It had been 14 years since I'd hiked a one day Presidential Traverse and the longer I waited the harder it was going to be. I had attempted one last year, not being sure if I was going to just hit the northern peaks or go for the whole thing, but a fall and a sprained wrist on the top of Madison ended that one almost before it started. This year I planned on carrying on the tradition of July 4th Traverses of years past, but we couldn't organize a group for that day. Instead, we settled on the following weekend and we were going to choose whichever day had better weather. We really didn't make the final decision until Thursday, when the forecast looked slightly better for Sunday, and it meant easier logistics so we made the call.
The crew was a rag tag team of hobbled soldiers. I hadn't met Heidi before but she came highly recommended by Jen and Darlene so we had high expectations for her. My other teammate was Lei, 3 months out from ACL replacement from a skiing accident. Since I was one of the instructors on that trip I was invested in her complete recovery as well. Bob and Geri had planned on joining us but Bob had a badly sprained ankle from the week before and the two of them had to bail out. Geri was gracious/foolish enough to offer to drive us from our hotel in Twin Mountain to the Appalachia trailhead at 3:30 AM so we didn't have to deal with cars at the end of the trip. Jen, who was staying with us in Twin Mo was going to join us on Clay or Washington after sleeping in, giving us a car at the Cog RR base which would help us in case we needed to bail out. BobC and Amy were going to meet us at Lakes of the Clouds in the early afternoon and escort us to Crawford Notch. I can't count the number of knee braces we had in this small group.
We arrived in Twin Mountain at 5:30 PM from Boston, checked into the hotel and went over to check in with Bob and Geri. They had Jimmy Buffet on the radio and invited us in for a beer, but we wanted to deal with the car drop and get some dinner and then get to bed early. We stashed my car at the Mt Clinton Road parking lot, grabbed a pasta dinner at Fayban's Station, and kept track of Courtney's attempted Hut-to-Hut Traverse. Her crew was stopped by the nasty, nasty thunderstorms that came in right around 8:00 PM at Zealand Hut. You'll get it next time Court! We went back to the car in the rain and back to the hotel, with Heidi attempting to get in the back seat of a random stranger's car at the Irving station under the pouring rain. They looked scared. We all attemped to get an early night but it's so hard before a big hike to turn off your brain and go to sleep.
The churchbell alarm on my phone woke me from my sleep at 3:00 AM. After a quick check on the Red Sox from the previous night (they won) I started getting ready for the day. In 10 minutes I checked on Lei and Heidi, both of whom were getting ready too. At 3:25, Geri pulled in the parking lot and we loaded up. We weren't chatty, just eating our breakfast food and checking on our gear. With a hug goodbye to our chauffur we strapped on our headlamps and headed into the darkness. I'd hiked with Lei, but not since her surgery, and I'd never hiked with Heidi, so we were feeling out pacing at first. The cone of light from the headlamp defines the world so we quickly settled into our own little grooves. I led (except for the time I missed the trail junction and headed up the Fallsway) with the other two close behind. At around 4:50 we had enough light to take off our headlamps. Every 45 minutes we stopped for a quick snack and a drink, but not much conversation. It was humid and I was drinking a lot of water, knowing I could fill up at the hut. We made a group decision to go straight to the hut and not tag Madison. This early the rocks were still wet and Heidi felt thisnwas the most difficult part of her Traverse attempt six weeks ago and everything was completely socked in. It was an easy decision and one that didn't detract from the day, IMO.
Into the hut at 6:50 we gave ourselves 15 minutes to use the restroom, load up on water, and eat. It actually took us 25 minutes so we had to be on guard of our rest stops the rest of the day. There was no one outside as we headed over to the Airline for the trip up Adams. Things were still solidly socked in, but there was a slight breeze that promised some relief. We got a small view through a break in the clouds as we climbed over Sam Adams. At the summit, though, there was no view, but also no wind. We were drenched but not cold, still we only stayed long enough for a few quick photos and a snack before heading onward. The rockhopping down to Thunderstorm Junction was its usual difficult hiking and with no visibility I was questioning whether we'd passed the cairn. Of course we hadn't, and we met our first hikers of the day there. A few folks who had camped at the Perch and two hikers from the hut who were headed back to their car at Caps Ridge. Again, no time for daudling, we headed on.
The stretch between T-Storm and Edmands Col is one of my favorite trails in the Whites. Today was no exception. We began to get our first signs of clearing skies, and the wind had completely died down. We manoevered around the mud and water but overall the trail was a nice change from all the rock hopping. I was a bit worried about the winds in Edmands Col, but it was dead calm. The we started climbing up Jefferson, something that normally bothers me but today seemed like a walk in the park. We all had good energy levels and summitted right before 10:30. This is the defining moment of a Presie Traverse in my mind. Up until this point every step takes you further from your starting point at Appalachia. After this, every step takes you closer to your finish in Crawford Notch. It's all about bail outs and state of mind. No matter what, we weren't going back to Appalachia, which was a good thing considering we didn't have a car there.
Our plan was to meet Jen on the summit of Clay but when I go to Sphinx Col I found a message in the dirt from Jen. It appeared to say that she'd been there and went to the summit of Washington, but I wasn't sure. Lei and Heidi caught up and we decided to press on towards Clay and check messages on the phone from there. By this point the skies were nearly clear and we finally got a great view of the summit of Washington. We were a little behind schedule, so I wanted to make sure that Jen didn't give up on us. On top of Clay I got a message from her saying she was in the summit building and would stay there until 2:00, which gave us plenty of time. As it turns out, Jen got my message and headed down to meet us. We spotted her back on the Gulfside trail and she guided us up to the summit. Huzzah!
We wove through the crowds by the summit, tagged the sign, and headed inside for some prepared food and our longest rest of the trip. I told everyone we should be ready to go in 30 minutes, no lapsing into a caloric stupor. I grabbed two hotdogs and a Gatorade and inhaled them. Then I changed my socks (heaven), a quick trip to the rest room, filled up the water bottle, and we were off to Lakes of the Clouds, where hopefully Bob and Amy were waiting. We had said 2:00 but we knew we were going to be a bit late, more like 3:00. Jen (the Energizer Bunny) took off at near supersonic speed to let them know we were coming. I was feeling good so I took off ahead of Heidi and Lei and had a good post lunch section. There were lots of people around and the weather and views were sublime. Once you're past Washington everything seems pretty possible, and this was going well.
At the hut we found Amy and Bob who, like Jen, waited a long time for us. But they were ready to escort us south and we were raring to go. Two glasses of lemonaide later I was on the trail up Monroe, out little gang up to 6 now. Monroe is just 10 minutes from the hut, then we hit Franklin without even stopping really, and started the descent towards Eisenhower. This is the last big climb and it goes by much quicker in a group. Since Jen, Amy, and I were cruising along, we hatched a plan to go ahead and pick up the cars at the Cog RR (Jen's and Bob's). But we kept the group in check and ended up on top of Eisenhower together, along with a group of young folks with beers and a wind up radio playing the soft rock of WHOM. They didn't offer us any beer.
From here we really broke into two groups, with Amy, Jen and I pushing on to the end. Trail Croo was working on the Eisenhower loop, putting in new wooden steps and ladders. Thanks guys and gals! As we cruised towards Pierce they came blowing by us, tools on their shoulders, making us feel slow. We headed up the .1 to the Pierce summit and I felt a real sense of accomplishment. Too bad I was too tired to bask in the glow. There's still 3 miles to go. We waited at the Crawford Path junction for the rest of the crew to arrive before taking off. And waited. And yelled. Hrmmm, this is odd. Either they were way behind us or they missed the turn off for the summit. Either way it was time to go.
We came down at a good clip, my legs and feet were doing surprisingly well. At the junction with the Mizpah Cutoff we found Bob and Heidi. They had missed the turn off for Pierce and had headed on down. Close enough in my book. Lei was just ahead and we bagged the idea of running ahead to do the car shuffle. The the Mt Clinton Road cutoff I watched Jen and Amy head for Amy's car at the Highland Center. I had a moment alone and along came two guys, young and fit. They too had done a Traverse, only they'd done it in 9 hours to my 16. I felt a bit bummed but quickly got over that. There are always going to be faster and fitter people than me; that's a given. But I set myself a goal and accomplished it. I was proud and tired, a great combination.
Next year, a Pemi Loop!
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