Hiking the Presidential Traverse, with Dogs.
The White Mountains are absolutely stunning, take your breath away stunning. I have done quite a lot of exploring within the United States, and there is something that always draws me back to the White Mountains.
I grew up in rural Upstate New York and attended college briefly in New Hampshire before returning to New York. Even though my time in New Hampshire was short, I told my mom that one day I would live there. Fast forward 8 years and here I am! My passion for the outdoors and hiking, mixed with New Hampshire meant one thing: Hike the Presidential Traverse.
Hiking the Presidential Traverse is something that is grand and far more rewarding than imaginable. It encompasses 8 documented high peaks over 20 miles, with elevation gains close to 10,000 feet, but when you are out there you can’t help but smile at the vast views and wonder how your body is so capable of such a feat. Even though only 8 are documented high peaks, you will have the decision to pass over quite a few other peaks such as Clay or Franklin and I strongly suggest you do.
Erik, Boone, Crockett and I hiked this North to South. Our thought was to achieve the harder sections when we were feeling our freshest and the boys were just looking for a good time!
Car to Car with a 4:45AM start.
This is a very popular hike, so we wanted to make sure we were on the trail no later than 5AM. After our car drop at Crawford Notch, we headed for Appalachia Parking lot where we would lace up our boots, grab our headlamps, packs and pups and hit the trail.
(Small Disclosure- I was feeling a bit unwell at the start; could have been the no-sleep, could have been the long drive, but either way we started off slowly (around 1 MPH)). Erik told me to take it one step at a time and that is just what we did.
We researched ahead of time which trails we would take and decided that Valley Way to the Madison Hut would be the ‘easiest’ and most direct approach. The trail was gradual, winding next to a babbling brook. The forest was already starting to become more lively with light. Chirps of birds welcoming a new day were to be heard all around (easily one of my favorite sounds).
We sustained the slow pace for the 3.8 miles to the Hut, where we then turned and ascended the last 0.5 mile to the rocky Madison. These boulders would surround us all day and we were okay with that. The views were outstanding..well I’ll let you see for yourself.
We ate, make that devoured protein peanut butter cups, took in the views via our minds (and cameras) then descended with full hearts and bellies.
Madison Hut was our 1st refill station. Carrying 5 water bottles for the two of us and two pups, we planned our refilling route accordingly. Madison Hut is a quaint bricked building with that old fashion cabin feel; Erik went in to poke around while refilling while the boys enjoyed their breakfast on the patio (front lawn).
We left Madison Hut, jumped on Gulfside Trail and started up the stone staircase. We were feeling great, even better knowing that 40% of our elevation gain was under our metaphorical belts..let’s make it literal and say under our (my) fanny packs. We stopped frequently to take in the views, constantly in awe with how far we had come and how far we were going to go.
An older gentleman told us to take the trail to the left at the junction and somewhat of a warning of a scramble to get up Adams; oh a scramble it was.
It took us about 15 minutes of boulder hopping to reach the top of Adams. I don’t mind rock, boulder or shale climbing, but check back in with me in 15 miles. From Adams, you have a perfect view of Jefferson, Clay and Washington; your three next peaks. A windy little trail connecting all of these mountains made it seem as though each mountain were mere minutes away. The view was deceiving, yet it still filled me with excitement. We decided we shouldn’t waste any time and off to Jefferson we went.
The walk to Jefferson was quiet, sheer beauty can sometimes render you speechless. It seems as if you are walking on the edge of the earth, yet at the same time you feel incredibly grounded. Funny how nature is.
We traveled consistently downhill for a little while where we chatted with some thru-hikers, all in amazement at how well the boys (my pups, Boone & Crockett) were doing. The dogs were happy to accept all the pets and compliments. Jefferson was another short and steep climb, leaving us breathless for moments. We stopped on the grassy hill so Boone could get his roll on, then ventured on towards the summit.
I pulled out the map and traced out our path over Clay in my mind, and in the view right before me. We chose to go over Clay versus around it because we wanted every experience of hiking this traverse, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision; Clay was beautiful!!
While standing on Clay, Washington seemed like a pebble throw away (1.5 miles? Close enough).
The highest peak in all of New Hampshire, the peak known for drastic weather change was standing before us on a slightly breezy, sunny July day. Even though we didn’t think we would hit bad weather, we were equipped with winter apparel just in case! What we weren’t equipped for were the hundreds of people waiting for us at the top…okay, not literally waiting for US, but it was an eye-opener nonetheless.
People gathered around us loaded with questions, others stood around snapping pictures. I figured we must have looked out of place with our big packs, two dogs attached around my hips and my dreadlocked hair in two loose buns on my head, or it could be that I tried to fill our water bottles with the broken water fountain for more than 10 minutes before Erik came to my rescue.
Washington was beautiful, but after ten minutes we were itching for some solitude.
For those who do enjoy the busier scene, there is a restaurant and a gift shop at the top!
After descending Mount Washington, you hit Lake of the Clouds. We spent some time here, let the boys splash in the water and while we recouped with another peanut butter cup. Did I tell you the other good news? Almost all of your elevation has been gained at this point- so exciting, or maybe relieving is the word!
Another intricate stone staircase led to the top of Mount Monroe. From Monroe, you could see all of your next destinations, and off we went.
After Monroe, you will naturally go up and over Mount Franklin. There is another route but this was closed to the public at the time and that was quite alright. Mount Franklin extended further than we anticipated and standing there we realized just how far away Eisenhower seemed. The mountains can certainly sway your judgments because within minutes we made it to the base.
Once we made it to the base, we decided to only ascend Eisenhower and Pierce and not Jackson. We knew this meant we wouldn’t complete the full traverse, but with the sun going down and the rocky road ahead us we didn’t want to be navigating that long in the dark.
This would be our second time atop Pierce and the conditions couldn’t have been any different. Last go round it was the dead of winter and the mountain was covered in snow and ice, making for no views and much shivering. This time, we sat there and enjoyed cherries while the dogs were scouting out an animal in the nearby woods.
Erik and I looked at each other in temptation to climb Jackson, but ultimately decided that it was best to descend before we ran out of daylight.
The whole trail shimmered with the setting sun, the blazing orange fireball in the sky cast a dreamy feel to the whole forest. Do you ever just get totally lost in the moment when you’re in nature? This was the perfect setting for that.
The last 2 miles of the trail dragged on and we were fighting the need to get our head lamps. Boone looked back at me several times to say “Ma- this is ridiculous, we haven’t complained yet, but we cannot see 2 feet in front of us!”, and with that we grabbed our headlamps and headed for the car. When the car came in sight, we all let out a little holler of excitement.
19.6 miles in 16 hours. Is it the fastest? Heck no. Did we have an absolute ball? Hell to the YES! Will we do it again? Very soon.
We combined this hike with Pierce in the winter and it was the best butt sliding I have ever done, and the Mizpah Hut is the absolute cutest!
We will be back for you soon Jackson!
8:00PM End Time; Now Give Me All the Food
The Presidential Traverse..what can be said that hasn’t already been seen?
Well, maybe a few things. Here are a few gear items that made this hike enjoyable:
Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX Hiking Boots
This was only the second trek these boots had been on and they rocked it. They are lightweight, flexible and the mesh in the front keeps your feet nice and cool. Having dry, intact feet at the car after 20 miles was a success in my books. Bravo Salomon!
Black Diamond Trekking Poles
Trekking poles save me! I was never very good at remembering my poles, but an IT band injury had me relying on them heaily, to which I became very fond of them. They give my legs a break and helped tremendously with all the descents down the boulders.
Deuter ACT Lite 45 +10SL Pack
Packs are usually uncomfortable around mile 5 for me, but this Deuter pack is amazing (look up synonyms of amazing to get an ever better grasp of how good this pack is). I did not get sore one bit! I recommend this product 10/10.
After my IT band injury following a long winter hike I could barely walk a mile. While researching cures for IT band syndrome, KT tape came up multiple times and I figured I had to give it a try. I am still pretty sure it is pure magic because it has allowed me to hike pain free ever since. I will never not own KT tape- it’s a savior!
Boone and Crockett are the ultimate champions. They were physically hooked to me for 20 miles straight and didn’t complain one bit (true love?). Honestly these two are so easy and extremely fit. We had a lot of hikers ask how their paws were, how much food they ate, etc, so let’s touch on that.
I carried 1- 32 oz bottle of water and refilled that for them at every hut. I always carry tons of treats (mostly Zuke’s) in my fanny pack that I will give to them any time we stop for a minute or more. As for food I carried 2 days worth of food for them (Which equates to about 8 cups of food). They eat a raw dehydrated food (Shoutout to Stella & Chewy’s), so it is nice and light! I ended up feeding them all 8 cups throughout the hike in small doses so they felt spoiled!
As for their paws, they usually do not have any issues, but I checked their (sandpaper) paws every few miles and had my musher’s secret in pack just in case! I did massage their feet the next day and put coconut oil on them to soothe any wear and tear.
Like I said, these two are incredible and usually just ‘go where I go’ (in this case they had no other choice). I think I heard them snoring all the way home.
Into the Mountains
This “walk” as a lovely hiker called it, was an experience. It was an experience that can never be recreated. It will always be one of my fondest memories and favorite outings. Hiking is what brings me joy and energizes me, gives me purpose, and I couldn’t be more fulfilled to share it with my three best friends; Erik, Boone & Crockett..the ultimate hiking partners- love you all.
…Until next time Presi’s.
Ciara, B & C