Monday, September 10, 2018

Presidential Traverse Attempt, September 3rd 2018

After YEARS of wishing, and hoping, and planning (or maybe weeks.... but who's counting) Evan, Eric and I all managed to get a day off together, with the intention of conquering the traverse.

Even the weather seemed ready to cooperate. 6 hours out, we were looking at some possible morning showers, a solid sunny day with warm temps, and some thunderstorms that might arrive after we expected to finish up. (so no real concerns!) We all felt excited, unreasonably well prepared, and ready to take it on!!

As usual, we got up really horribly early. (1:30!!) The early hour didn't feel bad at all. We were all quite excited, feeling good, and ready to gooooo!

For the first time ever, we arrived at the Appalachia parking lot early, and began our hike at 3:20 (10 min ahead of schedule!!) The lot was crowded, but not nearly as badly as the last time we were there in July. It was extremely warm (70) and very humid, but clear.

Typical "start" pic!
The owls greeted us, and for the first half mile they were very active and talkative. It was a pretty neat way to get the day started!

Since Eric and I have taken Valley Way twice this year, we chose the Watson Path option.

Watson proved to be a challenge, which was not unexpected. While it cuts off a bit of mileage, and eliminates the need for the out-and-back from Madison Hut to the Summit, it is God Damn aggressive.  We aren't sad that we did it, but now we can tell you to not bother with it, especially if it is dark.

Looking down at Eric and Evan while heading up Watson Path
And dark it was. We played "find the cairn" because getting lost on the first peak is lame. (getting lost on ANY peak is LAME.)

That's me, looking for a cairn!
AND. This should come a a shock to nobody. As soon as dawn broke, we realized we were completely stuck in the clouds.

For Christ Sake
We summited Madison and it was a damp crap fest.

Happy in the crap fest, haha!
And then it began to rain. And it was 40 MPH wind. And I fell down, skidded into a crevice and got rather shaken up.

We hobbled into the Hut, in a bit of a mess. Well, Evan seemed to be feeling good. But the old people were feeling that the conditions needed to be discussed.
We took a bit of time and checked out the forecast (it looked crummy, 50 degrees, stupid wind, low visibility.) The one thing that was a positive, was that the rain was supposed to stop, and it wasn't freezing  Looking out the hut windows, at the pea soup conditions we did NOT feel encouraged, but with a plan to take it very slow and safe, we headed to Adams.

Adams was a mess.
We stopped prior to summiting and discussed the pros and cons of continuing. As motivated, and excited as we were to complete the hike, safety trumps all. We concluded that with the fitness we had, with the items we had brought, and the (multiple) back-up and bail-out plans in place, we could continue with caution and reassess as needed.

At one point, even thought we continued to play "find the cairn" we lost the one in front of us (but could see the previous one #safety.) Evan was in the lead, not far ahead, when the clouds completely obscured him from my and Eric's vision. We were all like "OK. STOP. DANGER." The wind blew the cloud away, just enough for Eric to get a line of sight on the next cairn, which was in a rather unexpected place. So, we continued! Happily!

From there, it was more of the same. About the time that we hit the Col between Adams and Jefferson, we were being bombarded by ridiculous wind, and combined with the still very slick conditions, summiting Jefferson seemed stupid. We hunkered down behind a huge rock and came up with a plan B.

From behind the large rock
Rather than just calling it a day, and having Lee pick us up from the base of Washington, we decided to avoid summits until the weather improved. (or, until we got to Washington and decided to bail!!) This meant the end of our real traverse attempt, but left the door open for a decent long hike. The climb over Madison and Adams to Jefferson is always a tedious stretch, but the conditions were making it a bit more of an issue. I think if we had made it up Jefferson, we probably would have bailed early.
We DO NOT wish to be the people who casually go hiking, and need helicopter evacuation. Evan especially did not want this, as he had not purchased the Fish and Game Department Hike Safe Card (which is sort of like hiking insurance, more or less!) (and honestly, don't get a heli evac. just don't.)
Since it was complete crap out I kept shouting encouraging statements, in between bouts of falling down and getting very angry. I was like "you GUYS!!! We just need RELENTLESS FORWARD COMMOTION!!!!" (you had to be there. it was very appropriate, given the situation!)

We tip-toed along, passing below the summits of Jefferson and Clay. Compared to every other hike this season, the trail was dead quiet (not really a super hiking day!) We finally got a break in the wind after passing the trail to head up Jefferson, and we took a chance to grab a snack.

We are always eating
Coming to Washington, we heard (but didn't see...  because fog....) the train, and walked under the tracks on our way to Crawford Path.

Can't miss an instagram moment!!
Despite the still cloudy weather, the hike to avoid Washington's peak was a good one. Some pretty decent rock footing, and the definite feeling that you are LITERALLY CLINGING TO THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN!!! Evan kept jokingly bringing up his need for the Helicopter evac, and (always fascinated by nature) thought about adding some wild mushrooms and berries to his diet to speed up the inevitable evacuation. This was very funny at the time.....!

Clinging, and snacking. 
And then again (nobody is shocked!) We arrived at Lakes of the Clouds, and the damn sun came out! And the wind quit! And it was a million degrees and magical!!

So, from there.....

We killed Monroe (always a good one!)

Technically heading towards Franklin here
Evan literally RAN up Eisenhower!!!

And then, he waited for us a the top.

It's good to be young!
We saw adorable BIRDS!!

I love you
And we then skipped our way to Pierce.

And made it!

Relaxing after a LONG DAY!
We LOVE the Southern peaks. They are just so much fun, and can totally save an otherwise tricky hike.
Just not ugly at all
We hobbled down through Narnia.

There is no forest prettier than the one on Crawford Path
And met Lee in the glorious parking lot for beers!!!
Literally so tired
No, this was technically not a "Traverse" but we still crushed a ton of mileage, bagged and tagged a bunch of peaks, did not die, and Evan and I had fun! (Eric was a little too worried about the conditions to have quite as much fun as we did.... he is a good adult.)

I was bloody!
After a good clean up, haha. 
The moral of the story here.
We aren't the most expert hikers in the universe, and would not be wishing to deal with conditions more challenging that we faced. As usual, we were well prepared with ample food and emergency gear, and kept a keen eye on our direction. (it would be far too easy to become disoriented in the bad visibility.) We did have a good hike. We stayed safe, and relatively unscathed. We managed to have good communication with the outside world, via texting/messenger. (don't count on that though!)
We were very happy to be able to experience this with Evan, and hope that we can manage all the peaks sometime in the near future!

Know this: if you decide to bypass peaks for safety, it is still a very long and challenging hike. Always have bail out options. Always have a plan. We discussed the safest choices a number of times, and if any of us had been out of shape, this hike would not have been viable!


Elevation- 7,700 ft

Time: 13:40 (and honestly, you just have to except to have a pretty decent amount of stopped time. We had about 1:15, which included hut breaks, peeing, snacking, and having to engage in a huge safety summit while hanging off the side of Adams in the fog....!)

Challenge level- in the conditions we dealt with, I would call this extremely difficult. I am sure there are people (expert hikers, really experienced outdoor people) who may be extremely confident in the weather we dealt with. If you, like us, are normal people (and we happen to be relatively fit, and have appropriate safety gear) please use caution when dealing with any poor weather conditions in the White Mountains.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mt Pierce, Eisenhower (Pierce again) Jackson, Webster. August 25, 2018

On Saturday, Eric and I hiked Mt Pierce, Eisenhower, (back to Pierce), Jackson and Webster.
(warning. lots of pics. but everyone likes this better than lots of words!)

Our intention behind this particular hike was to do a little recon work for a potential extended traverse at some point in time.
We tapped out (according to plan, and most hikers do) at Pierce, during our traverse earlier in the season. Some people choose to extend the hike to Jackson, and occasionally (but rarely, from what we understand) to Webster. Since we plan/hope to take another crack at the traverse later this year, we decided to see what we would be getting into by adding a peak. Or two.

The weather was stunning, although warm. Clear skies, tinged with smoke from the Pacific Northwest fires made for some interesting clouds, and a stunning sunrise.

We began our hike from the lot on Clinton Rd. It was early enough so that there was ample space both there and at the AMC Highland center.

After a quick gear/trail check we headed up Crawford Path, the same trail that we made our traverse decent upon (so nostalgic!!)

"where the hell are we going" -trail navigation *expert*
Since I am a waterfall fan, we made the very short detour (literally steps off the trail, in the first mile) to Gibbs Falls. Worth it, because it's never a mistake to walk three steps to see a little falls.

So pretty!
We met very little hiker traffic, and enjoyed the peaceful ascent. The trail was quite damp from recent rainfall and we soon found ourselves to be a bit mucky. The footing was totally fine for climbing though, and we were making good progress (especially since we only met a handful of other hikers.)

The mid week precipitation had definitely added some green to the surroundings, and I certainly enjoyed the walk through Narnia.

Crawford path is so lush
After 95 minutes of hiking, we reached the Pierce Summit. We found several other hikers there (some of whom we passed messages to, from hikers we had met earlier in the hike. So fun!) However, it was still early enough to avoid the lunch rush. (about 9:10AM- so, LATE for us, but early for sane people)
Pierce round 1, looking at Eisenhower, Monroe, with Washington in the obvious distance
We more or less made a game time decision to scoot over and visit Eisenhower. We both felt good and had the whole day off, and the conclusion was to make the most of it.

You really can't beat the walk between the two peaks. Good footing, good views, low traffic.

Coming to get you, Ike
It was WARM, without a breath of wind. I was glad to have applied a hefty dose of sunscreen, but had a minor concern that I would run out of water before arriving at Mizpah and die a horrible, dehydrated death. #dramatic

Warm. Clear. And some *extreme* rock hopping
We summited Eisenhower at 10AM sharp and were, once again, pleasantly surprised to only see a handful of other hikers.

You can't NOT take a pic of what's between you and Washington (haze.... magic..... no humans.....!!)
The calm weather seemed to keep my favorite birds home, and I was disappointed not to see my crow friends playing in the thermals.

We took a few minutes to snack, dry our sweaty selves off, and then it was back to Pierce!

Take note of the EXTREME sweat. And Eric's heart rate monitor. #fitness
The miles back to Pierce (or, mile.... ish) were pleasant and warm. (ummm, hot) We had packed light for this excursion and my pack weighed in at 9 pounds (so basically nothing.) Since I am still TERRIBLE at carrying anything over 15 pounds (or 10, lets be honest here) I was LOVING the light weight situation.
Light packs make for happy hikers
We made it back to Pierce at 11:00 and saw the first big pack of hikers looking for the summit. Which on Pierce is basically anticlimactic... We pointed them in the direction of the pin, and we hustled off towards the Mizpah Hut.

Pierce, 2.0
The stretch of trail between Pierce and Mizpah is, in places, a bit of a shit show. We were more attentive than usual to this, since we are considering adding Jackson and possibly Webster to the next traverse event. We were trying to imagine the more challenging steps on legs that had already seen significant mileage.

We saw some cool dead tree forests. (and some steep stupid slimy rock sections.)

"Dead Tree Forest" 
We also came across a crazy stretch of little bridges suspended over certain death.

Certain death awaits
We cruised into the Mizpah Hut at 11:35 and refilled our DRY water reservoirs.

Blue sky over Mizpah
We had completely and spaztically forgotten to bring money which was a bummer. Despite having a decent number of snacks still in my pack, I would have really enjoyed a bowl of soup. I nosed around a bit in the hut, and feel that I would be able to survive a night in one of the cute bunk beds. I'm not much for camping, but I don't think that the Huts really count, as they give you beds/food/toilets (and I even had a bit of internet at that point!! Survival would be possible for me!!)

The Webster Cliff trail between the hut and Jackson was BASICALLY SPECTACULAR AND WE LOVED IT.
Lots of mud, and TONS of the little hot dog highways (long story about those cut in half-log bridges... it's a thing, don't question it.) Easy hiking, and nothing technical for quite a long stretch. I could hike on a trail like that for 100 miles and never, ever complain (as long as I had plenty of snacks.)

Eric scampering across a hot dog highway
There was also an amazing mountain top swamp type thing. Very unexpected.

Gorgeous mountain swamp. Random? I don't know. 
In the last push to the Jackson peak there was a bit of a rock scramble. Nothing major for this particular day, but something to take into consideration when traversing.

Majestic scrambling. 
We encountered a ridiculous number of people (this is clearly a popular lunch spot, as we arrived promptly at 12:27.)

Earlier, we were wayyyyyy over theeeeeereeeee
The initial decent (Webster Cliff trail) was pretty technical (read: deathly) for a short stretch. Apparently, what goes up must come down, and the trail indeed did. Aggressively. So much so, that I neglected to take a picture. I sort of butt scooted down, clinging to trees and roots and saying the F work quite a bit.

Post death descent, the remainder of the path to Webster was quite enjoyable. All below treeline, so nice and shady. (muddy) A few little scrambles, that we both enjoyed.

Very typical, and enjoyable stretch of trail as we moved towards Webster
Getting to the Webster Summit required a short out and back, and then we got some pretty impressive cliff views as payback.

It was getting a bit overcast, but the clouds helped with the heat at that point. We appreciated the slight breath of air that we felt at the summit. Definitely different from the traverse with the 35MPH winds!

Gotta get the summit shot
After enjoying a little time on the peak (we arrived at 1:10) we took the Webster Jackson trail (Webster Branch) back down towards Rt 302.
We did not enjoy this trail. Like, at all.

It was a tricky and fiddly trail with steep descent.

Like, really steep
Lots of the usual slimy rocks and roots. A couple river crossings (which I enjoy when the water is low, as it was on this day.) It was good to have a nice waterfall moment, because this trail is just a pain.

Cute waterfall and pool
I'm not at all sure if this is a trail that I would be extremely excited about traveling down at the end of a traverse. We were both a little bit *over it* by the time the footing became more reasonable (exactly one half mile from when we began our trip down. It was a sucky half mile.)

The footing does improve. Eventually....
While the remainder of the trip was more or less uneventful, it was not the worlds easiest path.
The moral of the story is go ahead, do it at the end of a short (or 12+ miler) but seriously consider taking Crawford from Pierce at the end of a longer day. Or don't, and kind of hate your life.

We stopped at one of the scenic vistas (Bugle Cliff) to enjoy the scenery. Or. The traffic and endless parked cars at the AMC Highland center (glad we got there fairly early!)

Bugle Cliff, looking toward the Highland Center, with the Crawford Depot in view
And then we were done! Yay! It was a million degrees out. Oh, and it was almost 3PM.

We hike a half mile back to our car, and saw a hiking dog run into Rt 302 and LEGIT ALMOST GET HIT. We totally ran out, stopped traffic, and had heart attacks until the dogs Dad came and saved him. Scary.

We both took a water bottle/parking lot bath because it had been a muddy day! So classy.

Some dirt
We forgot to bring beer. We were sad.....

So. Another super good hike. A big one too! We loved the low traffic start (and with so little summer left, the lunch time crowds are to be expected.) It was definitely the warmest hiking day of our season (we have never run out of water before.) We really enjoyed exploring new trails, even if they were a touch deadly on occasion.

We made it! 
We are very much hoping to return in the next few weeks for another traverse WITH EVAN this time, so this was a great recon mission. Who knows what we will end up doing in the end- but my vote is to skip Webster for sure.

-12.8 miles

-4,424 ft

-7 hours 21 minutes total time (safe to say we had about 45 minutes stopped time)

-Challenge level: Difficult, but mostly due to the total mileage, and the technical moments, especially in the later half of the hike. Any one of the peaks could easily be managed as a much more reasonable outing (but we are always looking for a challenge, apparently.)