Bipartisan Presidential Traverse

"Need you.
Dream you.
Find you...."

Trent Reznor's soft pleas drew me to consciousness. The initial feelings of waking in a strange place settled in.

It's dark, I am up before dawn, which can only mean one thing.

Time to run in the friggin' woods.

My stomach was full of sleepiness and a general intolerance for being awake. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and sat on the edge of the bed. A mate and I were staying in a beautiful ski chalet nestled in the woods of New Hampshire. We had spent the night before trying to teach me guitar chords and drinking beer. In the process we netted 5 hours of sleep.

Continuing a long streak of spending the weekend in the woods my goal this time around was relatively straight forward. We were to run the Presidential Traverse from South to North until we ran into some dudes we knew, and then return. The next day, run the full traverse South to North. Before this weekend the entirety of my experience in the Whites was a few up and down trips on Mt. Washington. A weekend in the dire beauty above tree line in New England shifted my understanding of the Whites and the role they could play in my recreation.

After a breakfast of buttered toast we reported to the trail head at 6AM sharp and our party grew in number by one. Our journey would start at a chilly Crawford Notch parking lot (Not the campsite, $3 fee parking down the road). Forecast was for mid 40's with 30MPH winds on the exposed bits. The weather station stated the air would have a "noticeable bite".

Leaving Crawford Notch starts a long climb to Mt. Pierce, the first peak in the traverse (Assuming you skip Mt. Jackson). We immediately settled into a hike and maybe ran 10 minutes on the entire climb. The terrain was large rocks and roots with deep green moss covering the surrounding woods. As we approached the summit the terrain became smoother and the foliage thinned out.

The summit of Mt. Pierce is a pile of rocks a few hundred feet off the trail and we tagged it after taking in the massive view of the day ahead of us. Clouds lazily crossed an impossibly blue sky. Traveling the ridge lines with our eyes we named the visible peaks we would top before hitting Mt. Washington. For a large portion of the day we would watch as a cloud continuously enveloped the few hundred feet of Washington that jutted highest into the air. The bite in the air was as advertised and standing still became steadily more uncomfortable.

Winding up a ridge the terrain became increasingly barren and I couldn't stop myself from saying how beautiful it all was. The thought of meeting more of my friends halfway through made me giddy. The feeling was akin to running an out and back ultra where you get to run into people you know and talk of how the individual journeys are going.

We stopped several times to take in the peaks as we hit them, traveling up and over Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe. With nothing to block the views we could see where the trail would lead us and the distant terrain constantly beckoned us to explore further and further. Urging us to see what lay beyond the next summit.

We had spent the better part of the morning without seeing another soul but the trip took on a new personality as we descended toward the Lake of the Clouds hut. The huts are little rustic paradises with bunk beds and hot food which is trekked in from Mount Washington. Breakfast had let out recently and the hikers began their day. A good amount of people were out doing a traverse and were mostly cheerful as we bounded by. The sections following Pierce had been fairly runnable, limited mostly by the steepness and not by the technicality.

The hike up to Washington reminded me that it was indeed a physically demanding day. I let my calorie intake lapse and fell behind as we ascended into the cloud mugging the top. A Gu and a sleeve of Cliff blocks barely put a dent in the calorie deficit I was running from the hard hiking we were doing. The top of Washington was cold and breezy with a dampness in the air. In near perfect timing we grabbed some hot food and joined the crowd to see the first few runners come through for the Mt. Washington Road Race.

After some deliberation we parted with a party member and decided to head further north in an attempt to meet our brethren on the trail. Clay was the next peak and it too remained hidden in a cloud. Moments of clarity would pass where the outside world would peak through in a disorienting splotchy representation of trees and rocks but the swiftness of the cloud movement returned the backdrop to a dull grey.

Dropping out of the cloud momentarily we caught site of the next blanketed climb, Mt. Jefferson. As we began the ascent I had a most random encounter as a hiker shouted at me,

"Hey, aren't you the porn director?"

It took me a moment to realize it was an individual who had been present at the Grossman aid station who likened my getup to that of an adult film director. I chuckled about this the rest of the day.

Mt. Jefferson was a glorious pile of rocks with smaller piles of rocks on top of it. Over the top one finds a steepish decline as a part of a roller coaster up and down to the base of the next mountain. It was here that my companion and I paused, wondering if our fellow intrepid broskis had used a bypassing trail and in doing so passed by us. We spent some time scanning the opposite mountain for movement with a good mile or more of visibility. Soon enough three figures moving at a good click, wearing impossibly short shorts could be seen bounding down. After a joyous round of greetings we all began the southwardly trip home from Mt. Jefferson.

The trip back was quick and fun with another stop on a now clear Mt. Washington. We moved fluidly over rocks when we could and joked and talked disparagingly about each other (I think I did most of that). We ran into a "food run" from Mt. Washington to the Lake of the Clouds and I must say, those AMC people are hard as hell. Carrying weight between the huts on old school packs is rustically awesome. The first time I saw one of the packs I figured it was a Somerville hipster out for a hike.

Towards the end of our romp I jumped from a rock step that couldn't have been over a foot tall and managed to roll both of my ankles at the same time. Earlier in the week I had rolled my left pretty hard in the Fells (On a non-technical trail of course). This time around my left foot landed awkwardly and I felt a light pop and my breath left me. Rebounding to my right step the some thing happened on that side. I ended up nearly sitting cross legged on the ground and stumbled forward. Breathless and a tad embarrassed (I did this right in front of some hikers) I had to walk a bit before I could get running again.

The initial shock of pain gradually wore away and I was able to descend the trail under my own power, albeit restricted. I was overly cautious about putting the ankle in weird positions and couldn't move very fast down technical terrain. Swelling and pain later in the day and into the next morning resulted in me skipping out on the second day's traverse. I showed my ankle to my comrades repeatedly in an attempt for validation over skipping out on the second day.

The experience has given me new ambitions for stomping around in the White Mountains a few more weekends this summer. Most importantly because I never finished the full traverse. There were several points where I felt an overwhelming sense of not deserving the company, the opportunity, the beauty, the luck.... I know it's the immensity of those things that seems to outweigh what I put into the world. It's an extremely lopsided transaction on weekends like this.

Strava Track

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