Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Attempt at a Presidential Traverse: An Intro and Day One; Appalachia to The Perch

June 10-12, 2011

Yes....the title is written correctly. An attempt which ended with a bail out. This partial traverse was an amazing journey planned to backpack from Appalachia (via Valley Way) to Crawford Notch but got cut short due to an injury. It ended at Pinkham Notch instead. I did this with my  friend and high school classmate, Jim. Jim is an adventurer as well, taking on New Zealand and Peru in the past and is almost done with his second section hike of the Long Trail. He has also bagged Mts Washington and Lafayette numerous times but has never done the northern Whites. Jim and I have hiked quite a bit together this past year and know each others pace. I'm faster on the ascents and Jim is faster on the descents. Our packs weighed about the same at 40 pounds including water.

The Road Trip:
My first views of the Whites

We headed over to New Hampshire the day before our trip taking in the wonderful drive up Rt3. I had never seen the Whites before so once we reached Franconia Notch I was in awe. I immediately got camera crazy almost sustaining injury by rubber necking my surrounds. Simply amazing. The size of these mountains are very impressive. They just seem to go up forever.  Once we got to Rt 302 the clouds started to roll in covering most of our view. We then went to to Highland Center at Crawford Notch for some info, an up to date map, an extra bottle of fuel. I also decided to join the Appalachian Mountain Club. A $50 donation to enjoy a weekend in the Whites is a small price to pay. I even saved $12 for the weekend on my purchases because of my new membership. When we left the Highland Ctr there were thunderstorms in the area. 
At Dolly Copp
We decided on staying at Dolly Copp campground near Gorham. We immediately set up our tents then went into Gorham for dinner. After a good carb load at an Italian restaurant we went back to our site and built a small campfire when the storms decided to bless us. We sat in the truck studying our maps and guidebook. By 9:30pm we crashed. It rained on and off most of the night but most of the thunderstorms had passed.

Day One:
I awoke to silence with an occasional chirp of a Boreal Chickadee. It was 4:45am and the rains had stopped. Although I didn't get too much sleep I sprang out of my sleeping bag all giddy with excitement. The day I had planned for months had arrived. I knew by the afternoon I would be in an Alpine zone. The northeast United States has  a mere but rare 8 square miles of Alpine zone. Most of it lies in the Whites. Vermont has less than  300 acres of Alpine zone and I had only walked on less than 1 of them. I fired up the Pocket Rocket and had some coffee while the day grew brighter. By 6am the sun had peeked through the trees. A beautiful day. We had arranged to meet another classmate, Kathy who lives in the area and had offered to shuttle vehicles which was perfect. We were to meet her at 8:00am at the Appalachia trailhead. At 7am we left the campground and went and got a decent breakfast then hit up the trailhead. We arrived at Appalachia a little early which gave me time to stretch some and drink a liter of water.
Mt Madison on the way
I had seen Mt Madison on the ride from the campground and I knew I would sweat out that liter by noon. Kathi arrived promptly at 8. Now, we haven't seen each other in years....many years. For me it had been close to 5 years since I had last seen her and that was briefly. Before that the last time we saw each other was at our graduation. Jim hadn't seen her since graduation. It was a great reunion although it started to cut into our time. We hit the trail at 8:30am.
The Valley Way trail was our first and the only trail that we took up beyond the tree line. It, at first reminded me of my homeland with roots and rocks in a mixed forest that follows a beautiful brook. After an hour the footing changed to larger rocks with less roots and a much steeper ascent. As we gained elevation the air got cooler, the trees got shorter, the rocks got bigger and the trail got steeper. This was at that moment the toughest  terrain that I had ever been on. And it just kept going up. I knew that it was not going to be the hardest for the weekend. At hour 3 into the trek I got my first view of Mt Madison's enormous rock summit. I was breathless and almost in a trance by it's beauty.

My first glimpse of Mt Madison's summit

The upper part of Valley Way tr.
Although the trail ahead leading to the hut was even more difficult, I practically ran up it with a forty pound pack. It was in my reach and I wanted it then. At hour 3 and a half I was in alpine zone and would be for the rest of the day. At hour 4, we reached Madison Spring Hut. This hut is on the oldest hut site in the United  States and lies in a col between Mounts Madison and John Quincy Adams. It is the second highest in this hut chain sitting at 4800 feet above sea level. This was, at the time, the highest that I have ever trekked in my life. Both Madison and Adams towered over this mountain pass. We stopped at the hut and took a break. The caretaker offered cakes & lemonade and was kind enough to give us suggested routes and more up to date info on our ahead journey. She even watched our packs so we could bag Madison without lugging them up and back. After our break and much needed refuel we started our ascent to the peak of Madison.

On Mt Madison
I was now on completely different terrain; summit boulders. The trail was now boulder to boulder that leave no footprints. Cairn navigation is the only was to tell which way the trail goes...with the aide of trekking pole scratches. At 1:37pm on June 10, 2011 after 0.4 miles and another 566 feet in elevation, I bagged my first 5000 footer standing on top of 5366 foot Mount Madison. Jim shortly joined me. We didn't say much at first taking it all in. I was at the top of the world it seemed...I stood on the peak and did a slow 360 degree spin as a tear rolled down my wind burned cheek. A true wow moment.

On top of Mt Madison, 5366 feet above sea level

On Gulfside tr.
We stayed on the summit for about 20 minutes before trekking down. It didn't take us long but for me the downs are harder. We stopped at the hut to pick up our packs. Mine was leaking. It seems that pressure builds inside a water bottle when ya fill it at the bottom and carry it up 4800 feet. It was squirting out of the vent until I released the pressure. Soon we were off to start our ridgeline journey along Gulfside Trail towards the 4 Adams prominences.

Alongside J Q Adams and Adams the trail is well maintained with flat rocks for quite some distance. I picked up my pace some stopping every few hundred yards to take in the awesome views of my previous bag and King Ravine below. At  one point I noticed someone standing on top of Madison. Phil from Section Hiker was on that mountain the same day... maybe it was him.
Phil on Madison??

King Ravine
These valleys are deep and steep but so gorgeous. Steadily trudging along we soon arrived at Thunderstorm Junction...a windy col that sits between the Adams. Mts J Q Adams and Adams to the east and Sam Adams and Adams 4 to the west. Because of time and exhaustion we decided to skip bagging Mt Adams. Once southwest of TS Jct and approaching the south side of Sam Adams the views of Washington, Clay and Jefferson was our main view. 

Washington, Clay and Jefferson

Soon we were at the junction of Israel Ridge Path, our days journey was almost over and we had to descend to The Perch for the night. The I R Path winds around to expose the north side of Mt Jefferson. Wow is all I could say. The ridge that leads to Mt Jefferson is aptly named The Castle Ridge with Castle Ravine and Emerald Bluff below. The late afternoon sun lit up the greens and grays. We took a break before we went below the treeline for the night.
Jim overlooking The Castles and Castle Ravine

We continued down 1000 feet until we hit the spur that leads to The Perch; a Randolf Mountain Club shelter that nestles 1400 feet below the peak of Mt Adams 4 directly due west. It was 5:30. Our days journey was at an end. An older lady was cooking her meal when we arrived. Jim and I rested for a moment taking in the early evening sun.
Jim on his post hike rest
Thank you for getting me here.

After setting up camp on the tent platforms 2 more sets of two backpackers came down the spur. They too chose to let the lady have the shelter to herself. After a dinner and water refill we soon crashed. Our day was over....


  1. We really just missed each other. The caretaker at Crag visited The Perch that night and said there were 9 people staying there. You must have been ones of them.

  2. Yea, actually there were seven of us at The Perch. The trek over must have jogged her memory some.

  3. Day one is so jam packed full of significant events! how can it get any better...

  4. Thats a lot of mountain action for one day! I have not been to the Whites since March. Posts like this are the next best thing to being there myself!