The Presidential Range Traverse in the White Mountains is one of the most coveted hikes in all of the Northeast. It's one of the most difficult day hikes in the country, and rightfully so, its almost all above tree-line in a place with unpredictable weather. It takes careful planning and preparation, the right gear, and good physical condition to embark on a such a journey. A Presidential Traverse may not always be the same, as one can choose from a small variation of routes and choose certain peaks to climb or leave out. Most often, the traverse includes the seven 4000-Footers named after Presidents, (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce). Sometimes, Mt. Jackson is added, although it is not named for the President Jackson, but a geologist. In between, there are two popular sub-peaks that are sometimes added, Clay and Franklin. Most of the other nearby sub-peaks tend to be targeted during other peak-bagging trips. Although not official 4000-footers, Clay and Franklin have views to match their neighbors, and can be added easily to the route. The most popular direction to complete a traverse is North to South, going from Appalachia to Crawford Notch, as the challenging terrain of the northern Presidential's is done early.
|Washington from Monroe|
June 30, 2013, Presidential Traverse
For those who are working on the White Mountain 48x12 Grid, you would be most interested in the eight 4000-footers along the Presidential Traverse route. The goal of the Grid is to summit each peak in every month of the year. So last year, I came up with the idea that I could try a Double Presidential Traverse and do it on the last day of the month and into the first day of the next month, so that I could attempt to hit the eight 4000-footers in two different months, and in two different days... a great way to check off 16 boxes quickly. Of course, there are only twelve chances per a year that one could attempt this, and if you work full time like myself, it might fall on a weekend a few times per a year if you're lucky. To add to the difficulty of the challenge, I wanted to try to complete it within a 24-hour period.
Last year, I gave this goal two attempts, but on both, failed to depart on the second (night-time) leg of the traverse due to rain and wet trail conditions. My first try was June 30-July 1, 2013. I completed a north-bound Presidential Traverse in 10:20, essentially squeezing out a "Presi Day" on a day with an unsettled forecast. At Appalachia, and before I could get the tarp from my small cache up and ready, it started to pour, and then I was wet, and then I was not happy. Although the rain stopped, my 24hr time was now no longer possible, and I wasn't feeling the desire to go up over wet northern Presi rocks. I slept in my wet hammock at Appalchia, and took the shuttle to my car in the morning, defeated...but not really, I still completed a successful Presidential Traverse in my fastest time ever.
|A foggy Lake of the Clouds, August 31, 2013,|
Here is some final info on the timing logistics required for this challenge. In order to attempt this goal within 24 hours, but get the eight peaks in two different days, two different months, one must complete back-to-back traverses in 12 hours or under. On the return traverse, it is imperative to not leave the first of eight peaks before midnight (the rules count for being on the summit on a certain date, so you can start your summit hike on the previous day). This means I had to plan my start time in accordance with a really good idea as to how long I could complete the first traverse and give myself a chance on the second. Basically, once started, my goal was to return to the first trail head before that time the next morning, but hit the summits twice, in two days, two different months, officially. Would my third time be a charm?
After trying this twice and starting from both directions, the best bet was to have the easy climb to Jackson be the route of re-ascent to the range, meaning I planned to start at Appalachia for this 3rd attempt. Even though I never actually did it, its silly to go down and then back up the 4 mile Valley Way. Just like the previous times, I left a small cache with a change of shirt, socks, and stove and cook-set for a hot meal - a paddling dry-bag camouflaged by a green sack makes for a sweet no-hassle cache. On a big hike like this, with timing being so important, I always make sure to give myself enough time to do the cache drop, and get to the trail head to prepare for my start, without being rushed. My day started around 7:45am with a nice ride to Crawford Notch where I, like a ninja, hopped into the woods at the Webster-Jackson Trail head to drop my cache without anyone seeing me (the key to not worrying about your cache being disturbed all hike). I stopped at the Irving for last stuff, and then off to Appalachia, arriving about 45 minutes before I would eventually start.
At 10:15am, I had begun my way up the Valley Way at a steady hiking pace. I arrived the famous warning sign, which I love seeing, and then a few minutes later at a foggy Madison Spring Hut. Heading straight to the summit of Madison, I arrived in about 2hrs and 5min. Although it didn't look pleasant, the temperature was warm, winds were calm, and I was aware this weather would be short-lived. Already noon, it had to be clearing soon.
|Welcome to the Alpine Zone, and be forewarned|
|Madison Spring Hut in the fog|
|Mt. Madison summit|
|Partial views leaving Adams|
|A magnificent view of Jefferson Ravine|
|the Mt. Jefferson snowfield|
|Mt. Jefferson summit, about 4 hrs from my start|
|Leaving Mt. Jefferson|
|Mt. Clay Summit|
|The Gulfside Trail next to the Great Gulf|
|Mt. Washington (4:00pm)|
|Jefferson, Adams, & Madison from Mt. Washington|
|Mt. Monroe from the Crawford Path|
|Lake of the Clouds with remaining icebergs|
|Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe Summit|
|Mt. Franklin Summit (5:15pm, 7hrs in)|
|Looking back from Mt. Eisenhower (5:50pm)|
|Looking off Eisenhower to Pierce and Jackson, final two peaks|
|Mt. Pierce (6:37pm, about 8hrs 20 min)|
The section between the southern end of the Eisenhower Loop and Pierce summit seemed to drag for a little bit, and the sinking sun made for some interesting glare through the trees as cruised through this section. Unlike in the snow, there was no question as to where the trail goes, and without stopping, I found myself on Pierce to yet another beautiful view back. Continuing on, the trail increases in rockiness as it descends to Mizpah Spring Hut. With water still, I walked right past the hut and continued towards Jackson. Along this section, a group of 4 faster hikes snuck up on me and went ahead, while I maintained the same pace I was going at. Just a few short minutes behind, I met them on the summit of Mt. Jackson for a brief conversation and mutual enjoyment of the amazing views (and success of our respective Presidential Traverses). Pretty interesting to see the reactions all day of those whom I told I was heading back over the range tonight. I told the guys I'd likely seem them again down at the road as they head for Webster. With the sun still slowly setting, I descended to Crawford Notch.
|Mt. Jackson Summit (7:45pm)|
|Route 302 (8:45pm)|
|Mt. Washington (4:58am)|
|Sunrise from the summit of Mt. Washington|
|A beautiful sunrise for my 18th summit of Mt. Washington|
|Looking up to Mt. Jefferson|
Once over Clay again, the going gets a lot tougher as the trail climbs gradually to Mt. Jefferson. I was slowing down, and taking more frequent quick-stops. After all this is where the Northern Presidentials come out to kick your ass, especially when you choose to take the harder way on the second traverse. On the summit of Mt. Jefferson, I had about 3 hours remaining to make it within 24 hours. Knowing my current pace, and that it would be a couple-hour slog down the Valley Way, I realized I wouldn't be able to make 24 hours. I did note to myself, however, that I was going to get this thing done, and that alone I could hardly believe that I would accomplish this. I was content, so I trucked along, taking my frequent breaks but trying the best that I could.
On the Israel Ridge Path, I took a longer break, where I rested in a cool spot with my head against my forearm against a big rock. It was nice to close my eyes for a few minutes in the cool shade. It was much needed. I did this twice between Jefferson and Adams, and it was so tranquil, peaceful and worth it, as I peered into the beautiful Jefferson Ravine as I did a half day ago. Literally one minute after getting up from behind my rock, I ran into Scott, who was on his way to Pierce on his very first Presidential Range Traverse. You can read about his experience, on his blog HERE. It would have been funny if he came up on me as I cat-napped behind the rock. I pressed on to reach Mt. Adams at 9:05am, 11 hours in on the second traverse.
|Mt. Adams (9:05am)|
|My final peak on the hike, Mt. Madison, in the distance|
|Mt. Madison (10:30am)|
Before going up Madison, I took a long break at the hut with my socks off, and changed to a fresh pair once more. As I wished the group well on their own Presi Traverse, I left the alpine zone after spending day and night up there. I could probably live up there, but once into the trees, I just wanted to get this done. The pain in my wet, sweaty feet was unbelievable. The rubbing of my socks was tortuous, which made for a much slower than expected descent of the Valley Way. It took 3 hours of painful steps. When I arrived at my car, I had successfully completed my goal of hitting the eight 4000-footers on the Presidential Range in two different days, and two different months. The only downside, was it took those 3 extra laboring hours and fifteen minutes longer. I completed this amazing personal challenge in 27 hours and 15 minutes. While many ultra-endurance athletes can easily do a regular double Presidential Traverse between 12 and 12 in under 24 hours, it took me 27:15 to do it in a unique and much more challenging manner, hitting the peaks in separate days and months.
Hike Stats (According to White Mountain Guide)
Distance: 43.26 miles
Elevation Gain: 18,824 ft.
Actual Book Time: 27:15
Guide Book Time: 31:07
Guide Book Time: 31:07
Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, Pierce, & Jackson.
Valley Way, Osgood Trail, Gulfside Trail, Airline Trail, Lowe's Path, Israel Ridge Path, Gulfside Trail, Jefferson Loop, Gulfside Trail, Clay Loop, Gulfside Trail, Crawford Path, Monroe Loop (excluding Little Monroe), Crawford Path, Eisenhower Loop, Crawford Path, Webster-Cliff Trail, Webster-Jackson Trail.
(Unfortunately, my GPS battery ran out, not leaving me any sort of tracking other than the time until it ran out.)