Monday, September 22, 2014

Presidential Traverse - 9/7/14


On Sunday, September 7th, just 48 hours after the end of an exciting trip out west to climb Mt. Rainier, I set out to celebrate with a full Presidential Range Traverse.  I enjoy returning "home" and celebrating with a good adventure, taking those good feelings from a successful trip and bringing them back to savor on the peaks that got it all started.  I had eight Presidential Traverses under my belt, including four already in 2014, this would be my 5th.  I've done times of 20hrs, 15hrs, 13hrs, 10:50, 10:45, and my best previous time was 10:20.  Most of those times didn't include Jackson, or they were at night, or in winter or I was trying to do a Double Presidential Traverse.  However, the 10:20 best time was a north-bound full, including Jackson, so I found myself in Crawford Notch, with a goal to see if I could get under 10hrs.  I also just could not pass up a Presi Day, because that is what the forecast called for.
Walking from the shuttle to the Jackson-Webster Trailhead 
Jackson-Webster Trail
So then started the theme of the day, I passed some hikers on the way up.  I prefer the northbound presi traverse, as the route to the ridge and Mt. Jackson is pretty short and easy compared to the Valley Way.  From my previous traverses, I've been able to get great starts starting this way because its a lot easier when you get to the ridge faster.  When I got to the summit of Jackson, it was cool and in some clouds.  I noticed that I was at about an hour or a few minutes over that, so I was about 20 minutes behind what I've done before up to Jackson.  In true peak-bagger fashion, I was off to Pierce after a quick summit snapshot and a look around.  There were some folks enjoying the now crystal clear views from Mt. Pierce, as the clouds disappeared mostly for good.

Mt. Jackson 
Coming right up.....a beautiful and lucky September day on the Presi's
Mt. Pierce summit (1hr49min)
Even though I was cruising along, as I started to ascend Eisenhower the views and magnitude of this beautiful day started to take full effect.  It was just so fun to be up there taking it all in on such a nice day, yet at the same time I was enjoying kicking my own ass as much as possible with this workout.  Eisenhower was busy, and it was nice to see some friends Michael and Monica again (albeit quickly), who I've bumped into all over New England.  I basically left Eisenhower in a good run.  I felt like I was certainly making up for the few minutes I was disappointed about back on Jackson.  The next section over Franklin to Mt. Monroe is almost always pretty peaceful and quiet.
Mt. Eisenhower (in 2hrs 23min) 
Leaving Mt. Eisenhower 
Jefferson, Washington, and Monroe, and Oakes Gulf, and the Montalban Ridge behind it (I think)
Mt. Monroe (3hrs 20min with only 10 minutes of stopped time)
As you can see, I'm  on par with my plans, making great time at the beginning of a northbound traverse.  In 3hrs 20min, I was on Mt. Monroe, a little over seven miles and 4,700 feet of gain from the start.  It was my 14th summit of Mt. Monroe, and its always nice to think back to that morning I finished my 48 here.  After a quick pause, I ran to Lake of the Clouds Hut where I stopped only to switch out my t-shirt for my long-sleeved shirt with hood.  A quick check of the weather informed me that the wind chill was about 31 degrees up on Washington.  I was looking forward to it, as this was my 20th summit push for Mt. Washington.

Lake of the Clouds 
Final push up the summit cone         
I passed the always spectacular Lake of the Clouds, and pushed my legs up the highest peak in New England.  It took me about 45 minutes to reach the summit from LOC.  While that is a pretty solid section I was happy about, this is where it starts to get tough and I've always watched my pace start to diminish from this point on.  When I got the summit, I immediately walked past the sign and touched it.  The wind was definitely making it feel like 31 degrees which is pretty cold, especially with shorts and no windbreaker.  There, of course, was a line at the summit.  I quickly stepped in line, but after about 45 seconds, I said screw this, this is going to come back to haunt me and my goal of breaking my previous time.  I walked forward and snapped a quick summit selfie and a couple of shots of the views.

What its like to wait in line 
20th Mt. Washington summit 
On to the Northern Presidentials...
I remember taking about a 5-10 minute break on the Gulfside Trail overlooking the ravine.  Much better to take a break over here where its nice and peaceful.  After that, I continued onto Clay.  I bumped into another acquaintance from VFTT, Tim, along this section, enjoying a northern presi hike on this day.  Next was the long stretch of ascent on the approach to Mt. Jefferson.  This is where it sometimes really starts to slow you.  Trying to overcome that adversity which I was aware of, I kept pushing.  I arrived at the summit of Mt. Jefferson in six hours, just a few minutes before 3:00pm.
Mt. Jefferson, my 100th White Mountain 4000-footer in 2014 
Mt. Adams as seen from Mt. Jefferson
Certainly, I was doing well on this traverse, but I was thinking about the next four hours and the remaining 7 miles or so which puts up a beating every time.  Would I get the two remaining peaks and all the way down the 4 mile Valley Way in those four hours or was I going to fall off the pace? After a couple minutes of pondering, the mind snaps and reminds me that if its going to happen, I have keep going and not think.

The section coming down Jefferson into Edmands col can be tiring on the legs, but without stopping, I descended and then head back up about 900 feet to the summit of Mt. Adams.  It took me an hour from Mt. Jefferson.
Looking back from Mt. Adams
It was really windy, as usual, with some clouds building over Washington.  After a quick stop, I labored on using all 4 limbs to quickly make my way down the Airline Trail to Madison Hut.  Without stopping for anything, not even a pack drop, I continued up the Osgood Trail a half mile to Mt. Madison.
Mt. Madison summit (8hrs from the start)
View from Mt. Madison
Standing atop Mt. Madison, I now had just under two hours to make it down within 10 hours, and a little more to just match my best time of 10hrs 20min.  I knew I could do it, but it was going to be close.  The race was on.  I had such an incredible time above treeline on this hike.  You couldn't ask for a better gym.  I was seriously saddened to descend, but quickly my goal came back to mind, so I busted out my hiking poles, and I started my skipping, running, and jogging effort to get to my car.  Thankfully it was not as painful as it was descending here during my double presi.  I arrived at Appalachia, just a few minutes before sunset.  I finished in 9 hours and 50 minutes, beating my best time by a half hour, and getting under 10 hours.  After all, those minutes I didn't wait in line on Washington came into effect.  I was pretty darn happy about my effort, and its amazing how much you can still surprise yourself at what your capable of by always challenging yourself.  After this hike, where I pretty much didn't stop, I can say that I don't think I could do a northbound presi traverse any faster without shedding gear and the pack and running it.  I will have to try a "fast" southbound traverse someday, but for now I'm feeling good on this one, and looking forward to my next big traverse this week, the Mahoosuc Range, which I'm doing with some adventurous friends.



Hike Stats
Trails: Jackson-Webster Trail, Webster Cliff Trail, Crawford Path, Eisenhower Loop, Monroe Loop, Trinity Heights Connector, Gulfside Trail, Clay Loop, Jefferson Loop, Israel Ridge Path, Airline Trail, Osgood Trail, Valley Way Trail.
Distance: 19 miles
Elevation Gain: 8,503 ft.
Actual Book Time: 9:50
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Mt. Jefferson Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) - 9/12/14



The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights is an elusive natural light phenomena that occurs when there is a collision of mangetospheric particles and solar wind in the upper atmosphere.  With news of the sun unleashing a massive coronal mass ejection (CME), there was a significant increase in the chance of witnessing the aurora due the to the CME's force being directed toward the earth.  CME's happen every so often, but I guess more often the released forces are facing away from earth.  With a build-up of news stories, my brother and I easily made the decision to switch our plans, and head up to the mountains right after work last Friday night, September 12th.

After several hours of pondering where to go, and not surprisingly, we decided on the shortest route to the highest peaks...the highest peaks in New England, and specifically Mt. Jefferson in the northern Presidentials by way of the Caps Ridge Trail.   Here, we imagined that we would have a front row seat if we would be lucky enough for the lights to be visible. Instead of a longer hike of Cannon and the Kinsmans for Saturday, this night we'd just hang out up top of Jefferson and focus on the possible chance to see the aurora, and get some photos.
Ahhhh, love it everytime!
Highest elevation reached by a road in NH
Caps Ridge Trail

We hoped that at some point, we would come out on top.
Pothole Rock

Yay Fun!
Having only made up our mind by lunch time on Friday, we scrambled out of work at about 2:00pm, came home, packed our bags, and were on the highway by about 4:00pm.  We arrived at the Caps Ridge Trail head around 6:00pm.  This trail head is the highest one of them all in the White Mountains, at 3,009' in Jefferson Notch.  Although I've been to Jefferson 10 previous times, this was me and Bill's first time on the Caps Ridge Trail, which rises 2,700' in the 2.5 miles to the summit as it traverses three distinct caps along the ridge, which is Caps Ridge.  We were looking forward to the slight challenge, but we were up for it because we knew what possibilities lied ahead.  In short time, we started to get into the fog, at which point we then had no idea when or even if we'd come out of the clouds and get to see anything at all.  We carefully and steadily made our way around large boulders and up some fun scrambles.


Very near to the last "cap" we started to see a bluer fog, which was promising.  Minutes later, we were literally walking out of the top of the clouds into the alpine zone to an amazing sunset with full undercast, and stars already shining bright in the sky.  It was a moment of shock when I stopped and turned around for the first time.  I nearly fell over yelling to my brother to stop and see what was happening.  About ten minutes later as we near the junction with the Cornice, we look left and now we see some light rays shooting straight upward of the Northern lights, like nothing I've ever seen before.


My 11th summit of Jefferson
Bill's 2nd summit of Jefferson....but never in daylight!
It was about 8:00pm at this time, and we continued up in amazement.  An hour later, after the sun was gone, we arrived at the summit of Mt. Jefferson still looking at the start of the northern lights show.  We were just in time.

We found a pre-existing wall away from the summit to set the gear down and sit behind.  As we stood around for a few minutes, and before we even had the tripod up, we had another holy shit moment as the bright orange moon was just cresting the undercast to the south, and Bill scrambled to assemble the tripod.  I've been up here in a full-moon, so immediately when I saw what was happening next, I couldn't believe we were also going to add a nearly full moon to this beautiful night.
Nice and comfy with a beer, taking in a moonlit undercast and northern lights
Bill sitting with the big dipper and northern lights.

We spent a couple hours actively taking photos (pretty much Bill's job for the night), drinking a pint, and cooking our food on our stoves while we sat in amazement.  There was another good-sized group a short distance away on the summit of Jefferson who were there for couple to a few hours, and we chatted with two of them.  The northern lights got increasingly better as the clock went from about 10 to 11:00pm.  In the beginning, there were mostly upward shooting rays of light, and then the later it got, it became mostly a bow of green glow across the northeastern sky.  As the moon continued to rise instantaneously in that time-frame, the northern lights would become just about drowned out for the naked eye close to midnight.





One of the most amazing sights I've ever witnessed while hiking...
Moon, undercast, northern lights, stars oh my!



With the show over, it was time to get some rest in our sleeping bags.  For a couple of hours we peacefully napped under the moonlit-starry sky and fresh air.  That fresh air though, started to get pretty chilly, and we opted for departing sometime around 2:00am.  We arrived back at the trail head at 4:30am.
  
I might have seen the northern lights one other time in my life, but I don't really remember it.  Seeing them from the highest peaks in New England was just out of this world, and you have to take every moment of it in, because you just don't know when it will happen again.  The best advice I can give to anyone who seeks their chance to see northern lights, is to pay attention to the news, specifically news of astronomical events.  And...if there is ever something similar to happen again where there is a high chance of the northern lights and spectacular weather, don't even think twice, plan that hike and go.  Even with it forecasted, one has to be incredibly lucky to be granted such a night in the Presidential Range in mid-September.

Thanks to the many many folks (including family) who've already taken the time to comment on our photos and this hike.  It got even better for us after the hike as we found our headlamps in a few photos taken by others taking in the sights from the Presidential Range.  It was truly a special night for anyone who got a view of the event.


Hike Stats
Trails: Caps Ridge Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,700 ft.
Actual Book Time: 9:30