Monday, June 9, 2014

Double Presidential Range Traverse - May 31st & June 1st, 2014

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
Since 2011, I have been lucky enough to complete a total of seven Presidential Traverses, including the two that made up last weekend's Double Presidential Traverse.  This also includes two winter traverses.  My first ever traverse just happened to be a full-moonlight Presidential Traverse to finish the 48 White Mountain 4000-Footers, which was one of the most magical hikes ever!  With some background information out of the way, let's get into my wacky White Mountain 48, Grid-Inspired Double Presidential Traverse.  This goal is much more challenging than your typical out-and-back of the Presidential Range, and perhaps its never been done this way.

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,
Presidential Traverse
Just a month later, I gave it another shot, on August 31-September 1, 2013.  I chose a south-bound direction this time, and this traverse was done in warm, foggy, wet conditions.  By the end, the trails were a wet muddy mess, as was I, so I opted to call it off with the successful single traverse in very tough visibility.  There may have been some influence on this one too, as I hiked with my friend Jeff, and my brother met us on Pierce, and they were suggesting I was nuts to go back over when the trail was so wet.  The evening weather forecast was also questionable.  Therefore, summer 2013 came and went, and I had no success completing this challenge. When would I get to try again?

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.
Appalachia, 10:15am
Before such a big a hike, you'd be crazy to not think I'm incredibly anxious with massive stomach butterflies. What the hell am I about to do, and why? After all, since I tried this twice last year, I no longer needed the peaks for June, and I only needed 5 of the 8 for May, so this attempt was merely just for fun now (unless I find myself doing 2-3 grids someday, I'll think back to this double, but either way I wanted to complete the challenge). After doing some stretches and walking off the jitters, I was ready to go. SPOT Tracker on, and pretty darn excited.  The weekend prior, I hiked 5 separate hikes, 7 4000-footers, over 42 miles, and all on wet muddy trails to finish my 5th round on Passaconaway.  It was the perfect training, as I was determined to not let any wet weather or terrain stop me.  In addition to prepping the body, its all about prepping the mind and re-assuring yourself that your ready to take on all that's possible on the Presidential Range.

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
I still had plenty of water, so I didn't even stop at the hut, and shot right to the Airline to ascend Adams.  I always love climbing Adams.  It's the second highest in the Northeast, and it always feels good to be there in the middle of the Northern Presi's.  With no views yet, my visit was just as quick as Madison, and I was on my way, still under three hours from my start.  As I left Adams, the breeze picked up a bit, and some clearing started as promised by the weathermen.
Partial views leaving Adams
A magnificent view of Jefferson Ravine 
the Mt. Jefferson snowfield 
Mt. Jefferson summit, about 4 hrs from my start
Unfortunately, clouds lingered for a short while more, and swooped in for my two short minutes on the summit pile of Jefferson.  The breeze was still going, but I only knew it was the front coming across to sweep the clouds out for the rest of my journey.  That it did, as I descended into Sphinx Col and past, the clouds made their exit, and it was instantly a Presi Day right before my eyes - a pretty interesting thing to watch happen in just minutes.  I pressed on, maintaining a consistent pace as I went right over Clay and towards Mt. Washington.  The section of trail along the Great Gulf is always very impressive.
Leaving Mt. Jefferson 
Mt. Clay Summit 
The Gulfside Trail next to the Great Gulf 
In 4hrs and 45 minutes, I reached the summit of Mt. Washington for my 17th time to its summit.  It was not very crowded, which was nice.  I was able to walk right up the to sign for my photo with the help of someone else.  I took a really quick walk to the southern side of the observatory for a Northern Presidential photo, but quickly kept on my way down the Crawford Path. I still had water, and there was no need to go inside and get sucked in by the food or anything, as I would be at Lake of the Clouds in short time, and would make a definite stop there. It was beautiful for my few minutes at the top of the Northeast.

Mt. Washington (4:00pm)

Jefferson, Adams, & Madison from Mt. Washington
Mt. Monroe from the Crawford Path
Lake of the Clouds with remaining icebergs
Thirty minutes and 1.5 miles later, I passed the lake and arrived at the hut. There wasn't much going on except some of the Hut Croo getting it set up for the summer.  The dining area was filled with boxes. I used the bathroom, refilled my water, and continued on my way, quickly heading up to Mt. Monroe. Once past Monroe, the going was pretty easy compared to everything I had faced to this point, and it was smooth sailing in the warm afternoon heat, yet I found a way to sweat minimally.
Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe Summit
Mt. Franklin Summit (5:15pm, 7hrs in)
Looking back from Mt. Eisenhower (5:50pm)
At this time, I took advantage of the easy terrain, and my consistent pace overcame that of a pair of quick-moving hikers, and I blitzed up to Eisenhower, where it seemed the afternoon was only getting better - the view back was simply amazing every time.  Even though I'm doing it, and I done it, its still ridiculous to myself, that when I look back, its hard to believe I've just come over that behind me.  I say it every time still, but the awesome-ness of being up there makes it much easier than it appears :)
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)
I finished my first traverse in about 10hrs 45 minutes, just at the last of sunset at Crawford Notch.   I grabbed my cache, and cooked up and ate a packet of Shin Ramyun soup.  While it cooked, I changed my shirt, aired my feet and body out, and changed socks.  As I did this, I paid very close attention to the time, as I needed to make sure that I could get to Jackson just minutes before midnight, so that there was no lost time.  This was important because if I was going to complete this in under 24 hours, it would mean that from the summit of Mt. Jackson, I would need to be at Appalachia at 10:15am in order to do it under 24 hours, that's 10hrs 15 min from Jackson summit for dead-on 24 hrs.  Standing at the trail head, cache back in the woods, and all ready to go, I made a quick call to the family, who wished me luck.  The weather was going to be amazing, and surely they could sense my excitement.  Just as I was about to leave, I saw the  headlamps of the group of 4 coming down from Webster. They saw that I wasn't lying...I was on my way back up! It was 10:00pm.
Jackson (12:00am) 
Pierce (1:13am) 
What a beautiful night it was.  It was hard to not stop sometimes, turn off my lamp, and just stare up at the stars.  This is the type of night, you try to dream up when planning a Presi Traverse. I moved quickly though, as the section between Jackson and Eisenhower is wooded and there wasn't much reason to stop and stare.  If there was one thing I could have changed about this hike, it would've been to somehow capture what it was like from Eisenhower until Washington.  As I went up Eisenhower, I could see a campfire deep in the Dry-River Wilderness.  It was the only sign of people anywhere, but it was totally awesome because I can only imagine how nice of a night it was out there for them. I breezed down the Eisenhower loop in the dead calmness of the night, and hiked over Franklin to Monroe.
Eisenhower (2:06am)
Monroe (3:26am)
On Monroe, I felt that I still had a chance at this, but that it was going to be extremely difficult.  I stopped into the Lake of the Clouds Hut, and re-filled my water quickly, before heading up the Crawford Path to Mt. Washington.  At this time, the deep deep blue sky of the morning twilight was incredible sight to experience. This was because I could still see the enormous amount of stars in the sky. Mt. Washington's summit cone was so beautiful against the color of the sky, I wish I captured a photo. One of my favorite approaches to the summit ever, but truthfully though, I was laboring up the Crawford Path, making more frequent stops.  It seemed like it took forever to crest the summit cone.
Mt. Washington (4:58am) 
Sunrise from the summit of Mt. Washington

A beautiful sunrise for my 18th summit of Mt. Washington
It did take me a bit longer to do this section, over an hour and a half, but I arrived to the vacant summit sign literally minutes before actual sunrise for my 18th summit.  No matter how many times you've seen it, its always an incredible experience to see the sunrise from the highest point in the Northeast.  With water from my LOC re-fill, I pressed on descending Mt. Washington as the sun quickly rose over the horizon.  It was a hazy and bright morning.  I was getting close to the end, I figured I'd continue to work on my tan that got going yesterday afternoon.
Looking up to Mt. Jefferson
Jefferson (7:09am)
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 
With one hour and fifteen minutes to 24 hours, I really could have tightened the gap on this, but on Jefferson, I already had already let go from it, and I continued to try to enjoy everything I had left of this.  Just as I hit the summit of Madison for my 16th 4000-footer on this epic journey, some more familiar faces came up from Howker Ridge to reach the summit at the same time.  It was Heather, Karine, Jeff, and dog Kali, who have all accomplished some amazing hiking feats. Kali the dog had rounded the group up because she needed the Presi's for June. Meeting and chatting with them gave me some steam as we head down the Osgood Trail together and back to Madison Hut.
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.       
Appalachia (1:30pm)
To take on such a challenge, requires planning and preparation beyond belief, and not only physically, but mentally and psychologically.  After two previous tries, I am elated at having accomplished this, and proving to myself that I could do it, and that you don't have to be an ultra-marathoner to do ultra-marathoner things. You just need the drive to do it, and if you have it, you can do anything you put your mind to!

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

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.)