Thursday, September 5, 2013

Presidential Traverse - 8/31/13

What you see above is what the story of the day was last Saturday as the Labor Day weekend got under way with none other than a big hike planned by me! This was actually my 2nd try at a really gridiot thing - a Double Presidential Traverse. Not just that, but I was trying to get the 8 peaks in two different months, two different days, and quite possibly less than 24 hours. This would net sixteen 48x12 grid peaks in one hike, and knock off the Presidentials in two months in a row. Yes, that qualifies as insanity. Twice I've been shut out by some unsettled weather. In order to accomplish this in 24 hours, the start and end times need to be precise because of the day change, and because of the need to descend to the trail head and re-ascend. At the end of June I tried this, and actually had the best chance to do it after doing a south to north traverse in 10 hours. Rain showers came through just as I was about to start my second leg, and I called it off. This time at the end of August, of course there was again unsettled weather in the forecast, but there I was at Appalchia ready to give this thing a second go.
Appalachia Trail head
My friend Jeff, who has been itching for another Presidential Traverse came along for the hike with the idea of the same pace in mind, and with him having the option of returning with me. We left his car at Crawford Notch. Although it was hinting at a decent morning and conditions were pretty good, the hike up the Valley Way took about 40 minutes longer than I had planned, but we didn't delay and we dropped the packs to get Madison quickly.

Am I in top physical condition or what? 

Madison Springs Hut and Mt. Madison
The summit was nice. We had some views into Gorham, but that was about it. Clouds had taken over the rest of the Presidential Range for our time on Madison's summit.  After a few short minutes, we descended quickly to our packs and then the hut to re-fill our water. Off we went on the Gulfside Trail towards the next peak, Mt. Adams.
Passing the Hut on the Osgood Trail 
Madison summit with Gorham below 
My favorite Mt. Madison summit photo! 
A rather large spider caught my attention right on the summit!
Ever since my winter Presidential Traverse when I went up Adams via the Star Lake Trail in blowing snow and such, Adams has given me a little boost when I climb it. Mt. Adams is the second highest peak in all of New England at 5,794' and even by itself is a tough ascent up large boulders.  It's summit area is small, and its a good place to be rather than the crowded Washington summit.
Airline to Mt. Adams 
King Ravine 
Mt. Adams summit  
Mt. Washington and its shoulders shrouded in clouds
We zipped down the Lowe's Path continuing on as quickly as the slippery northern Presidential rocks would allow. From here on out the visibility got lower and lower as the day went on, and the rocks got just a bit more slippery every minute it seemed. Despite that, the weather seemed to push us along. I tagged the Jefferson summit, and we pushed on towards Washington, skipping Mt. Clay because it is not a 4000-footer, therefore not necessary in this gridiot Double Presidential Traverse (same as Franklin).
Mt. Jefferson just ahead.... 
Really wet on Mt. Jefferson's summit 
Sphinx Col in less than optimal conditions 
Jeff hikes the Gulfside Trail and its exposed section along the Great Gulf
On the Gulfside Trail, the slippery and sharp northern presidential rocks were no match for my Iphone. Smash it went, but after a few cusses, we had to continue on. We reached the summit at about 5:30pm, just after they had shut down the hot food service, bummer. No slice of pizza that I had been thinking about for the last couple of hours. Another bummer, and another reminder of how this was going. Believe it or not there were still tourists on the summit, but I have to say I don't think I saw any hikers in the building, but us.
My 14th summit of Mt. Washington

On the way down Crawford Path, we agreed to split for a brief period and meet at the south end of the Monroe Loop so that I could bag Monroe. I can make great time down the Crawford Path and up over Monroe, so that is what I did, passing right in front Lake of the Clouds Hut. As I passed and peeked through the window all of the hut-goers were sitting waiting for their dinner to be served. I climbed up to Monroe's summit, which this time was a rock in the middle of a gray mist somewhere.
Monroe summit
At this point, as I approached the south end of the Monroe Loop, the thickness of the fog and now quickly fading daylight made it the most creepy atmosphere I've witnessed up on the Presidentials. As nasty as the mist and light rain was, the wind was relatively calm. It was eerie. A short time later, I hear a woo-wooooo in the distance, and in perfect time and fashion, we rendezvous perfectly on the Crawford Path and push towards Eisenhower. While this section is one of the easiest on the whole traverse, I can't even describe how fast the light went away between Monroe and Eisenhower, which exponentially increased the difficulty to follow the trail. As we approached the Mt. Eisenhower Trail junction, just before light was gone, was one of the toughest spots to navigate. I had to trust my instinct that we were still on the right part of the trail at one point of uncertainty and continue about .4 miles before finding that was the case. Just minutes after that we found ourselves now in pitch black fog. I was telling Jeff about how I missed the north end of the Eisenhower Loop once before, and I didn't want to again. Sure enough, the visibility confused for a short few minutes at the junctions near the Edmands Path, and we nearly missed it, but I corrected us very quickly, and we both got to bag Eisenhower.
Jeff walks up to the summit of Eisenhower in the darkness 
Mt. Eisenhower summit
At this point in time, we had made signficant progress since getting down from Mt. Washington. This thing was not necessarily over for me just yet. In still going with the plan, my brother Bill had been on his way up to the summit of Jackson for a couple of hours now to meet up with us. My plan was that I was going to descend to Crawford Notch after hitting Jackson, and immediately run back up to meet Bill somewhere near Eisenhower or Monroe and traverse the range to hopefully make it back to Appalachia by 10:00am the next morning (with a hopeful Washington Sunrise). Jeff and I made it to Pierce, and we had not run into Bill yet. Jeff was thinking of heading down, but I encouraged him to come to at least the Mizpah Cut-off with the hopes of running into my brother before we parted ways.
Webster Cliff Trail
Mt. Pierce summit
After we passed over the summit of Pierce, we communicated with my brother, and we met him on a rocky perch just above the Mizpah Hut. At this point, it was still in the 10 o'clock hour. The problem was that here I realized how important it is that the trail conditions are good and easy for this attempt. If it was the beautiful dry night I had hoped, I would have made the easy decision to push myself to go for it. Given that my brother provided some intel that the trail to and from Jackson was a disaster from the afternoon's soaking mist and light rain, and the uncertainty of the night's weather led me to again ere on the side of caution once again and call off the attempt for the Double Presi. Bill and Jeff agreed to come to Jackson with me so I could complete the full traverse, and once again only get the single traverse.
Mt. Jackson summit 
Mt. Jackson summit in the fog 
The end....
As for my goal of doing a Double Presi in two months in two days and less than 24 hours, I will likely try again, but I'm not sure when, since the last and first of the month have to be a weekend, for me. All of the planning that this requires is done, and I've attempted this in both directions, so when the weather's ready, I'll be ready. Hopefully third time's a charm! This hike was my 4th Presidential Traverse.

Hike Stats
Trails: Valley Way Trail, Osgood Trail, Gulfside Trail, Airline Trail, Lowe's Path, Jefferson Loop, Crawford Path, Monroe Loop, Eisenhower Loop, Webster Cliff Trail, Jackson Branch
Distance: 21.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 9,500 ft.
Actual Book Time: 15:30

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