The Presi Traverse, or I must Have Rocks in My Head.
My next section north on the AT was the Presi Traverse. Crawford Notch to Pinkham Notch. 26.3 miles, with 9000’ of climb. There are eight 4’s in this section, though four of them are off the trail on side trails. We have reservations at the huts. We will be hiking hut to hut.
Day 1) August 16th, 2004. Parking area west of Crawford Notch to Mizpah Spring Hut. 6.7 miles. 8 hours (.84 mph). About three thousand feet of climb.
The AT goes up the Webster Cliff Trail. It’s a steep climb, with a lot of slabbing, and climbing up on boulders. The weather is cool, with low-flying clouds. We, of course, rest a lot, and take our time. We were passed by a number of NOBOs, including Koi and Goldfish. There were some views from the cliffs across the notch, to Tom, Field and Willey, during breaks in the clouds.
It started showering about noon. Webster has three summits. We could not see them through the clouds. Webster doesn’t count anyway, because it’s not over 4000’. We bagged Mount Jackson! The showers turned into rain, and we were getting wet. We descended past the campgrounds to Mizpah Spring Hut. Mizpah Spring has several bunkrooms. The one we were assigned to was full, so we were put in a different one. We got second tier bunks, which is good. Mizpah Spring is one of the smallest and least popular of the huts. It is also very badly run. Children were allowed to run wild. The food was badly prepared, though it was plentiful. The couscous was sticky and lumpy, and very little meat accompanied it. The soup was gloppy, and not tasty. Breakfast in the morning was not much better. The Croo takes turns cooking. Obviously, the guy who cooked that night needed a lot more experience.
We met a French Canadian (about our age) and his daughter, who were hiking on the same track as we.
One of the hikers in our bunkroom seemed to suffer from sleep apnea. Every so often during the night, he would make horrible noises loud enough to wake the dead. No one got a lot of sleep. Circles moved into the library, and slept on a bench.
Footnote: Croo skits. For some unknown reason, the Croo in the huts feels the need to put on skits. Every day. They’re stupid, badly acted, and boring. They have to do with folding blankets, not leaving garbage, and tipping the Croo. The roles are gender reversed. Quite frankly, I’d prefer to get on the trail that much earlier.
Day 2) August 17th, 2004. Mizpah Spring Hut to Lake of the Crowds (or is it Clouds?) Hut. 4.8 miles. 6.4 mph. 7:30. Another three thousand feet of climb, or so. Weather overcast to start, 54-70º. We bagged Clinton/Pierce (depending on your politics), with its three peaks. I declared a ‘cloudy weather alternate route’. We took the bypass trail over Mount Eisenhower. It was not too bad a climb. On our descent, the weather cleared, and we could actually see things! We took the ‘peak-bagger bypass alternate route’ over Mount Monroe. We ignored the first part, which we dubbed Mount Construction Debris. Finley bagged three 4s on this segment! We hiked down to Lake of the Clouds Hut. Views were spectacular. Mount Washington is a rather ugly mountain, looking like a factory town with the tower buildings. We scored bottom bunks. The food here was far superior. Ham for dinner. I pigged out. We found the geocaching Virtual Cache at the Hut. We met 30/30 (a NOBO) on the trail.
Day3) August 18th, 2004. Lake of the Clouds Hut to Madison Spring Huts. 7.0 miles. 10 hours. .70 mph. It’s a one-thousand foot, rocky climb up to the top of Mount Washington in one mile. Tourism at its worst. All the muggles take the cog railway (at $65 ea) or drive up the toll road.
Mount Washington is not a pretty mountain. The trail deteriorates near to top, to boulder hopping. We quickly find the Mount Washington 9/11 Memorial Cache. I add a piece of purple sandstone from Bearfort Ridge. Circles adds three beads: red, white and blue. Back at the top, we pose by the sign at the top of the mountain. We knew this would be our toughest day. The plans were to bag three 4’s. Mount Washington is the first. At 6288’, it’s the highest mountain in the northeast US. There is a web cam at the Mount Washington Observatory. During prime tourist season, it takes four pictures per hour, at one minute past. I had arranged with a lady at work, Monika, to capture us on the web cam. It took us two hours to get here. We called her, and posed in front of the cam. She saved the photo! I’m proud of this one.
We stopped at the store to buy the “This Body Climbed Mount Washington” t-shirts. And we were on our way.
The northern Presidentials are more difficult than the southern Presidentials. The dividing line seems to be Mount Washington. We descended Mount Washington toward Mount Clay (which is not over 4000 feet), crossing the cog railway. We did not moon it (an old thruhiking tradition). We were too busy taking pictures of it.
There is a narrow section of tail (the Gulfside Trail) connecting Washington to Jefferson. The Great Gulf is a deep gulf between Washington and Jefferson and Adams. It’s rather frightening. The trail quickly deteriorates to a jumble of sharp boulders in many places. The next 4 is Jefferson. We did not take the Jefferson Loop Trail. We hiked further, and took the Eight Husbands Trail. I wonder what the story is behind that name! This is not a trail. This is boulder hopping. We made it to the top, and bagged the mountain. We took the Jefferson Loop (Rock Hopping) Trail (?) back to the AT. Onward, we hiked over rocks and boulders. We reached the Mount Adams Loop Trail. We were too tired, and dinner at the huts is served promptly at 6 PM. If we attempted bagging Adams, we would be at least an hour late. Sad at missing the bag, we went on to the hut. Finley was gracious, saying that he would be happy with seven 4s. He’d pass on the eighth one. We made it into the hut just before dinner was served. Madison Spring Huts is an older hut, with two large bunkrooms. We secured two good bunks, and sat for dinner. There were several people here hiking the same hike that we were: the French Canadiens amongst them. Dinner was beef mushroom soup, vegetable lasagna, corn, salad, and chocolate chip bars. It was good. Also here, we met Pokey and Mushroom, middle-aged thruhikers. My left hand swelled today. I do not know what caused that. Perhaps the piroxicam that I’ve been taking whilst hiking?
Since we missed Adams, Circles will have to hike a three thousand foot climb up the Airline to bag it, if she decides to finish bagging the forty-eight fours in New Hampshire. ‘Tis a pity, but we were in no shape to bag it today.
Day 4) Madison Spring Huts to Pinkham Notch/Joe Dodge Lodge. 7.8 miles. 10 hours. .78 mph. 2000’ of climb. 3000’ of descent. The weather has turned hazy. Blame it on Ohio. Winds are at 30 mph, with gusts to 60 mph. With the exception of the rain on the first day, we’ve been very lucky with the weather. Today was a more typical day in the White Mountains. The climb up Mount Madison is a very steep, nasty, rock climb. There are several summits to Madison. The rocks are sharp, with jagged edges.
When the gusts first hit 60 mph, they blew each of us over. We developed a crouching stance. We finally reached the top of Madison. It took us four hours to hike the one mile to the summit of Madison. The descent was not the simple three-thousand-foot drop that we expected. This is Osgood Ridge. Hundred-foot peaks and drops stretched on for a few miles over sharp, jagged piles of rocks. “This is NOT a trail” I exclaimed in despair. “This is some sadist’s evil torture.“
We rested frequently. Pokey and Mushroom blew past us early in the day. Pokey left us in her dust. That should tell us something. This is not hiking. This is evil. We leapfrogged a father and son team of hikers many times during this day. I don’t think they liked it either. The wind soughed in the balsams in the Great Gulf. A cloud from the north tried to blow over the ridge. The thirty-mph winds out of the gulf blew it back upon itself. This was the only pretty thing we saw this day. The mountains disappeared into the mist; first Washington, then Adams and Madison. Finally, FINALLY, the trail descended below the tree line. It should be noted that the trail hereabouts was abysmally marked. There are cairns of rocks, frequently with a quartz boulder topper. The AMC (Appalachian Money Club?) has disdain for the Appalachian Trail. Everywhere else, the AT is THE trail. Here, one has to follow poorly marked turns from the Gulfside Trail to other variously named trails, with minimal blazing. Osgood Cutoff? It’s not even named as such. Madison Gulf Trail? Isn’t this the Appalachian Trail?!? In my humble opinion, this doesn’t even qualify as a trail. This is mountain climbing, hand over hand. This is rock climbing over sharp edges that shred pants, boots, and hands. This is not hiking. I hit my one-thousandth mile on the AT somewhere near the top of Mount Washington. (The trail is 2146 miles in length.) I am seriously considering giving up hiking this trail. This is NOT a trail. This is evil incarnate. Many people give up their goal of thruhiking the Trail, for many reasons. Less than half the people who start make it to Damascus, Virginia (about one-quarter of the way north). Less than a third make it to Pine Grove Furnace, Pa, the halfway point. Of the two thousand, or so, who attempt the thruhike, only a few hundred finally make it to Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus. Finally, I understand why. I doubt that I will ever make my halfway point. I’m ready to give up my dream.
The trail finally descends from the ridge into a trail more to my liking. There are boulders, and sharp descents, and another five-hundred feet of climb. Near the Old Jackson Road Trail (isn’t this the Appalachian Trail?), I encounter a familiar face. “Do you mind if I ask your name?” he asks. “You’re Meanderthal”, I exclaim. “I’m Harry Dolphin. We met when I was section hiking Shenandoah, Virginia,” “Yes”, he said. “I remember your face.” Meanderthal has hiked eighteen-hundred miles, so far. He blows by us. Finally, the trail resembles something like a trail, as we struggle into Pinkham Notch, the end of our section. We check into Joe Dodge Lodge. Dinner is being served as we speak. Joe Dodge Lodge has many four-bunk rooms. They are separated by gender. Circles and I stay in different rooms. We make it to the dining room during the salad course. We are served the soup course with our salad course. There is always plentiful food at the huts and lodges. Hands wave at us. We recognize many familiar faces here. The French Canadiens, Meanderthal, Pokey and Mushroom, the father and son team, the husband and wife with three children with whom we’ve shared dinner for the last three nights. They’re all here. Joe Dodge Lodge is a good place to stay. It has hot showers!
Our section is finished. 26.3 miles of the toughest section of trail on the Appalachian Trail. In only 35.5 hours of hiking. That’s almost .75 mph! We bagged seven of the mountains in New Hampshire over four-thousand feet. We finished our section. I did not enjoy the last two days. In fact, I hated the last day. This is NOT hiking. I think that the trail has finally defeated me. There are many things in life that I enjoy. This was not one of them. There are many things that I can do that I enjoy. I think that I shall. I may change my mind before next year. I may not. There is much beauty in the Presi Traverse. There is also much ugliness.