This past Saturday 4 friends and I set off to make an attempt at the “Presi Traverse” in the White Mountains. The route traverses 9 of the White Mountain’s highest peaks over the course of 25 miles and qualifies as another one of the Northeast’s “Day Hike Death Marches”. With incredible weather and fantastic views all day, this hike ended up being one of my favorites of all time.
The planning for this trip was shaky at best and with the weather originally looking pretty bad, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. We were just about to call off the trip when the weather report changed for the better, with the high winds and cold temperatures now supposed to hold off until the day after our proposed traverse. With that new report the trip got a green light and Friday night we set off from UConn and made our way to North Conway, New Hampshire. About 6 hours later in the EMS parking lot we discussed the strategy for the following day.
Since the traverse is a one way hike, each team would start at 3 am from their respective trail-head. We would each hike at our own pace, making sure to take the exact same route, just in opposite directions. Inevitably, we would meet somewhere along the trail, swap car keys, and then finish out the hike and meet up once again in North Conway.
At around 10pm Mary, Billy, and I (Team Prius) pulled stealthily into the Appalachia trail head. We rearranged our gear and laid the sleeping bags out in the back of Mary’s Prius, which was a tight fit to say the least. Fortunately, despite the close quarters, Mary and Billy slept pretty well. I know because I was awake, sweating in the stupid -20 degree bag I had chosen and squeezed between them unable to move.
2:45 am the alarms went off and Billy practically jumped up and ran to the trail head. Mary woke up as quickly as you could expect from a college girl, and I started making decisions on what layers to bring and what to leave in the car. I ended up with this packing list for the day:
Pack: Grivel Ecles 38L
Water: 3L Osprey Hydraulics Bladder + 1L Nalgene
Food: 3 Clif bars, 1 Clif Shot Blocks sleeves, 2 Nature Valley Granola Bars, 5 Fruit Snack Packets, 1 Snickers Bar
Clothing (Worn): Columbia Tech T-Shirt, Fjallraven Vidda Pro Pants, EMS Webbing Belt, Darn Tough Thin Running Sock, Smart Wool Hiking Sock
Clothing (Packed): EMS Fleece Quarter-Zip, Mountain Hardware 55o fill Down Jacket, Marmot Precip Rain Shell, MSR Sport Beanie, Outdoor Research Gortex Gloves, Seirus Glove Liners, Seirus Face Mask
Footwear: La Sportiva Hyper Mid GTX
We hit the trail at 3:16 am, heading up Valley Way toward the Madison hut. Things were going well, and we were admiring the incredibly bright stars above us as we hiked up the trail. About an hour in, Mary said she wasn’t feeling great. I could tell instantly that she was experiencing the same thing I had on my Pemi Loop hike earlier this summer. (aka, ready to roll over and die) At this point I was actually thankful I had suffered on the Pemi because I knew exactly how to help her. I gave her some fruit snacks and Billy donated some M&Ms, because I found on the Pemi the quick sugar helps tremendously and can help you feel back to normal pretty quickly. After eating more substantial food and water, we continued hiking but at a slower pace, and although I could tell that Mary was still really worried I think she started feeling better. Once we reached the Madison hut she was back to normal and ready to go up our first peak of the day!
At the hut we met two guys from Boston also doing the Traverse. We talked for a bit and then followed them up Madison. Getting above treeline was awesome and we could see the beginnings of the sunrise with dark burnt oranges on the horizon.
After Madison we descended and got onto the Gulfside Trail toward Mt. Adams. It was probably just under 40 degrees but we were hot from all the climbing, so Billy decided to just go ahead and take of his shirt. Mary and I figured why not, so we did the same. Feeling the cold air on my skin instead of a sweaty shirt was pretty awesome, and brisk air gave me new energy to continue the hike. Climbing up Adams we were determined to beat the sun, trying to make the summit before it made its way over the horizon. We got there with about 10 minutes to spare, and got to witness an absolutely incredible sunrise. The air was a perfect temperature with only a slight breeze, and we walked around the rocks covered in rime ice watching the sun appear on the horizon in a beautiful mix of oranges and pinks. I decided not to carry my 5 lb DSLR on this hike, but got some great shots with my G15 regardless.
We stayed and watched the sun from the summit of Adams for quite a while, deciding it was definitely worth taking time to enjoy this before heading off for the rest of the hike. When we finally started getting cold, we started working our way along the ridgeline toward Jeffereson with fairly easy hiking. Mary was feeling much better and we were all in good spirits, admiring the beautiful views all around us and feeling grateful for such awesome weather.
After hitting Jefferson we continued on toward Washington. I had totally forgotten about Clay, which we had decided we would do even though it’s not technically required for the traverse. This almost landed us in a bunch of trouble, because we came about 2 minutes from missing the other team. We just barely saw them as they disappeared over the ridgeline toward Clay, and had to run and catch up with them to swap keys. We talked briefly and then moved on toward Washington. The climb up Washington was long, and Billy and Mary were starting to feel it. I found out around this time, too, that Mary drinks more water than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. She took a full three liters that morning morning, and was nearing empty halfway up Washington. I gave her my extra liter but was a little concerned knowing how much further we had to go that we might be melting snow soon, assuming the Washington visitors center would be closed.
When we finally reached the summit of Washington the cog railway tourists were looking at me like I was crazy. After climbing for last hour I was still extremely hot and sweating even without a shirt on, while the tourists at the top were bundled up in giant puffy coats. While we were there we witnessed a proposal at the summit sign, which was sorta cool I guess. (If you’re into that sort of thing) Then we had a huge stroke of luck with the visitor center being open, and we were able to refill our water (well, Mary did) and Billy got some soup. This was a much needed break and Team Prius was back in good spirits and ready to move. We made our way to the Crawford Path toward the Lake of the Clouds, with Monroe in our sights. Billy and I teased Mary for a while on the Lake of the Clouds, seeing how far we could go toward the melted center before the ice started to crack. (Don’t do this)
Monroe was a quick climb, and the weather was still absolutely beautiful. The sky was a deep blue and the winds were strong enough to let you know how high up you were, but not so strong as to be obnoxious. As we hiked along the ridge, I spent the whole time thinking about how incredible this hike was, and how I had already decided it would be one of my all time favorites. We hit the next few peaks, Franklin, Eisenhower, and Pierce, and then began the long crawl to Jackson.
At this point the Team Prius battery was running on empty. We had dipped back below treeline and were fighting pointless ups and downs and slippery ice sheets along the trail. We were ready to be back at the car but we still had 6 miles and another peak to go. We went into “one foot in front of the other” mode and trudged along quietly. I had plenty of experience with this type of suffering, but I wasn’t sure how Billy and Mary would handle it. Fortunately they both did great, and remained really positive the entire time. We reached Jackson (which is a stupid and useless mountain) and finally started our long descent toward the car. As always, this final stretch dragged on forever. We were all tired, and there were lots of stumbles and falls due to fatigue. We started passing day hikers (part-of-the- day hikers) full of energy and they looked at us a bit concerned since we were about ready to fall over. Finally we made it to Crawford Notch and met up with Derek and Alyssa who had already driven back from Appalachia. We high fived and headed back to UConn, feeling exhausted but accomplished from an awesome day in the whites.
This hike was by far one of my favorites of all time. The views, the weather, and the people I was with all came together to make for an awesome day. I think most importantly though, was the timing of the hike with what’s currently going on in my life. I’ve been having a really rough time with engineering school this semester, and for the first time seriously considering if engineering is really what I want to do with my life. Though I won’t be switching majors, I’ve been strongly considering living an alternate lifestyle after school as a mountain guide, or maybe even just make a go at being a freelance writer/photographer living out of a van. This hike reminded me why this was such a nonstop battle, because I just love being outside and adventuring so much more than anything else. We’ll see what happens in a few years. I might be in a cubicle, or I might be on top of some mountain taking pictures of the sunrise.