The presidential traverse is a multiple summit, point to point trail within the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. You get to tackle 8 summits, 7 of which are on the 48 - 4,000 footers of NH list, and of course this includes the tallest mountain in the North East.. Mt Washington. In order from north to south you have :
- Mt Madison
- Mt Adams
- Mt Jefferson
- Mt Clay
- Mt Washington
- Mt Monroe
- Mt Eisenhower
- Mt Pierce
I was surprised to find that Clay was not on the 48 list being over 5,000 ft but it is considered a second summit to Washington. Nevertheless, this 18 mi trail is hands down some of the best hiking I've gotten to experience so far. And to ruck it was humbling.
The majority of the trail is above the timberline giving you breath taking views that are second to none in the North East. You get a wild variety of trail conditions. Streams as you make your way through the forests leading to the steep rocky scrambles up and down summits and then you have flats on wide open ridgelines where you're surrounded by mountains as far as the eye can see.
It was an incredible hike all around and the weather was great. When you're planning a trip that involves hitting some mountain tops eyeing summit conditions is good practice. Especially here since Mt. Washington is home to some notoriously bad weather. The app Open Summit was recommended to me and while weather conditions can change quickly it was helpful in avoiding the days that would all but guarantee a bad time.
As fantastic of a ruck this was it also humbled me pretty quickly and in a way, I expected it. I didn't train as I normally would and this was supposed to the a light test run to get some experience before I did it with a heavy pack. However when it came time to pack I couldn't resist the temptation to heavy so I did. I ended up loading up to a moderate 20% body weight and then headed out at 1am to make it to the Appalachian Trailhead for first light.
As you first get going you're met with the sound of waterfalls in the distance. I chose to veer slightly off course to hit the Snyder Brook falls to grab a couple pictures and then a few thousand feet of elevation later, just as you start to break above the timberline, you arrive at the Maddison Hut.
This little mountain oasis has snacks and some clothing and gear for sale as well as bathrooms and fresh water. They even have a kitchen where you can make reservations for a warm meal. Stop here before your ascent up Mt Madison or on your way back down, or both. It's certainly a welcomed start to the Presidential Traverse when coming from the North but don't get used to it. You're on your own until Mt Washington so it is a good point to do a gear check and make sure you're prepared for the journey ahead.
Mt. Madison is your first real test and a good one at that. Her rocky face gives you a taste of what's to come and it also happened to be where I burned myself out. Yep.. remember when this was supposed to be a test run and how I hadn't trained for it? .. well this was my slice of humble pie. Cramps set in hard and fast but the good thing about cramps is that they go away, kind of, an not long after they dulled into an achy stiffness I arrived at the next climb.
Mt Adams either has the steepest scramble of all or I went the wrong way. My post ruck internet research confirmed the former. You gain about 1,000ft in one rock laden mile via the Star Lake Trail. My nicely seasoned legs appreciated the decent on this one.
From there the Gulf Side trail between Mt Adams and Mt Jefferson brings you to a little valley. The majority of the path had large stones and rocks that with a little forethought you could skip across the tops fairly easy to help keep a faster pace.
Mt Jefferson brings another beautiful summit with Mt Washington stoically standing off in the distance and quite a bit closer now. But before you can grab that crown jewel of this trek, there's another summit in between. Mt. Clay is their waiting to be claimed if you choose to. Yes it's not on the NH48 list so if you want to bypass it you can continue the Gulf Side trail that goes around to the east or you can do the right thing (kidding) and take the Mt Clay loop that brings you over the top of clay and dumps you back out on the Gulf Side trail.
Now comes the big one, Mt Washington. The trail up on the Gulf Side is a gradual boulder ridden incline up its northern face which crosses the Cog Railway. At the top there is a visitors center with food and a giftshop where I bought some souvenirs for my kids. There were a lot of people up there arriving by car or train, milling around and taking pictures.
I'm always happy to see people enjoying the outdoors but after being alone for most of the day in the middle of nowhere you almost forget there's a tourist attraction at the top. After grabbing some souvenirs, refilling water and smashing a bag of m&m's I was back on the trail taking the Crawford Path "mostly" downhill.
The final three summits, Monroe, Eisenhower and Peirce were little more than bumps on the way down after what you've accomplished on the way up... ok maybe some subtle sarcasm there. The Crawford Path takes you right beside the lower Lake of the Clouds and the Lake of the Clouds Hut. Another popular resting spot with food and water.
After Mt Monroe you start to dip back into the tree line and by the time you reach Mt Pierce you are well into the lower forest and the allure of the mountains begins to fade.
The rest of the Crawford Path down the home stretch to the Webster-Jackson Trailhead is a rocky gradual decent. For me it had gotten dark at this point and I was hurrying to get to the bottom to not keep my buddy waiting too long as he was my ride back north to my truck. So imagine half running, half skipping across the tops of rocks under the light of your headlamp while singing to distract from the pain and to hopefully alert anything with teeth that you are not a typical food source bouncing through the woods. That was my somewhat underwhelming grand finale to this epic adventure. But the finish line to this ruck wasn't meant to be the pinnacle. All those summits were. I was proud to have gritted it out from a slow and sloppy start to completing it in 16 hours with a starting pack weight of 20% body weight and a finished pack weight of 17%.
I 100% recommend hitting this bucket list adventure. Whether you day hike it or camp out, trail run it or ruck, it doesn't matter. Just get out there.
PS.. New gear reviews are up!