On Top of the World
A truly magnificent day on the Presidential Range.
Wow. Saturday was an absolutely incredible day! Here’s a photo preview, make sure to read on for more details and more photos!
Liz and I tossed the idea of a Presi Traverse around a few weeks ago. We planned to leave early enough so that we’d arrive on Mt. Washington before the first runners of the Mt. Washington Road Race (let’s be honest, we all assumed it’d be Joe Gray, no offense to Sage). I figured it’d take us around 5.5 hours if we left from Dolly Copp, so we planned to start by 4:15 to be safe. Since both of us had over 2hrs of driving to get there, we planned on camping Friday night in Dolly Copp. They aren’t accepting reservations, so our backup plan was hiking 1/4mi off-trail and camping in the National Forest.
We arrived at Highland Center to drop a car around 7pm on Friday night, then stopped in Gorham for dinner. Arriving at Dolly Copp campground around 9:00, we thankfully found plenty of open sites! We also noticed that there was a detour on the Daniel Webster Scout trail, due to campground construction, which added an extra mile or so. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to factor that into our departure time.We set up camp and crashed quickly to try to get a decent night’s sleep. We agreed to wake up at 3:45am for coffee and a few calories before setting off between 4:15 and 4:30.
We DID wake up at 3:45… but it took us a bit longer to get everything together and pack up camp. The forecast was for 40º – 50ºF, with 15-30mph winds and intermittent drizzle. We assumed we’d be in the clouds most of the day. We packed accordingly, with rain gear, long sleeves and even pants for spectating the road race on top of Mt. Washington. For the first time, I put my dry gear in a cuben fiber drybag, just in case! This was by far the heaviest I’ve ever packed my Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 12; I couldn’t squeeze in my full reservoir without taking things out!
We moved the car to the parking lot and departed onto the detoured trail at 4:57am. That first mile was fairly flat double-track, meandering through some fields and forests before looping over to join the main DWS trail. It was drizzling a bit at the beginning, so I started out the day in my North Face HyperAir jacket, made with the new GoreTex Active. That was quickly removed as we entered the forest and the drizzle stopped. The morning was still very misty, but the sun was trying increasingly hard to peek through.
We hiked comfortably fast through the first climb up Madison, trying not to push too hard on the easiest climbing terrain of the day. The temperature was still comfortable, but on the warm side, so we were looking forward to getting the breeze above treeline after 4.5mi of work. Upon reaching treeline an hour and 50 minutes into the day, we turned around and were met with bright sunlight and the most magnificent inversion I’ve ever seen. I think there were more than a few curse words between the two of us! The clouds beneath us seemed to stretch infinitely toward the horizon, with only a few of the highest peaks able to break the sea of white.
It was difficult not to stand around and stare all day, but we knew the views would only get better as we continued to climb.
We topped out on Madison two and a half hours in, and knew then that making it to Washington in time was doubtful. Who cares? It was a wonderful day!
The journey down to Madison Spring Hut was pretty damp and the rocks were slippery, so we descended fairly slowly. The rocks in this section I’ve found to be smoother than the rocks over the rest of the Presidentials.
For the first time, I remembered NOT to blindly hike up Mt. Quincy Adams, but instead take Star Lake around to Mt. Adams.
As we approached Jefferson, it looked increasingly imposing, and we decided to skip it and try to get to Washington a bit sooner. We knew we’d already miss the top finishers, but were hoping to see as many folks as we could. We also were starting to get sunburned, as we’d brought rain gear instead of sunscreen!
After passing Jefferson, we encountered our first snow! It felt amazing to put some in my hat on this hot day… unfortunately the relief didn’t last long!
We continued to push a bit up to Washington, reaching the auto road in about 5h 45m. We walked next to some of the racers for the last stretch past cowbell corner where Chris Dunn was roaRing at all the runners.
After chilling around on top for awhile to talk to folks, encourage runners, find sunscreen, fill water, etc., we headed out around 12:15pm.
We jogged a bit on the descent to Lakes of the Clouds, but mostly we just hiked and enjoyed the day! We knew the hard part was over, and our only time constraint was finishing before dark.
As we moved onto the southern Presidential range, the scenery began to change a bit. Some less rocky stretches, with more visible vegetation made it very obvious how far we’d traveled.
It was difficult at times to not stop and take photos constantly! We continued over to Eisenhower at a brisk hike.
As we got closer to the end we started talking abut how far we wanted to go. We had the long choice and the short choice, but we were having fun so obviously we’d tag Jackson on the end! This is where the scenery really changed. Things descended back into the forest, with lots of moss, mud and log walkways.
We reached Jackson at 4:45pm, meaning we’d been out for almost 12 hours already! I can’t speak for Liz, but I was actually a bit sad there weren’t any more mountains to tack onto the end…
We could have run the descent back to Rt. 302… but we really had no desire, and enjoyed taking it at a chill pace.
We finished the whole thing in 13:24 elapsed, with a total of 24.8mi and just under 9,000 feet of elevation gain. My longest day in the mountains by 3 and half hours, and the most fun too!
Big thanks to Liz for being such wonderful company, trusting me to lead the way, and putting up with me not having a clue at least half the time. Check out her blog here. Lots of great writing and inspiration there!
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post outlining my trip! I leave July 9th, and return around August 16th!