Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Presidential Traverse

It's been a few years since I last completed a Presidential Traverse. For those who don't know, the "Presi-Traverse" is any configuration of peakbagging along the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains. There are several variations of said traverse, with the most basic covering from Madison to Pierce bagging each bump along the way. The original plan for the day was to finally tackle the Huts Traverse. But unfortunately, Adam and I's planning skills was lacking a bit. So we opted for a presi-traverse with Isolation... and this is what happened.

We started at around 8:15am from the Appalachia Parking lot on US Route 2. The typical starting location for this adventure. Adam and I started up the Valley way and had some conversation about ducking off of Valley Way and heading up Watson Path at around 3,000'. Taking this route makes for a more direct ascent of Mount Madison and negates an out and back from the Madison Springs Hut. We took the Watson Path and made our way above tree line anjoying the magnificent views from all around. The sky was a gorgeous blue, the wind whipped in from the West North West and a chill was abound. In the valley below we knew it was going to reach 90 today, but up high we were freezing!
(Heading Up Madison's Summit Cone)

As we reached the top of Madison, Adam and I topped out on the Osgood trail at which point we were greeted by a few folks obviously up from the AMC Hut. They first looked at Adam's Gaitors and the Crimson red color matched with his red Brooks Cascadias set them off into a few moments of laughter. Then I topped out and i overheard the oldest woman of the group say, "Oh my god they're wearing sneakers.." and the chuckling became an all out belly filled laugh. I was instantly irritated and then they asked.. "Where you guys headed?" The answer was simple... "Crawford Notch before dinner." The faces dropped, the chuckling ended and the questions came out... especially after they spotted my one day 100 miles tattoo on my right leg.. "Are you a cyclist?" I'm asked this often to which I respond.. "Do you see a bicycle in the tat?"
(The View of Washington From The Top Of Madison)

After teasing their brains with some "It's really not that crazy..." banter, we left them and headed down off Madison. We made our way to Madison Hut where we stepped inside for a refill of our bottles and a quick bite to eat. As we stepped outside Adam wanted to take the Star Lake Trail up Adams to which I kindly disagreed and we set off up on the Gulfside Trail for Thunderstorm Junction. The rocks along the Gulfside Trail skirting the flanks of Mount Adams are "paved" in a way. Years of meticulous trail work saw the trail builders moving and meuvering rocks so that they lay flat. We made pretty good time getting to the junction where a group of backpackers asked us if we were running the ridge. Finally.. someone who spoke our language.
(Running Along The Gulfside Trail)

We picked our way through the rock garden to the top of Adams where we soaked in some more wind and views. The wind blowing so hard that it was rather tough to hear each other talk. As we turned around and headed back down to the Junction, I glanced across at Adams 4, my final peak on the Trailwrights 72... I also looked down at the thousands of rocks strewn about and chuckled myself. Chuckled at my ultra-running brethern who think that rocks only exist on Massanutten Mountain. It was here in the Northen Presi's a few years ago that my good friend and Massanutten Veteran Hans Bauer told me that I should run Massanutten given my ability to really move along the rocks like it's some kind of ballet.
(The Top of Adams - Washington in the distance)

(The Rock Garden of Adams)

Back at T-Storm junction I told Adam, "Lets do it.. it's right here." We headed down off of the ridge and over to Adams 4. We climbed to the top of the tiny bump along Lowes Path. As I neared the top, I took a deep breath, stopped on the tippy top and soaked in the views. Here I was... 17 years of hiking... and I was now the youngest person to ever complete the TW72 Peak-bagging List. My white whale has been slayed. I soaked in as much of the view and the moment as I could. I shot pictures and video.. and just really enjoyed it. I originally wanted a large group of friends to join me on the final peak.. but this would do just fine.
(Thunderstorm Junction)

(Trailwrights 72 Finish - Adams 4)

(Madison (L) John Quincy Adams (M) and Adams (R))

(Personal Reflection at Adams 4 looking at Adams)

(Trailwrights 72 Video)
video
We left the summit of Adams 4, tracked back to the Gulfside Trail and started making our way over to Jefferson. All the while we watched as the clouds began to thicken and lower and the winds continued to pick up. This is afterall home of the worlds worst weather, and it does indeed change on a dime. I expected Thunderstorms today... Adam expected a beautiful day. We carried on along the ridge and into the Col between Adams and Jefferson. We began to climb up the steep slope of Jefferson where just ahead we spotted an AT Thru-Hiker. She wore short shorts and a set of headphones (shirt, socks, boots and all the rest as well). but it more stunned us at how hard we needed to work to make our way to her... she was kickin some serious butt on these climbs. We made our way past her, then headed to the top of Jefferson. We touched the top and then enjoyed lunch next to the 10 foot cairn just below the rocky crag.
(Jefferson (R) and Washington (L))

After a bit of a break and listenning in to the conversations of other peak-baggers, we continued on our way South. We lowered ourselves into the Monticello Lawn where the winds continued to rustle the tall alpine grasses. We made our way over Clay and I stopped in what I call "The Tunnel" for some video of the wind.
(Clay and Washington From The Monticello Lawn)

(Video Of The Wind)
video
We left Clay and continued to climb Washington. From afar we spotted one of the Cog Railway trains climbing the mountain side. The original Little Engine Who Could. Much scrutiny over the years about the Coal Burning and associated below of smoke rising from its Stack. The railroad now runs on Bio-diesel engines and the quick to gripe hikers now remain silent and nowhere do you hear them hailing the transformation as quite the accomplishment. Rubbish to hikers! It's amazing to watch the railroad climb and descend the mountain, quietly, without leaving a black scar across the mountain side.
(I Think I Can, I Think I Can)

(The Cog Tracks)

(Cog Railway Video - Check out the "Tourons")
video
We reached the top of Washington and was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of tourist activity. I had to get my picture taken with the new summit sign and of course, I didn't disappoint. Adam and I started to head for the inside of the summit building for a break when we spotted that female thru-hiker. "Hey! They got Pizza and soda inside!" She replied, "I don't believe it." I invited her in to sit with us and she followed us to a table. We dropped our packs and headed for the food line. I had forgotten my wallet in the car, but money-bags and home employed Adam had his. He bought me a Klondike Bar.. how nice. We all Sat at the table and enjoyed some well deserved food and some top notch people watching.
(Summit Sign)

(What Would YOU Do For A Klondike Bar?)

We found out here that our new friend Annie is hiking the Appalachian Trail.. South-Bound. She dropped out of college in 2007. When I asked where she went she told me UNH. When I asked what program, she told me Outdoor Education. We hit it off in discovering that we had quite a repertoir of mutual friends. We exchanged phone numbers and I promised Annie some trail magic in a few days while she was in town Lincoln as I returned for some backpacking of my own. It was a deal.. and we went our separate ways.
(The Southern Presi's From Washington)

As Adam and I began to descend Mount Washington we watched as we could see a storm approaching from the West North West. I could see strands of rain falling from the sky. As we approached the connector trails over to Isolation, I looked back and saw Washington Engulfed in clouds. "Hey Adam, you really wanna go to Isolation?" "Nah... maybe next time." I agreed and we moved along to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. The next stop along the traverse. We walked in, signed the guest log, used the potty and stole some yummy snacks. The place was mobbed, as is the norm on a gorgeous day, with travellers from the top of Washington. We left as soon as we could before we got lost in the mix..
(Lakes Of The Clouds Hut)

From here we made our way to the top of Monroe where we stopped to sit amongst the rocky perch's up high. We glanced back at Washington and down into the Dry River Wilderness. The clouds and sun were playing lighting tricks now, as various mountains in the distance seemed to jump out at us. The views off into the distant valleys were breathtaking and I took in as much of it as I could while hanging out on Monroe, one of my favorite peaks. We then got up and carried on down the Crawford Path, we made our way over South Monore, across the Franklin Fields and down into Edmunds Col below the summit of Eisenhower (Ike). As we made our way into the low spot, the wind stayed steady and a light rain began to fall. We spotted a large group hiking together begin to make their way down Edmunds Path. As I peered off into the distance, I could see the black storm clouds really rolling in now. The wind was dying off and things started to get eerily quiet. As I looked back at Washington, it was now fully encased in a black ominous cloud. We started to climb Eisenhower amongst the well trodden Crawford Path, that AMC trail crews had done quite a bit of work in to help prevent future erosion. New water bars, run offs, stepping and even ladders on the other side of the peak. At the top of the mountain we were treated to the rebuilding of the summit cairn whihc is often times dismantled by hikers looking to rest their backs, and the scree walls are 6" high now, made from piles of loose rock (aka. Scree). These walls are vital to the health of the Alpine Zone, harnessing hikers to the trails.
(On Top Of Monroe)

(Chillin')

(Running Along Franklin)

(Eisenhower Work)

Adam was running well ahead of me during the earlier parts of the day. It takes me a while to get warmed up. Now, I watched as he sucked down some GU Packets and started to bonk a bit. Now I was in the lead and taking us to the top of Pierce. The storm was really getting close now, I don't mind getting wet, but as we sat on the summit of Pierce, the decision had to be made... "Adam.. so which way do you wanna go? Jackson or down from here." And just then, a loud rumble of thunder carried on across the mountain tops. "Well... I guess that answers that!" We agreed that rain doesn't bother us too much.. but thunder and lightning might be a different story, especially at 4,000.' We ducked off of the ridge and quickly carried on the rest of the way down the Crawford Path. The thunder rumbled again and the woods grew increasingly dark. At 4:30pm it was now as dark as 9:30pm. The rain rolled in as Adam and I bled elevation back down into the valley. The rain stopped as quickly as it started. We heard no more thunder, the wind died and so did the rain.
(The Storm Rolls In)

(What Do Ya Wanna Do Adam?)

(RUN!!)

(Darkness)

We only saw one other group of hikers on the way down. For a mid week hike, the Northern Presi's were pretty crowded, and the southern presi's were rather tranquil. Probably a testament to the time of day and the threatenning weather. Either way, it was rather enjoyable. We popped back out onto US 302 hence wnding our great traverse. 9 Hours and 30 Minutes, a new perosnal best for the traverse. Not bad for a side peak and a couple of sight-seers. And yeah.. I finished the Trailwrights 72.. more on this later...

I need to take a moment to thank my good friend Adam Wilcox (Adamiata) for helping me over these last few years on my quest to complete the Trailwrights 72. It was August 2007 when I still had 6 peaks to go, and those peaks were far from easy. From that time on, anytime I desired company on my quest to complete these peaks, Adam was there. Northwest Hancock, West Osceola... and South West Twin... some rather easy.. and one being the roughest toughest whack in the Whites. Adam was always there, fearless, steadfast and supportive. So to him I thank you.

I also would be remiss if I failed to thank Sarah for her patience and understanding on my quest to complete this list. Her support is important above all else. So thank you Sarah!

Happy Trails
SJ