Friday, November 15, 2013

Mnt Moriah

This hike came quickly on the heels of the last trip.  It brings the count up to 43.

It is one of the perks of my job that we occasionally take to the hills to catch up on work plans and to figure out strategies to solve new problems that our software is designed for.  This has been something that we have done since we worked together at a previous company and the decision to go on a trip can sometimes be at short notice (in this case the day before).

We usually start in on the work-related topics after breakfast during the drive from Einstein Bros.  (we met at 6:30am this time) and keep at it till we become breathless three quarters of the way up.  Sometimes the work conversations begin again when we are making our way down or are in the car on the way back.


The trailhead for Moriah (4049ft) starts near Gorham, NH.  This is the small town where John and I started the 30 mile section of the AT hike into Mahoosuc Notch in September.

The hike has a relatively easy initial ascent up to a mountain called Mnt Surprise (at about 2192ft).  This first section is a 2 mile stretch and brings you to pretty spectacular views of the town in the background and the Presidential mountains.

The remainder of the hike is described as easy hiking in 4000footers.com:

"The trail is relatively easy, compared to other NH 4,000 footer mountains, but, it can be very dangerous when wet, because a big portion of the Carter-Moriah trail is solid rock. (very slippery when wet, or icy!)"

Compared to last week when the temperature up on the mountain was in the upper 20s, the temperature today started at 27F (-3C) but increased to a balmy 47F (8C) by the time we were done.

There was snow on the ground and ice on the rock as we started up the very slabby 2.5 mile section to the top of Moriah.

Bruce was in Hawaii last week and had a planning lapse... he hadn't thought to bring his micro-spikes.  Despite this,  he and John navigated the slabs with astonishing skill.  Pretty soon I found myself lagging behind them because I kept slipping and sliding.  I gave in and and pulled my micro-spikes on so that I could keep up with them.




As we neared the top, the ice covered trees were testament to some recent pretty hard wind and icy rain up there.




We stopped to add a layer before summiting and enjoying the spectacular view from there.


We had come across a couple of hikers a short way from the summit in a somewhat more sheltered spot.  They had just arrived there and told us that they had seen some pretty impressive bear tracks in the snow not too far from where we were.

We made our way back down to sheltered spot near the summit to stop for lunch.

The slightly warmer weather and adding layers before getting cold had ensured that I arrived there warm but I pulled on my mittens as we ate because the air was cold.

A bird arrived at the lunch party, somewhat emboldened by the fact that we had food.  I had never seen a bird of this type before.  It looked like a bluejay without the peak on its head and with a dark head.

Bruce threw a small piece of bagel down for it and it came really close to get the food.

It turns out that it is a Grey Jay which has a range all along the North (Alaska, Canada, North America).




I found the second part of the ascent very tiring.  My legs were a little rubbery when we got there and I felt it going down too.

Stopping for lunch had allowed the cold to set in - the tip of my one finger was starting to go numb - but it didn't take long for us to warm up again as we went down and up over the relatively flat section from the peak to Mount Surprise.

The descent down the icy slabs was an exercise in care.  The micro-spikes gave us a huge advantage over Bruce but he only slipped once.

We were back at the car at 4:30pm - before dark.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mnt Carrigain

Mnt Carrigain (4683ft) is on the South Side of the Pemi Wilderness area (Pemmigewasset), an area that John and I have had two 3 day hikes through - the first in 2011 and then again with Bruce in 2012.

The mountain is an easy hike from the perspective of the gradient, but a rather long there-and-back of 5mi in each direction.

I packed carefully the night before - getting the small package of emergency items (paper map, compass, headlamp, first aid kit and toilet paper) and the food (gorp and some candy for energy) ready with my day pack.  The weather prediction was for around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) and a low of 25 F the previous night and a wind of around 9mph.  John had recommended that we pack our microspikes in case we needed to walk on any ice that may have accumulated when the rocks were wet.

Ordinarily in winter hiking you should also pack something that you can climb into if you get injured - like a down sleeping bag and an emergency survival bag - but with the weather prediction of around 40 degrees I decided to go with some good warm layers and leave the sleeping bag at home.

Sitting here the next day and looking at the conversion to Celcius, I realize that 40F is actually damn cold and I probably should have been a little more aware of this then... also our clocks were set back last week and sunset is at 4:30pm which should have triggered a mental alarm of some sort as we decided to meet at Einstein Bros at 7am for an expected start at around 10am.  The book prediction for hiking speeds is an hour for each 1.5 miles so this didn't leave us with much leeway with a projected 6.6 hours of hiking time - not counting any stopping.

We had a great breakfast at Einstein Bros as usual and left there at about 7:25am which got us to the trail-head at around 10 am.

The first 1.7 miles is very even, with a very slight gradient and we did that in good time.  It was followed by a section of slightly harder gradient interspersed with remarkably few high steps over rocky ledges.  These were made challenging by the fact that water had been seeping out of the ground above them and had left a covering of ice to skirt around each time.

As we got higher in the hike, we saw evidence of a light dusting of snow on the ground.   Across one section of the trail were these tiny white balls of ice rather than snow.   Occasionally there was evidence of this weird phenomenon where ice gradually squeezes out of the ground as it expands and makes these little tubular shapes like fibers.  These are called Needle Ice, apparently.


Although the micro spikes are handy for moving across relatively flat sections of ice, my inclination is to take them out only when there is a lot of icy ground over long distances.  This is because you have to take off your gloves (sometimes you can get away with keeping the thin inner gloves on), put the microspikes on and then, if the icy section is short, repeat the whole process to take then off again.

The sections of ice in this case were infrequent and fairly easy to traverse around so we were pleased not to have to bother with the microspikes.


As we got higher it became clear that the forecast for partly sunny was an exaggeration and the cloud cover was pretty solid.  The line to my camelback also started to freeze and I had to push it down inside my fleece to keep it from freezing closed.  Clearly the temperature was well below 40F and I was beginning to feel it in my hands.

I had reasonably good gloves with me but found myself regretting not bringing my mittens that are designed for serious cold.  I seem to always miscalculate when to add layers to keep my core temperature up and only start to notice when the blood flow in my hands slows and my fingers start to go numb and feel wooden.  By this time it is always too late to stop and is accompanied by a pretty miserable sensation - having hands this cold is not fun.

Guido (John's son, Parker has this nickname which translates to "guide") and I were both of a mind that we needed to eat.  It was close to 1pm and the peak was not in sight, plus by all accounts the peak would be colder than it already was where we were.  After some discussion we found a place to stop for lunch.

Angelika pointed out that she was hiking a little slower than we were and that we might not make it back before dark.  She decided to leave us to go on to the summit while she started to slowly make her way back down to the car.   In retrospect both John and Angelika said we should have taken the lunch out and eaten it on the move because we were all very cold when we finished wolfing down the food and started to move again.  Guido was visibly shivering.

It didn't take long to start to warm up again though.  The gradient - though not terribly steep - was sufficient to keep our heart rate up and the pain in my fingers was reassuring though unpleasant.  It is better to have painful fingers as the blood starts to move again than for them to be totally numb!

There is a false summit and a ridge that you walk along to get to the true summit where there is a tower.  We paused to look at the scar of a large rock slide on a mountain across the valley that looked like the batman symbol.  I was too cold to get the iphone out to take a photograph, which I now regret - but cold fingers are pretty demotivating!

By the time we reached the tower at the summit I was feeling much better.  My fingers were no longer in pain and the food had given me more energy.

Guido was feeling a little less enthusiastic but did muster a smile for this summit portrait at the signs pointing to the Pemi wilderness and Mnt Desolation.  For a picture of how he really felt, follow the link at the bottom to the album of other images from the hike....



The tower was covered in rime but we went up briefly to take a couple of photos including this panorama that distorts the foreground but gives a good sense of the ice on the structure.  Guido came up to the top of the steps, but he was still cold and didn't linger.


The view from the top is spectacular.  This is a mountain that offers great views of the white mountains in all directions and I'd like to come up here again in better weather.

Our friend, Michael McDonagh, told me that this mountain offers views of almost all the forty-eight 4000-footers and people fly flags on the tops of all of them on Sept 11 every year.  From here you can see many of the flags.

The hike back down was pretty uneventful until it got dark.  The air warmed a little as we descended and we were able to shed a layer.

Despite my careful packing I had convinced myself with a cursory inspection of my pack during the hike that I had left both my Gorp and my emergency kit at home.  Part of the problem is that when you are cold you don't want to spend a lot of time delving into the pack looking for things.  I discovered after the hike that it was all there!  Next time I'll pay more attention to leaving it where it is readily accessible.

As the light faded I worried that it would get pitch dark and we'd have a problem finding our way.  John and Guido both had head lamps so it would not have been a problem but I was stuck with this impression that I hadn't brought a light and was mentally kicking myself for it.  It also started to get colder as the light faded.

A hiker passed us just before John retrieved his light from his pack.   I told him that I wasn't sure where the path went to from where I was standing and he went past us and figured it out for himself.  About 5 min later he came back with a bright light to make sure that we knew where to go.  This was very kind.  John had pulled the light from the pack by then and I could tell that Guido was pretty concerned about getting to the end as the path became more difficult to see.

Fortunately we were not far from the parking lot and we arrived there before it became pitch dark (at around 5:13pm).  The hike had taken us 7hrs 15min.

42 done, 6 more to go.

A slideshow of all the images is available here

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Epic Hikes: Mahoosuc Notch trail

I am searching through misted glasses in the dark for some sign of the next cairn or even better of the path.  It's a Saturday night at around 9:30 pm and I'm standing with the wind blowing freezing rain into my face on a bald granite dome at the top of Mt Success in New Hampshire. Miles from civilization.

And I'm thinking about my deck.

You see this weekend was one of several over the past few months since I borrowed the pressure washer from Bruce to wash down and then stain the deck.  I'd kept finding better things to do with my weekends and this, another long hike with John, had been a fairly easy choice.

John, standing near the last cairn we'd found and within earshot not too many yards behind me, might not have appreciated that I'd rather be drinking a beer after a few hours of deck washing.  I had been the one who decided that we should push on at 5pm when we learned that there were at least 3 hours to the summit and another few miles after that to the next shelter.

John likes to make up for lost hiking time when he goes off on multi-day trips and so when he suggested a 30 mile (48 km) hike over three days, I wasn't too concerned about it.  I expected it to be challenging but the breakdown sounded reasonable:  14, 9 and then 6 miles. 

I did spare a thought for the fact that 14 mi seemed a little long but it somehow didn't occur to me that on a multi-day hike I'd also be lugging a 35lb pack with me.

We spent Friday night in a Ski Lodge and got up at 5am to ferry the cars, my car to Rt 22 at Grafton Notch and John's car to the start of the Appalachian Trail section which is described as follows in a hiking guide:

Most of the Appalachian Trail in Maine is not recommended for novice hikers; Maine's 281 miles are generally considered the most difficult of all fourteen states. Even the strongest hikers may average only one mile an hour in some parts. Other parts require grabbing onto tree roots and limbs to climb or descend, and are especially slippery and hazardous in wet weather.
...
The western section is an area of extremely steep, 4,000-foot mountains, arguably the toughest part of the entire A.T. It includes the notorious mile-long boulder scramble of Mahoosuc Notch.

John had said that our hike included a section that was considered the hardest in the Appalachian but had not mentioned that the whole state has that distinction!  No wonder I found Bigelow hard!  In fact I could have done with a whole lot of mental preparation on this one, including reviewing the trail guide and elevations before we started the hike.

The 30 mile length, it turns out, has some peaks that are modest in height but the total accumulated elevation is 10 000ft which is more than the Presidential Traverse.

Day 1

We started hiking at around 9am and enjoyed a fairly easy ascent up Mt Hale, 2.4 mi to 2 555 ft.  On the way up we enjoyed a few views of the valley with the leaves just starting to turn. 

The path turned into some rocky slabs as we approached the top and I realized, as we started to descend and make our way up the next peak, that I had no idea how many significant peaks I was destined to climb that day. The second mountain (Cascade Mountain) at 2631ft was a more or less flat walk.  

We stopped for lunch after a fairly sustained uphill stretch over long rocky slabs and enjoyed a spectacular view.


The hike surprised me with the number of ponds there were.  We passed two on the first day,  They are always a strange sight for me up in the hills.


After 9 miles of hiking it was getting fairly late.  The weight of the pack was really making it hard for me to sustain a pace that kept us at the guide book speed (1.5 mph) and John was patiently following my lead (as he does on all these hikes) to avoid leaving me behind.

A feature of Maine hiking is sections of boggy mud where planks are laid out for you to walk on to avoid sinking into the mud.


We reached a junction in the trail that pointed up the last mountain of the day, Mt Success (3565ft) .  We sat down to take a breather and consider our options.  Foremost in my mind was the fact that whatever we did we had a total of 30 mi to complete and a weather forecast of rain for Sunday so it seemed to me we should push on at all costs.

The trail junction sign said that there was a campsite 0.2 mi away called Gentian Pond (almost 3 mi from the summit and 5 mi from our day's projected destination).

The weather forecast said rain after 8pm and I made a somewhat delusional assumption that we would make the 5mi at 1.5mph (around 3 hours) which would bring us in there just before the rain and not long after it got dark.  Not even the report by a young couple just on their way down (they had taken 3 hours to get to the top) dissuaded me from this conviction.  I wondered vaguely why they had walked so slowly...

The climb was not only steep and rocky but also took us over a series of false summits.  I was exhausted and at one point got this nagging thought that I might not have the stamina to finish the day.

I sat down to regroup and asked John if I could have one of his small packets of GU to try to build up the energy for the last push.  

If you haven't come across this stuff before, you should know that GU is pretty disgusting.  You buy it in sports shops and squeeze it like toothpaste from a small plastic sachet.  It tastes like chemicals and has the consistency of jello made from toothpaste (if you can imagine that).  It is hard not to gag while you are doing this.   I washed the GU down with as much water as I could take and got up to push the last mile and a half to the summit.

We were well equipped (in general) for the hike.  I had forgotten my sleeping mat and had had to buy one in Gorham but had done the right thing as far as protection from the elements went.  So I was not too phased when it got dark and a light rain began to fall.

The rain seemed to me to be frozen as it fell but the ground was warm so there was no sign of this on the ground.  It is entirely likely that it was just rain but I became fascinated by how much of the ground was glittering. Little flecks of silica, probably. A moth swam in and out of my light stream and landed at my feet and its eyes reflected like small globes back up at me as I stepped over it.

As we came to the summit it dawned on me how bad this decision to walk on might have been if I was hiking alone.  It was really impossible to see the path or the next cairn and we had to move slowly and John recommended that he wait at each cairn until I found the next to avoid getting totally lost.

Small pines leaped out at me - looking like signposts till I got close enough to discount them - and after what seemed an age through my fogged glasses I'd see a pair of planks or a cairn and later the path clearly carved between the low vegetation of the summit.

The hiking from there to the Carlo Col shelter was fairly easy but included some slabs, which was where I took the first fall of the weekend.

I have this stash of savings that I call my emergency fund.  When I was a lot younger an emergency would be no beer in the fridge or the urgent need for a weekend away somewhere - but as an older guy, an emergency is what I imagined as my foot slipped out from under me as I took the first step off a five foot tilted slab and felt my heavy pack make sure that when I landed it wasn't on my feet.

Luckily I fell neatly and suffered nothing more than a grazed elbow.

Before the junction to the shelter we also came across two sections strewn with large, room sized boulders that you had to wedge yourself through, under and over - a foretaste of what was to come in the Notch.

It is incredible how relative distances are when you are tired.  The shelter is .5mi from the main path and it seemed to take an age to get to it down a fairly steep hill.

We arrived at 10:30pm and crawled into our sleeping bags in the shelter (waking a few of the hikers) after drinking some water, neither of us felt like food.  The GU kept my mind very active despite everything else in my body craving a deep sleep.

We had been hiking for 16 hours and had climbed 7000 ft!

Day 2

You can smell an AT through-hiker from about 20feet when he gets out of his sleeping bag.  The smell is like the armpit of the hiking shirt that I put on, damp the next day.  

Some of my gear had got a little wet during the rain the previous night - I really could have avoided this because I was carrying a cover for the pack and had just not stopped to put it on thinking that the rain was so light.  Fortunately I wasn't cold during the night and easily avoided the wet sections.

The hiker who emerged from his bag earlier was one of several who were hiking north but had made an arrangement with friends to move cars around and therefore did this section from North to South.

They said it had taken them three hours to do the famed 1mi section of Mahoosuc Notch which is in the middle of the section that we planned for the second day.  One of them told John that it was not a good idea to attempt this section if it was wet and the rain had come hard in the night and was still falling intermittently.

We had breakfast and set out at about 9am back up the .5mi path which felt like it took us no time at all.

The hike to the next shelter, half way through our second day's projected distance was relatively easy over a couple of the peaks of Goose Eye Mountain and introduced us to some very steep sections of damp rock.

I was increasingly losing faith in the traction in my shoes on the downhill sections and also on the long planks over the bogs which are slippery when wet.  I went down hard onto my back (saved by the pack) on one of the planks.

In some sections there are helpful metal or wooden ladders and in others just steep slabs that you have to make you way up or down relying on the traction in your shoe soles.

There is a fairly long section at the top of Goose Eye Mt that is pretty flat and the bog at the top had been fueled by the rain the previous night - some of the planks were 3 or 4 inches under water and each of us stepped by accident off the planks and sank deep into the mud.  In John's case right up to his crotch.  It is not easy pulling your foot out of the mud either, and pretty soon we both had sodden boots and socks.

We arrived at the Goose Eye Shelter at 2pm which was an hour or so later than we had originally planned.  Another AT hiker told us not to try to hike the Notch in the damp.  John took an executive decision to stop - not that I had anything else in mind than crawling into my sleeping bag to warm up and doze away the afternoon and evening.

It is amazing how good these dehydrated meals taste when you are out hiking.

Day 3

Cutting the second day of the hike short meant we were in for a long day and I had sworn that I'd wake at 5am to be ready to start early.

The weather forecast had called for a bright, sunny day on Monday so when we woke at 7am in a murky overcast post-dawn my heart sank.  Not only was it not sunny but it was probably going to be damp in the Notch as well...

The hike was fairly uneventful leading up to the Notch trail and we made fairly good time.

The first view of the mess of broken rock came not long after.  The wide angle lens doesn't do justice to the size of these boulders.  They are all between the size of a small car and the size of a bedroom, with fairly sharp edges.

One description reads: "The Notch is a very narrow pass between Mahoosuc Mountain and Fulling Mill Mountain. It is a glacier-carved gash bounded by 800-foot high cliffs on either side. Immense blocks of schist have cleaved from the cliff sides over millions of years of freeze-thaw cycles. Thus, the 100-yard-wide space between the cliffs is filled with an incredible and otherworldly jumble boulders and rocks ranging in size from that of a Volkswagen to a house. The giant boulders are piled to an unkown depth."

Some of the places force you to crawl through and drag your pack after you.

In one other place you have to step up onto a sloping foothold and reach up high and to the right for a pretty good hold from which you can heave yourself over to the top of the next boulder.

As I reached forward and put pressure on my hand my foot slipped and my hand slipped in my glove.  I fell backwards with my leg wedged on the other side of the foot-hold.

I am pretty sure this is the same place that a hiker fell in 2009 and ended up having to be rescued by a team over what took hours.

John says that the price of a rescue helicopter is around $10 000 and after getting up and checking on my limbs, I counted myself lucky (again) that this was not going to be the cause to dip into the emergency fund.


The hike through this section was pretty awesome actually.  I wish I had not been as tired or as concerned about my footing - I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  I resolved then to come back and do it over four days when the weather prediction is excellent.

We spotted what looked like the end of the Notch section and I took a photograph.  There were actually two more strenuous sections before we really were out of the boulder field.


After the Notch was a hike up the last peak for the trip was Old Speck.   The terrain followed the pattern - very steep slabs, sections of high boulders that we had to scramble up and ladders.


The weather didn't lift and we started to feel a chill develop as the wind picked up.

After a while I was hiking uphill with my outer shell on and my fleece layer under it and started to notice that there were frozen drops on the pine needles.

We came across several birds crowded together and reluctant to fly away in the cold.  They let us pass without too much of a fuss.  I think that they were Ruffed Grouse.


We passed one more cold pond with the mist and the strengthening wind before we started up towards the summit.


The path up to Old Speck includes some exposed rounded granite extrusions that must offer spectacular views on nice days.  

On this day the wind was blowing so hard from the side that it was threatening to topple me each time my pack was exposed to it.  

Once over these we were back in the trees with relative shelter from the wind. The rime build-up on the trees was strong evidence that the air was pretty cold. 


Old Speck is actually a 4000 footer (in Maine), but I didn't know this at the time and after climbing up more long steep wet slabs of granite we came to a junction that offered to take us to the peak at a distance of  0.3mi or go down to the car and we elected not to take the side trip.

The trip down involved numerous slabs - in some cases very large ones.  I was pretty sure I'd slip by now so went very carefully.  Not long after pointing out to John that slipping where he was walking would be pretty bad, he slipped too (I guess I inadvertently jinxed him) - he was on the wet section above a large granite protrusion that had a sheer drop at the end.  I had him pose on the dry section after he recovered his footing and made his way down and then I went along the edge near the trees to avoid the same experience.

The last couple of miles of a hike like this seem never to end but we did enjoy a few scenic moments.
and a waterfall

And at the end the discomfort of sore joints and cold, wet, aching feet that just wanted to be put up somewhere comfortable.

So why smile, you ask?  I think John may have mentioned that there was a place to eat some good food nearby.  I had spaghetti bolognaise.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Tom, Field and Willey

The latest foray into the 4000ft peaks was a three peak loop up near where we hiked the long Presidential traverse a few weeks ago.  In fact our exit was at the same place (on the opposite side of the road) as our exit from the traverse.

John, Angelika and their son Parker (affectionately known as Guido) and I took a late start by normal standards - choosing to meet at Einstein Bros in Condord at 7am and making it to the trailhead for a 10:30am start.

There are several options for these three peaks, the most common of which is a there-and-back starting in either direction (10mi) but for this outing John came prepared with a rather exotic looking mountain bike with shock absorbers scattered around the frame.  We drove up the road near the Crawford Notch AMC Highland Center where we expected to exit and left the bike there.


The route we chose started behind Willey house - a historic site famous for a tragedy when the entire Willey family of 9 left their house during a landslide in 1826 and perished while the house was left untouched.  The story was the inspiration behind Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Ambitious Guest", written in 1835.

Of course we were unaware of these details as we made our way up the trail towards the Willey Range trail and the top of Mnt Willey.

The start of the hike took us past some pretty scenes of streams that were running fairly well.

The first section of 1.3mi was to a junction and although it promised to be fairly steep was relatively easy up-hill hiking.



From the trail junction with the Ethan Pond trail and then the Willey Range Trail the going got very steep and included some sections with steep ladders and a few high steps to get over on the way up.  My strategy in these steep sections is usually to set the pace so that I am breathless, but not in distress and the pace that Angelika set was just right from that perspective.

Guido is an enthusiastic raconteur and, since Bruce was not hiking with us, I was party to a range of conversations with him over the entire hike.  Ordinarily Bruce takes the lions' share of the conversation with Guido when we hike together (though I'd claim that we share the load equally) but on this hike it was all me.  We played games (Mountain Island, Mountain Island V2 and V3) and I was regaled with stories of the Di-Gata Defenders including a blow by blow account of the first episode and a great deal of the important background information.  Fortunately I had never heard of Di-Gata before.  As the day wore on (and we grew tired of Mountain Island V3) I got a fairly full account of the prequel and first two installments of the Narnia stories.

I made sure to get Guido to promise me that we would fill Bruce in on all of these stories the next time we go out hiking with him.  I think it is only fair that he plays the three versions of Mountain Island so that he can catch up with us.

The last mile to the top of Willey was a tough hike.  The guide describes it as "steep and rough in places".


We stopped for lunch at the overlook just before the Willey summit and were treated with a beautiful view of the valley below.


Once on the ridge, the walking was fairly easy - there is about a 300ft elevation change between Willey and Field and Tom is also a fairly easy hike.

The cairns at the top of each of these mountains are somewhat unassuming and although the hike down  was fairly uncomfortable in the feet (the total hike was around 8.5 because we avoided a short there and back section with the bicycle).  


Close to the end of the hike we came across some some attractive water scenery again.

.. and the welcome field at the Crawford Notch parking lot where we had a short wait while John took the mountain bike down the long downhill ride to the car.

We wrapped it up with a great meal at the Common Man in Lincoln and Guido and I agreed to snore up a storm in the back of the car on the way back to where we'd left my car in Concord.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Epic Hikes: Presidential Traverse

Knocking off 7 of the 4000 footers in one day is a pretty tall order and was the mission for this latest hike through the presidential range in the White Mountains.  The wikipedia article on the traverse describes it as follows:

"The basic Presidential Traverse begins from a trailhead on U.S. Route 2 or at the Dolly Copp Campground at the northern end of the Presidentials, crosses the great ridge of the range and ends in Crawford Notch at its southern terminus, or vice versa. A hiker making such a journey would travel about 23 miles (37 km), with 9,000 feet (2,700 m) of elevation gain

John and Angelika formulated a training regimen that we started in April. It involved doing several variations of Mount Monadnock (including one in which we summited Mondadnock 3 times on the same day) and culminated in a day-long hike across the Wapack trail (21miles of relatively flat hiking) in the first week of June.

The second and third weeks of June were our window for this hike, the intention being to do it as close to the Summer Solstice as we could.  The first of these weekends had perfect weather but both Bruce and I had things on: for me it was an opportunity to shoot the USA Woman's soccer team playing S. Korea as one of two US Soccer official photographers and for Bruce a family gathering in Maine.

The next weekend promised terrible weather.  The forecast was for continuous lightning and golf-ball sized hail on Mount Washington.  This mountain has famously erratic weather and John (who has hiked this traverse 5 times now) remembers hiking in driving rain and sleet in late July several years ago so waiting for good weather seemed like a good idea.  There is also a fairly high death count - around 135 deaths since 1849 on Mount Washington - many of them from hyperthermia, so it is not a mountain to be taken lightly.

The few weeks after our designated window of opportunity featured one stormy weekend after the other and a trip to Europe for John.  Four weeks after our last "conditioning" hike, while John was in Europe, Bruce and I did Whiteface and Passaconoway to try to keep up some of the conditioning.  This proved to be an energy-draining hike for both of us and left me wondering about how well prepared we really were for this one.

This week we watched the weather and were dismayed to see predictions of 30% chance of thunderstorms for Saturday and Sunday all the way through the week.  Bruce proposed on Thursday that we should drive up to the hotel that John had reserved on Friday as planned - weather be damned - and see whether things improved by Saturday morning.  I met John at Einstein Bros. in Concord on Friday afternoon and we made our way up to the hotel from there.


The hotel turned out to be a rather nice Swiss Chalet-styled series of bungalows.

We had Pizza at the Flatbread Pizza companywhere one of John's nephews works, and we couldn't resist a beer.  Feeling a little apprehensive about my hydration, I nursed my beer along with a lemonade and ginger ale before we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Flatbread make their thin crust pizzas in these ovens that were built on the premises and took weeks to burn in.  I was fascinated by how their pizza makers deal with the rather imprecise task of judging when open-fired pizzas are ready to eat.

The plan was to wake up at 3:15am and leave at 3:30 for a 4am start on the hike and we set the room alarm and my iPhone alarm (although my battery was so low that I turned the phone off thinking it would wake up to ring in the morning).

At 3:35am there was a knock on our door.  Neither of the two alarms had worked.  In the confusion John opened the door and pointed out to Bruce that I was still asleep while admitting that until a few seconds before, he had been too.

What followed was a rushed and somewhat confused flurry to get everything in the car.  I'd only realize this after the hike, but the gatorade that I had brought for extra hydration and energy was left in the little fridge in the room.

We arrived at the trailhead near the Dotty Cobb campground at 4:20am and set off in the dark up a reasonably even path towards Mnt Madison, the first peak in the list for the day.

If you read the description of the Presidential Traverse in wikipedia you'll see a list of the minimum peaks for this traverse.  These are the mountains in the Presidential range that count towards the list of 48 4000 footers.  For the purists there are a number of additional bumps that are included in the traverse, but more on that later...

Our trip up Madison was uneventful, excepting for my headlamp turning off after a couple of minutes and then not staying on for more than about 30seconds at a time.  I thought it may be the batteries - but the lights were not dimming.  Not wanting to stop, I ended up turning it off and using the very faint light of pre-dawn to see my way.  With the ground underfoot fairly even this was not too difficult and by the time it did become uneven and wet it was light enough to see clearly without the flashlight.  Bruce slipped off a wet log soon after it became light and sunk his one leg down to the knee in mud.  Fortunately the insides of his boot didn't get wet and we were able to carry on without interruption.

We were too late to see dawn on the top of Madison - which we would learn later was an amazing sight - but we did see the pre-dawn light through the trees on our way up.

Not much later we were treated to the sunrise through the trees.

Mount Madison is named for the fourth president, but due to a geological mis-calculation is not the fourth highest mountain in New Hampshire (as was intended).  It is the fifth highest at 5,367 ft being only a few feet shorter than Mount Monroe which we were to climb in the second half of the day.

The climb is sustained and steep and is the hardest and longest climb of the day.  John pointed out later in the day when I asked that this is the reason for tackling the traverse in this direction, to get the hardest hiking over in the morning.
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There are a couple of bumps and lookouts on the way up to Madison where we stopped to look back over where we had been.  The morning light and mist in the valley made for breathtaking scenery.

On the way, we transitioned into the Alpine zone.  This came with dire warnings about the deaths from exposure on this ridge and also a change in vegetation.  The plants at this altitude experience severe weather and you can tell by their stunted appearance that they get lashed by strong winds and extreme cold.  The little bushes are very resilient though and are quite beautiful in their bent and stunted forms.

One of the advantages of hiking at this altitude is that the bushes are no more than knee height so the views on either side are spectacular on days like this one.

Similarly there are small flowers that seem to be able to live in these harsh conditions.

Another of the few opportunities to take in the view behind.

The view from close to the top of Madison was worth the pause.  The cairns on these mountains seem to be so lovingly constructed and a feature on this hike were the number of cairns with a bright white rock second from the top.


From the top there is a great view of Mount Washington in the backround with Mnt Adams to the right in the foreground.



John said that it was unusual to see so few people on Madison.  The Madison hut is not far from the summit and we soon saw a few hikers come up from the hut to take in the early morning views before breakfast.

We met a party of several hikers at the top who looked to be roughly our age (well, ok perhaps a little younger than us).  They had hiked up Madison and were on a mission to complete the traverse in one day like us and they set off ahead of us while we took a short break.

The Madison hut is the first of four places on this traverse that you can stop for sustenance.  John and Bruce had arrived there at 7am last year when they did the traverse and were not able to get coffee because breakfast was being served to the paying guests. This time John came armed with chocolate covered espresso beans just in case but because of our late start we arrived at the hut at around 7:20 in time to get a cup of coffee and a short sit-down before continuing on to Mount Adams.

We left before the party we had met on Madison.  We figured since we had caught up with them on the way to the hut we'd probably be moving a little faster than them.

On the way to Mnt Adams, the next on the list for the day and the second highest peak at 5,793 ft we came across a group of young hikers who were taking a break and who told is that they were also doing the Presidential traverse in a day.  I assumed that they would be hiking quicker than we were and let them go before us but it soon became clear that they were hiking at a fairly slow pace.

After some chatting it turned out that they had been hiking since midnight and were on their way to the second peak of 7 for the day.  I speculated as we moved past them that they would probably be back home later on talking about these gnarly old codgers with grey hair and craggy faces who walked past them early in the morning a few hours ahead of their schedule.

With some time to think on the ridge, it occurred to me how alien the notion of me being a gnarly old codger was and yet how easily the label could be applied.

At the top of Adams we met a woman, hiking alone who was also in the area to prepare for a mountain race (running race).  Her objective was to qualify to run up the road to Mount Washington.  What a run!



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Mount Jefferson is the third tallest mountain in the range (3rd President) at 5712ft and it was with some concern that I saw how much of a dip there was between the ridge line and this peak.

Despite my reservations, we were soon at the foot of Jefferson, taking in some of the high energy jelly beans and some gatorade (Bruce came to my rescue when I couldn't find the bottle that I could have sworn remembering packing in my backpack).

My mental acuity was falling, though.  I was trying to remember the names of some movies - in particular a pretty bad cult movie that some colleagues had told me about (and fits into the generational category of "you had to be there" to appreciate it).  Now, a day later with more energy I remember "Buckaroo" and can find the movie name ("The adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th dimension") but at the time all I could come up with was "it's a something, something and the something else".  Even worse, I own a copy of the movie - given to me by a former colleague interested in my cultural education!

The athlete we met on Adams was hiking both Adams and Jefferson and then cycling back to her car.  She joined us in recollecting bad TV series from yesteryear including "Underdog".  Bruce surprised me by quoting sayings from the show about small pills in his ring and only now when I look it up on Google do I find out it was a cartoon dog!


The top of Jefferson is interesting.  A large cairn stands at the top of the trail with a pile of rocks to the right which we clambered up to be sure we did summit.

Here we met a third party who were doing the entire traverse.  Also young (college-aged) and who had been on the route since 12:30am and taking a much more leisurely pace than we were.  I calculated that it had taken them 10 hours to get here and us five and a half.

Lest we get too excited about our speed, Bruce had spoken to one of the caretakers at the Madison hut who had told us that one of their staff had gone from that hut to the last hut in the Presidentials (Mizpah Hut) and back in 6 hours.  We would reach Mizpah at 6pm after 13 hours and 45min of hiking.

From Jefferson there is a great view of Mnt Washington, the next on the list with Mnt Clay en route.


The walk from Jefferson to Mnt Clay is over fairly flat ground and offers a view of the Mount Washington Hotel, nestled in the valley below.  This hotel has fantastic views of Mount Washington.


A word about Mnt Clay and the other less significant Presidential traverse contenders:  The Presidential Traverse is said to include a number of minor peaks on the way that purists will describe as part of the traverse (and indeed might be good candidates if you are very fit and inclined to side trips).

For the record, though, these peaks are: Mnt Clay, named for a Senator from Kentucky; Mnt Jackson - not named for President Jackson but for a New Hampshire geologist, Charles Jackson; Mnt Webster named after an American statesman from New Hampshire; and Mnt Franklin named for the inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin.

So, although I agonized (just a little) over whether to take the Mnt Clay loop up to Mount Washington, I am now glad that I didn't.  I referred to him as a lesser president, not realizing at the time that he was a senator from some time back who no doubt deserved the recognition but seemed not worth extending a traverse that was already becoming hard.

The last mile up to Mount Washington - the tallest mountain in New Hampshire at 6288ft - was the hardest of the day.  In the image below you can see the towers and the visitor's center and the cog railway with one of the trains in the far distance.

The hiking wasn't particularly hard during this stretch but we had almost nine hours of hard walking behind us - my only sustenance: nuts, a bagel and some candy.  To make it worse, the water we filled up with in the Madison hut tasted of chlorine and left a bitter aftertaste and made me less inclined to take too many long drinks.

Bruce, whose natural gait is faster than mine, walked ahead of us - seemingly with a lot more energy than is good for you, but graciously waited for us to join him for the last short stretch into the welcome comfort of a bench in the cafetaria, where I had a delicious meal.

One thing that was a little disappointing on Mount Washington was that there was a line of about 30 people waiting for a photo opportunity at the sign marking the summit.  I didn't see any hikers among them and ended up just walking past the sign to "record" my summit instead of stopping for a photograph.  After hiking for 9 hours I didn't feel like standing in a line.

We looked at the timetable which John had of the "book time" for the hike and saw that we were around 20min early in the schedule but we didn't rest up for too long before heading down the Crawford path to the Lake in the Clouds hut on the way to our next destination, Mnt Monroe.

At around this time I was starting to feel some discomfort in my feet and my one knee which twinged occasionally when the step down resulted in a long swing of the leg.  Nothing too bad, just the beginnings of my body complaining about all the work I had put it through.

The Lake in the Clouds Hut is an easy downhill hike from Mount Washington and in a really lovely setting.
Beyond it is Mount Monroe - the 5th President who accidentally got the 4th highest peak at 5372ft.

Considering that if you had to pick off these peaks in a few separate trips how much elevation you would have to cover, doing it as a traverse is a bargain.  Of course the huts would make it a very pleasant two or three day hike but at $120 per person per night that is a pretty high price to pay.

Having trained and mentally prepared for doing it in one day, by this time in the hike, despite some aches and pains and fatigue, I was really enjoying the experience and Mnt Monroe was over before I even realized it.

The view back from Monroe over the Lake in the Clouds hut towards Mount Washington was very pretty with the greens really standing out in the slightly overcast afternoon.



The walk from Monroe to Eisenhower was along a fairly long stretch of more or less flat ridge.  This was very pleasant walking with great views on either side.

For some reason in a previous profile view of the hike, I had seen that Mnt Eisenhower had a big dip and steep climb before it.  It was pretty steep, but again after the day's activity it really seemed over before very long.

At the top of Eisenhower (4780 ft) we looked back at the path that we had taken and although the commentary by John is not really audible with the wind blowing, the video below is a review of the hike so far (illustrated in red on this image).



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The last Mountain on the list is Mnt Pierce (4310 ft).  The NH locals call it "Clinton" after a NH Senator (not Bill Clinton).

John had said that you might not even realize you were hiking up it but it is a brutal end to the hike.  Brutal because it is quite a long stretch, back below the alpine zone and with an early false summit and the realization that we were running late.

We had predicted that we would be at the parking lot at 6:10pm but realized as we were going up Pierce that we would probably only make the Mitzpah Hut by 6pm if we were lucky.

We paused at the summit to record my 7th 4000ft peak for the day (I forgot to suck in my stomach)!

The walk down was steep and pretty painful.  I had some blisters from the Wapack trail that had healed but were starting to feel like I had a small stone under the ball of my foot.  Bruce walked at his pace, stopping to allow us to catch up, but John and I lumbered each in our own silent thoughts and pain.  In John's case - as it turns out - moving forward through sheer force of will and in mine finding my thoughts somewhat addled by fatigue and watching carefully where I placed each foot in fear of mis-steps.

As we neared the Mizpah hut we came across two men hiking - one with a large pack that still had the stapled instructions dangling from it.  One of them looked really beat - each step resulting in a heavy lean against the nearest tree.  I was grateful that I felt a little better than that but realized that it wasn't much better.

At the hut, dinner was almost ready and I had a couple of glasses of lemonade while Bruce called his wife to let her know that we were running late.

The last 2.6 miles were hard walking - fairly steep at first and then mostly even but on sore feet with legs that at one point felt like they might start cramping.

The car was a welcome sight and unlike my two fellow hikers I was ravenous - fantasizing about the various meals that I might be able to eat all the way back.

As it happened the Delis we visited were all closed until we came to one where the owner pointed us in the direction of Kringles which is open till nine.  Cheese burger with bacon and fries (hmmmm).

Ironically, as I mentioned to John and Bruce on the walk, hiking is not something that I have been driven to initiate - I can probably list on my fingers the few hikes I have initiated - but I have always been very happy to participate.

In this case I am not sure whether Bruce or John would have done the Presidential Traverse had it not been on my list of remaining 4000footers so I feel I owe them for the egging on and forward planning.

As it happens I have 9 4000footers left and it is a tribute to John's fortitude that, despite the pain in his legs and feet which left him almost unable to walk from the car to the Deli, he sat on a chair at the hotel cabin when we got back and opened his map to look for routes to Mnt Isolation which we saw has some of the paths closed following Hurricane Irene.

Roll on the next one!

Our GPS track shows the total distance as 17.96mi.