White Mountains, NH
Mt Madison (5366’)
Mt Adams (5799’)
Mt Jefferson (5712’)
Mt Washington (6288’)-highest point in New Hampshire
Mt Monroe (5372’)
Mt Franklin (5001’)
Mt Eisenhower (4780’)
Mt Pierce (4310’)
~19 miles, 9540’ gain
Participants: Mark Styczynski and Kevin Baker
A few years ago my wife and I took a guided van tour to the top of Mt Washington as part of a blitz of 9 state highpoints in the Northeast. We did not have time to climb Washington, so when I saw that the national state highpointers convention was going to be staged there in ’05, I was interested in climbing it. Mt Washington is home to the world’s highest recorded wind (231 mph in 1934) and is home to some brutal weather. It is also the highest mountain in the northeast, which makes it a very popular mountain with many routes. Our van trip afforded no views due to fog, so I hoped this trip would be different.
I left C. Springs Friday afternoon and arrived at the chaotic Logan Airport in Boston around 10pm. I overnighted in Concord and attended the convention on Sat. I looked for a hiking partner on the highpointer club forum to do the Presidential Traverse with me, a long one way climb over most of the peaks around Washington from north to south. Fellow highpointer Mark Styczynski from NY was up for the challenge, so plans were set to meet at Crawford Notch, which would be our ending point. I did not arrive at Crawford Notch until midnight and Mark was already asleep, so I parked next to his XTerra and got a couple hours of sleep. The next morning we overslept a little and didn’t head out until about 4:30am. We left Mark’s car at Crawford Notch and drove around to the north side of the range at the Pine Link trailhead. This would start us a little higher than the standard traverse route at around 1500’, although the trail is rougher. We left just before twilight came at 5:32am with Mark setting a brisk pace. I quickly found out that they do not mess with switchbacks in the East, as we headed straight up. There was some occasional scrambling to be had along the trail, which was fun but a little too tiring for this long hike. We quickly climbed into the clouds at around 3000’, which would be the norm for most of the day. A brief shower blew through, so we took a short break in a nice alcove.
Our goal for the day was to do a minimal 8 peak traverse across the range, with a chance at 11 if we moved fast enough. The math on this traverse is mind boggling, but I knew I had already survived a similar traverse in Rocky Mtn Natl Park earlier this summer at a much higher elevation. How hard can a bunch of 5’ers and 6’ers be? The boulder hopping began in earnest as we cleared treeline and headed for Madison, our first goal of the day. The route climbs nearly 4000’ to the flanks of Madison. The sun began to tease us as we could occasionally see the valley below, but the clouds never broke. The visibility hovered anywhere from 100’-1/4 mile for most of the day, and it looked like things would not improve. As long as the rain held off, we thought we could still complete the hike. I do not remember most of the times we reached these peaks, but we got to the top of Madison in a little over 3 hours.
We then headed s.w. through the clouds to Adams along the Appalachian Trail (AT), a.ka. the Gulfside Trail in this section. The last time I touched the AT was on the top of Mt Kahtadin in ME. There were plenty of through hikers on the trail nearing the completion of their long journey from GA. You could tell who the AT hikers were as the guys likely had a heavy beard and were moving quickly with a big pack on. I have a lot of respect for the AT hikers. The trudge over to Adams continued to be tedious, a constant boulder hop with few areas to rest. We took a short break at the Madison hut, which looked like a great placed to stay. The views on Adams were non-existent as well and the wind was blowing pretty hard, so we only stayed for about 5 minutes. Our only mistake of the day was we did not pay attention to our map and went down the n.e. side of Adams instead of west. This cost us significant elevation gain and maybe 30 minutes or so. We came to a trail junction which said we were on the Airline trail and that Washington was still 5.7 miles! This deflated our sails but we pressed on.
I was beginning to worry if the weather would hold to complete the traverse, but it never got really bad. Probably one of the longest stretches of the climb was from Adams to Jefferson. We took a snack break at Edmonds Col and then continued on to Jefferson. I missed a cairn and went over the western false summit of Jefferson. My GPS pointed me the right way and the summit suddenly appeared as about 10 or so were there. From Jefferson to Washington there was quite a bit of traffic on a Labor Day weekend, similar to a popular 14er. I think it was a good thing that we could not see what we were climbing or else we probably would have gotten depressed!
The route over to Washington is a long stretch. We missed the cutoff trail which goes over Clay, but I didn’t care since it isn’t an official peak of the traverse. As we climbed Washington one of the cog trains past by, only 400 ft or so away from us but barely visible. The 700’ climb up Washington was not bad and we topped out right near the official highpoint at 3:02pm. We practically had to wait in line for a summit photo as the tourists were there in full force. I guess I was one the last time I was there! The long awaited lunch was upon us at last and both of us downed 3 slices of pizza in the summit house. This building is much roomier than the one on Pikes. As we headed down, the temp was a balmy 40 degrees with winds around 20-30mph, a calm day on Washington.
Both of us were now rejuvenated after good eats and a 1 hr break on the summit, so we headed down to the Lake of the Clouds hut. The trail on the south side of Washington (Crawford Path) is much smoother for the most part so we made better time. We topped out on both the bumps on Monroe in about an hour, took a short break, and headed over to Franklin. Franklin is nothing more than a rounded bump, so we continued on as it now was a race against daylight. The clouds finally began to leave, but we never got a view of Washington. Eisenhower actually had a few switchbacks on it to take away some of the pain, and we knew it was in the bag now as Pierce looked pretty easy. We met only one hiker beyond Washington on Eisenhower, so it seems like the south side sees less traffic. After nearly 13 hours of actual hiking time, we topped out on peak #8 of the day, Mt Pierce. My GPS had registered over 9400’ vertical on the day! I will probably never surpass that as that would be an epic march at higher elevations.
Now came the long death march down in the dark. We thought for sure the trail would be nice and smooth in the woods, right? Wrong! It became an epic battle of wet roots, mud, and water running down the trail. I forgot my headlamp but fortunately Mark had a flashlight I could borrow. Since I couldn’t use my poles with the flashlight, my knees took a beating. Any time I heard Mark grunting in the darkness I knew there was a nasty knee jarring obstacle in the way. It took us around 2 hrs to finish the last 3 miles back to Crawford Notch, as we staggered to the finish line around 9:20 or so. I really underestimated this hike and I was hammered at the end of the day. I had no problems breathing in the heavier air, but my knees took a beating from the endless boulder hopping. A great day to experience the Whites but I wish I could actually see Washington someday!