Presidential Traverse

Posted on 14 Aug 2021 by Steve Markham

On Thursday, Andy, Kyle, and I headed to the White Mountains to hike the Presidential Traverse. According to a library book Janet got me, it’s one of the top 50 hikes in the world (only a couple of which are in the contiguous 48 states). It was difficult hiking and the weather was very hot, so there were some adjustments made mid-trip, but boy was it beautiful!

Looking southwest-ish from Monroe.
Looking southwest-ish from Monroe.

Some Backstory

If you just want pretty pictures with a little trip reporting interspersed, skip ahead.

Andy had planned a superb 8-day trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, starting August 12th. A few weeks ago, the Stake started getting desperate for more male coverage at girls camp, which starts August 16th. So, we decided to do Andy’s Long Trail trip later, and do a shorter two-night trip in NH this week, freeing up Andy and me to help at Camille’s first girls camp. Meanwhile, James has been hiking the AT since about April, and Andy ended up hiking with him starting this past Sunday, the 8th. So the final pre-hike plan for the Traverse was for Andy to leave James Thursday morning, park at Appalachia, and take an AMC shuttle to Crawford. Kyle and I would park at Crawford, hike with Andy back to his car, then get a ride with him back to our car, the end.

The Markhams had a lovely trip to Utah and LA, getting home at 1:05am Wednesday morning, minus one bag. Kyle managed to catch a cold. And Andy started feeling ill on his hike with James sometime around Tuesday. Oh, and there’s been a heat wave across the country since mid July.

Our modified version of the Presidential Traverse
Our modified version of the Presidential Traverse

Normally, a north-bound trip along the Presidential Traverse would cross Mounts Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Several of those are double peaks (eg, Little Clay and Clay, Little Monroe and Monroe, etc.) and Adams has 5 peaks. As it turned out, Andy decided to stop after Jackson, and Kyle and I started reconsidering our plan on the top of Washington. We didn’t go to the summit of Jefferson (though we did walk near it; you can see a red trail on the map, which we took), and we completely skipped Adams and Madison. We talked to several Southbound hikers, and none of them said anything nice about the parts of the trail we skipped, so I regret nothing. Sometime when I’m fully rested and there’s not a heat wave going on, I’ll check out the rest of the Presidential Range.

If you are not a glutton for punishment, I think the best of it was Washington and points southward. There’s a case to be made for taking a train up Washington and then hiking down in whatever loop you choose, though hiking up from the RR station also seemed fairly popular.

Anyway, time for pictures.

Some Pictures

We started up the trail around 12:40pm. Kyle and I had a quick lunch 15 minutes into the hike. We got to the top of Jackson around 3pm. It was very hot and humid, so we were sweating like crazy. Andy has adjusted his hiking setup. If you untuck your shirttails, some of the sweat will drip off them straight to the ground instead of into your pants. And if you keep your hanky out of your pocket, it will be dry the first time you use it.

The view back toward the trailhead from Jackson
The view back toward the trailhead from Jackson
A panorama from Jackson

We got to the AMC Mizpa hut around 4. The huts are lovely, but pricy compared to my usual backpacking accommodations, which are free. We cooked dinner and ate, and chatted about options. Andy had been hoping he’d feel better, but he was neither hungry nor thirsty at dinnertime, which was not a good sign. He decided to hike down along the Mount Clinton trail and then hitchhike back to my car, and go home. We traded keys, so that Kyle and I could go straight home from Appalachia. The plan at that point was for Kyle and I to hike a few more miles after dinner, camp somewhere along the trail Thursday night, then at the Valley Way tent site Friday night, and be home early Saturday afternoon.

The view northward from Pierce. You can easily see Eisenhower and Pierce. Washington is in the cloud, and Adams and Madison on to the right, far away.
The view northward from Pierce. You can easily see Eisenhower and Pierce. Washington is in the cloud, and Adams and Madison on to the right, far away.
The sunrays were striking, looking west from the saddle between Pierce and Eisenhower.
The sunrays were striking, looking west from the saddle between Pierce and Eisenhower.
Somewhere near Eisenhower the clouds rolled in. No thunder, thankfully.
Somewhere near Eisenhower the clouds rolled in. No thunder, thankfully.
I'm sure that Eisenhower has a lovely view most of the time. Not for us.
I'm sure that Eisenhower has a lovely view most of the time. Not for us.
Hiking a ridge above treeline shortly before sunset is quite a treat.
Hiking a ridge above treeline shortly before sunset is quite a treat.
I took 6 pictures at this spot, trying to capture Kyle's smiling face, the clouds, the sunset, and the rows of mountains.
I took 6 pictures at this spot, trying to capture Kyle's smiling face, the clouds, the sunset, and the rows of mountains.
Kyle had lost his smile and I chopped off his feet, but this one captures the view best, I think.
Kyle had lost his smile and I chopped off his feet, but this one captures the view best, I think.

We hiked down off the ridge a little ways past Eisenhower. In hindsight we probably should have gone farther down, but it was threatening to rain and we found a nice spot someone had cleared for tenting that was big enough for two hammocks. It was hot overnight, so it took a while to fall asleep despite being exhausted. We hit the trail around 7:45am Friday morning, trying to get in a few miles before breakfast.

Misty clouds were being blown over the ridge, and swirling downward on the other side. I couldn't catch it on video, but this picture gives a sense of it.
Misty clouds were being blown over the ridge, and swirling downward on the other side. I couldn't catch it on video, but this picture gives a sense of it.
Kyle commented several times about how fun it is to hike above the clouds.
Kyle commented several times about how fun it is to hike above the clouds.
I think this is looking back at Franklin from the saddle between it and Monroe. The trail seemed rocky at the time, but it go much worse later on:)
I think this is looking back at Franklin from the saddle between it and Monroe. The trail seemed rocky at the time, but it go much worse later on:)
I welcome feedback on the panorama viewer I am trying out, Pannellum.
From left to right: little Monroe, Washington (you can see the weather station), Monroe, then Adams way in the back.
From left to right: little Monroe, Washington (you can see the weather station), Monroe, then Adams way in the back.
You can see Jackson in the back on the left, and Pierce and Eisenhower and a lot of the trail we came in on.
You can see Jackson in the back on the left, and Pierce and Eisenhower and a lot of the trail we came in on.
The larger body of water on the left on the way to Washington is called Upper Lake of the Clouds, and there's an AMC hut hiding behind the hill right next to the lake.
This is still pre-breakfast on Friday. We got to the hut around 9am, found a shady spot, and cooked breakfast. It was very buggy there.
This is still pre-breakfast on Friday. We got to the hut around 9am, found a shady spot, and cooked breakfast. It was very buggy there.

Feeling energized from breakfast, we started the largest ascent, up to the top of Mount Washington, elevation 6288’.

Kyle checked the water temperature, determined it was not cold enough to build any significant character, and decided not to swim.
Kyle checked the water temperature, determined it was not cold enough to build any significant character, and decided not to swim.
STOP: The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad. White Mountain National Forest
STOP: The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad. White Mountain National Forest

The trail was rocky, and it was during the uphill side of Washington that I started complaining like a five year old. I’m hot. My feet hurt. Are we there yet? I need more water. James had warned Andy that after Monroe the trail got worse, and I was beginning to understand what he meant.

The top was kind of touristy, what with there being two different non-hiking ways to get there (car and train). The road was closed to the public, though, since they were having a race. Up a mountain. Average speed >50mph, apparently.

It was noisy, but kind of cool to watch.
I took pictures of each individual trains as they went up, where the trail was right by the track. But then I caught this picture of all three in the same frame on their way back down!
I took pictures of each individual trains as they went up, where the trail was right by the track. But then I caught this picture of all three in the same frame on their way back down!
There's about a mile of trail between Washington and Clay, and this valley on the right seemed humongous.
There's about a mile of trail between Washington and Clay, and this valley on the right seemed humongous.

Along this stretch is when I realized I was going to be sunburned before the end. It’s worst on my neck, but my arms are pretty pink as well.

Little Clay, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison all the way on the right.
Little Clay, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison all the way on the right.

We took a long water break on Little Clay and started discussing options. We had lunch on top of Clay and decided to skirt the summit of Jefferson, skip Adams and Madison entirely, and head straight for the car. If we hustled, we figured we’d get home without having to drive too late into the night.

Looking Southeast from the side of Jefferson

The highlight of the trip back to the car was a lovely spring near “The Perch” that had cold, crystal clear water. We also passed a few waterfalls, but I didn’t take pictures of any of it because we were trying to hustle. We got to the car before 6, but it’s a long drive and we didn’t get home until almost 11. I don’t love driving at night, but Kyle kept the conversation interesting the whole way.