Mt Washington, which had previously been blocked by other summits. Another wrinkle was the large grassy expanse between Mt Jefferson and Mt Clay (my next objective), known as the Monticello Lawn.

Presidential Traverse: Mt Jefferson
Heading up Mt Jefferson

Presidential Traverse: The greener side of Mt Adams
The greener side of Adams

Presidential Traverse: Snack time
Snacktime on Mt Jefferson

The gardens at Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello, may have been famed for their botanical excellence, but they couldn't have been more aesthetically pleasing than the grassy expanse I dropped into, on my descent from Mt Jefferson. Bands of sunlight played on the broad area, painting it in swaths with the colors of ripe wheat. Mt Clay rose gently and invitingly beyond. Like a lamb in springtime, I gamboled my way across.

Presidential Traverse: Monticello Lawn
Monticello Lawn

After making short work of the climb up Mt Clay I was finally face to face with Mt Washington. The next climb would be to my high point of the day, but also to the most accessible of the summits. Two motorized methods of transportation allow non-hiker passage to Mt Washington - a steep, reputedly scary road and the Cog Railway – both of which were visible from my vantage point. A restaurant and other developments festooned the summit. I looked at all of this and I was fine with it. Except: the Cog Railway - built in 1868, still the second steepest railway in the World and a top tourist draw - was just a blot on the landscape. I assume it must be some experience to take the ride up, but looking at the tracks was like looking at an open festering wound across the landscape.

Presidential Traverse: Northern Presidentials
Looking back at the northern presidentials, from Clay

Presidential Traverse: Great Gulf
Great Gulf

I dropped off Mt Clay's double summit to Sphinx Col, then up for a bit to hit the Cog Railway tracks. Then, some more up, paralleling the tracks, before the trail cut across them and led me up the final steep talus slope to the summit.

Dreamlike interlude:
Laughing, frolicking children, happy as can be. Laughing, frolicking adults, as happy as the kids. Aftershave and perfume. Flip-flops and lipstick. Hot chicken-noodle soup, the best, most refreshing soup I've ever had. 40min of careless existence.


From Mt Washington I dropped down to the Lakes of the Clouds, a couple of picturesque tarns, beside which was located the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. I had really been looking forward to this, because I hadn't visited any alpine lakes in a year. These may not be the best examples of alpine lakes I've seen, but they were quite pretty and the setting was gorgeous. Mt Monroe and Mt Washington loomed on either end of the lakes. The hut perched precariously to one side, clinging to the edge of the Ammonoosuc Ravine.

Presidential Traverse: A hut in a cloudy spot
Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Lakes of the Clouds: Grassy shore and Mt Monroe
Lakes of the Clouds

Presidential Traverse: Cloud reflections
Lakes of the Clouds and Mt Washington

Fine views were on offer as I ascended Mt Monroe. The sun and clouds put on a show here. Blazing sunshine one minute, gloomy conditions the next and intermediate conditions the third. Every time the sun was at full strength mica would sparkle amongst the granite.

Presidential Traverse: Play of sunshine

Presidential Traverse: Lord of his domain

Unlike the northern presidentials, things got a bit muddled here, since the peaks on average weren't quite as massive. Mt Franklin was almost an afterthought, after the double summit of Mt Monroe. For a while I didn't even notice I'd rolled over it, until I took a closer look at my map. I was on the Crawford Path now, which exhibited visible signs of trail maintenance. Still predominantly rocky, but I'd come upon the occasional 10yd stretch where I actually walked on dirt.

Presidential Traverse: Backpackers

The long descent off Mt Franklin wasn't fun at all, since Mt Eisenhower loomed higher and higher the lower I got. My last real climb though, so when I reached its base I didn't even stop to muster my intestinal fortitude and just plowed right ahead. And then I got a shock: the terrain was good - the best trail surface throughout! It was like being on a 'normal' trail. The climb ended up being laughably simple.

Presidential Traverse: Crawford Path
Crawford Path, on Mt Eisenhower's summit

The final peak to climb in my version of the Presidential Traverse was Mt Pierce. Unfortunately, I had been under the impression that Mt Pierce would be on the Crawford Path, the last obstacle to surmount before the final descent. In reality the summit was just off this trail, requiring something like a 0.5mi detour. And I'd run out of time, since my goal was to finish 20min before dark. This would give me 20min of daylight in which to hitch a ride to my motel, else I'd have to walk the 4.5mi on jelly legs.

The 3mi descent to the road was a lonely one and about the only part of the hike on which I pushed. I made the road, and was successful in hitching a ride to my motel, exactly on time, 15hrs after starting.

Stats:
- Distance: 19mi
- Elevation gain: 8100ft gain
- Hiking/photography time: 15hrs


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 8:08 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Nicely written trip report, and some great photos.  I was in the neighborhood that day, it was day two of my Pemi excursion.  You picked a great day for it.  I haven't attempted any of he Presi Range yet, would you say the trail was more rocky than the rest of the Whites?  I don't really hike outside of New England, and wonder if trails elsewhere in the country are as rugged as the Whites.  I keep seeing trip reports with photos of nice dirt paths.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 11:00 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

It was a beautiful day. Almost no wind and great visibility!

I can't speak for the rest of New Hampshire or the Whites, since this is only trail I've been on there. However, in all the other places I've hiked (Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia being the most visited) I have yet to see worse trails. I've been on numerous off-trail routes which have similar or worse difficulty, but these are not called 'trails'.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 1:33 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(SnidelyWhiplash @ Aug. 23 2012, 8:08 am)
QUOTE
Nicely written trip report, and some great photos.  I was in the neighborhood that day, it was day two of my Pemi excursion.  You picked a great day for it.  I haven't attempted any of he Presi Range yet, would you say the trail was more rocky than the rest of the Whites?  I don't really hike outside of New England, and wonder if trails elsewhere in the country are as rugged as the Whites.  I keep seeing trip reports with photos of nice dirt paths.

Presi Range is easily the most challenging range of trails in the Whites.  While, I'm sure you know there are some really tough hikes/trails off of the Presi Range (North Slide of Tripyramids for example), to me there is nothing that can "collectively" compare.  

Gali - I don't blame you for skipping Madison!  Not only is the 3800' or so just to get to the Hut a pain, but it's no cake walk pushing for the summit cone either.  I have yet to do a complete Presi traverse, but the only time that I have had serious knee pain (that required actual time off of running/hiking to heal) was a dayhike up Madison.  I took the Airline Trail up, which IMO is the better trail to take between it and Valley Way because you are rewarded with views very early on, and then took Valley Way down.  

Anyway, really nice trip report.  I hope to do a 1-day Presi next summer, as the daylight hours are slowly drifting away now...


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 3:37 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

If I decided to do the traverse over two or three days, do I have to stay in a hut or can I pitch a tent?

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 4:24 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(tomas @ Aug. 23 2012, 3:37 pm)
QUOTE
If I decided to do the traverse over two or three days, do I have to stay in a hut or can I pitch a tent?

Well, first there are more options than just huts.  I may be doing a 2-day traverse the second weekend of September (depends on the condition of my fellow hikers), and am not planning to use the hut system (it's expensive!!).

So that said, yes you can pitch a tent, but there are qualifiers.  You cannot camp in the Alpine Zone, unless there is 2 feet or more of snow on the ground.  WMNF rules prohibit camping within 1/4 mile of any trail, water source, or established campsites (huts, shelters, tentsites).  Those are the two biggest rules, but this brochure is more detailed  http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5363715.pdf  

That said, the Presi Range is almost entirely above treeline, so you would have to make a substantial descent to find an area suitable for camping.  My recommendation?  Check out the RMC (Randolph Mountain Club) and AMC tentsites and shelters that are available in the range.  Unfortunately there aren't too many smack dab in the middle of the traverse, so you'll likely have uneven distances per day, but with good planning you should be fine.

Myself, I'm thinking about going North to South making Day 1 short, as you have the most elevation gain on that day, and trying to stay at The Perch, an RMC tentsite with wooden platforms and a 3-sided shelter for about 8.

I really recommend it!  The pictures here are beautiful, but still don't do the area justice.  And I REALLY recommend taking the Airline Trail over the Valley Way if you can deal with a bit more steepness and exposure.  They both start from the Appalachia Trailhead (parking fills early), but Airline, as the name implies gets above treeline maybe 1.5-2 miles earlier than Valley Way putting you on a section of the trail called "Knife's Edge" where you have a glacier carved ravine on your right and a river carved valley on your left.  Cool to compare the two features.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 4:43 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

A friend and I did the traverse in winter a couple of years ago. Before the trip, we spent a great deal of time researching camping options, escape routes, etc.

We found a lot of useful info here:

http://www.chauvinguides.com/presitraverse/presiguide.htm

Have fun, good luck, and be safe.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 4:44 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The Traverse is one hike that I never managed to do while living in Boston and the OP's TR got me thinking. I'm not in the mood to do a one-day event, but a two or three day traverse would be cool.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 23 2012, 6:51 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(EastieTrekker @ Aug. 23 2012, 4:24 pm)
QUOTE
The pictures here are beautiful, but still don't do the area justice.

Hey! :D
Just kidding...I agree, nothing can do justice to that place above treeline.

QUOTE
And I REALLY recommend taking the Airline Trail over the Valley Way if you can deal with a bit more steepness and exposure.  They both start from the Appalachia Trailhead (parking fills early), but Airline, as the name implies gets above treeline maybe 1.5-2 miles earlier than Valley Way putting you on a section of the trail called "Knife's Edge" where you have a glacier carved ravine on your right and a river carved valley on your left.  Cool to compare the two features.

Here you go:



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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 24 2012, 10:11 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(GaliWalker @ Aug. 23 2012, 6:51 pm)
QUOTE

(EastieTrekker @ Aug. 23 2012, 4:24 pm)
QUOTE
The pictures here are beautiful, but still don't do the area justice.

Hey! :D
Just kidding...I agree, nothing can do justice to that place above treeline.

No offense of course!  I've already visited and revisited your trip report several times because I think they are great photos of the Whites, and it's the closest I can get to the mountains while at work!   :)

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 24 2012, 10:35 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

No worries.  :)

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 24 2012, 11:07 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Nice! I'm truly impressed that you can not only do that hike in a day--but take time for photos, too!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 24 2012, 8:25 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Really beautiful! Thanks for sharing Galiwalker!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 24 2012, 9:28 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks dc.

Rebecca, I really wanted to enjoy the hike and take my time in photography. At times I felt a bit embarassed at how much slower I appeared compared to some of the other 1-day traversers, but I still think I came out ahead. :)


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 28 2012, 11:49 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Very nice Gali  :)

Thank you for sharing, it's been far too long since I've been up there.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 28 2012, 7:23 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Nice report and great pics!  Thank you!  My 20 y/o son and I were talking about doing this sometime when we were there 2 weeks ago.  Its on the list!  Then at least a day to recover!
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(GaliWalker @ Aug. 24 2012, 6:28 pm)
QUOTE
Thanks dc.

Rebecca, I really wanted to enjoy the hike and take my time in photography. At times I felt a bit embarassed at how much slower I appeared compared to some of the other 1-day traversers, but I still think I came out ahead. :)

Sometimes that's just how it is for photographers.  Long ago, my spouse and I went to New Zealand.  One of our tramps was on the Kepler Track, where about 30 of us were moving together each day from hut to hut.  The DH and I were always the last ones in, worrying some of the other hikers (it occurs to me now that even then we probably looked old to all those 20-somethings, which might have contributed).  It was the photography, mostly.  

Then there were those five and six-mile days in the Pariah, which managed to take all day.


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