Sunday, June 2, 2013

Presidential Traverse: The White Mountains

For months now, Eben, Kayla, Maddie, and I have been trying to find the right weekend and weather window to do a Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains. Finally, between problem sets, graduating, finishing projects, and jobs, we found a day to do it: June 1st. 

What is it?

A Presidential Traverse is considered one of the most classic long traverses in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - you start at the Appalachia trailhead, cross over Mts. Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and optionally Jackson and Webster. The route we had our eyes on: 

View Presidential Range Traverse in a larger map

did not include Jackson, but would involve 22 miles of hiking with over 9000 feet of elevation gain. Canonically, the goal is to do this traverse in a day. 

The interesting thing about this hike is that you start and end in two different places, meaning you need to do a shuttle of cars for the end of the hike - you leave one car in Crawford Notch and take the other to the Appalachia trailhead (the start of the hike).

The hike is usually done north-to-south, so that most of the sustained uphill is done at the beginning of the hike when the group is less tired. Mt. Washington serves as a good half-way point, and the hike from that point forward is more mild in terms of elevation and trends downhill rather than up. 

The hike

We were lucky that Erika happened to be in town that week and came with us for the traverse. At 9pm on Friday May 31st, right after Eben landed back in Boston from a sailing tournament and we had dinner at pika, we set out for the mountains. Eben and Erika had a car rented from Budget and I had gotten a car from RelayRides.  Around midnight, we meet at Crawford Notch and leave our RelayRides car there, bringing with us only hiking essentials and sleeping gear. We get to the Appalachia trailhead at about 1:30 am, feeling too exhausted to pitch our tents, so we parked the car sideways and went to sleep in the parking lot. (Don't forget that we almost missed the parking lot if we hadn't seen Rick's car parked there - he was going to join us for the first leg of the hike to Madison Hut). 

Getting up at 5 am (at least 3 hours of sleep, of course), we dressed, ate breakfast, and set off at 5:45 am, a bit late for Presi Traverse standards. But the sunrise was gorgeous.

And we were all goofy and tired.
But we set out with high hopes. 

It started out warm - almost all of us were hiking in short-sleeve shirts and were soaked after an hour of sustained uphill. We were each carrying 2 liters of water, hoping to re-fill at Madison Springs Hut, Mt. Washington, and at Crawford Notch (5, 13, and 22 miles in, respectively). We hadn't accounted for the excessively hot day, but assumed we would be past the burning hot of the day by the time we got to the easier section of the hike. 

We got to the Madison Springs Hut at around 9am, popped up to the summit, refilled water, and sat around eating snacks and napping until heading back out at 10 am. We left Rick at Madison Springs and set out to continue.

Maddie even got to practice some crevasse rescue when her bandana flew away. 

The weather was great, just a tad hot. By the time we crossed a windy Adams and a super rocky Jefferson, we were already getting a bit tired of the heat and constant wear of the rocky paths on our feet. We were not wearing hiking boots, hoping to save on a bit of weight to get going a bit faster. We could see the auto road up Mt. Washington all through this leg, seeing just how far we had left to the half-way point. 

We were never lost, despite what this picture seems to suggest. 

Although we were a bit tired sometimes, so we rested around the good views as often as we needed.

After leaving Jefferson and heading to Washington, we all started to feel the heat. By the time we got to the summit of Mt. Washington, we all had mild headaches from the heat, we had run clear out of water, and we were all exhausted. It was 5pm and we were about halfway finished with our hike - we had to keep going. 

We sat in the Mt. Washington observatory starting at the ominous clouds in the distance (it had been forecast to rain that early afternoon) and chugging water. We downed about a liter of water each and as a result had to go pee a minute after we left the summit station. When we finally left at around 5:30pm, we had mostly recovered from the heat, eaten some food, drank water, and were ready to go. We walk outside into a mild rain spell, wearing our shells until the Lake of the Clouds hut 1.5 miles away from the summit of Mt. Washington. We had 9 miles to go, and it was 6:30pm. 

The hardest 9 miles I've hiked followed - we were tired, our feet were sore, and it was getting dark. We powered up Monroe, raced up Eisenhower, and got to the top of the Crawford Path trailhead going down the mountain right at nightfall. The view from Eisenhower showed us what we had just traversed - in the dark, we felt small compared to the power of the mountains surrounding us. 

Under the light of headlamp and nearly falling asleep as we were walking, we slowly made our way down to Crawford Notch. At 1 am, 19 hours after we had started hiking, we finally made it to the car waiting for us at Crawford Notch. We were tired, hungry, thirsty, but extremely satisfied with ourselves. We had just hiked 22 miles at a relatively relaxed pace across 6+ peaks in the Presidential Range. In one day.

Using the car at Crawford Notch to get back to Appalachia, we set up our tents (a bit off the road this time) and slept soundly until morning, looking back on our hike with the soreness that only comes along with a fantastic hike. 

The food lesson

As an experiment, I decided I would save a bit on weight and space to eat only Cliff bars and chocolate during the entire hike. I learned a few things from this experience, namely:
  • You can definitely eat only Cliff bars in terms of energy. I was not calorie-starved during the hike. 
  • The taste of Cliff bar gets old at about mile 10. 
  • Protein that tastes more distinctly like protein is nicer. 
  • If you're going to eat only Cliff bars, make your gorp a bit on the saltier side. 
All in all, I was satisfied with my food choices. 


I had a fantastic hike - good people, good views, good conversation, and most of all a good hike. Next up, Pemi loop?

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