White Mountain Hut Traverse

What an incredible adventure linking up all the AMC Huts as well as tagging many of the most scenic peaks in NH along the way. Here's my report:

The Hut Traverse is 50'ish miles linking all eight of the AMC Huts. Most hikers start from Carter and end at Lonesome (East to West). This approach is by no means easy but it's certainly easier - slightly less vert and it's and a better approach on the Northern Presidentials. Starting at Carter also means that you would only have a 1.5 mile hike in to Lonesome vs. a 3.8 mile hike into Carter to end your traverse. I chose to go West to East for one reason - it was 25 minutes closer for Hilary to come and get me. It actually worked out for the best given that the weather didn't clear up on the Presidentials until late morning, meaning I would have missed out on great views for the first half of the traverse. Well worth the increased difficulty.

My goal time was a rough 15 hours. I planned on running the flat / down sections as best I could and moving well on the ascents. I also brought enough food to get me to Carter and liked the idea of doing this effort self-supported. If you're going for time though, I'd lighten up on food and bring $ to get fresh baked goods at all the huts! The other important thing to note was that I was taking over Julbo Eyewear's Snapchat so there was going to be a lot of stopping for video along the way. 

I was in bed around 10pm and up at 2am. It was 1hr 15min drive to the Lafayette Place Campground and I was on the trail around 3:30am. I reached Lonesome Hut shortly after 4am and officially started my traverse at 4:15AM. Unfortunately, I didn't log into the Snapchat account in the parking lot and therefore missed documenting Lonesome. I was quickly back down at my truck and spent another 15 minutes just trying to get some social media uploaded. Finally, I was on the move and crossed under 93 to the Bridle Path trailhead. It was 2.9 miles to Greenleaf Hut and with fresh legs it was an enjoyable hike as the first light came up over the Franconia Ridge. The next couple hours were absolutely stunning - Clouds flowed across the summit of Lafayette and through the surrounding mountain passes. The early light combined with the undercast had me stopping frequently for fear of missing the shot. On the summit of Lafayette it was clear that everything above ~4,500' was going to be socked in. I dropped back below the clouds and into the boreal forest of the Garfield Ridge trail. It had rained the previous night so everything was slick but also beautiful with many different shades of green lit up by the morning light. This has section of trail has quickly become one of the my most dreaded (so many pointless ups and downs) to my favorite (see photos below). I stopped in at Garfield Pond before making the final push up to the summit of Garfield. The clouds were still obscuring the summits of Lafayette to the west and South Twin to the east. The next stop was to get water near the Garfield Campsite, just 0.4mi or so into the descent. I brought a water bladder plus a 500ml pouch for easy access along the way (and to mix up instant coffee). Getting to Galehead Hut was uneventful and more hikers started emerge on the trail.

At Galehead I stopped and had some tuna on a bagel, topped of my water and headed back on the trail for the 0.8mi ascent of South Twin, back into the clouds. It's a relatively short climb and my legs were still very strong at this point. At the summit (more like a trail intersection), I stopped to talk to some of the other hikers and take some video. The Presidential Range was still socked in but the clouds were starting to break up and you could tell that the clouds were on the verge of lifting completely. Zealand Hut was another 6+ miles. Along the way I decided to go tag the wooded summit of Zealand which was only 0.1mi off the trail. I also made sure to go out to Zeacliff for another view point. I dropped down to Zealand Hut around 11:15. Things were rolling and although I was moving slower than expected due to the wet conditions of the trail, I was enjoying all the views along the way. 

The next section of trail was some of the best running of the day. The A-Z trail is flat and smooth once leaving Zealand. It's does have a steep approach up the Willey Range though and for the first time I started to feel the miles accumulate in my legs. My right knee was aching, likely from jamming it into my handlebar the previous day mountain biking. I made good time descending down to Crawford Notch. The midday sun was beating down and I quickly ran up the road to the Crawford Path to escape back into the shade. From here I was basically at the halfway point and was feeling good enough where I thought to myself, I may as well bag all the Presidentials along the way as opposed to taking the side trails. Mitzpah hut was 2.6 miles away and I started the grind on the familiar trail. I had been up to the Hut earlier this spring so there were no surprises. At Mitzpah I had my second lunch, another bagel with tuna. The break inside was nice and my legs thanked me. I continued on, now around 1pm with a lot of trail still ahead of me. It was 0.9 miles to the summit of Pierce and that climb went well as I was motivated to get back above tree line for one of my favorite sections of the day. The Southern Presidentials offer a striking ridge line that offer views of Washington the entire way. It makes all the climbing go by effortlessly as you get lost in the scenery.

Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe all flew past as I dropped down to Lakes of the Clouds. This is by far the busiest hut and section of the trail so far. There were only a few bunks left meaning they had over 90 people booked for that night. I refilled water and headed to the summit of Washington. I passed another group of trail runners which always adds a bit of motivation. They were doing the Presi Traverse and seemed to be having a great time. I continued to grind up to the summit where it was typical rockpile chaos created by the mix of tourists off the auto road, cog, and other hikers. I embrace it and it has been like that since I can remember so it doesn't bother me. I make sure to take the time to talk to anyone interested in hearing about my hike. 

After a summit photo I look out at JAM - Jefferson, Adams, Madison - more rock piles that I plan on summiting before dropping back down to Route 16. It's still so nice out and the ridge line makes short work of Clay and next thing you know I'm on Jefferson. On the descent to Edmands Col I cross paths with some thru-hikers. One of them is from Michigan and is motoring right along behind me. I eventually slow up to get his story. He had started around Harper's Ferry and met his crew of hikers along the way. They were charging, knocking out 20-35 miles / day. It was great to share some stories of the trail and distract myself from the growing tiredness I was experiencing. It was nearing 6pm and I was entering a new zone of exhaustion I hadn't experienced before. We split ways as he waited for his AT friends and I went to Summit Adams. From Adams I opted to take the Star Lake Trail down to Madison Hut. I had been up it a few years ago and the descent was hard on the knees. It's a half mile straight down over boulders before it start traversing north to the hut. I passed the lake and was at the Hut around 7pm. From here I had a few options, I could descend the Mad Gulf trail down to the Great Gulf wilderness, I could sidehill Madison via the Parapet Trail, or I could just go up and over Madison and bag the last peak. I figured I might as well stack on some more elevation and take the familiar Osgood trail down to Route 16. 

It only takes about 10 minutes of moderate hiking to reach the summit of Madison from the hut. At this point in the day, the climbing didn't bother me, but the descents did. The level of pain in my right knee remained the same as it was descending the Willey Range. While frustrating, I took deep breaths and managed to focus on my exit down the Presidentials. I knew Hilary would be waiting for me down at the 19 Mile Brook parking lot at 9pm so I used that as my motivation to keep my pace up. The descent down the Osgood trail is RUGGED. Even at the start of a traverse it's hard and on tired legs it's relentless. But after the never ending descent, you hit flat ground along the West Branch Peabody River and you can open it up... when your knees are functioning. My right knee limited me to 17min/mi pace on those last two miles from the Osgood Tent Site. It was frustrating to move so slow when my muscles were actually doing really well but any significant bend in the right knee sent a sharp pain telling me to walk it off. This section dragged but I made it out across the river shortly after 9pm.

I still had to huff it a half mile up the road to meet Hilary. I was able to run this section because it was uphill and I didn't have to lift my right leg to clear any rocks or roots. I rounded the last corner to see Hilary who greeted me with Pizza & Beer only to realize that I still had 3.8 miles up and 3.8 miles back from Carter Hut! I thought she would be joining me for this last section and she thought I was DONE done at 9pm (I was done with the Presidentials at 9PM!). Whoops. I caved and ate half the pizza and sent her to a friend's house in Jackson to get some rest and to come back at midnight to pick me up. 

I was on the trail at 9:45 and man did I underestimate these next 3.8 miles. I was beat up, tired, and alone. I badly wanted to call it back at the parking lot but I had no excuse. I could still walk and I had to finish what I started. The miles did not click off. They were slow as I followed my dimming headlamp, refusing to stop and change the batteries. The climb to Carter Hut is actually 1,900'. Brutal. I hadn't been up to the hut this way in over a year and it was winter time so I had skis on. It was incredibly difficult and I had to laugh as the echo of warning from others rang in my head "it's easier to start at Carter". How right they were. I approached the Lake around 10:50 and was at the hut a few minutes later. I got my last snaps in, refilled water in the bathroom and was on my way. Done but not done. I still had to slog my way back down which I may have put off until the morning if Hilary wasn't waiting on me.  I didn't make it out until 12:20 but was elated to hop in the car and get home. 

The next day I spent sleeping and eating. My legs were swollen and my shins and knees ached. It was a familiar feeling, something I had experienced on long hikes and runs before. This was the biggest effort to date though, never had a been on my feet for 20+ hours on such little sleep. There's no denying the satisfaction of checking off a bucket list item like this though and it's something that I'll do again for speed, but I'll most certainly be going from East to West, eating every baked good along the way.

Lessons Learned:

  • I put anti-chafe stick on my feet/nipples but forgot my thighs, crotch, armpits (so much sting).
  • I also forgot sunscreen and had a rockin' singlet burn.
  • Bring some $1s for those Hut treats.
  • Trekking poles were awesome. 
  • Instant coffee w/maple syrup is also awesome.