Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hut-to-Hut Attempt to a Windy Overnight Presidential Traverse + Wildcats - 7/5/14

About one month prior to this hike, I took on a Double Presidential Range Traverse, a 43 mile jaunt with over 18,000 feet of elevation gain going back and forth over the range.  After a couple of shorter hikes, long on my list to-do, was a Hut-to-Hut Traverse of the White Mountains.  A hut-to-hut doesn't have anything to do with 4,000-footers, but for me, trying to add all of the 4,000-footers along the way would be nothing new.  Lately, I've been connecting hikes and hike plans with the great history of the White Mountains.  All hut-to-huts prior to the 70s included Pinkham Notch (also called the MacPhail H2H), so I decided I wanted to add Pinkham Notch, and of course bag the Wildcats. To add to that, I wanted to do the full Presi Traverse, hitting every peak, so to grid the Presi's for July.  Then, I wanted Tom, Zealand, and Galehead as extras along the way.  It sure was possible, but things don't always turn out the way its planned.
River along Nineteen Mile Brook Trail
I planned to hike up to Carter Notch Hut Friday night for a midnight start, but heavy rains that never stopped kept me in my car overnight until about 8:30am on Saturday morning.  With a little under 48 hours before I have to report to work, and some additional rest, I figured I could still give this a go.  I had a nice walk up to Carter Notch Hut where I hung out for about 20 minutes, and I began my attempt to trek across the White Mountains to visit every hut, starting at 10:40am.
Nineteen Mile Brook Trail temporary bridge

Carter Notch Hut

Carter Lake and Wildcat A
I made satisfactory time over the Wildcats, down the Wildcat Ridge Trail and Lost Pond Trail to Pinkham Notch.  I refilled water and went to the bathroom, before quickly heading up the Old Jackson Road behind Pinkham Notch.  Here I was now on a bit of unfamiliar trail.  The trail climbs gradually up to the Auto Road.  When I arrived at the road, I thought it was sort of weird because I was on Mt. Washington, but headed to Madison, and crossing the auto road while on a hike for the first time ever. I pulled out the map, to make sure, and I continued onto the Madison Gulf Trail.  
Crossing the Auto Road
Things were going excellent until I got confused trying to get from Madison Gulf Trail to the Osgood Trail.  It was almost a Madison Gulf ascent, until I decided screw this, I can get across this river somehow.  However, it took a little extra ascent and scouting the river for a safe spot, which consumed precious minutes.  Then, when I got across, I had an approximately 10 minute bushwhack around a slope to the Osgood Cut-off.  Except when I arrived onto this trail, mid-trail, I questioned what trail it was, and pulled out the map.  A few people including a forest ranger came up just seconds after, and I asked if this was the Osgood Cut-off or Osgood.  I told them I just crossed the river, and came onto the middle of the trail.  With some clarification, and quick sigh of relief, I was fast continuing up the Osgood Cut-off and to the Osgood Trail.

From Osgood Ridge to Madison
The clouds appeared menacing, and it was a bit breezy at this point, but nothing out of control...yet.  This was my first time on the Osgood Ridge to Madison, and it was a fun stretch to climb.  It began to slow my progress a bit, though, but I arrived at a packed Madison Hut.  Here I re-aligned my gear for the strong winds pulling out my pretty much winter gear as those in the hut probably thought i was nuts. As I was stepping out the door, a few guys doing a northern presi traverse came in wearing jeans. Good thing they were nearly done. 

Madison Spring Hut
From Adams 
On Adams
Once I was close to Edmands Col, I started to see the sun setting. The picture doesn't do it justice, it was a defined orange ball - really pretty despite the thickening clouds above. 

Sunset from the Presi's
On Jefferson, there was the last light and a shaky summit picture. Winds really started to ramp up from here on out, likely 60-70mph as I made my way past Sphinx col and onto the Clay Loop.

Pretty eeriness on Jefferson 
Windy on Jefferson
After Clay, and once back onto the Gulfside Trail visibility went from pretty good, to almost 5-10 feet max, with the winds getting stronger. Instead of crossing the Cog, I hiked alongside it until I reached the front of the Adams summit building. I sat down on the bench for a quick break, as I watched the strongest winds I've ever experienced on Washington, blow the fog through the beams of the summit structures with such intensity. I didn't need to change any gear. I was still in shorts, but had my jacket, hat, and gloves on. The wind chill was about 25 degrees, but my legs were warm because everything around me was so intense, and my body was working hard.
I couldn't really stand up at the sign, had to hang onto rocks
I had no choice but make it to Lake of the Clouds Hut, which I knew I could do. I really didn't expect the high winds to linger so long into the night, and even the observatory posted a forecast of mostly clearing skies for the evening. As I exited the summit onto the Crawford Path, I immediately lost the trail as it takes a wide curve off the summit. I had to trust my instincts for a few minutes as I went in the general direction of the trail. Finally I found a rock where I did a quick glance at my map and GPS without falling over in the 80+mph winds, and continued about 5-10 more minutes before I came upon the recognizable trail, visible only at my feet.

A long story short, I walked into a pitch dark LOC Hut, and I found myself a cold bench among the many already sleeping on the floors and benches. I didn't sleep a wink, and was quite cold all night. I should have brought the sleeping bag instead of my hammock. I did have a decent time Sunday morning chatting with some thru and section hikers at the Hut about lots of familiar hiking.

The view back from Mt. Franklin
Around 8:30am or so, after the Hut stopped shaking from the wind, and I warmed up a lot, I got moving again with winds around 40-50 mph. Slowly, I started to feel back to normal, as if I had spent a regular night out but it was nothing like a regular night on the mountain. I continued on, hitting Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, and Pierce, all the summits I wanted. From there, I descended to the Highland Center, where just 30 minutes later, I caught the AMC Shuttle back to my car.
Me on Eisenhower 
Lenticular clouds from the summit of Mt. Pierce
The later start than planned, along with the high winds and extra focus needed to make it over Washington safely put an end to my attempt.  The next day was really nice, which allowed me to really enjoy the rest of this epic Presidential Range Traverse plus the Wildcats, which was still almost half the distance I was attempting to do.  I hope someday soon that I will try a normal Hut-to-Hut Traverse, but I definitely wouldn't change a thing about this one. Stay safe friends, and always bring the proper gear for the extremes of the Presidentials and Mt. Washington. This was my 8th Presidential Traverse, anywhere from my 7th-11th times on the Presi's and 19th summit of Mt. Washington.

Hike Stats
Trails: 19 Mile Brook Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Lost Pond Trail, Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf Trail, Osgood Cut-off, Osgood Trail, Gulfside Trail, Airline Trail, Israel Ridge Path, Jefferson Loop, Clay Loop, Crawford Path, Monroe Loop, Eisenhower Loop, Webster-Cliff Trail (for Pierce), Crawford Path
Distance: 35 miles
Elevation Gain: 13,930 ft.
Actual Book Time: TBD

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