The Presidential “Presi” Traverse has been on my bucket list ever since I was a child. It carried an element of prestige, and badass’ness that at the time I thought required maximum daylight and a summer’s worth of training. For an 8 year old this may have been the case but for me all I needed was a headlamp and some tolerable conditions. The specs aren’t too daunting compared to say the pemi loop or hut traverse (30 and 50 miles respectively). BUT the Presidentials hold the five highest peaks in New England and the 20 mile traverse includes 8,500 feet of elevation gain with rugged footing that makes the northern section only runnable to those brave enough to sacrifice an ankle, knee, and some skin to the alpine zone. Enough of the set up, let’s get into it.
The forecast was solid. 20-25mph winds from the northwest, mild for most days, and mostly clear skies. That was all I needed to motivate for the hike. In addition, I also had Squall with me who has already bagged all but Pierce in the range. My goal was to take my time and enjoy the views. This also included capturing a ton of video for an edit that I’m working on. Book time is somewhere around 16 hours so I figured a 6AM start would allow me to make it from Crawford Notch by sundown (12ish hours).
I chose to start in the Great Gulf Trailhead, not sure why, probably because it was the only trail I was familiar with up Madison. I got a little later start than I hoped for but I wasn’t on a schedule - 6:13 I was moving. I’d have my headlamp on for the next 35 minutes until the sun peeked over the Wildcat Range behind me. At 7:30, about 1.8 miles into the hike, we started the ascent up Madison via the Osgood Trail. This trail has a steady approach that never gets too steep but keeps you working the whole time. It was tiring and I really just wanted to get up above tree line. I caught glimpses of morning light on Washington through the trees and by the time I made it to my first lookout it was 8AM and the sun was already casting shadows in the Great Gulf Wilderness. Once we got to the exposed ridge of Madison we stopped for some food while we took in the views and could see the summit not more than a half a mile ahead. The ridge is protected from the prevailing winds so it was rather warm with the sun to our backs. We reached the summit 30 minutes later and only stopped for a moment to capture a few pictures. There isn’t much cause for celebration on Madison with Adams looming over you, promising better views as it’s the second highest mountain in the northeast.
But first we had to descend down to Madison Hut over the pile of boulders that Madison is. With a view of Star Lake and the Madison Hut in sight, the descent goes by rather quick. There’s a spring that flows down at the intersection with the Valley Way Trail so I stopped to let Squall get a drink before continuing back upward to summit Adams.
The approach on Adams is a little more sheltered from the sun so the rocks held rime and ice making footing tricky in spots. Overall it wasn’t too bad and turned out to be the only spot on the traverse where footing was remotely an issue. We followed the cairns up the mile-long Airline Trail to the summit. It was worth hanging out here for several minutes to take in the surroundings and visualize a snow-covered Jefferson ready to be skied.
The section form Adams to Washington is my favorite segment in all of the White Mountains. It's rugged, has stunning views, and the trail features are just plain awesome. Edmunds Col is relatively protected and offers several trail options so it can be accessed from every direction. The approach up Jefferson isn't too technical and also goes by very quickly (0.8'ish miles). From the summit of Jefferson, you have clear views of the entire Presidential Range as the southern end is now exposed.
We were moving a little slower than preferred but what's the rush. It didn't take us long to make our way over to Clay which is just a little bump en route to the main event, Washington, aka "The Pig". From Clay we saw the Cog Railway chug up to the summit and by the time it we reached the tracks they were on their way down. We waved to the tourists and continued to the final stretch to the summit. Mount Washington is the last significant climb on the traverse - the southern range feels downhill even though there are still three mountains left. I'll also add that I was up there a week ago and it was full on winter. In fact, the summit crew were taking down signs and closing up shop for the season. That all melted though and they re-opened so it was a bit of a zoo up there for a Tuesday post-Columbus Day.
Down at Lakes of the Clouds, the lakes were mostly frozen. The hut was shut down and a few hikers who were doing the Ammonoosuc Ravine to Jewell Trail loop. That was the only section we saw hikers and that's only 10% of the traverse. Incredible really. From Monroe to Pierce we enjoyed the solidarity - temps were perfect, footing was easy, and the rolling trail was tranquil enough to put me in a meditative state. On Eisenhower we relaxed for a bit and refueled one more time. Pierce was the only peak that Squall hadn't bagged in the range - however Jackson/Webster are still on his hit list. I guess that brings up another point of discussion - while they aren't technically presidents, they should be included in the traverse. I would have liked to stay up there for sunset but we had the idea that we could hitch hike home and that would be much easier in daylight.
We bombed down the Crawford Path, the only section that we "ran". There was a concern that it would be frozen over with all the streams that flood the trail but not the case today. We were able to make it down quickly and still had a half hour of daylight. We took a quick pit stop at Gibbs Falls before descending back out to 302 (Crawford Notch). All in all it was 11 Hours and according to strava, two of those were spent on breaks and taking video/pictures.
As I started walking to the Crawford Station as a Volvo wagon pulled up next to what were a couple thru hikers (nuts this time of year). I asked for a ride and they said of course. WOW, that couldn't have been any easier. I just wanted to get into Glen then I could figure out if I would hitch up to my truck or just have Hilary pick me up. I put my pack in the back and I asked where they were headed, "Lancaster". Ha! Wrong directly, took my pack back out and went to another car in the parking lot. They were headed in the wrong direction as well. So then I started thumbing and no luck. The sun had set and the temps were quickly dropping below freezing. I put out the bat signal and had Hilary come get me and treated her to dinner at the Margarita Grill. I didn't want to make here drive me back to my truck so I checked the weather forecast and it looks like I'll be biking 37 miles tomorrow to get my truck. What a great day!