Ok, well, let us say “Presidential Traverse Attempt”… or “My first visit to the White Mountains, along with VT and NH”..or “Summit of Mount Washington, by way of Madison and Adams, with 7500 feet of climbing”..
3 weeks ago, I got this wild idea, that I would do the Presidential Traverse, in one day. It just popped in my head one day…I cannot explain it any better. I had heard of it, but had never given it much thought before. I had started following a blog that is all about the 4000 foot plus peaks of NH, so I am sure that was a factor. Maria and I had talked about visiting New England, at some point. Part of our New England trip would be hiking a couple of 4000 plus peaks..maybe Washington at 6200+, but I never considered the Presidential Traverse. I immediately started researching. The problem was New Hampshire is a 13sh hour drive from where I live..ugh. It excited me..and to do it, would be worth all the driving.
The whole trip would be complicated. It was going to have to be a ‘quick drive up, adventure and drive back’…it would be a ‘leave Thursday or early Friday and come back Sunday or Monday’. I just had one goal, which was the hike. I did not plan anything else. Maria could not go, because of work. It would need to be on my timeline, due to the long driving and quick out and back. I was on jury duty call, so I could not fully commit to it, until last minute. The weather was a big factor (even in August). IF someone went, it would have to be someone that is able to do it and wanted to..so on and so forth. I did not really bother asking anyone else, as the chances were slim that they could work with all of these factors. Hopefully next time, someone can go do it with me
Let me explain the Presidential Traverse to those who are not fully aware of it. It is several peaks, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The peaks are named after Presidents This is a point to point traverse (hike/run) of 20 to 23 miles with around 8000 or 9000 feet of climb. The trail is extremely rocky and technical. The trails are not like the ones here, that have switchbacks. These trails go straight up to 3, 4, 5 and 6000 foot mountain peaks. The biggest and nastiest one is Mt Washington. The weather on Washington is unpredictable and usually wild. Read up on Mt Washington weather craziness: Why the White Mountains Kill-Outside Magazine
The norm is to leave a car, on the South end (Crawfords Path trailhead/AMC Highlands Center lot) and get dropped off at the North end (Appalachia-Valley Way trailhead). The start on the North end, is to get the big climb to Madison, done early. You get all the big and higher stuff done in the first half, then less climbing and lower elevation, in the second half.
When first researching and planning, I struggled a bit, trying to figure out the best way to stage my car. The AMC does shuttles, but in order to get an early start on Saturday, I would have to leave my car on the Friday, before 4pm, then find a way to get to a hotel and to the trailhead the next day. That was too complicated. They do not have Uber up there and Taxi would not work, either. I eventually found a lady that does this kind of thing. I would pay her to meet me on the South end, early Sat morning and she would drop me off on the North end for $90. Problem solved. I could have my car Friday night and did not have to worry about anything else. Car Shuttle Service
Links with info on the Presidential Traverse.
So, once I knew that I did not have jury duty those days and that the weather did not look TOO bad, I knew I could go. The weather was calling for 50% rain, wind and chance of thunderstorms..39 degrees on Mt Washington..not ideal, but…I have always enjoyed cold/harsh weather.
Maria was a bit concerned about me doing it alone, at first. I was able to borrow a tracker from local friend, Dave Mueller. Maria and friends, would be able to track me the whole way, plus be able to message some, if cell phone text was not working. That helped immensely.
Going into it and before, I estimated that I could finish it in 10 to 11 hours. I knew the terrain would be tough and slow, so I figured 30 minute pace..usually a 17 or so minute pace is what I do on a slow super tough trek with a lot of climb to it.
I took off Thursday morning around 9am or so. The way up there, is all major highway miles. It went extremely smooth. I had no idea how far I would feel like driving, so I did not make hotel plans for Thursday night. The driving went much better than I thought. I eventually figured out that Bennington, Vermont would be a good place and time to stop. It was also near the Green Mountain National Forest, which was exciting. I made it all the way to Bennington VT. I called an old Motor Inn, I found on line and asked for a discounted rate, since it was end of the day. I got a room for $85. It was an old outdated place, but I liked it..it had lots of character and personality. Bennington is a super nice, quaint town. I liked Vermont immediately.
I got up early the next morning. I had some extra exploring time, since I was able to drive farther than I had thought I would. The Appalachian Trail, also called the Long Trail in Vermont, goes right by Bennington. The Long Trail is the 272 mile AT portion that goes through Vermont. The Long Trail is a challenge and destination hike. I visited the AT in 2 different spots, near Bennington, that morning. I did 1 mile hikes on both part. I was not able to do much, as I wanted to save my legs for Saturday.
After the 2 short hikes, I was ready to start driving toward the White Mountains and New Hampshire, which was another 3 hours or so. I still had explore time, though. I got to Manchester VT and had to stop again. Wow, what a nice town! The downtown area was immaculate and superb. Super nice shopping and bike lanes everywhere. I visited the Outdoors store downtown, called The Mountain Goat.
At some point between Bennington and Manchester, I figured out that Long Trail Brewery was on the way…more excitement. I had known about Long Trail Brewery for many years. I always liked their logo and culture a lot. I had always hoped one day, that I could visit it. I had to wait a little before they opened at 11, so had a flight and a burger. Awesome place.
On the way to NH again, I go over a bridge that is looking down on a gorge, way far down below..I stop again to check this out. This is called the Queechee Gorge.
I also saw the Taftsville Covered Bridge.
I finally made it to New Hampshire. I found the campsite “Living Waters” and set up camp. Great pizza place close by to eat at.
The camp spot was around 8 miles from where I would leave my car and meet the shuttle driver, the next day. I drove down to that area and checked out the AMC Highland Center. AMC Highland Center link
The AMC has hiker support. I talked to a hiker support person, for a few minutes. She discussed the impending weather and lightning a lot and how exposed the terrain is that I would be on. She said to make sure I knew my “out” options and made sure I had certain gear.
Went to bed early and hoped the other campers would not be loud and keep me up. I put ear plugs in and they worked extremely well. I did not sleep great, but good enough. I had arranged for Maura’s car shuttle service to meet me at the AMC Highland Center at 5 am. It would be a 30 or so minute drive to the Appalachia trail head. I highly reccomend her service! We were both early and was gone by 5. She dropped me off at the trail head before 5:45…She took a picture of me, for her Facebook site…and I was off.
I knew beforehand, that the first 4 miles would be 4000 feet climb gain, which is a ton! It was super rocky and technical, but was not as hard as I thought it would be. The first 4 miles were under the tree line, so it was all rocky trail and woods. There were a group of 2 close to me, plus another group of 4 or so. I made it up to the top of that first 4 mile climb and was above the tree line. The Madison Hut was there and a half mile away would be the first summit of Mt Madison. The below pics are what ALL of the trails look like. They are all major rocky..the summits are even worse.
I had brought several layers with me..a waterproof light rain jacket (that I have never really needed to use before..usually a light non waterproof jacket-Houdini is plenty, as I stay warm, as long as I can run). I brought some other layers also, so my hydration pack was as heavy and full as I have ever had it. I had gotten hot on the way up and tied 2 layers and the jacket on my waist. Near the top of that first climb, it started raining, so I got wet, without my rain jacket on. That chilled me, because after the climb and near the Madison peak and Madison hut, I was now at over 5000 feet, no trees, exposed, cold temps and super windy. I went into the Madison Hut and collected myself some..the weather was already a factor..I was chilled up top (I had shorts on and my legs never get cold) with wet clothes.
Only view all day..
The huts there are very interesting and different. We have shelters in Virginia, they have very nice huts there. The huts are like hostels, with food, gear, supplies, etc.
I left the Hut and went to the peak of Mount Madison. This would be my first 4000 foot plus NH peak. Madison is the 5th highest NH peak at 5367′. It was only half a mile from the Hut, but it was a SLOW half mile. Rocks on top of rocks and hard to navigate. The higher you went the worse the weather got. I finally got to the peak. It was major foggy and no visibility.
I went back down toward the hut and got on the trail to take me to the next peak-Mount Monroe. I did that peak, which again, was super slow and major technical. Monroe was my second NH peak. It is the 4th hight at 5384′. NH 4000 foot plus peaks info link
It was around this time that I fully realized how technical rocky and slow the terrain was, how bad the weather was and how slow I was going. There was no running ANY of this. I was planning to run at least a little of the downhills, beforehand. I was struggling to make 40 minute pace, as best as I could tell. I also, did not want to take my phone out for pics, due to the weather.
I do not want to sound whiny about the terrain and weather, but it was truly nasty and brutal (as Frank Finch would say). Every step had to be a careful one, with all the rocks. The terrain and weather, really never let up at all. The lightning was a continued threat.
I felt like I was watching someone else do this, in a movie. Very odd feeling, after all of the stuff that I have done in past.
The next peak would be Jefferson, but by that time, I was concerned about how long this was taking me, along with the weather. I bypassed going up to the top of Jefferson, as I did not want to do another super slow summit with major wind, feeling as I did.
I never saw the Mount Clay option, so that was bypassed also. The conditions were so bad, that it was a pain to look at the map, or the app on my phone, or to even eat.
I trudged on toward Mount Washington, which was the next peak and roughly halfway of the Traverse. I was completely by myself for most of this section. Again, the weather was nasty and gettng worse. I could hear thunder and saw lightning several times..one was very close. I saw a few people, but not many at all. The higher I got toward Washington, the worse the weather was. I finally summited Washington and had to immediately look for shelter. It was like a major hurricane up there. 65 mph winds, rain, sleet, hail, 27 degree wind chill and sub 40 degrees. I felt like the wind was going to knock me over at any point. The first building I saw was some sort of major old restaurant, that no one was in..appeared to be open, but I never saw anyone. Again, I sat in there a few minutes and collected myself. I had to get a picture at the summit, no matter how bad the weather was. I trudged back out there and got someone to take a few pics, of me and the RVTR flag. It would have been funny to see me trying to maneuver the flag, in that weather. Took me a couple of tries, to get it in the right direction.
There was another building at Mt Washington summit,that was a visitor center with food, drinks, gift shop and train depot. (Cog Railway at Mt Washington -an old train goes straight up and down the mountain..only other way to get there, other than hiking) I went into this place and gathered myself again. I was chilled, even in there. I needed some dry clothes. I bought a sweatshirt, which helped some.
Now, I had to decide what to do. I still had 8 miles to go, which I guess would be a minimum of 4 hours. Exposed lightning was the biggest threat. It is all exposed up there, and nowhere to hide from lightning. The forecast did not look any better. I hated to stop or quit, but did not feel safe with the lightning. I could have toughed out the other weather, but did have the thought (for first time ever) about a possible hypothermia situation. I also thought that it would get better, once I got off Mt Washington, to lower elevation and away from the exposed jet stream at peak. That still did not fix the threat of getting struck by lightning and nowhere to hide from it. I still felt good as far as my legs and endurance, etc…that was not a factor at all. I decided to be safe and not expose myself to lightning etc for another 4 hours. As they say here..”the mountains will be here”. Meaning you can give it another go another time. I got a ticket to ride the train down to the bottom, then called a taxi to take me back to the AMC.
I got a hot shower at the campsite and was immediately thrown into another big decision. I felt good physically..I was not beat and exhausted, like I normally am, after a long run.. I assume because it was so slow? even though I had climbed 7500 feet in 11.5 miles and out there 8 hours or so… I could not imagine laying around in the tent, when I knew I could be on the road to get back home. I threw all the camping stuff in the car and left. I figured I would play it by ear again and drive until I thought I needed to stop.
Again, the driving went amazingly well! I never felt the need to get a hotel. I drove through the night. I took a catnap two or three times and got coffee two or three times. I left at 7pm and got home at 1pm. I felt good enough to take my dog to Roanoke Mountain and did not take a nap..I just went to bed early.
What an adventure….I will be back for sure. Probably next summer.