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.