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.