Presidential Traverse.. expect the unexpected

Page Type
Trip Report
New Hampshire, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Apr 10, 2009
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Presidential Traverse.. expect the unexpected
Created On: Aug 12, 2009
Last Edited On: Aug 12, 2009


Date: April 10th – 11th
Location: Presidential Traverse
• 4/9/2009 (Thursday)
o 4:30pm : Depart Rochester
• 4/10/2009 (Friday)
o 12:30am: Arrive Gorham NH. Hotel info: Town + Country (800) 325-4386
o 6:00am: Depart for car dropoff at the intersection of the A/T and route 302 (Webster Cliff trail head)
o 7:00am: Pickup via taxi. Turtle Taxi: (603) 356-7577
o 8:00am: Dropoff at trailhead, take the brookside trail to watson path to Mt. Madison
o 12:00pm: Arrive Summit mt. Madison
o 12:30pm: Descend to Madison hut, continue on the Gulfside trail
o 8:30pm: Arrive Summit of Mt. Washington, via Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Clay.
o 9:00pm: Depart for southern presidentials via the Crawford Path
o 10:30pm: Arrive Lake of the clouds hut, depart towards Monroe and Eisenhower
• 4/11/2009 (Saturday)
o 1:00am: Arrive Eisenhower summit
o 4:00am: Arrive at Webster cliff trail
o 11:00am: Arrive at car
o 12:00pm: Arrive back at hotel, nap, tour around town, stay overnight
• 4/12/2009 (Sunday)
o 8:00am: Depart Gorham
o 4pm: Arrive in Rochester

Bailout Plan

Failsafe: We are prepared for a night out (bivi) in the basement of the huts, If we have not made contact by 1:00am on Sunday then rescue operations may be put into place. If we are forced to bail early at any point we will head west down towards the Cog Railway side of the range and hike along Mt. Clinton Road. We also have the option to descend early down the Crawford Path and then walk along route 302 towards the car.
Supplies: we packed light so we could hike fast. We packed one stove and a bottle of fuel for water if needed. We packed one -20 down sleeping bag for emergency camping. No snow shoes. We carried one axe each, crampons, trekking poles, layers, spare socks, three nalgenes, Gu, Cliff bars, Cheese, Tuna, Nuun drink mix, trail mix. So we were prepared to stay a night if in a emergency, but not preferable.

The Hike

Friday: We arrived on the trail at 0730. We departed on the brookside trail and the weather was sunny, blue skies. We hiked without crampons and the trail was mixed ice and dirt. We arrived at the summit of Mt. Madison at 1143 (11:43am). Again weather was great, about 60mph winds, some clouds. We were both holding up well and in good energy and health. We made the summit of Mt. Adams at 1300 (1pm). At 1442 (2:42pm) we made the summit of Jefferson. At 1606 (4:06pm) we made the summit of Mt. Clay. And at 1730 (5:45pm) we made the summit of Mt. Washington. I was very tired and moving slow up the uphill, while owen was keeping a great pace and was still feeling very strong. We decided that because we still had half way to go that we would go around the mountains that we can to save energy, but still finish the traverse. The weather was still very impressive as you can see in the pictures. We pushed on heading to the lake in the clouds. On the way down owen began to not feel so great and just past the lake in the cloud owen vomited. Owen notified me of what happened, and me being a EMT in New York began to keep a close eye on him. We pushed on and about .25 miles before Mt. Eisenhower owen sat down and vomited again. We immediately decided that we needed to call the trip and get off the mountain as soon as possible. At 1930 (7:30 pm) we notified family of the change of plans via cell phone and called the taxi and let them know our plan and that we would need a ride. There was the emerson trail to the west of us that would take us down to the Clinton rd. The one problem being it was a seasonal road, but at the very least it would be plausible to get help there, and it was closer than any other route. At this time it was getting dark and it became very difficult to find the emerson trail. Owen was becoming much weaker so to help him I took his pack and strapped it onto mine. We began to head down the emerson trail when owen became much weaker and wanted to keep stopping to rest. He had no energy left and was slightly sweaty. I forced him to drink sips of water, knowing he would soon puke it up.. at least he would take in some of the fluids. I made the decision that we could not stop and rest much because owen would soon be to weak to hike any more, he was still vomiting every 20 mins or so. About half way down the 3 mile trail the taxi called and stated that they were at the bottom of 302 and unable to get onto the seasonal road. The taxi driver went to the AMC center and put me on the phone with the employee there. I told him our location, condition, and current supplies. He stated he would notify search and rescue in case we needed help. I told him our goal was to make it to the road and we would then need to get a evacuation with a ATV. Pushing on we kept walking, and not giving up. We made the road around 2330 (11:30pm). The AMC staff then stated that if we went north on the road there was Base rd which was open and the taxi could meet us there. Looking at the map it was about a mile up the road, I told owen it was .25 miles though to keep him motivated and give him the thought of being almost out. We walked the road and around 0000 (midnight) we arrived at the taxi. We then got back to the car and I drove us back to the hotel.

Lessons Learned

Reflection: Expect the unexpected. This is why we never hike alone. I am pretty sure that the cause of the illness was from a bottle that he put energy gel in. He stated it had mold on it and he had thoroughly washed it off but did not sanitize it. The gel was also a few years old. He had ate that approx 12 hours before the symptoms started. This mountain is known for its weather and that is what we were prepared for. This was beyond our control. I decided that staying the night on the mountain was not reasonable because owens health was only going to get worse. Our goal was to make it to the road and if we needed to camp at least we would be closer to help. As soon as owen knew he was not going to get better, we did not hesitate in deciding to leave and this was imperative because every second counted. The ironic part of everything was that I was the one struggling physically on the north side, and the roles reversed on the south. This went from a great trip, to a extremely serious situation that was a ticking time bomb before he was unable to go any further. Let this be a lesson to us all, to prepare for the unexpected and always have a failsafe plan. We cannot possibly prepare for every situation, but we need to expect something to go wrong. The biggest challenge I had was fighting my exhaustion and staying calm. If I showed panic I knew it would not help owens case. I kept in touch via text message with family of our condition and position which helped keep me calm. So as stated lesson of this trip.. expect the unexpected and stay calm when things go wrong. Adapt and overcome. NEVER hesitate calling a trip when things go wrong, time is of the essence.


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WalksWithBlackflies - Aug 17, 2009 9:27 am - Voted 10/10

Good Decision

Glad Owen made it out under his own power. I had a similar experience this past spring in the Seward Range of the Adks, but unfortunately, I still had to ascend the top third of a mountain to gain our first bailout. Upon reaching that bailout, I decided to push on to our planned camp. I made it, but man was it a looooong day. BTW, chances are it wasn't the mold that caused the illness. Few things can bring on symptoms so quickly. He was probably battling something prior to the trip, and the symptoms expressed themselves only after he pushed his body for an extended period.


Pyroman9 - Aug 17, 2009 6:21 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Decision

it is very questionable about what caused it. He had said before summitting Washington that he had never felt stronger in his life. Food poisoning can often hit about 12 hours after ingesting the food. So I am not sure what it was but that is my best guess. He was feeling really good before the trip, i was the tired one in the group. I am just glad we made it down alright and were prepared for something we did not even consider. Great username by the way... what a nightmare those flies are.

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Presidential Traverse.. expect the unexpected

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