Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Presidential Traverse, July 29, 2018 (part two)

So when I left off, Eric and I had successfully hiked from Madison to Washington and were feeling pretty great, despite the cloudy conditions.

(if you missed part one, backtrack and read about it here)

One can certainly see how dangerous it could be up in the mountains if the weather turned. While we never had any safety concerns, we had taken precautions to ensure as much safety as possible. Of course, we had packed emergency gear. We also had bail out contingency plans set in stone, and knew the exact trails to take to reach a safer location. While we ended up having perfectly safe weather, I think having safety precautions well in place is an absolute must for any lengthy hiking adventure.

So, on to Monroe!
Heading down Crawford, away from the Washington Circus
We knew that the route for the rest of the trip was going to be very straightforward. Fog or no fog, we felt it would be quite simple to follow Crawford Path, and snag the connecting trails to each peak (this was correct.) As we exited the Washington area, and made our way down Crawford, we were surprised to see our Traverse Friends coming UP the path! Then had become confused farther down the trail, and in the clouds were unable to get a firm bearing on direction. While they were far from lost, they had spent a considerable amount of time getting to that point. A bummer, when one is looking at a long hiking day (and yet another good reason to be a tad obsessive about your map/prep!)

The hiker traffic traveling from the Lake Of The Clouds hut, to Washington was very heavy. We yielded to oncoming traffic so often that it almost felt constant. No complaints, as those are the rules of the road, but this was a slow stretch.
The good news?? The clouds began to break up! For real this time!!

There's something out THERE!!!!
We reached Lake Of The Clouds at 1:36, 6 minutes behind schedule.

Hello Lake, Hello Clouds
Eric kept calling it "Island of the clouds" or something along those lines, which was funny at the time. Despite our late arrival we needed to take a moment to organize our lives. Since the weather was making a rapid turn for the better, we packed up the rain gear. Both of us added water to our reservoirs, and had a quick snack. Knowing that we didn't have a ton of time in hand, and knowing that Lee was already on the trail to Pierce kept us from dawdling for too long.

Gonna crush you, Monroe
So, up, up, up and away we went!

Bye, Lake Of The Clouds Hut
I have to say, once the clouds began to lift it was pretty easy to hit the pause button on the hike. The views began to open up, and it was pretty exciting.
We could almost see the little train in the distance.

Look closely, and you can see the teensy train
We basically crushed Monroe (that's a pretty fun summit, if you ask me) and reached the peak at 2:05, back to being exactly on time.

At this point, we were beginning to see more of what lay ahead, although the remaining clouds were still managing to obscure the high peaks. The good news was that Crawford Path was basically a 5 lane, paved, super highway of magic compared to the *trail* earlier in the day. The loop trails to the summits were not always quite as perfect, but the final 3 peaks were a breeze in comparison to the early mountains.

Almost perfect weather here
We were considering hitting Franklin, who (like Clay) was not a President, but was still an interesting  guy. More importantly, we could then cross Franklin off the list! If this is your plan, know this: at the time of our hike, Franklin was essentially unmarked. We took a chance on a little fork in the road and it paid off. It wasn't a time suck either,  we had a couple people hiking behind us on Crawford when we took the loop trail, and they were still behind up when we returned to the main drag. I will admit that we hustled during this section, but it's a nice add on.
....and by hustle, I actually mean race.... Evidently our legs were still in good form, because every now and then one of us would challenge the other to a feat of speed. For example, I would break to a top speed (like, a jog) and try pass Eric with aggression to take the lead! Shortly thereafter, he would do the same to me. We found this hysterical. This made this part of the hike fun!

Getting to Eisenhower takes a bit of time. You keep feeling like you're "almost there" as the trail rises and falls several times, and you kind of question which peak is the one you're looking for. This would be an excellent stretch of trail to meander along. It was exceedingly pleasant, the views were becoming better and better (and the foot traffic was still solid- lots of stops for yielding!)

How far to go?? Who knows!
However. We were not dilly dallying. We were feeling pretty far from the actual peak- and we were cutting it pretty damn fine on the scheduling end of things. So, we booked it.
Eisenhower summit at 3:15. 5 minutes behind schedule despite a literal ass busting to get there.

Eisenhower Summit, big ass crow
Eisenhower was freaking gorgeous. It was overwhelming to be able to look back and see how far we had come. Almost unbelievable.

Holy Actual Shit
There were also these amazing crows who were loving playing in the wind! They would take off, and then hover and float, clearly having a wonderful time!

My Homies
And from there, we galloped to Pierce!
It had turned warm and sunny (go figure!) and whole slew of trail runners passed us. How they can run on some of that terrain is just beyond me.... I am both amazed, jealous, and slightly humiliated by them as they literally PRANCE by. (goals? no. not today anyway.)

"Eric, look majestic"
At 3:49 Lee texted me to let us know he was on Pierce. I was like "WAIT, WE ARE COMING!!" We kept looking at the final climb and saying "I bet we can almost see Lee from here!"
And just like that *poooof* there he was! Not because we had reached Pierce, but because he decided to hike in our direction. We hiked up the final 15 minutes or so with him, babbling the whole time about the wonderful adventure that we had!

Somehow, we managed to reach Pierce Summit well ahead of the scheduled time of 4:32, right around 4:00. We can only assume there was a math/mileage error at some point (or, the we are just really, REALLY good at hiking! hah)

THE END!!!! Well. Mt Pierce anyway
We stopped. Took photos. I ate a whole sandwich. We talked to everyone and had a heated debate with strangers about whether or not "Clay Counts" for a traverse (well, it wasn't really heated. And while Clay doesn't count, COUNT IT BECAUSE IT IS AWESOMEEEEEEEE.)

Hey!!! There you are!

Mt Pierce defeated!
Then.... We walked downhill for 2 hours with Lee. He told us about his day, and we told him about ours. It was wet and muddy and Narnia like.

We saw a few people, but not very many. And I did not fall over, which is nothing short of a miracle.

We finally (and yes, it was a long walk down...) reached the end of the path!

Love you Crawford Path
And then the trailhead (we finished at the Mt Clinton Rd lot, not the AMC center which is a god
damn zoo)

Then. We lay down on the pavement and Lee gave us BEER AND CHEESE PUFFS OMG.'

What an amazing adventure.
The only thing that would have made it better, is if Evan had been there (but we will do it again!)

So, final thoughts.

1: Don't do this in dangerous weather, or if you are not in good shape (duh, but I feel compelled to say this)

2: My gear for the day: BAA visor, EMS tech shirt, Patagonia nano puff, North Face waterproof shell that I got for $37 so *winning*, EMS shorts that have legs to make them pants (literally, I look like someone's Dad in this outfit...) Darn tough hiking socks (the best.) Salomon X-Ultra shoes, which I DO NOT love, but also finished my day upright with nary a blister so I also do not hate them. Eric's mountain biking gloves (which are pretty perfect for hiking.) $20 hiking poles (which I love) Osprey Mira 26L pack, which I borrowed from my sister but most likely will buy (still shopping, suggestions appreciated.)

3: What I ate: 2 nectarines, 1.5 turkey sandwiches, 3 string cheeses, 1 cliff bar, 1 untapped raspberry waffle, 5 huma gels (the electrolyte ones, one caffeinated one- all EXCELLENT) About 2L water, and a box of coconut water. (cool day- about 46-52 for the majority of the hike)

4: Pro tips- get someone to pick you up at the end, if you think you can be a slave to the clock (if not- drop a car at the finish, or finish at AMC Highland, where there is a slow, expensive shuttle.) It is super fun to have someone meet you, and to avoid driving (we had to get our car form Appalachia, because of work, but we still saved a ton of time not having to take the shuttle.

14 hours 28 minutes
20-ish miles
8800' elevation
Challenge level: strenuous. fairly extreme. don't do this unless you are fit and fabulous.



  1. Excellent adventure. I know it takes time to write these things but keep up the good work. They make for great reading.

  2. Quite the hike! I'm impressed with the planning, not to mention the execution!

    1. Thank you! We decided that winging it our first time could be pretty risky. I think that the amount of planning paid off- and we look forward to doing it again now that we are confident in the route.