Trip Report: Lazy Presidential Traverse

On my last hike of the Wildcats/Carter/Moriah, my friend +Josh Ain mentioned that he and his brother were going to do a Presi traverse in a month if I wanted to tag along.  I had somewhat sworn off this hike again, as I did not have a good experience the previous time I had attempted it (South to North with Webster/Jackson, in a thunderstorm).  I also think the Pemi loop is an easier mega-hike and more to my taste.  However, these hikes are hard for me to turn down, especially since I’m training for my Long Trail hike at the end of the summer, so I ended up taking a day off work to join them.

I ended up deciding to do a lazy traverse as somewhat of a compromise, which is what I call it when you walk the non-peak AT route through the presidentials.  You still get a nice, long day but you don’t have to do all those punishing boulder crawls up the north presidentials, like Madison, Adams, and Jefferson.  I’d be carrying a “full pack”, so it would be a bit more than a gentle stroll, but I wasn’t risking destroying my legs or morale.

I was carrying my planned Long Trail gear, with some extra random freeze-dried and snack food just to make it a more realistic pack.  I tended to carry 1-2 liters through the day when I refilled.  I was wearing my standard long sleeve dri-fit stuff for sun protection with my ridiculous looking sun hat.  I look so weird, people usually think I’m a thru-hiker, which makes me happy. 🙂  After the last hike I did, I picked up a pair of gloves to wear both for sun protection and because I got some hand blisters from my poles on the last long day hike.

Trip stats

Distance: 19-20 miles
Elevation Gain: 6000-7000 ft
Total time: 15 hours
Weight: 20 pounds, 10 pounds base (I threw in extra food just to give me some more weight)
Peaks: Sam Adams, John Quincy Adams, Washington, Franklin, Pierce, Jackson
New Gear: Hiking Gloves

Our day started off meeting at Valley Way at 4:30am after a night I spent in Gorham at the cheapest motel I could find.  We were on the trail at 4:45 after I pounded a large Red Bull and a cold egg sandwich.  I’ve learned I need caffeine and real food in the morning both for energy and so my stomach doesn’t get really acidic.  There was one group of 4 that left right before us that I believe was also doing a traverse or at least talking about one, but we didn’t see them so I think they were moving at a faster clip.  The whole day we saw two other groups that were attempting a single-day traverse.
Valley Way is an awesome climb, in my opinion.  I love the general ambience of the valley walk and the terrain is really pleasant on the legs, some rocks but not really large boulders.  It went quickly even though we weren’t pushing ourselves hard at all.  We got to Madison Hut around 6:45.  Then +Josh Ain and +Adam Ain ran up the side of Madison while I hung out at the hut for the next hour, chatting with hut tourists and thru-hikers.

One of my favorite past-times is to ask thru-hikers what one bit of advice they would give me/their less experienced self.  The woman thru-hiker I met at the hut (I forget her name) told me to switch my larger meal to the middle of the day to give a bigger break and give you more energy when you need it.  I’m going to be experimenting with that and might give it a go for the Long Trail.

After Josh and Adam got down, we took off for Adams a bit after 8.  I was feeling I little anxious about time, but I think that was mainly because I had been sitting around.  I split off from them as they headed up to the summit and hit John Quincy Adams, a sub-peak that I had never summitted.  It was pretty nice and I got a good view of Adams as well as back toward Madison.

From there, I dashed over to Sam Adams a bit further up the trail to knock off that peak as well.  Then I went back to the main trail and waited for Josh and Adam to get down off of Adams.  I had considered doing Abigail Adams, which is the last sub-peak there I need, but it seemed a ways off and the boulders were not easy to navigate.

I took this picture while I waited looking at Jefferson, Clay, and Washington.

From there we headed toward Jefferson.  In the gap between Adams and Jefferson (which is famous in my mind for being the place I physically broke down during my first traverse) we were passed by a bunch of trail runners who said they were traversing and then proceeded to run down the wrong trail.  We shouted after them and luckily they heard us and came back.  There was also an older thru-hiker we met here, who was finishing his thru-hike from the year before.  Josh and Adam took off up Jefferson while I chatted with him.  He had made it to Moosilauke the year earlier in October, which is too late without winter gear.  He seemed like a guy who was full of stories, but I had to keep going so we bid farewell and posed for a picture.

The next two summits fell into a rhythm with Josh and Adam traipsing up the summit and me running ahead quickly to the intersection and hanging out there chatting with passer-byers.  It was a beautiful day to be sitting on top of a mountain.

Eventually we got to Washington around 1pm and grabbed a bunch of unhealthy snacks from the snack bar, ate them at a table, refilled our bladders, and we were back on the trail around 1:30pm.  The hiker room in the basement was closed which made me sad because it’s a nice place to meet hikers compared to the tourist zone upstairs.

If you’ve read about this traverse before, you probably know that the southern presidentials are easier.  Monroe is steep but over quickly and then you have your first flat ridge walk all day through Franklin and half way to Eisenhower (we got there around 4pm).  I also like the greenery better.  The picture below is on the far side of Monroe looking toward Pierce.

We stopped seeing hikers at some point in the day as people made it to their destinations and made it to Pierce without any real issues.  There we toasted with some peanut butter cups Josh and Adam’s minimal traverse completion.  Adam’s knee was bothering him so we decided to descend to Mitzpah Spring’s Hut and see how it was.  At the hut they were about to have dinner and the area was full of fresh, clean, day-hikers.  An astronomy intern was there showing us sunspots through a telescope.  They looked like little dots on the lens.  🙂

Adam bowed out and zipped down Crawford Path while Josh and I went on to Jackson, which Josh wanted for his peak bagging record.  That peak went smoothly without much of a climb, even though from a distance it appeared we would have a tougher time.  We decided not to press on to Webster and took the pretty steep and slow extension trail from Jackson to the Webster-Jackson trail.  I was starting to feel a bit sore in my knees on the downhill, but still had a lot of overall energy.  We ended up back at the car around 8:30pm where I drank the juice I had saved since the top of Washington.  It was oh so good.

Leave a Reply