In my everlasting preperation for greater achievements I threw the idea of a one day Jefferson to Washington traverse at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Outing club. I had two takers but due to an eventual date change one had to drop out so I was back with my current apprentice Jeff. Trying the entire Presi Traverse is 20 miles and in winter can take the better part of a week for the 9000 or so vertical feet of elevation gain and blustery weather that daily buffets the range. The Presidentials are the ultimate test piece for budding mountaineers in the New England Region as it pits uneven trails, breezy wind, and cool temperatures against our expertly tuned bodies reducing us to frail, weak, delusional and exhausted adolescents. This is why we come.
[img:My feet had been bothering me for sometime with various muscle and tendon issues but they had relaxed enough that I put in 30 kilometers on Thursday. That's the second most I've ever run so I was concerned about recovery but my spring break, which was ending shortly, had been quite lack-luster so far and when I recieved the email from Jeff Thursday saying he still wanted to go I shot the reply that we should go the next day. So I decided to burn the midnight oil and stay awake until midnight playing video games and wake up at 3:30 the next morning to take half an hour to pack and shop before picking up Jeff at 4 AM.
I threw some stuff into some bags in the morning taking half a loaf of bread and an apple as well as two pint size cans of milk and some powered instant hazlenut cappuchino mix for sustanance.
3.5 hours of motoring over deserted interstate in a '93 Toyota Previa with 230,000 miles and our goal was cast upon our legs. Start time about 7:40 AM We origionally planned to head up the Caps Ridge trail and bag Jefferson then over to Washington and down the Ammasoocac or something. Well, the trail to the Caps Ridge trail wasn't marked or we didn't see it and we ended up at 4500 feet near the top of the Jewel trail after a pleasant hour and fifteen minutes of uphill walk on hard packed trail with a small soft layer on top. A step two inches off the trail resulted in falling up to your hip in snow. This was a good thing because it kep us from getting off trail. The weather at this point was fantastic. The sun was still on the other side of the mountain but as we hiked it came up but the trees still hid most of it but it was so warm that we had to stop mutiple times to take off clothes and I eneded up hiking in a short sleeve shirt. I was amazed here we were in early March hiking in t-shirts with no wind at all! Not even a breeze!
After a few hundred feet above treeline the snow had turned hard and while crampons weren't completely necessary it was hard enough that trying to kick steps for good purchase was making for slow progress so after 10 minutes of that we put on the crampons. Then we picked up the pace again since we had our confidence back. When we reached the intersection of the Gulfside Trail and the Jewell trail we headed left for Jefferson still with wind less than 5 miles an hour. I felt a little ridiculous hiking in a t-shirt in early March across ground that has killed better logistically equiped people than I. After reading so much about ambitous college kids who got in over their head I was a bit scared that I, in my cotton t-shirt, would be the next posterchild for unprepared youth if anything went wrong.
We moved along at a fantastic rate! Every so often I gave Jeff advice about using crampons and I was amazed as how well he kept up. I was just trying to keep an even all day hiking pace, but it was a strong pace and he was always right there within 20 feet. The wind started to pick up the last 300 vertical feet or so of Jefferson. We chose to keep hiking instead of put on warm clothing. My exposed elbows started to get cold because I had gloves my fingers were fine and since the wind was at our back my backpack blocked the majority of the wind. I believe we reached the top at about 10:50 AM just over 3 hours after we left the car! I have read that Jefferson is the most difficult to get to from a road and having crossed it twice on full Presi Traverses I wasn't sure about it's distance to a road. Fortunately it only took us three hours from the car at the base of the Cog Railway station. The actual summit was pretty windy (maybe 25-30 mph) so after about three minutes to get summit pictures we headed to the little saddle about 20 feet below the summit to take a few minutes to sit down and drink some water and get some food.
Then we set offjust after 11 for the three mile hike to Washington. It was somewhat intimidating at first because it looked fairly far away and we were already a little tired but this was no day to wimp out and only bag one summit. We hiked down and around the side of Clay. We were origionally going to go up it but it was kind of annoying because it's not a real mountain since it doesn't rise very much from Washington. So when we were up beside it we decided it wasn't worth it and we kept on chugging up Washington. The trail goes over to the East side of the ridge and very close to the edge of a large cliff and at that point the wind started to pick up and we put our windproof jackets on. A little farther up we ran into the Cog Railway and the snow about 20 feet away from it was hard packed so we easily hiked up alongside that until there were cairns and foot prints that crossed the tracks and went to the summit. We headed into the wind which was out of the West - Southwest. It came scraping across our faces giving us a slight taste of the usual on Mt. Washington. I had a Gorilla balaclava in my pack but I didn't pull it out because I forgot to bring something for Jeff and I figuired the wind really was not life threatening so I did not bother to put it on. We checked some trail signs on the way up looking for the Ammonoosuc trail which I had been told is the fastest way up or down Washington. We split up briefly and I found a sign that mentioned the trail and five minutes later we both regained the summit at the same time at about 12:50. Jeff had never been up Washington so we spent some time looking around and then taking a break to sit and enjoy the day.
After a 20 minute summit stay we went down not really knowing where to go. Using a Topozone screen shot the trail looked like it went past Lake of the Clouds hut so we headed down that direction and searched around until we found one set of foot prints the better part of a week old that went nearly strait down the ravigne. I had left my ice-axe with another climbing partner and Jeff didn't have one and it was too late the night before when I learned all this to get into the outing club closet to get a pair. So at the last minute I grabbed somesnow pickets and I figured that if we each had one maybe we could use them like canes or something and it would be better than nothing. At this point I was considering pulling them out and slowing down our hike, but I still really had no idea exactly how we were going to use them. So I gave a few more words of advice about descending to Jeff and started down. I kept looking back because this was only his second time in crampons and this was quite a steep slope to be going down, especially without an ice-axe. He just plodded down behind me and I was really amazed at how well he managed. We went off trail a few times because if you were a few inches off the hardpacked trail you would sink up to your hips in snow. I have a feeling that the actual trail and the winter version of the trail were a bit different. Soon enough the trail gradually leveled out and there were more foot prints. We finished up just above the van at a minute before 3 PM. In all close to 5000 vertical feet of elevation gain and loss, about nine miles total and probably seven of those mile in crampons which caused Jeff to only get one small tear in his pants. A 3.5 hour drive back to civilization and school with a stop at Einsteins Bagel Brothers in Concord to celebrate the victory. We had a fantastic day!