White Mountains Presidential Traverse

White Mountains Presidential Traverse

The Presidential Range is located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Known for its harsh weather and challenging conditions, the trek consists of a 20 mile hike across the exposed ridgeline with summits of Mt. Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. My 2018 summer went out with a bang by tackling the iconic route hiking south along the ridge, making friends, experiencing AMC hut hopping, taking in the views of this beautiful section of the east, and living one of my most memorial hiking experiences.

After returning from the Smoky Mountains, I had mountains on my mind. The mountains were definitely calling my name. Hearing about the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains from a friend who recently tackled the trek, inspired me and sounded like the perfect way to satsiate my mountain fever. My friend described how the AMC huts along the ridgeline were super convenient and allowed one to trek without the need for much food or a tent. The huts (basically hostels) offer breakfast, dinner and a bunk right off of the trail at three different locations. Grateful for the tip, I became an AMC member to get the discounted hut rate and booked two along my route. Be sure to book early as the huts are very popular (I made reservations two months in advance).

Trekking from hut to hut (with amazing food service) makes for a much light pack!

I started my jounrey at the AMC Highland Lodge where I had arranged shuttle transport to the trailhead. My planned route would begin at the Appalachia Trailhead and hike south starting at Mount Madison and ending at Mount Eisenhower. I would be staying at Madison Spring hut the first night and Mizpuh hut the second night. My third and final night would put me back at Highland Lodge, completing a makeshift loop.

AMC’s Highland Lodge. No bad views here.

My excitement was through the roof as more and more backpackers joined the shuttle as we cut through the winding roads. It was panoramic views of mountains for the entire ride, and I had fun trying to guess which mountains I would soon be standing atop. I caught sight of the cog train rail line that leads to the summit of Mount Washington and my stomach dropped as I realized that the top was not visible from my vantage point. I was so ready to push my limits and climb these monsters that stood intimadatingly in front of me.

With a quick wave to the shuttle driver, I was off to tackle what has been described as a killer ascent to the base of Mount Madison. It would be about a 4 mile hike with constant elevation gain totaling a little over 3,000 feet. I had plenty of time as Madison Spring hut sat at the base and marked my final destination for the day. Let the climbing begin…..

Encouraging words as I begin my ascent….
There’s a trail there somewhere. Onwards and upwards!
Starting to get above the treeline

The shape of Madison Spring hut soon appeared as I made my way out of the treeline and onto the exposed ridge. It was a welcomed sight and the summit of Mount Madison towered behind the hut, making it feel like a doll house. I checked in and found a bunk before heading out to complete the climb to Madison’s summit.

Madison Spring Hut with Mount Madison looming in the background
Home for the night

My excitement got the best of me and I made my Madison summit attempt far too quickly. I arrived at button marking the summit and felt light headed and nausteous. It was at this point that I started to worry that I was not prepared for what lay ahead of me. If one summit climb pushed me to the point of feeling faint, how was I going to bag the other 6? Luckily, it was gorgeous, clear day and a half hour of taking in the views calmed my nerves.

At the summit of Madison with Mount Adams and Mount Washington in the distance.
A change in perspective: Madison Hut from the summit

Dinner was served promptly at 6pm after the Croo (AMC staff members) welcomed us to their summer home. I felt like I was back at summer camp with their enthusiasm and upbeat chants. The huts are very environmentally friendly as they are off the grid, relying on the Croo to hike down trash and hike in resupplies (mind this is up and down the 3,000 some foot of elevation I had just tackled). One of my favorite lines from the trip was “make friends with your neighbor because you can use their sleeve as a napkin”. Zero-waste and conservation minded for sure; right up my ally. Food was served family style, and I began to understand how thru-hikers get hooked on the comradery of fellow hikers. The strangers turned friends at the table exchanged incredible hiking stories. I was surrounded by people just like me. Humbled by nature, obsessed with pushing their limits and grateful for every minute outside.

Kitchen setup at Madison Hut
Badass AMC hut Croo hiking out trash from one of the high mountain huts. They would just lash supplies (and/or trash) to these wooden backboards and seemingly sprint down the trail.

I naievly thought that I would be the only one starting my hike early at 5am, but I was greeted by a slew of others prepping their gear and getting their coffee fix in the hut’s cafeteria. Standing before me, the climb to Mount Adams was my wakeup call. I passed my new friend from previous night a few times on the ascent as we stopped at different times to catch our breath.

Early morning sunrise over Mount Madison as I make my way towards Adams.

I soon entered the clouds and the rock scrambles took on an eerie appearance in the fog. Unfortunately, the summit didn’t provide much of a view due to the low clouds, but it felt like I was on a different planet with the humid, cool air hitting my face surrounded by dense white haze.

Foggy summits would become a norm for the day

Between each summit in the Presidential’s are slight descents that provide continuous views of of the surrounding valley. You remain above the treeline on the ridge the entire time, so the views are uninterrupted and make for nice breaks in between peaks. I escaped the clouds of Mount Adams for a brief time before scrambling up Mount Jefferson for much of the same experience, white in every direction. Of course it was a little upsetting that I didn’t get the summit views, but it drove home the fact that nature was in control. I wasn’t guaranteed perfect vistas. This is one of the main reasons I’m attracted to remote hiking. You get to experience the raw components of our planet, the good and the bad. It’s a humbling experience and makes you remember to give thanks for the times when everything goes as planned. Sometimes life doesn’t always go as planned, it’s up to you to call it adventure.

Ridge line between summits offered ever-changing views

My friend and I crossed paths again after descending Jefferson and worked together to figure out what path to take at a fork in the trail. It’s a great feeling having someone to look out for you, even if it is a stranger you just met last night and you aren’t officially hiking together, having someone expecting you or crossing paths every once in a while makes you feel safe, especially as a solo hiker.

Next up was the iconic Mount Washington. The gradual ascent felt like it was ten times longer than it really was. Hearing the cog train puttering up the mountain was a strange experience, but marked that the summit was approaching. It sounded like a semi-truck barreling down the highway, but the dense fog made it impossible to see, making the sound seem to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The silhouette of the weather observatory appeared in the distance and I could make out the massive line of people waiting for a photo opportunity at the Mount Washington sign.

Cog train tracks cross the hiking trail in a few areas making for some precarious maneuvers
The observatory at the top of Mount Washington (accessible via hike, car, or cog train) makes a nice stop for warm food and a place to warm up

Descending Washington took place mainly in the clouds, but soon Lake of the Clouds hut appeared. Today, it was appropriately named. I quickly popped in to check out the interior after taking a minute to enjoy the two twin lakes that give the hut its name.

Lake of Clouds hut sitting very suitably in the clouds
Lake of Clouds hut with one of the twin lakes to the right

Mount Monroe was next, followed by Eisenhower and Pierce. I met up with my friend on the summit of Monroe for a few minutes where we took in the view together (the clouds were finally breaking).

Almost to the summit of Monroe

Eisenhower and Pierce were more gradual climbs compared to the northern Presidential’s, but the ridge views were some of my favorites from the trip.

More breathtaking ridge views between peaks
Atop Mount Eisenhower
View from Mount Pierce. Eisenhower is the rock covered mountain in the distance.

The descent from Pierce (the final peak in the Presidential Range proper) was surprisingly steep. I kept thinking to myself how difficult the trail would have been to climb if I had decided to hike north on the trail instead of south. My final stop of the day was at Mizpuh hut, tucked in the trees just before the steep ascent to Mount Pierce.

Mizpuh hut
Prior to dinner, the hut Croo provide an ecology and mountain skills lesson, which is a really cool experience learning about the life in mountains while it surrounds you.

My friend sat down beside me after she returned from summiting Mount Jackson (the last summit I had planned for myself the next day). We were at a table with two guys who were Appalachian Trail alumni, and they started talking about the impact hiking has had on their lives. I was so intrigued and moved by their stories. They started talking about “tramilies” (trail families) that they made along the way. It was at that moment that I experienced what is so far my favorite hiking memory. My friend turned to me and said “I guess you’re my tramily.” Such simple words. Having passed each other multiple times throughout the day and helping eachother along the way, the thought never crossed my mind until now. I don’t know why that statement had such an impact on me, but I will never forget that connection I felt talking to other hiking enthusiasts who 24 hours ago were complete strangers; the power of the trail.

The night ended with some star gazing and wine shared with a group of incredible women who hiked in a full box of wine.

The next morning, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast with my tramily and said our goodbyes, hopeful to one day soon hike together again. I set off to bag what I thought would be my final peak for the trip, Mount Jefferson.

Swampy terrain with some nice bridges before Mount Jackson

Mount Jackson was a pretty special summit for me as it provided a view of the entire southern section of the Presidential Range. It was humbling looking back at the distance I had covered and the mountains I had climbed. For at least an hour, I took in the scenery reminiscing on my adventure.

View from Mount Jackson. The small white dot in the sea of green in the left center is Mizpuh hut.
Looking back over the Presidential Range I had just conquered.

Two hours later, I was back at the AMC Highland Lodge. Still feeling the call of the mountains, I refused to say my hiking was over no matter what my body was telling me. I checked into my bunk room at the lodge and scurried up Mount Webster for my 8th summit.

Mount Webster provided outstanding views of Crawford Notch below.

Highland Lodge was having a wine and beer social on the patio that evening. Talk about a perfect way to close out the trip.

Wine with a view to close out the trip

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