Saturday, April 22, 2023
Start time: 6:44am
Start of hike: Appalachia TH
End of hike: Crawford Notch
Miles hiked: 18.73
Elevation gain/loss of hike: 8757’/8169′
Peaks: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce
I’ve been working on my NH48 grid quite a bit this month, and a Presi Traverse has been a goal but my available days and the weather haven’t been lining up. The night before, I made the call to say ‘no’ to a Presi, since the Higher Summits forecast was showing as the summits being in the clouds for most of the day. The wind gusts were borderline for me and the trail conditions themselves had sounded favorable, but I didn’t want to deal with mixed terrain with higher wind gusts in addition to low visibility. I packed up my car early with my 20-year-old hybrid mountain bike and headed towards Gorham, thinking of hiking the Wildcat-> Moriah traverse instead. But as I drove along, I saw the Presidentials were in the clear, so I pulled over to check the morning forecast. It looked much more favorable, with summits forecast to be in the clouds this evening rather than halfway through the day. So I decided to call an audible, and make a last minute change of plan. I drove to the notch, set up my bike by the Jackson trailhead (thinking I’d do Jackson too, because I needed it for my grid), and then headed to Appalachia.
I started from Appalachia with 2L of water at 6:44am. I took Valley Way and was delighted to find it clear of snow for the first few miles of ascent. Then I tossed on my Exospikes for traction as it turned into an icy monorail/packed trail. I hit the closed hut pretty quickly, removing my spikes since it was almost exclusively dry rock everywhere above treeline, went up to tag Madison, and then headed back down and over towards Adams. I’d been sweating profusely so I stopped on trail as I ascended Adams to refill the liter I had already drunk; water was flowing everywhere today even if the huts and the summit were all closed.
The climb up Adams was lovely – the wind was the lightest I’ve ever encountered there, at a gentle ~10 MPH breeze. Then I followed the standard route over towards Jefferson; there were still some snow fields but they were solid after a cool overnight, even though the sun was hot through the high clouds and I was worrying about sunburn. I stopped at the Randolph Path intersection to slather on some sunscreen, before heading up towards the Jefferson snowfield. The top layer of snow was melting and there weren’t clear steps, so I took my time, kicking steps as I went. Once I cleared that section, there was almost no snow up to Jefferson’s summit and it was nice to be able to follow the official path there – in full winter, the cairns aren’t visible.
Then it was down Jefferson and over towards Clay. I’d never summited Clay before, so this was a new experience for me. There was a bit more snow up towards the top of Clay than any of the previous summits and no packed trail, so it was a bit slower going. Then it was down and over towards the Cog along the AT. I kept to Gulfside trail until the official Cog crossing since the snow was melted enough I felt secure hiking close to the Great Gulf; there were even some skiiers prepping to descend the Great Gulf, though I had to navigate around them as they were prepping in the middle of the trail.
As I’d climbed Jefferson, I’d been watching clouds coming in over the summits. The clouds had started further south, with Pierce and Eisenhower, and then swallowed up Monroe. By the time I made it over Clay, the clouds had moved up to Washington. As I crossed the Cog, I went into the damp clouds. The wind was manageable, at around 30-40 MPH; I traveled cairn to cairn up to the summit sign. I saw a few climbers coming up from the Pinkham side, but the summit was relatively quiet. I was rationing my water and hoping for the summit building to be open, but it wasn’t, so I knew I’d be stuck with natural water sources for the rest of the Presi. I looped around and descended by Crawford Path, heading towards Lake of the Clouds. The descent was a mix of awful conditions – there were sections with calf-deep water running over and along the trail, then there were sections with snowfields. The visibility was very bad heading towards the hut and I was within a rock’s throw before I could even see it.
The wind had started increasing as well, with gusts up to 60 MPH. I ducked behind the hut, ate a snack because I’d been completely neglecting my fueling, and added my rainshell and goretex mitten shells to my layers. People coming up from Ammo were congregating at the hut, and they were talking about turning back due to the conditions which seemed like a very good idea. I pulled up my Buff wrap to protect from the wind and started up Monroe; I was glad for the quick ascent, since my left eyelashes were accumulating ice from the cloud moisture and ~20-degree windchill. I hit the summit and then scrambled down towards Crawford Path as quick as I could, though the visibility was bad and the wind was fierce. Once on Crawford Path/AT, I made much better time as the trail smoothed out and the wind gusts were less severe. Once I hit the summit of Eisenhower, the visibility had cleared up heading south and I could actually see Pierce in the distance. As I headed to Pierce, I decided that I’d descend from Pierce to Crawford Notch, rather than add on Jackson. The conditions had slowed me down quite a bit, and I wanted to be sure I had enough time to bike back to my car before sunset. Pierce was an easy climb and then it was all downhill. I ran the descent while there was a packed monorail to smooth out the rocks. Once that ended, I hiked as quickly as I could through the running water to get to the notch.
My feet had been bothering me for a while, feeling like my socks were bunching up under the balls of my feet. So I kept pulling my socks up. Unfortunately, that feeling was just from the soles of my feet rubbing against my wet insole; I ended up pulling the socks too taut, and both of my big toes had popped through my socks. My right big toe spent hours rubbing again the inside of my shoe, and developed a very large blood blister, though I didn’t see the blister until after I finished the Picnic. The water on the trail was cold and the high temp was in the mid 40s, so my feet went completely numb multiple times throughout the day, including while biking.
I made it to the Crawford Path sign by the notch at 4:11pm, and then run-shuffled the 0.4mi over to the Webster-Jackson TH where my bike was. I’d forgotten to drop a liter of water with my bike, so I was only picking up my bike, bike helmet, and bike lock there. My hybrid mountain bike has pedal cages, so I didn’t change shoes, but hopped on and headed off.
Start of ride: Crawford Notch
End of ride: Appalachia TH
Miles ridden: 27.55
Elevation gain/loss of ride: 1145’/1726′
Roads ridden: Route 302, Route 3, Owls Head Hwy/Route 115, Presidential Hwy/Route 2
End time: 6:48pm
Total time: 12 hours, 4 minutes
I made the very conscious choice to not stop at either of the gas stations I passed on my ride. Since all services were closed on the traverse and I did not store any supplies with my bike, if I only collected my water from natural water sources, this would be an unsupported effort. It was painful to ride my bike past these gas stations with delis, smelling fresh food cooking, but I was also tired and dehydrated enough that I was deliriously focused on forward momentum. The downhill on Route 302 at the start was lovely, and the small hill climb up Route 3 wasn’t bad, but the initial climb on 115 was terrible. I had my bike in first gear and was going slower than walking for some of the climb. But I kept moving and the ride started to blur. I double-checked my map less than a mile from Route 2 because I thought I’d somehow missed a turnoff in my distracted state, but I just needed to keep going a bit further. Route 115 was less flat than it seems in a car, but the initial Route 2 climb wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I pulled off at the roadside spring to drink some water and that perked me up a bit. There were a few miles with no shoulder and cracked pavement, but it soon opened back up to a solid 3-4′ shoulder like the rest of the way, just in time to cruise the last few miles to the trailhead. I stopped my watch and took a photo of my watch at 6:48pm, for 12 hours and 4 minutes total time.