View Full Version : Presidential Range Traverse - October 12th, 2008

Mr Nate
10-14-2008, 06:57 PM

It all began midweek. It's a ritual for me to check the weekend weather at this point and make a decision as to which Northeast location will be my best bet for good weather. Would it be Lake Placid? Would it be Acadia? Would it be the Green Mountains? Or would it be the White Mountains? This time, they were predicting good weather EVERYWHERE.

And so I started planning to head to the White Mountains. Of course I realize that Valley weather predictions are by no means mountain predictions, but based on the weather pattern I liked our chances. :-)

I had to decide what hike I wanted to attempt. Since the weather was supposed to be wonderful and since I have been feeling pretty good lately I figured I would go ahead and do the Presidential Traverse as described HERE. At first, I wanted to do the minimal traverse as it sounded daunting enough but eventually I settled on the maximum traverse because, hey, I'm no slacker! Go big or go home!

I had to work out some logistics as far as transportation, sleep, and timing. As I worked these things out in my head, I realized that we would have to leave Central Massachusetts as early as possible on Friday to make it up north in time for some shuteye and a 4:00 A.M. start time. I called my friend Greg, explained to him the magnitude of the hike I aimed to attempt, and gracefully accepted his acceptance to attempt the death march with me!

I left work promptly at 3:30 on Friday and rushed home to put the finishing touches on my packing. I packed full winter gear as it's obvious that you can never take mountain weather for granted. I packed enough food for three days. I packed my sanity, and headed off to pick up Greg at about 4:30. Everything was going perfectly... until I hit the traffic jam from Hell on the Massachusetts Turnpike. It took us two and a half hours to get from exit 8 to exit 11a, a ride that usually takes about forty minutes. I was not too happy about this but it was nothing that a huge order of Steak Tips from the 99 Restaurant couldn't fix!



After steak tips we took a few minutes to pack our bags full or our tents, food, sleeping bags, and winter gear just as we wanted them to begin in the morning - The idea being that we could just wake up and start.


We hit the road once again, making just one stop to pick up the all important pre-hike breakfast - Sugar Free Red Bull and Blueberry Bagel from Dunkin Donuts. I have literally never started a hike without this famous breakfast and I'm not so sure that I could - Hey, I'm superstitious! Finally, at 12 A.M., we made it to Appalachia on RT 2. I knew it would take us a while to get to sleep, so I changed my alarm from 3:30 to 4:45 as we had been set back by the Mass Pike Traffic Jam.

Ringaling - aling - aling! It's go time! After taking a little longer than anticipated to start our engines and oil our gears, we were on the trail at 5:30. And so it begins.


We took the Valley Way to Madison Hut and it was slow going because I tested my water purifier a few times to make sure it was working (I tried a Steri-Pen, not a fan - Give me my Katadyn any day. Thanks!). We missed the sunrise but enjoyed lovely views as we approached the Alpine Zone.




Madison Hut was closed for the winter, so we wasted no time heading up the Osgood Trail to the summit of Madison. This was a first for me and it was extremely exciting. Halfway up we were greeted with a gorgeous view of Mt. Washington - It was both fabulous and scary...Were we really going to hike that far? And then a whole lot of some? Yikes. A half hour and three false summits later, we reached the top of Madison! Woohoo! One down and way too many to go!!



The trip down was uneventful, if not extremely difficult on the quads. If this was a sign of things to come, I thought, this is going to be a loooooooooong day! We scoped out Star Lake from Osgood and after a short breather at the hut we decided to head in that direction.

(Ohh, and before I forget, we were greeted with a rare and spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean!)


Great idea. Star Lake was great but the Star Lake Trail is a wee bit steep compared to Gulfside. We labored up some class 2 and two false summits later we were on Adams. Two down, way too many to go.





On Adams we were greeted with a friendly photographer who helped us plot our course leading up to Mt. Washington. And it was off to Gulfside we went.

The hike across the ridge to Jefferson was glorious. The view into the Great Gulf Wilderness was breathtaking. I could also see Camel's Hump and Mt. Mansfield waaaaaaaaay out in Vermont. And then there's Mt. Washington...buried in the clouds for the whole hike across the ridge. Would it clear up for us?



The hike up Jefferson was again laborious but rewarding as we were greeted by three lovely ladies from Boston who agreed to take our picture. A few smiles and a few laughs later, we wasted no time heading off to Clay. Three down, way too many to go.


The hike to Clay was good and made quite a bit better because the clouds began to clear from Mt. Washington. We reached what we thought was the top of Clay (There are two peaks, but the first contour bump was labeled on our map - even though the second bump looked higher?) and snapped a few pictures. Four down, way too many to go. We were nine hours into our hike and I knew were weren't going to finish until Sunday Morning. One might be inclined to rush but we never did and it made the whole experience that much more spectacular.



After marveling at a Cog Railway traffic jam we continued on to the summit of Washington. This was the most physically exhausting climb of the day as we were underfed and under hydrated. When we reached the top AKA the ZOO, we were very ready for a significant break. I think I saved a woman's life by telling her it was a bad idea to hike down in a sweater and jeans two and half hours before sundown - She was upset that the Cog Railway was so slow and didn't want to take it back down. I also made conversation with some Red Sox fans. Man, hikers are some of the nicest people alive. Two protein shakes, fifty almonds, and one bathroom trip later, it was off the other side of Washington and down the Crawford Path. We saw the Lake of the Clouds hut for the first time and it was a great site. We also saw the final ridge of the Presidential's, which, as it turns out, took us thirteen more hours to traverse. And finally, we also saw into the teeth of the wind and MAN was it brutal on the south side of Washington.




(Looking BACK at where we came from)



We were passed by a few brave, if not terribly naive, hikers who clearly drove/road to the summit of Washington and decided to hike down with nothing but the cotton clothes on their back. As someone who takes extensive safety measures for himself it is disheartening to see this. Anyway, we paused briefly at the Lake of the Clouds and started the trek up Monroe. The sun was getting very low in the sky.




"Greg, how you holding up?"

"Feet hurt a little bit but other than that all systems go."

"Good" Because we have a long way to go.

10-14-2008, 07:03 PM
Great report and pics so far...part two to follow???

Mr Nate
10-14-2008, 07:15 PM

We made the decision to take a break on top of very windy and very cold Monroe to watch the sun go down. This would cost us a lot of time but who cares about time when you have all the time in the world and getting to your destination a half hour later really doesn't matter?


So watch the sun go down we did. And then we prepared for night time trekking. The headlamps came out, as did an extra layer of Patagonia undershirts. After a spectacular day of weather, we were greeted with an amazing sunset and a just-about-full moon giving us it's full light. The night hike was to be just as rewarding as the day hike.


Greg and I both marveled at how great we were feeling so far into the hike. I really felt energized and powerful and dubbed our trip across the last of the peaks a "Victory March". I had no idea we had SO FAR to go.


The three or so hours after Monroe are a blur in my memory. The Motrin's were being taken at a historic rate as were the doses of salty almonds. We ran across a father and his boys who had secured a brilliant wind blocked spot to spend the night. They invited us to hang out but I knew time was money so we soldiered on to past Pierce and Franklin.


Eisenhower was the last of the big and exposed climbs and we had fun at the summit. The trail up was very very well maintained and it made for good climbing. We checked the map and found that Pierce was just 1.2 miles away. After hiking for way too long we checked the map and realized that while we summited Pierce, we missed stopping for a picture and hiked an extra 1.2 miles. Good stuff!


Anyway, we were at a junction that led us to Mizpah Hut so we headed in that direction. After passing a few trekkers who were on their own traverse but in the opposite direction, we arrived at the hut. To our joy and surprise it was open.



We were greeted by an older gentlemen who showed us the way to Mt. Jackson and offered us potable water. This was great news because we needed it and I did not want to fumble around with the Steri-Pen so late in the hike. As I filled up my water I noticed a map with book times for hikes from the hut.

"Mitzpah Hut to Webster Cliff Trailhead 7.8 Miles - 5 Hours"


Not exactly what I wanted to read. I kept this information from Greg as he had become a tad restless and I didn't want him to give up after coming so far. As trip leader I'm not sure this was the right move, but it worked out.

So after soaking ourselves blind with water, we again headed off into the night and to Mt. Jackson. The hike was uneventful until we came across what I'm 60% sure were bear tracks. Is it too cold for a bear to be out this late in the year? I'm not sure, but the tracks were unmistakable. Again, I kept this information from an already frightened Greg.


After summiting Jackson we started down the far side of the mountain which was TREACHEROUS. It was an almost vertical drop made worse by the water on the rocks. We carefully proceeded and carried on to Mt. Webster. The moon, which had been briefly obscured by some clouds, was out in full bore which made our headlamps almost unecessary. This was a real treat. Also, the trail in this area is very well maintained with 2x6's supporting the muddier sections of trail.


Finally, we reached the top of Mt. Webster and took a moment to celebrate. The celebration was short lived as we peered into the valley and saw just how far away Route 302 was and just how STEEP our descent was going to be.



There's steep, and then there's Mt. Webster. Trail was intense, especially for the first mile down. After settling into our stride we were just about to reach our breaking point when we came across a sign that read "RT 302 - 2 miles". "What??!?!?!?!?" It was only 3 miles down from Webster and we've been at it for almost three hours!! This really broke our heart but it wasn't long when we came to our next sign that read "Route 302 - .1 miles". A-HA!!! We must have read the previous sign in our somewhat hallucinagenic state. Too few calories + three hours of sleep + twenty five miles of calories = not optimal brain function. Ha!!


And finally, 22.3 hours and 24.8 miles later, we reached the road. And rejoiced. We had completed what can only be described as a remarkable hike. And we did it with very little training and very little knowledge of exactly what we were getting ourselves into!




Of course, Greg had a new tent that he hadn't tested yet so we fiddled with that at 4 A.M. briefly before calling it quits and sleeping in my two man. It wasn't long before we were OUT and it wasn't long before the first morning hikers gave us the old "RISE AND SHINE!!!" Thanks guys.


I crawled out of the tent to get my first view of Mt. Webster and hobbled over to the AMC Shuttle stop. Not long after the shuttle appeared and I shared my story with the driver and the other folks on the bus. They made me feel pretty good about what we accomplished. High fives and compliments all around. I reached my jeep 29 hours after leaving it and enjoyed the heck out of my victory ride past the tourists on RT 302. I was also greeted with views of the full range, and it was breathtaking.


I now have a story that I can take with me as long as I live, an album full of pictures, a huge swollen infected big toe, two giant blisters, and the respect of any and all hikers I come across.


Thanks for reading! I could write a ton more about what I learned. Questions are welcome and thanks for making it this far, if you did!

Full album HERE. (http://picasaweb.google.com/nlanier/PresidentialTraverse02#)

Mr Nate
10-14-2008, 07:16 PM
Great report and pics so far...part two to follow???

Thanks Jim... I guess I can only post 10,000 words at a time! Haha, also, it's kind of a pain to link the Picasa photos..

10-14-2008, 07:45 PM
"Wow" I bow to both you guys what an expedition. It looks like you guys had a totally awesome time and the weather definetly worked out for you. Your pictures are unbelivable. Thank you for sharing. You guys should give each other a tap on the back for acomplishing this. "congradulations"

10-14-2008, 07:46 PM
Thanks for reading! I could write a ton more about what I learned. Questions are welcome and thanks for making it this far, if you did!

As an advisor for an outing club in a local high school, this last statement is a fantastic way to end. We end every hike with reflection...on what we've done well, what we could do better, and how...

This looks like an epic journey, and you have great photographic memories, which pale in comparison to the experience and experiences you gained on this hike.

Well done!

10-14-2008, 08:23 PM
Wow! Great report and photos! Sounds like a hell of a good time. Makes mee think about a trek for my next trip up. :)

10-14-2008, 10:53 PM
WOW!! I am very jealous of the two of you. I give you tons of credit for completing such a great task. All the pictures and stories are great but the memories you will have forever are priceless. Congrats!!!

10-15-2008, 08:01 AM
Fantastic trip report and photos and an amazing epic of a hike!!! Thanks for sharing all the steps along the way with us. Felt like being there (including the pain and suffering ;)). Glad the logistics worked out and the weather cooperated - you definitely got the best that the White Mountains have to offer!!!

10-15-2008, 09:30 AM
What a fantastic trip you will never forget - or should I say remember?

10-15-2008, 01:43 PM
You guys are sick. Congrats on a nice "run" over the presies!

10-15-2008, 02:52 PM
Sweet trip. Looks like you guys had a blast. I did Mt Washington via Tucks taril Saturday night and Sunday. I was beat from that trip. My hat is off to you.

10-16-2008, 12:05 PM
That was a truly fantastic TR. Congratulations, you two! I am in awe of both of you. Your report was a joy to read, and your pictures are great. Amazing.

Mr Nate
10-22-2008, 07:30 AM
Thank you everyone for the most gracious responses!

I've started to plan the exact same trip, only this time we're going to do it in the heart of winter. This is going to be extremely difficult and planning will obviously be far more intense.

I have two other people committed to the trip with the possibility of a fourth person. This is good news because it spreads the weight of emergency supplies and gear over four people.

Once I have everything in line I'll just play the waiting game because we won't attempt this until the forecast calls for a very clear high pressure day. With the amount of exposure on this hike far more risky on a bad day and plus glaring through the wind and fog all day will do absolutely nothing for morale.

Has anyone done this? Some knowledge and insight would be much appreciated.