Presidential Traverse, 5.21.16

After watching the weather forecast all week, we decided that the weather on Saturday was going to be in our favor for Presidential traverse.  Since the hike involves hiking over the Presidential Range with a little over half of the mileage above treeline, a good weather forecast is important.  We also knew from previous trip reports that most of the ice was gone, and that the Jefferson snowfield was in good shape.  Both are still considerations, even in May, as winter conditions can linger in the Whites.

We didn’t start super early on Saturday morning, although early enough to get a decent parking space at Appalachia, after leaving one of the cars at the Mt. Clinton Road parking lot.  We were doing the classic north to south traverse, so we started up Valley Way.   We did not have a record setting pace (I’m the last person to set any sort of speed records!) and from previous experience on these sort of long days, for me it isn’t wise to hike up Valley Way as fast as possible.  There are a lot of miles between the start and end (19 plus, depending on which variation of the traverse) and not all of them are easy.  We arrived at the hut and headed up the Osgood Trail to the first summit of the day.  We felt a bit slow, but felt good, and once back at the hut, we headed up to Mt. Adams.  Still a bit slow ascending, but not bad and then headed down the back toward the Gulfside Trail.

Ethan on Adams, looking toward Washington.

Ethan on Adams, looking toward Washington.

The footing was a bit better on Gulfside, so we made good time to Edmands col.   We then ascended Jefferson, and this was where I was hoping that the reports of the snowfield being easy to cross were true.  We saw a few groups cross ahead of us, so it looked good.  Our turn came, and it was fine – no traction needed, and didn’t take more than two minutes to walk across anyway.

Ethan ready to start the short walk across the Jefferson snowfield.

Ethan ready to start the short walk across the Jefferson snowfield.

The rest of the ascent to Jefferson actually felt easier than the previous two times I ascended this side and soon we were headed down the other side back to the Gulfside Trail and towards Sphinx col.  Footing again was easier and soon we were headed around Mt. Clay toward Washington.  The Cog railway was running and we were able to see a few carloads of passengers descending their way back to Marshfield Station.

Ethan heading toward Sphinx Col and Mt. Clay.

Ethan heading toward Sphinx Col and Mt. Clay.

Heading toward the Cog tracks, with a train coming down the tracks.

Heading toward the Cog tracks, with a train coming down the tracks.

We got closer to the tracks and then went underneath them.  Hmm.  I didn’t ever remember going under the tracks, but over them.  Then again, the last few times I was in this area, it was winter with full snow and ice, and we sort of stayed along the tracks until closer to Mt. Clay.  Soon it became apparent that we were on Westside not Gulfside and so we decided to head up the rocks and pick up Gulfside again.  Once back on that, the summit was not that far away and soon we were inside the Sherman Adams building, enjoying a nice break.  We weren’t even sure that the building would be open, as it is early in the season, but once we saw the Cog trains going all the way to the open, we were pretty sure it would be open.

It was a chocolate milk day.  By this point, Ethan had already earned it.  (Chocolate milk days are those in which there is more than 4000 foot of elevation gain for the hike.  We were well past that point at the summit of Washington.)

It was a chocolate milk day. By this point, Ethan had already earned it. (Chocolate milk days are those in which there is more than 4000 foot of elevation gain for the hike. We were well past that point at the summit of Washington.)

After resting and refueling, it was on to the last section of the hike.  This portion would be easier, as the footing would be better and all of the really big ascents were out of the way.  There were only a few small ones left and then it was all downhill.  We descended to the Lake of Clouds, where we discovered that the lakes were still partially frozen.

Mt. Washington with one of the still frozen Lake of the Clouds in the foreground.

Mt. Washington with one of the still frozen Lake of the Clouds in the foreground.

An easy, quick climb and we were on top of Monroe, with Ethan enjoying the views for the first time.  On his previous trips to or near this peak, he had been socked in with rain and clouds, and had never seen the views.  We still had a hike to finish, so we headed down to the Crawford Path, enjoying some nice footing and a better pace over to Eisenhower.  Ike was an easy hike up and down and then it was onward to the last peak of the day, Pierce.

Leaving the last peak of the day, Pierce, with views to where we had already been.

Leaving the last peak of the day, Pierce, with views to where we had already been.

From there it was the final descent down Crawford Path.  While not long, it seemed at least twice as long as it should have been.  There was still plenty of ice in the densely forested upper part of the trail and footing was rocky – not a fun challenge at the end of the day.  Eventually we saw the sign for Gibbs Falls and knew the end was very near – only .6 mile to the parking lot, and much easier footing!

We were happy to be done and see the car!  It had been a long day – slower than we wanted but not too bad for Ethan’s first traverse.  We’ve already been scheming for the next one.  Just not next weekend.

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