Well....the Presidential Traverse has always been a hike that has interested me. The "grand" traverse consists of 24 miles, 10 summits, and around 8,500 feet of elevation gain. It seemed to me that once I got above treeline, it wouldn't be THAT bad in traversing the peaks. Wrong.
Monday, June 24th - Drive up to The Dana Place Inn (no, I don't own it). For the amount of money it cost, I was really trying to justify the accommodations. Drove my girlfriend to the starting and finishing points of the traverse, so she'd know where to drop me off and pick me up. The original plan was to wake up really early on Tuesday and begin hiking before dawn, but the sky was completely clear and the moon was full, so the plan now changed to begin hiking after dinner.
We moved up dinner reservations at the Inn to 6:30 p.m., so I could start hiking earlier. Ate the Salmon. Soon after, I had the shits. Don't eat the Salmon....I learned the hard way. However, even with severe bloating and well....you know...I still threw the pack in the truck and tried to make a go at it. Drove up to the trailhead, and I wasn't feeling any better. Thank God they have a bathroom at the Great Gulf trailhead. After the third time, I thought I was feeling better, but even the walk from the bathroom to the truck to get my pack made my mind up for me. The trip wasn't going to take place. Extremely disappointed, I got back in the truck, and made plans to maybe climb Huntington the next day or something if I felt better.
Tuesday, June 25th - Woke up around 6:45 a.m....since the Inn doesn't have any friggin' clocks of any kind in the room, it's not like I could set the alarm. I felt good, actually....and make the decision to begin the traverse ASAP. Woke my girlfriend up, started getting dressed, guzzled down some Gatorade, and ate two Clif bars. Got to the trailhead and began hiking at 7:30 a.m.
The weather was perfect. No wind, clear skies, and sunny. I had never been in the Great Gulf or Northern Presidentials before. I had quickly noticed that there were about a billion mosquitoes. After about a half hour of hiking, I had inhaled one. I tried hacking it out of my chest, but ended up barfing instead. Guess I didn't have to worry about digesting my food now. Further up on the Osgood Trail, the gnats really came out in force. Figures...the ONE time I don't bring bug spray with me on a summer hike. Every other time, I never needed it...I still have the same little can I bought 3-4 years ago, never used. At least the black flies weren't bothering me.
Emerging from the scrub, I caught my first glimpses of the Great Gulf, Mt. Washington, and the rest of the N. Presidentials. It was quite an amazing scene. If I had a camera with me, photos would not have done it justice. At this point, I was sweating buckets as the Osgood was fairly steep in sections and it was pretty warm out, but I kept on steadily drinking. The pack I was using, the EMS Aqua Day pack has a 100 oz. bladder in it, and I had it filled with Gatorade. Nice little pack, BTW…..worked almost perfectly for this trip. Another 28-32 oz. in the bladder would’ve been nice, though….more on that later.
I had begun to notice these sections of mountains are fairly rugged….unbeknownst to me, I would really find that out in a few hours. The summit of Mt. Madison was nice…offered great views, and it was weird to look north and not see a wall of mountains. Reached it in 3 ½ hours…not bad for me, considering it was 5.1 miles, and I wasn’t exactly breaking any speed records. I was very careful in not expending any extra energy during the uphill march, and took the easiest line possible on the steep sections. I knew pacing myself would be of utmost importance, as was constantly taking in fluids. I stood on the summit for about 20 seconds, and then began my descent towards Madison Hut, which I could not see from the top. I think I made it down in about a half hour or so, but don’t remember. I sat down right near the hut, pulled out the map and a Clif bar, and relaxed for 5-10 minutes. The gnats descended upon me, and I felt like Pigpen from the Peanuts sitting there looking at my map and eating. During the descent of Madison, Mt. Adams was looming overhead….was not looking forward to ascending it.
Continuing on the Gulfside, I took the Airline up to Mt. Adams….the hiking was fairly easy along the Gulfside, and the ascent from Madison Hut was pretty quick, actually. Heading up the Airline to the summit of Adams wasn’t too bad, although rocky as a mother. My legs felt fine….knees were in good shape, legs weren’t tired. I think I made it to the summit of Adams around 1 p.m., although I’m not sure. The summit offered impressive views, and after spending about 15 seconds looking around, I trudged on. The descent was rather annoying, with lots of rock hopping (as with the ascent). Thank God I had trekking poles. Even at the second highest mountain in the range, there was still barely any wind…..I couldn’t believe it. Normally, I love lots of wind, but today I really wasn’t in the mood to battle it, and I lucked out. The day prior was extremely windy. Once down Adams, I continued on the Gulfside, now trekking across a rather long stretch between Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson. This section of trail really sucks. It looks deceptively easy, but is a killer on the ‘ol knees and legs. After descending for awhile and then heading up over a little rise, the trail descends back down a bit before heading up Mt. Jefferson. I came across a large family sprawled out at the base of the ascent, so I walked around them and continued on. Scrambling up some good-sized rocks, I pushed up a little too hard with my left leg, and my quad completely cramped up…..a little bit of pain, especially since it really wasn’t going away when I straightened my leg out. A little further up, I stretched it out a bit. I traversed a small snowfield, and quickly made it to the Jefferson Loop which goes over the summit….amazingly enough, ascending seems to be a lot easier for some reason now. I took a little breather about 100 yards up from the junction of the Gulfside/Jefferson Loop and ate another Clif bar. I was still well-hydrated at this point, as I had been constantly drinking during the entire hike. I made good time up Jefferson, and took the short little side trail to the west to reach the actual summit. The descent wasn’t too bad, and then headed on towards Mt. Clay.
Looking off to the west, it was getting hazy wayyyy off in the distance, but didn’t look too bad…the sun was still high overhead, and I seemingly had plenty of daylight left. Towards the bottom of Mt. Clay, there was another large group of people covering the entire trail area, and I kept on going. I was actually surprised at the amount of people I had come across on the Gulfside…far more than I had anticipated. At any rate, the ascent of Clay was rather nice….probably my favorite climb so far. It offered outstanding views of the mountains to the north, as well as Mt. Washington. It was just before the summit that I had realized I ran out of Gatorade. Great. Well, I only had another 1.6 miles to the summit of Mt. Washington. I kept pushing on, and took in the amazing scenery that the late afternoon on Clay offered.
I pushed up Mt. Washington at a fairly good pace, considering I didn’t have any liquid. I didn’t feel too bad up until the last few hundred feet or so…the legs started getting a little heavy then. I really needed something to drink. The difference between 3 hours ago when I was drinking quite regularly, to not drinking for an hour or so was very noticeable. I was also getting really hungry. I still had 4 Clif bars in my pack, but really wasn’t in the mood for one of those….wanted a sandwich at the summit building. I had a $5 bill on me for Gatorade, but decided to buy a sandwich ($3.00), and a 20 oz. bottle of Gatorade ($2.00). I asked if they charged tax, they said no. The total was $5.25. Go figure. I was too tired to argue, so I fished around my pack and remembered that I had 2 quarters in my pack back for when I use it for cycling….I always carry change on my bike rides “just in case”. It came in handy, since I really didn’t want to eat a Clif bar. There were barely any people at the summit, since it was around 4:45 p.m….most of the people who drive up had already done so, and it was in between trains, although one was pulling in as I was paying for my stuff. I grabbed a table over by the windows and finally sat down to relax. I looked out over the northern range, and couldn’t believe I had covered that amount of terrain. You could see the Gulfside heading along the peaks….looked easy enough from a distance, but actually hiking it is an entirely different story. My legs (knees particularly) were really feeling the effects now. I was glad that the “hard part” was over….now, it was just a matter of cranking out another 12 miles and “gently” descending for the most part. After a half hour or so, I threw on a capeliene shirt, grabbed my stuff and headed out.
It was a bit cooler out now….well, not really, but I had been sitting down for awhile, so I wasn’t anywhere near as hot. Up until now, I was just wearing my hiking pants and a t-shirt, which suited me just fine. There was barely any wind all day, and the sun would duck in and out of the clouds. However, as I exited the summit building, someone said that it was raining….I didn’t believe ‘em until I stepped out from under the roof. Yep, starting to rain. Wonderful. I knew that a storm front was supposed to move in either during the night or the next day with thunderstorms, but I last checked that forecast 2 days prior, so I wasn’t really sure if the front was moving faster. It was very warm in the mountains during the day, and with the line of dark clouds closing in, I really didn’t want to entertain the possibility of walking down a ridge for nearly 10 miles above treeline with lightning. To come this far, and to head down to Pinkham instead of down the Crawford Path was quite depressing….sort of like running 24 miles of a marathon, and then having your body shut down and not being able to go any further. Reluctantly, I decided to descend via Lion Head, and started off as fast as I could possibly go, which at this point was pathetically slow due to my knees.
Out of the countless times I had been on Mt. Washington, I had never descended the Lion Head Summer Route. I was really not looking forward to it, since I know how much it sucks to climb up it. My knees were beat at this point. Winter is much better…the snow covers mostly all the rocks, and makes travel far easier. However, I was now fixated on reaching Pinkham as fast as possible, gingerly hobbling over rocks and boulders. Showers would come on and off….I’d put on my shell (Marmot PreCip jacket), and then they’d stop within 5 minutes. I’d take my jacket off for 10-20 minutes, and they’d start again. Heading across the flat ridge of Lion Head to Lion Head itself, the wind picked up a bit, and so did the rain…..I made my way quickly behind the rocks, and donned my jacket yet again. And again, after 5-10 minutes, it was off. This trail is unrelenting…my knees are trashed….not injured, but just exceptionally sore from all the rocks throughout the day (anyone familiar with the range can probably attest to it). Heading past the junction of the summer and winter Lion Head routes, I continue on, knowing that it shouldn’t be too far to the Tuckerman Ravine trail. The rocks had a nice light coating of sand on them, to further aid in difficult footing. Not sure how long it took to get to Tuckerman, but it didn’t seem that long, and it was a very welcome sight. Once on Tuckerman, the grade lessened up quite a bit, the rocks were more avoidable, and I could actually go at a fairly good clip.
Holding a constant, fast pace seemed to be a bit challenging….my goal was to make it to the Huntington Ravine/Tuckerman Ravine trail cutoff, as I knew it was only 1.3 miles to Pinkham from there, and around a half hour left of hiking. I made it to the junction around 8 p.m., which gave me just enough time to get down to call my girlfriend (the agreed upon time to call her to let her know what was going on….my cell phone didn’t work higher up on the mountain). There were fewer rocks lower on the mountain, and I could go a bit faster…and even kinda jogged in parts. Once past the last bridge, I ran the entire way to the Visitors Center. Total trip time: 12 hours 58 minutes. Total mileage: 16.5 miles. Total elevation gain: 7,300 vertical feet.
The only advantage of the Dana Place Inn was that it’s located only about 5 minutes down the road, so it didn’t take long for the girlfriend to get there. I found out later that they do not transfer calls to rooms, so she was sitting in the Library at the Inn for the last 45 minutes waiting for me to call. By the way, I DO NOT recommend the Dana Place Inn….extremely overpriced for what you get (which isn’t a whole hell of a lot). I have never seen a place run out of food as much as they do. We had the exterminator show up at our door while we were there, but he decided against fumigating the room since we were staying there. I have also never been in any type of lodging with no clocks whatsoever in the room. The soups at dinner were really good, however. Oh….and when we went to check out at 6:45 a.m., there was nobody at the desk. We waited until 7 a.m…..still nobody at the desk. What the hell….I didn’t feel like waiting in the “lobby” all day, so we just left the key on the desk and left. My girlfriend asked if I wanted to sign the guest book, but they probably wouldn’t have appreciated it.
Well, I guess I had some feeling of accomplishment….the Northern Traverse isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but I still didn’t complete what I had set out to do. And, there were no thunderstorms that night, to further aid in my disappointment. Oh well…there’s always next year. After swearing that I would never do this again (somewhere around Mt. Jefferson), I was planning another attempt at it the following day for next year. I had all I could do to walk up the stairs to the room. Lying down wasn’t much easier…my feet, calves/shins, knees, and thighs were killing me. Since the beds were fairly uncomfortable, sleeping was rough. My girlfriend had preordered dinner for me, and was waiting back at the room.
Not a bad way to spend a couple days…I was rather surprised at how rough the terrain was on the northern mountains, as they didn’t look too bad from the many times of looking at them from Mt. Washington. Looks can be deceiving. Got a sunburn on my forehead and back of my neck as a bonus, which is peeling quite nicely.