Presie traverse – summer solstice

A traverse of (most of) The Presidential Range on the longest day of summer.

Text and photos by David Metsky; see the full version (with photos) on his site.

The summer was starting and a bunch of friends decided to do a one-day Presidential Traverse around the summer solstice. It’s a very seasonal thing to do, don’t you know. Most of us had done a Traverse, although I think I was the only one to who’d done a one-day trip before.

There were five of us; 3 Dave’s, Kathy, and Lelia, plus Mugs the Wonder dog.

We met in Crawford Notch the night before the hike, leaving my car there. We put another car at the Cog Railroad base station and drove around to a cabin near the trailhead in the final vehicle. There were five of us; 3 Dave’s, Kathy, and Lelia, plus Mugs the Wonder dog. 

The morning of the hike we woke up at 5:00 AM, had a traditional breakfast of OJ, rhubarb pie with ice cream, eggs, and leftover scalipini sauce. We drove the 300 yards to the trailhead since we couldn’t leave the car at the cabin and hit the trail just after 6:00 AM. The weather was hot and humid, even early in the morning, and we knew that we weren’t in for spectacular views. We took the Valley Way trail up to Madison Springs Hutbut presented with our first challange we wimped out and didn’t go up Mt. Madison. It was about 8:00 when we arrived and we knew there was a long day ahead of us. 

Next stop was Mt. Adams, so we continued up the Airline trail over the rough terrain towards the rocky summit cone. We rested at the summit in the shelter of the rocks, grabbed some water and started our first descent of the day. This was a test of the knees, and everyone was anxious about bad knees forcing us to bail early. We dropped down to Thunderstorm Junction, a large cairn at the meeting point of several trails and headed south without stopping. At t-storm I met some folks who had left Madison Hut before we did but didn’t go over the summit of Adams. They we impressed with our speed even though we were not hiking that fast. 

Our route was the Gulfside trail, which connects all the northern Presidentials. It travels across a relatively flat section between the various summits of Adams, then drops down to Edmonds Col. We took a bit of a rest there next to the plaque, grabbed some gorp and a few PowerBars, and tanked up on water. The original plan had been for Lelia to head back down the Randolf Path with Mugs, but he was doing fine so we continued on with him. With a quick look back we continued south. 

The climb up from Edmonds Col to Mt. Jefferson is pretty major but we were refreshed by passing by the only snow we encountered all day. After a few snowballs near the solstice we made it to the summit and dropped quickly to Montecello Lawn. We came to our second decision point, to go over or around Mt. Clay, and, like a good group we decided to split up, with Dave and Kathy going around while Dave, Lelia, Mugs, and I headed over. The many summits of Clay afford lovely views north back from where we came and into the Great Gulf leading up to Mt. Washington

From Clay we saw two trains of the Cog Railroad running over Jacob’s Ladder, the highest and steepest trestle on the line. We also got some hazy views over the Great Gulf and down onto the floor to see Spaulding Lake. Then the trail starts climbing in ernest, crossing the tracks and heading up towards the summit buildings. After one last big slog we hit the summit and took a well deserved rest among the tourists, cars, and machinery. It was approximately 1:00 PM. 

We didn’t feel like eating lunch up amongst the crowds so we headed on south, hoping to find a breezy spot below the summit cone. Just past the junction with the Westside trail we found our spot with a nice view of Lakes of the Clouds Hut and the southern Presidentials. We ate, approximately eight hours after we started, with sailplanes cruising overhead and the sound of the Cog Railroad occasionaly piercing the air. Lunch was done (and many liters of water consumed) and we started the psychological second half of our journey. It was mostly downhill (physically and mentally) from here. The trail winds between the upper and lower lakes, past the acid rain research station and arrives at the hut. 

The AMC Construction Crew (CC) was at the hut installing a wind generator to back up the solar cells. We noticed a similar one over at Madison and had a nice discussion with the CC guy about rock bars, helicopters, and life on the hill. After filling up water bottles for the last time, we headed out again. We had agreed that we were going to wimp out again and skip Mt Monroe since we’d all been up it and we were feeling the heat. The Crawford path took us around Monroe, past Mt Franklin and onto the final stages of the trip. The views were getting very hazy as the afternoon heat was getting us down. Dave and Lelia, with Mugs, headed over Mt Eisenhower and we decided to push on ahead so we could go do the car dance, picking up the one at Appilachia and the one at the Cog base. We could see Dave and Lelia coming down from the summit of Eisenhower as we reached Pierce and started the big drop down to Crawford Notch. This was the most painful part of the trip. Our feet were sore and the trail drops around 2000′ feet in three miles, but the end was in sight. We reached the road at 7:00 PM, thirteen hours total. I got my car at the cog and picked up Dave and Lelia who were down by then. Even Mugs was dead tired. Dave and Kathy had driven the Jefferson Notch road to pick up the car at Appilachia and met us in Twin Mountain for pizza, a fine end to an exhausting and enjoyable day. 

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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