Friday, October 20, 2017

Presidential Traverse - September 23, 2017

I fell off the blog train again.  I suppose I barely had one foot on it to begin with.  Well let me give it another attempt, sometimes that's all we can do.

I missed writing up a few things since I was MIA. I had a three day White Mountain adventure at the end of June.  Day 1 featured a quick trip up the Hancocks, Day 2 was a fine hike up Carrigain and then on Day 3 I tackled a wet Tuckerman's Ravine and Mt Washington in some fun, foggy conditions. Originally I had plans for a traverse of the Northern Presidentials but rain earlier in the weekend derailed those plans and by Day 3 I was too tired to attempt it.

Run with the Beavers race in mid-July went well.  It wasn't the humid sufferfest of last year and I was pleased with my performance.

I took off two weeks from work in July, an unheard of length of time for me.  During that we went up to Montreal and Quebec City for a fun family vacation north of the border.  I got some good runs in both cities and enjoyed my attempts at speaking French badly. 

So after some summer adventures I was looking forward to running the Kismet Cliff Climb again.  But as summer waned and fall approached I decided to rethink my White Mountain plans that weekend.  I had already run Kismet and had done fairly well and there were plenty of other adventures up there that I was thinking about - and eventually I decided to attempt a Presidential Traverse instead.

I didn't sleep well but I really liked my setup.  Will give it another go!

Sunset at Ethan Pond

But I also had started tinkering with a hammock camping setup.  The Manchild uses a hammock and Amanda had gotten me one for Father's Day.  So I went down the wormhole, learned a good deal and decided to start my White Mountain weekend with an "easy" night of camping at the Ethan Pond shelter.  So I hiked with my big pack for 2.5 miles, set up shop on a tent platform and then hiked up Mt. Willey because it was right there and how could I not?  By the time I returned to camp it was bustling with people.  I enjoyed a fine meal and conversation in the "kitchen" before retiring.  Unfortunately I slept very little.  Chalk it up to being my first night in the hammock which apparently is a thing.  I laid awake for most of the night, listening to noises in the woods.  So not an ideal way to prepare for a long day on the Presidentials but what was done was done.  Check out the video below for highlights from this Ethan Pond trek:

So in the morning I packed up and made my way back to the car by 7:30 AM.  I drove a few miles to the Highland Center and prepared my gear for the day.   The forecast was prefect - mid 60s and little wind.  This made it easy to go with my minimal setup.  I wore my hydration vest.  I had a bag of gels/salt tabs/treats, hat/gloves, a spare water bottle, first aid, headlamp, a windbreaker and my lightweight hiking poles.   A brought a small water filter and a tiny bag of survival stuff which was probably overkill but better safe than sorry.

Since this was a point to point trip I had to hike either to or from my car.  I didn't like the idea of heading from my car and relying on a shuttle to get me back there.  The logistics would have kept me worried me all day.  But taking the shuttle from the Highland Center meant starting the trek at 10 AM.  Later than I would have liked.  After looking at some comparable Strava activities, I figured I could complete this in eight hours before darkness set in so in the end I went with taking the shuttle to the start.

It was a bumpy ride but I still dozed off towards the end.  Then suddenly we were at the packed Valley Way parking lot and it was time to begin.  Immediately I was ready to go.  I jogged a bit over the first few miles but pretty soon the climbing began and it was up, up, up.  Once I hit the massive boulders on the side of Madison things slowed down considerably.  It was tough to even see the cairns from the sun glare.  After Madison it was down to the Madison Hut where I filled my bottles including the backup I had brought.  This proved wise as it was a hot day, even up there.  I snagged a piece of coffee cake and then out the door I went.

Madison Hut and behind it Mt Adams awaits

Mt Jefferson Summit w/ Washington and Southern Ridge behind

Mt Adams was a brutal climb with some fun scrambles.  It's clear that what training I did do had not prepared me for this kind of climbing.  Not sure I can really duplicate this down in Rhode Island for future efforts but it certainly was a reality check.  At the top of Adams I rested for a minute and snacked before continuing on (I kept the breaks to about 2-3 minutes on the Northern Peaks and even less on the Southern ones.)

I scraped my knee lifting it over a boulder in between Adams and Jefferson and it bled like a bastard.  I probably should have made use of the first aid I had brought but stubbornly pressed on ahead, figuring I'd clean it up at the Washington summit.  The Gulfside trail was beautiful and I was amazed how fortunate I was with the weather.  By the time I reached Jefferson I had been running for about 3 hours 20 minutes.  I couldn't tell if I was on schedule or not and Washington seemed so far away (even though it was only a couple miles).

It was the climb up to Washington where I really began to feel the day's effort.  This slope isn't particular steep but my feet were feeling the endless rock assault and the knee wound had crusted over into an ugly thing.  The trail approached the train tracks and watching the Cogs head up kept me distracted.  Finally I reached the last steep pile of rocks at the Summit and the gaggle of people waiting in line to get their picture with the summit sign.

Chasing Cogs
Summit Madness

Lakes of the Clouds Hut

I had been anticipating dressing my wound and grabbing some real food in the cafeteria.  Now that I was here I recalled Jonny's blog from a few years ago when he reached the summit.  I had the same reaction and just wanted to escape.  I filled my water bottles and continued on.  Heading down the Crawford Path now I was able to get a bit more speed and kept this up as I approached the Lakes of the Clouds Hut.  It was shut up for the season so there were no treats to be had at this one.

The southern peaks were a contrast - the trail is much less technical and more runnable, but my legs were utter shit.  It wasn't until I had descended Eisenhower that the first twinges of leg cramps began and luckily they held off.  I chatted with some folks briefly at the summit of Pierce who were also doing traverses and then I kept going on the final stretch of the Crawford Path back to the car.


It was a delicate mixture of going as fast as I could while keeping my leg cramps from unleashing.  I had managed to not use my poles all day - at first it was out of pride but it was useful to have them out of the way as I picked up speed (slightly) on the second half.  I actually came across some backpackers I had met the previous night who were heading up to the campsites near Mizpah Hut and they congratulated me on getting it done.  Finally at about 5:15 PM I reached the end of the trail.  7 hours and 10 minutes total.  An honest effort for a flatlander and one I'm proud of.

Here's my video of the adventure:

This whole thing went about as well as it could.  Perfect weather!  I definitely tried to put up a good time and I didn't dillydally too much.  Having finally done it I'd love to take another whack at it in 2018 and see if I can bring my time down.  I didn't pick the fastest trails and there's definitely room for improvement.  This was also a big confidence booster as I looked to other long mountain adventures going forward.  Basically this is the kind of stuff I want to do as much as I'm able while I'm still able.

Fun Facts:
  • Mt Madison, Adams and Jefferson were #37-39 on my 4000 Footer List.
  • Mt Pierce and Mt Washington are now tied for my most ascents at four apiece
  • This trek brought my total number of 4000 Footers in NH for 2017 (including repeats) to 18


  1. Welcome back to the blogosphere. Videos of your adventure were fun to watch. During my last Mt Washington adventure (3 years ago now), I was very happy to be descending just as the first cog railway of the day was on its way to deliver tourists.

  2. Excellent! What a great adventure! I appreciate how honest you are about your experiences. Hope your knee healed up!