Trip Report: 2-Day Presidential Traverse

The second outing of my New Hampshire trip was a 2-day hike across the Presidential Range. Many fit individuals will hike this in a single day, but I still wasn’t so sure I was in shape to pull that off. As it turns out, I probably would have had a more enjoyable trip if I just knocked it out in one day…

Tuesday started out great, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was shining and there was nary a cloud in the sky. Aaron (from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking) and I took the AMC Hiker Shuttle from Appalachia Trailhead to the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch. We poked around in their store and used the bathrooms before beginning a short road walk to the head of the Webster-Jackson Trail.

The first mile(ish) of the Webster-Jackson Trail was a relatively gentle climb up towards the ridge. The further we went, the steeper and rockier it became, but it was never all “that” bad. As we neared the end of its 2.5 miles, the trail became a rocky scramble up to the summit of Mt. Jackson.

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe and Washington seen from Mt. Jackson Summit

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe and Washington seen from Mt. Jackson Summit

From Mt. Jackson, we followed the Webster Cliff Trail north. After descending into the col between Mts. Jackson and Pierce, we reached Mizpah Spring Hut. At the hut, we took a short break to refill water bottles, eat a snack, and consult the map. Aaron and I left the hut and began the climb up to Mt. Pierce.

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From Mt. Pierce, Aaron and I took the Crawford Path over towards Mt. Eisenhower. Aaron wasn’t feeling too confident in his mountain climbing endurance and had little interest in peakbagging, so he decided to stay on the Crawford Path, while I took the Mt. Eisenhower Loop to the summit. I reached the top pretty easily and snapped a few pictures before heading down the other side. Aaron was waiting for me, enjoying a snack at the trail intersection. We started walking towards Mt. Monroe, and discussed the appeal of hiking in the “green tunnel” versus alpine hiking. Aaron preferred the former, while I have a growing love of the latter. After some spirited debate, we had reached the Loop to Mt. Monroe Summit.

As we climbed the Mt. Monroe Loop to the summit, we met some researchers. They were setting up a station that will be used to monitor changes in alpine plant life over long periods of time. Apparently there are stations like this in alpine environments all over the world. We left them to their work and moved on towards Mt. Monroe’s summit, which we reached minutes later. At the top, we had great views of Mt. Washington and Lakes of the Clouds Hut (our final destination for the day).

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We reached the hut with plenty of time to spare, so we used the time before dinner to enjoy the sunny weather. Shoes and socks were set out to dry, blisters were treated, and a few hundred milligrams of Vitamin I were taken. The Hutmaster and Assistant Hutmaster were also outside enjoying the sun, so we chatted with them for a bit, until they got busy checking guests in and working on dinner. I went in to get things set up in my bunk. As I came back outside, four NoBo Thru-Hikers came striding up to the hut. They had hiked a 27-mile day from Galehead hut, and were excited at the prospect of doing a little work to earn a shot at the dinner leftovers and an overnight stay at the hut. One of them (at least) keeps a blog, so check it out!

Aaron and I both hit the rack when the hut’s lights went out around 9:30. I slept like a baby until about 4AM, when I was awoken by a disconcerting noise. It was a howling wind, the likes of which I had never heard before. I laid there (fingers crossed), hoping that it would die down before we had to hike out. I got out of bed around 5:30 and went out into the hut’s common area, where Achilles, Biscuit, Outlet and The Mechanic (the four thru-hikers) were also awake and starting to get their things together. Aaron and I chatted with them a bit, until it was time to sit down for breakfast.

After breakfast, Aaron and I decided to get on the trail ASAP. It seemed the thru-hikers had the same idea, as they had left 15 minutes before us. The wind was gusting up to 85MPH, the rain was coming in sideways, and visibility was practically zero. The climb up to the summit was actually pretty easy. I think the low visibility and bad weather took away some of the mental obstacles because we couldn’t actually see the summit. We didn’t have to keep looking up and thinking, “It’s still so far!” I didn’t even know I was near the top until I practically ran into one of the Observatory buildings. Once on top, I felt my way through the pea soup fog and climbed the last few feet up to the summit. Once Aaron caught up (only a few minutes later), we went inside the snack bar building for a little reprieve from the weather. The thru-hikers were in there, too.

Before starting this hike, I had bought my girlfriend and her mom tickets to take the Auto Road’s guided tour and meet us on the summit. Almost immediately upon entering the building, we found out the the Auto Road had been closed due to the weather. I had cell signal up there, so I used the time to call my kids and text my girlfriend a bit. She was worried that I was going to die up there. Eventually the Auto Road was reopened and she got to come up and see me.

After 3 or 4 hours in the snack bar, Aaron and I decided we should get our butts in gear. The weather wasn’t really improving, and sitting around wasn’t getting us anywhere. We bid the thru-hikers adieu and headed back out into the storm.

I practically had to get a running start to overcome the winds that were blasting up the slopes of the mountain. We worked our way down the mountain, and started slowly making our way along the Gulfside Trail towards Mt. Jefferson. Jefferson gave us a bit of protection from the winds, and I decided I was going to attempt to get to the summit. Aaron was smart and went around. The climb on the Loop Trail was tricky because the cairns were much smaller and harder to see than the ones on Gulfside. I got turned around a few times in the fog, but finally made it. As soon as I poked my head up over the summit, Mother Nature smacked me in the face with a gust of wind. I decided then and there that I would forego any more summit attempts today.

We finally reached Madison Spring Hut relatively unscathed. I walked in right behind a Croo member, who had packed a load of bacon and a rocking chair up the mountain via Valley Way Trail. Aaron got a bowl of hot soup, and I pulled some snacks out of my pack. As we ate, Achilles, the Mechanic, Biscuit, and Outlet arrived at the hut. They had apparently left Mt. Washington about an hour after us. They decided to stay at Madison hut, rather than hiking the 20-mile day they had planned.

Aaron and I only had 3.5 more miles to go, so we took off. The Croo informed us that the weather below treeline was infinitely better, and they were right. After only a quarter-mile on Valley Way, the wind was barely even noticeable anymore. After 1.5 miles, the clouds were gone. Since things had improved, I took a small detour past a few small waterfalls. About a quarter mile before Appalachia Trailhead, I bumped into a pair of SoBo thru-hikers, who had gotten turned around trying to find Valley Way Campsite. I pointed them in the right direction, then headed for the car.

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