Traversing the Presidential Range!

Our shuttle driver Bill of “Mountain Courier Shuttle” picks us up in Crawford Notch where we leave our car.  During the long drive up to the Appalachia Trail head, he tells us we are a breath of fresh air because we have a map and know how to read it.  He then tells us many tales of the many misadventures of hikers he has scene up here who set out in flip flops and how nobody carries maps anymore and how so many hikers use GPS and their phones die up there and sometimes so do they.  Bill reminds me of my dad and he is also from Somerville and it is clear that he loves shuttling hikers and genuinely cares about folks being safe out there.  He tells us how he will make pit stops at the Highland Center and Joe Dodge Lodge and send hikers in to buy maps before he will drop them off at the trailhead.  He tells us about those who set out completely unprepared and than get a multi-thousand dollar bill from New Hampshire Fish and Game after they get rescued.  Bill is funny and a great story teller.  He makes us laugh and he seems truly excited for us.

We hike up to the Madison hut in just under 3 hours and claim some bunks next to a window with a view of Mount Adams which we plan to do first thing in the morning.  Its about 3pm and we rest for a bit and then head up to the summit of Mount Madison, the first of five of the peaks we intend to visit on this trip.  We are given our first dose of craggy sharp rocky scramble and its early afternoon and this is all the hiking we are doing today so we spend a long time on top just enjoying the views of the ridge that we’ll be walking across tomorrow.  We watch the cars swerve up and down the Mount Washington auto road through my tiny binoculars and try to decipher where we are and what the other mountains off in the distance are.

We head back down to the hut and change into cotton and relax in our bunks and I read aloud to Stud all the possible escape routes off the ridge and how terrible they all are but how the guidebook says they are better then dying from exposure.   Hikers begin to pour into the hut who have just come across the traverse today doing what we will do tomorrow.  Everyone is really sun-burnt…like even the backs of their knees look fried and I vow to wear TONS of sunblock tomorrow and reapply ALL DAY LONG (which I do).

One guy is limping and he lays down on a bunk diagonal across from us and his knee looks fucked.  Its like his patella is popped off and his friend is being super sweet and compassionate bringing him ice and checking on him.  I later offer them some of my tiny tube of arnica and they are very appreciative.  People look really wrecked from the day and everyone is stinky which lets me know that I must still smell like soap from my morning shower.  I remember the smell of soap on people when I was thru-hiking the Long Trail.

Stud and I keep to ourselves at first feeling shy and weird but then we socialize with some nice folks at dinner.  One couple from Montreal carried a bag of wine across the entire ridge and is offering it to everyone at the table.  Another couple from New York is talking about how hard Mount Adams was.  I notice a woman who I would guess to be about 45-50 looking very pale at another table.  A young man rubs her back in a concerned way and I worry she is about to pass out.  She is sweating profusely and just doens’t look okay.  I then notice her dinner is now a pile a vomit on her plate and I feel for her.  The hut croo, meaning the staff of 18-25 year olds who run these huts,  handle this very well and clean up the puke very quickly and tend to this suffering woman.  I am sobered by all of this and committed to staying hydrated.

The folks we sit with ask us about our plans for the next day and ask us if we are hiking to the next hut tomorrow and we shyly admit we are hiking past the hut and continuing up and over Mount Eisenhower and then down.  They’re eyes bug out and they look at us like we are masochists and maybe we are but we tell them we are leaving at 5:30AM and bypassing Washington but they still seem concerned but I don’t let it get to met because we know what we are getting into and we feel confident that we can manage this and we are well aware of how to get off the ridge if we can’t.  We are not above calling Bill tomorrow to come pick us up if we can’t make it all the way to the car.

We go to bed at like 7:30 and read fun books from the little hut library.  Stud finds one about some idiots climbing Everest on a lesser known route without sherpas and it seems like they’re all gonna die yet they wrote a book about it.  Stud shares some amusing sound bites with me and I want her to read the whole thing so she can give me a blow by blow account of the story while we are hiking tomorrow.  I read chunk from a cute little book about history of the White Mountains that include the relationships of all people with this area and each other and I question everything and am completely fascinated.   From the Abenaki to the early fur trappers to the settlers and early farmers to the loggers, the trampers and the tourists like us.  I read about the Atherians who claim Mount Adams to be 1 of 10 of the most holy mountains in the world due to its alien energy.  I read about how the mountains were named, claimed, abused and all the weird things and all the colonial settler stories.  I read about how the Abenaki avoided the summit of Mount Washington out of respect for the “Great Spirit” that lives up there.

The sunset from the hut is spectacular and so are the stars.  I am woken up by some lost hikers as they tromp by the window with headlamps.  It freaks me out and I hope they are okay.  I then try to turn my headlamp on and it doesn’t work.  I change the batteries and find they are all corroded inside and I laugh.  So I’m down to nine out of ten essentials…ah well, not bad.  Good thing the days are long and that we’ll have 15 hours of day light tomorrow.  And this is hardly the back country.  I bet I could buy a light at the hut if I wanted to.  Thanks to Ayla I always carry a glow stick.

I wake up to the first titch of light at 4:30 and I look down at Stud who is still sleeping.  I’m excited and I want her to wake up but her alarm isn’t going off till 5.  I peak again but she’s still asleep.  Every time she moves I look down to see if she is awake and by the 5th time I look down she smiles at me and we look out the window as two big bunnies hop right over to us.  One is really big and dark brown and the other is skinny and blond and I believe these bunnies are here to great us and they come very close to the window and we are delighted.  I take it as a very good sign.

We get up and tip toe into the dining room where some Appalachian Trail Thru hikers are sleeping on the floor.  I mix some instant coffee with some luke warm water leftover from a tea pitcher from last night.  I see a half a loaf of anadama bread baked by the hut croo that was left out from last nights dinner after some late night lost hikers had a night dinner.  I slice myself a piece and just as a take a bite I see a mouse run across the kitchen counter. I put the slice down and debate spitting out the bite but I don’t because this is a pack-in/pack-out situation and there isn’t an easy place to spit it out in this red hot moment.  I slice another slice from the middle of the loaf instead but I still feel kinda grossed out eating it.  I eat a few handfuls of my trail mix and drink down my coffee.  Stud does the same and then its 5:30am when we start hiking towards Star Lake and the sun is rising and no one else is out here and its so quiet up here and I wave goodbye to the sleepy hut and the weary hikers who won’t be stirring for pancakes till 7am.  Hot breakfast would be nice but we have a long ways to go.  Pancakes will happen another time.

Mount Adams is no joke.  I tell Stud about the aliens and the Atherians and the wind whips us around as we scramble up the impossibly jagged boulders.  We don’t last long on the summit and the wind is beating against us.  My eyes and nose run and drip everywhere and I wish I had a plexiglass face shelf in this moment.  We descend into Thunderstorm Junction, a small col with lots of trails merging, and the wind lets up and we have no more big wind gusts for the rest of the day.  Even at Edmands Col which is notorious for high winds, there is nothing but a light breeze.  It must be the aliens!

We cruise along the ridge and we feel awesome.  I have so much zinc sunblock caked on me that my trail name becomes “Casper”.  Stud keeps thinking she sees a puppy but its maybe a chipmunk or maybe its the coarse high mountain grasses blowing a certain way.  I think maybe its a marmot but thats not a thing here.  Either way, her trail name becomes “Peak Puppy” or “PP” for short.  We make many jokes all day about the adventures of Casper and PP and talk about ourselves in the third person and we think we are hilarious.

We see a pair of women hiking ahead of us.  We actually saw them take a pit stop at the hut at 5AM when we were drinking coffee and I was eating mouse contaminated bread.  They hiked up from the Appalachia Trail head at 4am this morning and are doing the whole traverse in a day.  This is a thing…doing the entire traverse in a day.  Its kind of like running a marathon but on a mountain ridge of jagged rocks…yeah.  There is another pair of women behind us doing this as well.  We are excited to be leap frogging with them all morning.  We climb up Jefferson and reach the spur just as the first pair of women are coming down and they exclaim to us how hard this past stretch has been and how one of them is nauseous and they look wicked sun burnt and its not even 9am.  I want to offer them my electrolyte tablets and sunblock but I refrain and just listen to this woman as she shares her experience with us and I try to trust that if she needs something she’ll ask and right now she just needs to be witnessed and share the  acknowledgment of the ruggedness of this ridge.  We nod like “yeah…this shit is hard” and they go on ahead.  We summit Jefferson and we feel amazing.  Its so big and there are no cars, no trains, no cafeterias, just rocks.  Its one of the most overwhelming summits I’ve ever experienced.  This mountain got to me.

As we hike down the other side of Jefferson another pair of women doing the traverse today catches up with us.  We chat with them a couple times and eventually they pass us too.  We reach the spur for Mount Clay and decide to skip it.  We had considered it but things are heating up and we have a long day ahead of us so we go around the side which is still a big climb.  Mt Clay is another one of those massive 4,000 footers that doesn’t count on the list of NH48 cuz its too close to another mountain or something…I don’t fully understand the criteria for the list…I just like goals.  I had kind of wanted to summit it anyway but now that we are here, its clear that this is not the right time so we bypass it.  We reach the intersection with the Jewell Trail and I have fond memories of hiking up it with 5e last summer.  The rocks start to even out a bit and we pick up some speed as we find the Weston Path.

We see the cog cruising up and down the Ammonoosuc Ravine and it look like a toy.  Our trail passes under it and we run under the tracks across the coal splattered everywhere and then wave to the passengers as a couple trains go by.  The summit of Washington is packed and we are glad to not be going up there today.  We’ve been there/done that and are over it.  We are on a gorgeous stretch of trail and we can see the Lake of The Clouds less than 2 miles down the ridge.  We meet back up with the Crawford Path and its now mid day and the hiker highway begins.

We reach the Lakes of The Clouds hut and we are greeted by a hut croo member who acknowledges my hat and shares with us that their sibling just recently attended some programming with The Venture Out Project and they met Perry and it was a nice connection and I’m feeling so happy.  I then ask if there are any leftovers for sale hoping for a bowl of that minestrone soup from last night but there is only cake and brownies which is awesome but I can’t eat any of that right now.  I wash my face in the bathroom and wet my bandana.  We spread out at a table and eat and refill our waters and look at the maps.  We lie down on the benches and rest for bit before heading back out.

Mount Monroe kicks our ass.  I just climbed Monroe last year with 5e and I can hardly remember it being anything more than a bump but right now, at this afternoon hour,  after all the miles and summits and sun exposure, it takes us a while to find our rhythm and as we slog up, this mountain feels huge right now.  From the summit we can see Mt Isolation where we were last week and Mount Jefferson looms behind us.  Mount Eisenhower is ahead and it looks impossibly far but we trek on.  The trail starts to transition from jagged rock to a mix of sand and gravel and boulders and there are stretches of what one might even call a “footpath”.  As we get closer to Eisenhower I start to fade and say things to Stud like “I dunno Stud”.  Stud responds with “we got this bigT!” and this is exactly what I need to to hear and I believe her and find a little extra oomf.

We reach the beginning of the climb up Mount Eisenhower and find a shady spot next to a big rock slab.  We’ve both had to pee for a while but have been completely exposed for miles waiting to find a spot that is slightly out of view as there have been many hikers coming and going.  We are both so wrecked we don’t have the energy to explore around the rock much so we basically take about 5 or 6 steps off the trail and pop squats right next to each other while hikers head our way and we are too weary to care.  The shade feels amazing.  We chug water and eat a snack and then power up Mount Eisenhower which feels like a soft tender friendly mountain after what we’ve been climbing all day.

From the summit of Eisenhower, our last summit goal of the day,  we decide to continue south on the Crawford Path instead of backtracking and then heading down Edmands Path.  We reach the intersection with the spur towards Mount Pierce and Mizpah Spring Hut.  The last time we were here was in winter and it looks completely different.  And just like that we are descending off the ridge following the good ole Crawford Path right down into Crawford Notch where Studs car awaits us.  These last 4.5 miles are a killer and we are moving slow when we hear that first pair of women coming up behind us.  We must have passed them when they headed up Mount Washington and bypassed it.  They also summited Mount Pierce and Mount Jackson as they were doing a full traverse.  They looked wild-eyed and sun burnt.  One of them talked a lot and was very excited and than referenced her friend behind her saying how she was totally wrecked.  We look at her friend and she did look wrecked and tried to speak but couldn’t even talk at this point so we just congratulate them as they stumble by.

We reach the Clinton Road cut-off and make it to our car.  Yay!  Its 7:30PM.  We’ve been hiking for 13 hours and have covered about 17 miles and four huge mountains with a fifth the day before.  We note that we don’t feel as wrecked as we did after Mount Isolation and we assume this is due to the lack of humidity?  We head towards Franconia Notch and stop at Echo Lake for swim but its too cold to get in so we just put our feet in and wash up a little before changing into dry clothes.  I’m proud of my overall lack of sunburn…just a spot on the back of left arm and some spots on my neck.  My Casper look really saved me and I can’t really get the zinc off so I remain Casper-like.

As of this traverse, Stud and I have hiked 39 out of 48 of the NH48 and its feels dang good.  I love that ridge so much and I actually can’t wait to go back up there again.  I want to explore the Great Gulf Wilderness and I’ve always wanted to hike across the Alpine Garden Trail that runs just above Tuckermans and Huntington Ravine.  There is just so much to explore up there and so much to learn.

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